VOD Spotlight: Joe Garner (CRAIGSLIST JOE)August 03, 2012
Nick DeNinno spoke to Filmmaker/star Joe Garner of Craigslist Joe, a new documentary produced by Zach Galifianakis, now on demand.
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In a time when America's economy and sense of community were crumbling, one guy left everything behind - to see if he could survive solely on the support of the 21st century's new town square: Craigslist. As of recent, the United States found itself in one of the most precarious financial meltdowns in modern history. It was in this climate that 29-year-old Joseph Garner cut himself off from everyone he knew and everything he owned, to embark on a bold adventure. Armed with only a laptop, cell phone, toothbrush, and the clothes on his back - alongside the hope that community was not gone but just had shifted - Joe lived for a month looking for alms in America's new town square: Craigslist. For 31 December days and nights, everything in his life would come from the Craigslist website. Would America help Joe? -- (C) Official Site
Nick DeNinno: How did the idea for Craigslist Joe come about?
Joe Garner (JG): It actually started a few years ago. I was working as an assistant on the movie THE HANGOVER, and we were shooting in Las Vegas. I was living in a hotel casino. Our country was going through a really rough economic time. We didn’t really know how bad it was going to get. I’d come home and turn on the news and see more devastation around the country; people losing their homes, their jobs, life savings. I was feeling pretty disconnected and isolated from what was going on around me, so I just wanted to see if I go out there with no money, no contact with anyone I know. Could I get by just using technology and how are people coping during these tough times? That was the initial jumping off point. If I lost everything and I didn’t have anyone I could turn to, are we at a place in our society where we have the potential to take care of one another?
ND: Why did you choose Craigslist?
JG: That’s a good question. I wanted to go out there using some form of technology and social media. I didn’t want to use more common ones such as Facebook or Twitter where you kind of know a lot of the people on those sites, a lot of friends and just people you know. You have photos, you have a whole profile of who you are, or at least how you want to be represented. Craigslist is anonymous. There’s no profile, no one essentially to vouch for you. It’s not about how many friends you have, or how many followers, or likes. It’s a very functional, nuts and bolts website. I figured, this would give me a way to interact with people all over the country using technology, and not relying on the social circle that I already had.
ND: The theme seems to be not an exercise in taking, but in giving.
JG: Initially, it was a little bit about taking. It was my survival, where am I going to sleep, what am I going to eat? Who am I going to talk to, what am I going to do? Very quickly on after a day or two, I kind of realized that wasn’t the story I was interested in telling. It was so much more about the people I was meeting, hearing their stories, experiencing their overwhelming generosity. I was in New York a couple weeks into it, and it looked like I was going to be basically on the street in New York in the middle of December one night. I met this girl at this Craigslist event. I tried to see if I could stay at her place. She said no, she left. It was four in the morning, I was outside.
This was a choice I was putting myself into. It’s not like I had to be there. I was putting myself into these situations by participating in this documentary and exploring the social notion of it. She ended up coming back. She’d talked to her boyfriend, and convinced him that it would be okay to let me crash on the couch for that night. I woke up the next morning so inspired, and just wanting to give back and wanting to help out. Okay, I don’t have any money, but what I do have is time. I have an internet connection, and I noticed there were a lot of people around the holidays looking to help out but not really sure where to go to do that. Obviously, a lot of people in organizations needed that help.
We were able to volunteer at soup kitchens, at women’s shelters. We did a toy drive where we collected Christmas gifts and gave them out on Christmas to children living in foster homes. I was able to connect with a woman who was diagnosed with cancer. I couldn’t really clean her apartment, so I helped her out. It was just these little things that we would do using the internet, but also banding together and really these small things were great.
ND: I have to be honest with you, I had a tremendous amount of fear for you at the beginning of the film. Did you think having a cameraman following you around protected you from getting into some weird situations?
JG: Yeah. It would be naïve of me to say that it would have been the exact same experience without it. I was very conscious of that going into it. I didn’t let anyone know when I was initially interacting with them on Craigslist that we were doing a documentary. I was just a guy looking to meet up. I’d love to hop in the car if you had room to go up to Portland, let’s say. I don’t have any money, but I can drive the entire way. Things like that. I’d help you around the house when I get there.
It wasn’t until people said yes to me that I’d say, “Hey, would you mind if I bring this guy Kevin, he’s a camera guy, he’s shooting this little project.” Most people were okay with that. Obviously there could have been someone looking to take advantage of the situation, and they wouldn’t want to necessarily do that in front of a camera. I feel like the majority of the people I met, camera or no camera, they were very genuine. I spent days with some of these people. They might be on screen for five minutes, but I really got to know them intimately. You kind of just forget that there’s a camera present. I never felt like my life was in any sort of jeopardy.
