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Victoria Film Festival 2014 Interview – PUTZEL director Jason Chaet

Putzel - At Victoria Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

“PUTZEL is a bittersweet, romantic, comic, contemporary fable centered around Walter 'Putzel' Himmelstein.  Walter has a dream of owning the family business, a smoked fish store called Himmelstein's House of Lox that has been in the family for generations. But he also has a problem...he is terrified of leaving the small town he calls home, the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The movie deals with his attempts to get out of his comfort zone, and learn how to risk who he is for what he can become.” Director Jason Chaet on PUTZEL which screens at this year's Victoria Film Festival.

Is this your first movie in the Victoria Film Festival, and are you coming to Victoria for the screening?

Yes, it's my first time in the fest.  Sadly I won't be able to make it because of work conflicts.

Tell me a bit about your background and what led you into the motion picture business.

I was trained as a stage actor and theater director in the drama department at Syracuse University. After graduation, I moved to NYC and started working as an assistant director, then director for off Broadway regional theater productions. I got into independent film when a project that turned out to be the film KISSING JESSICA STEIN moved from being a theater piece to a film.  While I still direct theater and teach acting, most of my professional focus has been on independent film.

How did this whole movie come together from your perspective?

Screenwriter/producer Rick Moore is an incredible writer and we paired off to develop projects a few years ago. One day we were kicking ideas around and I realized I hadn't left the Upper West Side in six months.  He said that could be a good movie so we started developing it, taking it in a number of directions. Finally Rick had the superb idea of setting it in a smoked fish store, which is a very upper west side kind of business. From there the script was outlined, written, and developed.  We did a number of readings then spent a few years raising money before we could shoot it.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

Trying to make a $2 million film for $200k in NYC. It's a movie with a lot of characters, locations, and we had to be very creative in getting everything we needed. Thankfully we had great actors who loved the script and understood our budget, and called in a bunch of favors for locations. Plus we got a bagel store when they were closed for Passover which made the movie possible.

What was your single favourite moment or rewarding experience out of the entire production?

So many.  Shooting in NYC is challenging but incredible. Favorite moments include shooting the train sequence, the fight between Walter and his Uncle Sid, and setting up a huge tracking shot at Columbus circle at 4 am. Although to be honest the whole shoot was fun and rewarding.

What keeps you going while making a movie? How much coffee?

Coffee, Diet Coke, hummus, coffee, green juice, Diet Coke. Thankfully there was plenty of diet coke on the craft service table, and there is a Starbucks on every block in Manhattan.

I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.

Ryan Samul was the director of photography and he is an absolute genius. We shot on the RED One for quality and cost efficiency.  We had a great relationship throughout, and the movie looks beautiful. Ryan was also a huge help in the big scenes where we had lots of characters and camera positions; the grand reopening scene had 27 set ups we had to shoot in one day. Because of him we were able to shoot quickly and the movie still looks great.  I can’t tell you how many people say to me ‘It looks like a REAL movie!’. That’s thanks to Ryan and his team.

After the film screens in Victoria, what is the future release plan for the movie? Anywhere you WANT the movie to be shown but haven't done so yet?

To date the film has played at over thirty film fests, both mainstream and Jewish fests, in the U.S., Canada, and around the world. I believe by the end of the year we’ll be in over fifty fests as we are still booking through December of this year. We’ve also had limited runs in NYC and Chicago and will likely do that again, along with lots of other special screenings. The film will have it’s digital release, both U.S. and international, on April 8th, coming out on multiple platforms like Itunes, Google play and so forth. Later in the year it will be expanding to more platforms. We’ve been thrilled by the interest and response to the film. Would it be nice to play on 3000 screens in one weekend? Sure. But for an indie you need to balance exposure with cost effectiveness, and that’s what we’re doing. Thankfully the word of mouth on the film is very good and we’re counting on that to help the word spread.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film in a cinema?

As a New Yorker I would typically say “Put your BLEEPING phone down and shut the BLEEP up”.  But if was at Victoria Film fest I would add “please”. 

There are a lot filmmakers, especially up-and-comers, reading our site. I was curious if you had any advice to aspiring filmmakers?

Even if it takes years to get your film made it will happen if you stay focused and stubborn about the need to do it. Never take no for an answer. Don’t be afraid to let your film tell a real story, with an arc, and lots of characters. Too many indie filmmakers think arc is a bad word. Don’t be that filmmaker! Lighten up and don’t be afraid to write a comedy, even a bittersweet one. Film Fests need more comedies.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have seen at a film festival?

Sadly when you whisk in and out for a festival you don’t get a chance to see a lot of films. You spend so much time doing press, going to your own screenings, and doing panels that it can be difficult. I really liked STORY OF LUKE when I saw it at Phoenix Film Festival, and I saw a great doc at Woodstock called PRETTY OLD. I also really liked LITTLE TIN MAN when I saw it, plus it’s director Matt Perkins and I hit it off at Napa and have become friends.

This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Victoria Film Festival. For showtimes and further information visit

Be sure to follow instant happenings of the festival and updates on my Twitter @jasonwhyte!

Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 02/11/14 04:20:02
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