By Ziyad Saadi | Indiewire April 10, 2014 at 10:10AM
Documentaries are prone to exposing surprising truths, which makes Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein's film "An Honest Liar" all the more complex given the nature of its subject: the art of deception. Measom and Weinstein chronicle the life of famed magician James "The Amazing" Randi and his attempt to expose the numerous frauds who use their tricks to con people out of money, which ultimately proves to be quite the trick itself.
Tell us about yourself.
Tyler Measom: I am but a humble chimney sweep and documentary filmmaker laboring to put bread on the table. "An Honest Liar" is my third feature to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. The others: "Take" (2008) starring Minnie Driver and Jeremy Renner and the documentary "Sons of Perdition" (2010). I live and work under the shade of a large oak tree in the lovely town of Salt Lake City. And no, I'm not a Mormon.
Justin Weinstein: My work is a mix of indie docs and broadcast journalism - "Frontline," "Peter Jennings Reporting," ABC News, etc. My last film before "An Honest Liar" was "BEING ELMO," as writer/editor with Philip Shane. I live in Brooklyn, which I swear has the highest concentration of doc filmmakers per square foot of anywhere in the world. That's a good thing - it's a great community to be a part of.
What was your biggest challenge in completing this project?
TM: James Randi seemingly lived his life for someone to make a documentary about him. He kept every letter, every photo, and recorded on VHS hundreds of his television appearances. This archival material was great for crafting the story, but when the time came to online the film, we spent weeks tracking down high-resolution copies, clearing the rights, claiming fair-use and making 30-year-old VHS tapes look presentable. But in the end, it was worth it.
JW: Aside from the archival element that Tyler mentioned, the post-production has been an incredible challenge. 4 different cameras, tons of different source & archival material, and a short time-frame.
You'd think that by the time you reach the DI & color correct that the hardest work is behind you...
What do you have in the works?
TM: I am in the process of finishing up a really fantastic documentary that I produced entitled "Jesus Town." The film tells the story of a small Oklahoma town that puts on a massive Easter Pageant in a bison pasture. Fun stuff. Of course, like all filmmakers, I also have a few dream projects that I'm pushing up the proverbial hill.
JW: I'm an Executive Producer of the film "Bronx Obama," directed by Ryan Murdock, a great film that's now showing in fests, and I've got several other projects in different stages of birth that I'm quite excited about.
Did you crowdfund? If so, via which platform? And if not, why?
TM: We kicked ass on Kickstarter. "An Honest Liar" raised $247,000 and gained a large cadre of ardent followers. Although our campaign has been over for a year now, we have continued to raise tens of thousands of dollars by selling film merchandise on our website. Needless to say, we are very thankful for everyone who has supported our film over the past three years.
JW: Yes, Kickstarter. Wonderful, loads of work, love our supporters for helping us get the film made. I would like to have a big party just to thank them, but I don't think that's how they want us to spend their money.
What camera did you shoot on? We utilized a variety of cameras during the making of "An Honest Liar." We started production with the Panasonic AG, then we purchased a Canon C300 and a Canon 5D. We also shot with the Panasonic HPX and for the main interview we used a RED Epic.
Did you go to film school? If so, which one?
TM: I did a couple of years of college, but not film school. I was something of an autodidact in the film world. I read every book I could get my hands on and religiously watched thousands of movies. At the age of 17, I talked my way onto a film set and started working in essentially all film departments for another ten years. This granted me the opportunity to learn the art of directing and producing by watching others.
JW: I went to NYU film school planning to be a narrative director and screenwriter. I loved it but wanted to learn more about other things. I also love science and was on my way to becoming a scientist. I went on to get a PhD in Genetics (Columbia University), but decided I'd prefer to help communicate science rather than do the experiments. Much of my work has had a science component, but the type of scientific thinking I learned is actually extremely valuable for journalism and filmmaking.
What films have inspired you?
TM: At the age of ten, I watched "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and realized that I wanted to be a filmmaker - indeed a heady goal for a young Mormon boy growing up in a small Utah town. I have always been, and will continue to be inspired by my absolute favorite film, "Network" (1976). The dialogue, pacing and shot placement are well ahead of its time. The wonderful political documentary "War Room" (1993) made me not only a hopeful documentarian, but a Democrat. When making" An Honest Liar," we studied the art of non-fiction storytelling by re-watching such works as "Man on Wire," "Bill Cunningham New York," "The Imposter," "F is for Fake," and "Marjoe," among others.
JW: My formative time watching films as a child was during the heydey of the 70's directors - Kubrick, Coppola, Altman, Scorsese, etc. My father would show me foreign films like Di Sica's "The Bicycle Thief." Bertolucci's "Il Conformista" (The Conformist) was a visual inspiration for me, and films like Antonioni's "Blow Up" and Coppola's "The Conversation" are also big influences. Godard's "Pierrot Le Fou" was a revelation for me in film school - but it can be unbearable if not watched on a big screen! Most directly, "F is for Fake" was an incredible inspiration for this film.
Indiewire invited Tribeca Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2014 festival. Go HERE to read all the entries.