Back to IndieWire

How Zachary Heinzerling Went From Chronicling the Struggles of ‘Cutie and the Boxer’ to the Phenomenon of Beyoncé

How Zachary Heinzerling Went From Chronicling the Struggles of 'Cutie and the Boxer' to the Phenomenon of Beyoncé

It took Zachary Heinzerling a whopping five years to complete his feature directorial debut “Cutie and the Boxer,” but judging by the year he’s had following the film’s world debut at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, the investment was clearly worth it.

Acquired by RADiUS-TWC out of Sundance, the documentary went on to win Heinzerling the Best Director Award (U.S. Documentary) at Sundance, and become a critical and commercial hit for the distributor, resulting in a coveted Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. What the film’s success also resulted in? A job with Beyoncé.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few months, you’re aware that the global superstar stunned the world shortly before the winter holidays by dropping her fifth studio album (including a whopping 17 music videos) exclusively onto iTunes to ecstatic fanfare. What you probably didn’t know was that Beyoncé enlisted Heinzerling to direct “Self-Titled,” the five-part “mini-art feature” that was released onto YouTube shortly after, that delves into the making of the grand opus. (You can view all five at the bottom of this page.)

READ MORE: Zachary Heinzerling on the Challenges of Documenting an “Incredibly Complicated Relationship” in ‘Cutie and the Boxer’

Heinzerling told Indiewire that he learned of the gig via a producer he knew who was working on one of the 17 music videos Beyoncé had shot.

“My first reaction was, ‘How does no one know about this?'” Heinzerling told Indiewire. “It was such mammoth undertaking! People knew she was working on album, but the scale of it all — I was just overwhelmed.”

After sending her team a big treatment of what the mini-docs could be, he was hired. 

“They were just looking for something different, and something that was very human and down to earth,” he said of why he was chosen for the gig. “I had to then sign a non-disclosure thing that I didn’t really read because it was really long.”

Brought on a mere month before the album was released, Heinzerling and his team were under intense pressure to deliver. It wasn’t until he signed on that he got to meet with Beyoncé personally, when she was on a brief break from touring the globe with her “Mrs. Carter” world tour

“When we did meet, she basically just explained the album and how intensely personal it was — she got really passionate about it, and that made me more passionate about the project,” Heinzerling said. “Seeing her say, ‘I’ve been working on this for so long, and we’re close!’ got me excited. She’s in total control of her art and what she wants to do, and that’s what drives everyone who works for her. It’s an insane amount of work that they do, and they just do it. It was an intense month.”

Given the hush-hush nature of the project, Heinzerling was under strict instructions not to tell his friends and family what was keeping him so occupied. “I would always say, ‘I’m doing this documentary for this musician, but that’s all I can say.’ I couldn’t go further into it,” he said. “It was really hard not to talk about because it completely took over my life.”

When the album dropped in December, Heinzerling was finally permitted to tell his family the exciting news.

“My family doesn’t get the film world. They live in Houston and Beyoncé’s from Houston. So they were excited by that aspect,” he laughed.

“Cutie and the Boxer” is on DVD/Blu-ray and available to watch on VOD and Netflix.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , , , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox