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VIFF 2015 Interview: SLACKJAW director Zach Weintraub

by Jason Whyte

"I have tried and failed to pitch SLACKJAW enough times to know that the plot is not its selling point. The movie is a paranoid political thriller, but it isn't particularly political or thrilling. It's cinematic, it's minimalist, it's funny in its own muted way, and the music is really cool. It is a unique, enjoyable thing to experience. Come stoned if that is your preference." Zach Weintraub totally selling this interviewer on his film SLACKJAW which screens at the 2015 Vancouver Internatonal Film Festival.

Is this your first VIFF experience and will you be in Vancouver to attend your screenings?

Yes and yes. Well, just the first screening on 9/27. Gotta get back to work on Monday. But I am pumped.

Awesome to hear. So tell me a little bit about who Zach Weintraub is.

I grew up in Olympia, Washington. I studied film production at NYU. I liked New York and I liked my friends but I thought that the film school atmosphere was somehow really stifling. I bailed on attempting any sort of final project, graduated as early as possible, and moved back in with my mom in Olympia to make a movie on my own. That was in 2009. Since then it has been a sort of cycle; work, save, make movie, repeat. SLACKJAW is my fourth movie.

How did SLACKJAW happen?

I thought of the idea and talked about it with four friends who I wanted to be involved; two actors, Rob Malone and Jesse Rudoy, producer Brad Smith and the DP Nandan Rao. They were all down, so I spent about 14 months writing and saving money. The movie gradually became something completely different but I was keeping those friends in the loop the whole time and sending them drafts. I never quite felt ready but we picked a date and went for it. I brought my friends to Olympia where I was living and got them an apartment for a month while we shot the movie. After they left I edited it, and got my friend Ernesto Carcamo to do the music. The final sound mix and color correction dwindled for many months, but eventually the movie got into Locarno and we had about two weeks to get it finished, so that was that.

For you, Zach, while you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you?

For me it's like this. If you spend a year or two saving up for a highly expensive, non-refundable pair of pants, only to finally buy them and find that they're uncomfortable, you're going to wear those pants anyway.

Interesting answer! So what was your biggest challenge with the movie?

Because the movie was changing so much throughout the writing process and even into production, the cast and crew were all over the place in terms of what they thought the movie was meant to be. In the past I have been able to point to my previous stuff and say, "Look, it's going to be kind of like this." SLACKJAW does have a lot in common with my other movies, but it's also very different. I didn't have the means to communicate my ideas. In the worst moments I felt like I didn't even know what I was going for myself. Now that I look at the finished product, I think that I did know, but there was a lot of doubt flying around. It's not exactly something we overcame.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire show, what would it be?

I really like the whole opening sequence. It's sort of a prologue, more or less wordless, and it's unclear what is going or what any of it has to do with the rest of the movie. We shot the whole sequence on the same day. It was quite the crapshoot, much like the entire production, but it was nice to finish the day with a completed sequence. And looking at the footage, I felt like "Hey, this is almost exactly how I imagined it would be." Happy accidents are magical and I depend on them, but when something goes from the page to the screen unchanged it's a rare and special kind of victory.

I am now curious about the look and the design on the movie. Tell me about the tech side of the movie and working with Nandan Rao.

The movie was shot on a Black Magic Pocket Cinema camera with some very old 16mm Bolex lenses purchased on Ebay. Nandan, the director of photography, was behind all of that. Brad, the producer, recorded all of the audio with a Sound Devices 722 recorder and a shotgun mic. We did have a wireless lavalier mic, but we only used it once. We shot in 2.39:1, which I decided by looking at the monitor five minutes before we started rolling on our first shot. Nandan has shot all of my movies, so our working relationship is very collaborative. It's also very intuitive, we don't really discuss the "why" behind our decisions. If we like the way something looks and feels, we go for it. We shoot every scene with just one shot, so when we are setting up we will often think about the scene that came before and the scene that will come after, and consider what will work best in between.

So what are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at VIFF?

I have never been to VIFF, but I have heard that the audiences are good. The possibility of people being receptive to my movie is what I'm most excited about. If that doesn't work out, I think there's a hot tub in the hotel. That's also exciting.

Where is this movie going to show next? Any theatrical release?

Next we will be doing some screenings in Olympia, where I grew up and where we made this movie, and in Portland, where I live now. I am excited for both of those. I really doubt there will be any real theatrical release. If I'm lucky I will be eating those words. But I doubt it.

There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews on If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

Own your limitations. Run with them. Can't make it look good? Make it look shitty. Or my personal favorite; too lazy to edit? Don't shoot any coverage.

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

I am just going to pretend you didn't ask this. Too hard.

Be sure to follow Zach and follow his progress on SLACKJAW on Twitter at @zackischoking!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 24th to October 9th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the VIFF app for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

link directly to this feature at
originally posted: 09/28/15 17:41:05
last updated: 09/28/15 17:47:35
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