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Movie Lovers We Love: Jessica Edwards Asks Doc Legends for Advice in New Book

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire March 15, 2013 at 1:01PM

For several years, Jessica Edwards was a publicist in the indie film world; a year and a half ago, she left the world of publicity and had a kid. Since then, she's been working on a book of advice from leading documentary filmmakers called "Tell Me Something: Documentary Filmmakers."
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Jessica Edwards
Jessica Edwards

For several years, Jessica Edwards was a publicist in the indie film world; a year and a half ago, she left the world of publicity and had a kid.  Since then, she's been working on a book of advice from leading documentary filmmakers called "Tell Me Something: Documentary Filmmakers."

Speaking with Indiewire, Edwards explained her process for putting together the book, "I certainly started from a place of affection for these filmmakers.  When I sat to write down all of my favorite documentary filmmakers, there were so many more than 50.  I just started calling."

Edwards has enlisted filmmakers like Albert Maysles, DA Pennebaker, Frederick Wiseman and Barbara Kopple, and renegades like Morgan Spurlock, James Marsh, Sam Green and Margaret Brown to be a part of the project.  Most (but not all) of the 50 slots have been committed to filmmakers, and Edwards said she's been delighted at how excited filmmakers are to participate.  

She's also been pleased by the response of the project's Kickstarter campaign, which is also offering the coffee table books for a $40 donation (an ebook is available for a $15 donation, and deluxe packages are available for higher donations). 

"People are really kind and supportive," Edwards explains. "I think the site fosters that sense of support. That has been wonderful.  People have backed the project and sent nice notes.  People are busy; it's very nice to hear from them.  Someone from Manila backed the project.  I just want that person to open their package in the fall, and I want them to be excited and into it."

The book is made up of advice from leading documentary filmmakers and original photos taken by professional photographers from Edwards' social network.

Edwards reflected on the process of putting together the book so far:  "It's wonderful to me, how earnest the advice has been.  Really open and really helpful.  The way that filmmakers are able to distill their stories into advice.  Some of it is really hilarious.  James Marsh's advice is very earnest and then ends with 'Have sex as often as you can.'

Tell Me Something cover

"I really love is going on the shoots with the filmmakers.  We've tried hard to photograph in their offices, studios, homes, or in a place that they connect with, so it's not just typical publicity photo shoot in the hotel room.  We've tried hard to have the photographers connect with the space.  Albert [Maysles]' office is like a museum of all kinds of films.  Morgan [Spurlock]'s office is amazing, a treasure trove of cool stuff, and so that's been really special."

If this book goes well, Edwards is interested in making a book series asking creative workers for advice.  "I'd love to hear about to what inspires chefs.  What David Chang of Momofuku has to say.  What Norman Foster has to say as an architect.  I wanted to be able to be able to have the graphical element of the book that you could see them over and over again -- I imagined them on the book shelf, starting with this one, 'Tell Me Something: Documentary Filmmakers.'"

Filmmakers I wish I could get advice from, but can't: 

Tim Hetherington, Leni Riefenstahl and Richard Leacock 

First time realizing the power of documentaries:

It's really nerdy, but I was studying anthropology at university when I was 19, and we watched these Margaret Mead films.  I hadn't been exposed to film and filmmaking until I went into college, and so with these Mead films, I was wanted to know how she got people to act naturally in front of the cameras.  I didn't understand it that much.  I didn't know what vérité was.  All I wanted to do was watch more of them.  It was people living their lives without any kind of interruption.  It didn't seem fake to me.  It didn't seem like a movie.  It seemed like a slice of life.  That was really fascinating to me.  This was around the same time I watched "Kids" for the first time which I was super-infatuated with, and it also had that reality feeling to me.  I tried to find anything I could like this. They were showing "Baraka" at my college theater, so I watched that four times, and then I went to film school and went crazy.  Tried to watch as much as I could.  And then I went to get my Masters and tried to watch as much as I could.  If I could just get the flu for 10 days and see all this stuff!

Favorite Documentary:

"Grey Gardens" is the easy one.  Also, "The Last Waltz." It's one of those "I wish I was in the room that day" films.  And the music is incredible.  And "The Exiles."  Some could argue that the film is more narrative, but regardless of the script, Kent MacKenzie drew out the stories of his real life subject.  It always felt like a documentary John Fante would make if he made films. I haven't looked at downtown LA the same way.

Favorite Fiction Film:

My go-to is "True Romance."  It was the first film I saw when I realized you could tell a story and have characters that aren't necessarily likable on paper be sympathetic characters.  Plus, Brad Pitt has one of the funnier 30 seconds on camera I've ever seen.

For more information on the book project, check out the book's Kickstarter campaign.

Check out Edwards' campaign video below:


This article is related to: Movie Lovers We Love, Documentary Film, Jessica Edwards