Q & A: Director/Producer Michael Selditch on “Eleven Minutes”

Designer Jay McCarroll

Designer Jay McCarroll in “Eleven Minutes”

As part of ZAMM.com’s ongoing dialogue with independent filmmakers Martin Grove talks to director/producer Michael Selditch about the making of the documentary “Eleven Minutes”, in which he and co-director/producer Rob Tate focus on 2004 “Project Runway” winner Jay McCarroll’s year-long journey to show his first line of clothing during Fashion Week in New York’s Bryant Park.

After winning top honors on “Runway’s” first season, McCarroll was applauded as “the next great American designer.” He’d studied fashion at the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science and the London College of Fashion and was selling his early designs in London and Amsterdam prior to returning to the U.S. to audition for “Runway”. Since winning he’s returned to the series as a guest judge.

“Eleven Minutes”, which was co-directed and co-produced by Selditch and Tate, opens Friday (20) via Regent Releasing in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tempe, Arizona and Mar. 6 in Philadelphia. It’s also premiering day and date on the HERE! on-demand cable network.

Selditch’s feature film directorial debut was the 2002 drama “Fixing Frank”. He did a documentary for Bravo in 2005 about McCarroll called “Project Jay” and had previously directed episodes for Bravo’s hit series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”.

Q: Michael, how did “Eleven Minutes” come about?
A: I was asked by Bravo a while back to make a documentary on Jay that was called “Project Jay”. I brought in Rob Tate, who worked on it with me, and he edited the piece. We made that together and became friends with Jay and loved working with Jay. When we were done with that he told us that he was about to do his first independent fashion show in Bryant Park and he was going to try to sell his first line of clothing to stores and he said, “Why don’t we film it? Why don’t we make a documentary?” So it really came from Jay.

We started shooting (“Eleven”) at the beginning of 2006 for his fashion show in September of 2006. We shot it basically for over a year. We would talk every week and say, “Well, what are you up to now? What’s going on?” and he’d say, “Well, you know, I have this meeting” or “I have this thing (to do)” or “I’m going to visit my shoe designer” or whatever and we would shoot him. As it got closer to the Bryant Park show, of course, we were there much more. And there was a period when we were there all the time for over a month. We had about 250 hours of footage in the end before we stopped and started to put it together.
Q: Having that much footage to deal must have posed some challenges.
A: It was daunting. On the one hand, we felt like we had a lot of great stuff because Jay is just great to shoot. And then, on the other hand, you want to tell a story and it has to be concise and it shouldn’t really be very much longer than an hour and a half (“Eleven” runs 103 minutes). But there were definite story lines that were very clear to us as we were doing it. (There were) story arcs that we knew we were going to tell. So you dive right in and you edit for a really long time and you watch it and you re-cut it and re-cut it and re-cut it until you feel like you’ve got something.
Q: Was this a multi-camera shoot?
A: (We shot) primarily (with) one camera. For the fashion show, we had about five cameras because we wanted you to feel like you were everywhere. We had an idea in our minds of how we wanted to see it — like you were backstage, you were in the front, you were in the audience. There was only one other time (with multiple cameras) I can really think of. When we did (a hot air) balloon fantasy sequence we had two cameras. I was shooting up in the balloon with Jay and Rob was shooting from the ground. But other than that it was primarily a single camera (digital) shoot. It's a (Panasonic) DVX100 that we used in 24p (24 progressive-scanned frames per second). The 24p really helps make something feel more film-like, especially if you’re projecting it big.
Q: Jay comes across on screen as a larger than life personality.
A: One of the things that Rob and Jay and I were all completely on the same page about from day one was that we wanted to make a film that shows the process of what he was doing. You know, a lot of people can look at a finished piece of art, a finished painting, a finished fashion show or a building or whatever it is that somebody’s designing or making or creating and it’s easy to see it for what it is and you either like it or you don’t like it and you respond to it and you appreciate it or you don’t appreciate it.

What people never see is the process that happens to get to that end result. We think the process is really interesting and it reminded us a lot about what Rob and I do as filmmakers. So that was part of our goal and it really started to dictate how we were making it and how we were shooting and even the decision to include our making of the documentary in the documentary because we did feel like their were parallels. That idea of what we wanted to do kind of gave us a lot of guidance. As far as Jay, he’s just not very conscious of the cameras. He doesn’t really think about it. He just does his thing and says what he wants to say and doesn’t really care. So that makes it a little easier also in terms of not worrying about things feeling unnatural in any way.
Q: Did having cameras following everyone else around for all those months make them self-conscious?
A: I don’t really think anybody did anything differently. Everyone was pretty relaxed about it. I’ve worked on a lot of documentaries and a lot of reality television and depending on the cameras you use — I mean, this camera happens to be pretty small and we never really light anything — you'd be surprised at how quickly and how easy it is to forget that there’s a person standing there with a camera, especially if you’re doing it for a long period of time like in this case a year. You just kind of forget about it.
Q: Are reality TV and documentaries the same or different?
A: Reality television is somewhat manufactured. I don’t mean like manipulated in the edit room, which happens also, but I mean the situations are set up and that’s acknowledged by the producers. You know — “We’re going to put a bunch of people together in a house and call it ‘Real World’ and see what happens when they live together.” No one thinks that’s happening on its own. Everyone acknowledges that that was set up to see what happens.

A documentary is happening regardless of what’s going on. He would have been doing what he was doing regardless of whether I was shooting it or not so everything that happened would have happened anyway. We didn’t set up anything. We didn’t cause anything to happen or create any fake situation. We were just documenting what he was doing. When you’re doing that and you’re just calling him up and saying, “What are you doing next week?” and he says, “I’m doing this, this and this” and you say, “Well, I'll be there for this” you just get what happens.
Q: And that’s got to turn into a lot of work when it comes time to edit the film.
A: Certainly, you can’t make a 250 hour movie. So you have to make choices about, “Well, what’s the most interesting? What tells this particular story? How am I going to arc this story?” That’s really where you start to play with that stuff. But the stuff that you’re playing with is all real stuff.
Q: Tell me about some of the biggest challenges you faced during production.
A: There’s always challenges in shooting stuff (like) making sure that everybody’s on board with what you’re doing. Not everybody is as comfortable as Jay is in front of the camera. So there's people who are not going to want to be shot or they're uncomfortable being shot. It's just a matter of getting past that hurdle. If somebody’s really uncomfortable being shot then you just don’t shoot them. There’s people who just said, “I don’t want to do this” and then they’re not in it.

Every single person that shows up has to be signing a piece of paper that says it’s okay to shoot them. All of those logistics are always pretty challenging, especially when you’re doing other projects. You know, this was all independent (work done) through my own production company (and) we had some investors. It was a very small scale low budget project so we were all working (on other things) while we were doing this.

I was running a series at the time so it’s a challenge to figure out how you’re going to do (something). Rob shot most of it, himself, and I shot some of it. We were doing the shooting ourselves so that was just another ball in the air to juggle.
Q: What’s Jay been doing since you finished shooting?
A: He’s doing great. In fact, right now he’s in Phoenix doing press for the film. He has his line of fabric in stores and he has a line on QVC. He’s been teaching at Philadelphia University in their fashion department. He does projects and he’s still trying to get his thing going on a bigger scale. It takes a long time.