As the frenzy surrounding the future of “Project Runway” rages on in the public spotlight, the designer who took the reality show title in season one is back in the spotlight. Jay McCarroll is at the center of Eleven Minutes, a new documentary by Rob Tate and Michael Selditch which picks up where their 2006 made-for-Bravo documentary “Project Jay” left off. Documenting the ups and downs of McCarroll’s road to launching his fashion line at New York Fashion Week, the film reveals the gritty realities of the world’s most glamorous business and pits real life against reality television.
Jennifer Wood (MM): Eleven Minutes picks up where your Bravo special, “Project Jay,” left off. What was it about the story—and Jay McCarroll himself—that compelled you to keep the story going?
Rob Tate (RT): I’m personally fascinated in exploring the dichotomy of love/hate relationships to one’s work. What part is real? What part is grape Kool Aid? Jay is a perfect character to portray this gray area. He’s famous, but struggling; talented, but naïve; loves his work, but hates the business. I like the fact that he exists somewhere between reality and reality TV, and I enjoy exploring that world through his eyes.
Michael Selditch (MS): After directing quite a bit of non-scripted television, we found it refreshing to document a person who spoke his mind freely, regardless of whether the camera was rolling or not. Jay’s blend of creativity and insecurity is not only compelling and entertaining, but very relatable to many struggling artists. The three of us became good friends on “Project Jay” and when Jay told us his plans to show at Fashion Week and create his first independent line, it was a no-brainer to continue to document him on our own.
MM: McCarroll himself has been very open about his love/hate relationship with the show and what it did for his career. Being that “Project Jay” was for Bravo—the network that spawned Project Runway mania and had a special interest in keeping the mystery behind the show alive—it goes without saying that you probably had a lot more freedom on this project than that one. Besides the project’s length, what were the biggest differences between the television project and the documentary? How do you think the audiences for both differ?
RT: We set out to make the anti-reality TV documentary with this film. Where reality TV tells its story with 90 percent narration (with an occasional “sound-up” in scene to keep people grounded in the action) and 10 percent set-up scenes for camera, we wanted to tell this story with almost entirely organic scenes: Jay and his cohorts talking and interacting in non-staged settings. Very rarely do we use interview, and when we do, we use it as a dialogue between Jay and the interviewer. TV doesn’t like ambiguity; TV execs think their audiences need to be told at all times what’s happening and why. We wanted to let out information when it was necessary, leaving little hints along the way.
MM: Both of you are documentarians with experience in the reality TV genre. While some people might consider reality TV the sort of “small screen cousin” of documentary moviemaking, Eleven Minutes gives audiences a whole new take on that theory—in essence pitting “reality” against reality. What both genres do have in common, however, is real people—not actors—as their stars. It’s a fine line, but one that must affect you as moviemakers, as reality TV stars are meant to be aware of the camera while documentary subjects need to pretend there are no cameras. Were there any specific challenges you faced as a result of this? Any conscious efforts on your part in order to ensure that Eleven Minutes wasn’t just an extended episode of “Project Runway?”
MS: People often blur the line between reality TV and documentary. There is a big difference. Reality TV is manufactured, and I do not mean that in a bad way. The rules and circumstances of manipulation are acknowledged and embraced by the producers. No one claims that these people are living together in the real world, or the events in these shows would actually happen in real life without the show’s existence. With Eleven Minutes, we were documenting actual events that were taking place anyway, in spite of the presence of cameras, not for them. Jay would have gone through this experience regardless of whether we were filming it or not.
RT: We both feel that a big difference between reality TV versus documentary is that the former is a manufactured series of events for the sake of a camera, and the latter would be happening whether cameras are there or not.
Also, I’m not sure we agree that it’s documentary where the cameras are supposed to be invisible. On the contrary, it’s in documentary where the cameras should be most obvious as they are there to document something actually happening. And part of what is happening is that cameras are there.
Well, not only are we purposefully abandoning reality TV pretenses (see above) but we tried to infuse Eleven Minutes with reality TV references gone somehow awry. For example, reality TV uses the talking head interview to supposedly glimpse into the head of the speaker, but the technique is to ask very leading questions to get the speaker to ‘fess up or to raise trump up the drama. In Eleven Minutes, we do this too, but are transparent about it—exposing the ruse, letting the audience in on the pretense.
MM: In the end, what do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
RT: We hope this film will be a love letter to the creative process. I hope the film inspires people to realize that fame should not be the goal. Love is in the making of things.
MS: The artist process is something that the three of us wanted to reveal in this film. All art forms rely on a process, from acting to architecture to making a film. The journey is not always apparent from seeing the end results, and how better to document the intensity of the process than with a documentary!