ND: Were there any bizarre or hilarious situations that happened that didn’t make the final cut?
JG: Yeah. We had 80 hours, there was a lot of stuff that I wish I could have included. We were down in Mexico, in Juarez, Mexico and I had luckily brought my passport, that was one of the things I forget initially. I got a new cell phone with a new number, a laptop with an internet card, a toothbrush and a passport and the clothes on my back. We were driving through Texas, and the sign says Juarez, Mexico, how cool is that. We ended up making a pit stop there. I guess we didn’t need any sort of identification to go in there, but when we were trying to get back, the guy I was with did not have his passport. It was basically six hours on that side of the border trying to convince this border patrol guy. He’s like, “Are you joking with me? You think you don’t need a passport coming back into the United States?” Literally we were here for a couple hours.
We had a couple of mini run-ins with the law, a lot of car trouble along the way in various things. I met a dominatrix in Chicago, that’s in the film. I had never really met someone who does that, and I was just very curious as to why she’s doing it and the psychology behind and why she feels that people do it. It was pretty interesting. She has a lot of very high profile clients in very high profile positions that would come to her for these services. The next day, we went to her dungeon where she practices out of or works out of. She took me around there, I met the headmistress. It was just such a wide variety of people that I got to meet and interact with that I probably wouldn’t have normally done in my regular life.
ND: Do you think the film’s going to do well On Demand?
JG: I certainly hope so. That’s where it’s going to live. It’s going to be on all the cable providers, and we really hope we can encourage people to check it out because I feel like it’s a film that’s accessible. It doesn’t matter what your political background or your beliefs, your social view. It’s just a story of humanity, it’s a story of America, and where we’re at in this present day. You’re hearing real people, seeing how people are getting by. Hopefully it’s a movie that will connect with a lot of the viewers.
ND: How is Zach involved in the project?
JG: I met Zach on the set of THE HANGOVER. This is kind of when I was initially coming up with the idea. After set I would just kind of pitch it to him, and we would kind of talk about it. It was just something I wasn’t even sure I was actually going to do. We wrapped shooting that movie, and about a week later I left. I didn’t have anything planned out, no pre-production. It was just me and a camera guy who I found on Craigslist. After, I told Zach I ended up doing it. I put together a rough cut. I sent it this way just to kind of get his thoughts before it was formal. He called me right back, and he was quite surprised. He thought it would be a month of me going out there and partying. In a way, making it into a Borat of trying to find people and not explain them, but just point out how crazy people are. It was not that at all, he was very moved by the sincerity of people and the generosity of people. I said, “Hey, I would love to have you involved.” We worked something out where he became an executive producer. He’s been very supportive and giving me notes, and helping us with the promotion of it, and it’s been great to have him on board.
ND: Does the modern world connect us or isolate us?
JG: My takeaway is we’re given these tools. I’m a huge fan of technology, of the modern world of social media and all that stuff. It has the danger to isolate us, like you mentioned, if we’re not careful, if we’re using that as an end all be all, if we’re resorting to just liking someone’s photo on Facebook as opposed to calling them, or grabbing a lunch with them. I feel like it has amazing abilities. I was able to Skype with my girlfriend who was living in India for two months because of technology.
I always feel like, at the core, we should use this link to enhance our interaction, to bring us closer to face to face communication, and make sure we keep conscious of looking out for each other and taking care of each other. I’m not saying we always do the right thing, or we’re not all very busy with our jobs and our lives and we have a lot going on. At least for me, I was feeling very disconnected, and I think a lot of that was because I wasn’t engaging with anything outside of my small bubble. Once I did that, I didn’t even have to go across the country and make a movie about it, but once I just had that attitude, things just kind of changed overnight.
ND: Thanks so much for talking about your film, it was really a pleasure talking to you.
JG: Great, likewise. Thanks so much for the interview, I appreciate it.
Nick DeNinno is a producer based in Carlsbad, CA and specializes in content strategy for the college market. DeNinno is also an advisor and a programming resource to many universities who operate student-run television stations. DeNinno has launched several emerging and web television channels including National Lampoon's College Channel, Burly TV and Toga!. DeNInno is also the cofounder of Integrity Multimedia with the belief that films can be entertaining, and should teach us something about ourselves and the world. He is a member of the Producers Guild, and currently in production on a new web series titled “Campus Life”. @nickdeninno.
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