Nicholas Jarecki’s industry calling card was the 2001 book Breaking In: How 20 Film Directors Got Their Start. After several music videos and commercials, Jarecki collaborated with novelist Bret Easton Ellis on the screenplay to The Informers.
Jarecki, 33, admits to not being a great fan of The Informers and that Arbitrage allowed the screenwriter and first-time director an opportunity to see his unadulterated vision through to completion. Richard Gere stars as a fraudulent hedge fund magnate whose cool head sizzles after an accidental homicide claims his mistress’ life. Watching the unflappable Gere squirm as his life in the boardroom and bedroom slowly unravels is one of the film’s great delights.
Arbitrage is currently playing throughout San Diego. Jarecki is out stumping the film and was kind enough to spend a few minutes speaking with The Big Screen. He’ll be pleased to learn that Arbitrage had the biggest debut ever for a film opening in both movie theaters and On Demand.
Scott Marks: Do you remember the first film your parents took you to see when you were a child?
Nicholas Jarecki: It was with my dad. I remember going to see the kung-fu exploitation picture The Last Dragon starring Vanity.
A Michael Schultz picture. I remember it well.
Yeah. I like that picture, actually. Later we went to see A Bronx Tale, DeNiro’s film. We always liked going to see father and son films. My mom is the one who turned me on to real movies. She showed me The Godfather and Dog Day Afternoon and stuff like that.
You are a graduate of NYU Film School and author of the book Breaking In: How 20 Film Directors Got Their Start. You’ve made the successful transition from classroom to soundstage, so let me ask you: Is film school really necessary?
No. I don’t think so. Necessary for what? To become a director? No. Certainly there are plenty of directors who never went to film school. I can only use my own experience. In the book, half of the directors went to film school and half didn’t. Something like that. In my case, the film I made...my ultimate producer was a colleague from film school. Whether or not it was useful to meet people there that I then 12 years later made a movie with is hard to say. As far as learning how to make a film, for somebody that wants to be a writer/director, I would focus on writing. That’s really the trick and it ain’t easy.
Arbitrage is currently playing On Demand. How do you feel about having your film debut on television the same day it opens in a theatre?
I’m very excited. With these types of non-special effects driven 4,000-screen release pictures you never expect to have the same type of theatrical life as Batman. Of course, I wish people would see it in the best presentation format possible, but for people out there not located near one of the few hundred theatres playing Arbitrage, it’s great for them to have access to it.
I enjoy the repugnant behavior on display in The Informers and personally applaud any movie that allows Amber Heard to cavort around naked for most of the running time. How did you manage to collaborate on the screenplay with novelist Bret Easton Ellis?
Well, unfortunately he and I are perhaps not as great fans of that film as you are, really because we had no involvement in its making. That was a picture I intended to direct and Bret is an author I really like. I cold-called him right after I had made my first little documentary on a Sony Handycam. I love his book and said let’s make it a movie. Surprisingly, he called back and said alright, I’m in. He’s crazy enough Like I am to do something like this with a total stranger.
We’re great friends to this day. I went around trying to get the money for that movie for several years. Ultimately, I got the money but at the last minute the financier wished to replace me with another director and double the budget. He spent a fortune making something that didn’t really represent our idea. He bought the script from us for a substantial amount. The good thing about that was I put the money aside -- and I put my ego aside -- and wound up putting that money back into Arbitrage. It bought a few more shooting days and good locations.
Your brothers are Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans, All Good Things) and Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight, Freakonomics). I was going to ask what it must have been like to have three budding filmmakers seated around the Jarecki family dinner table until I learned that you shared the same father but had different mothers.
There is a big age gap and we grew up separately, so we never actually sat around the dinner table. And our dad was really not a big fan of films. That said, I think my brothers are making real good movies and hopefully they feel the same about me. It’s nice now to be able to show each other our stuff and have a shared interest, but where that developed from is truly bizarre. The only thing I can think is that our family is very modern; not futurists, but we like all the cutting edge stuff. I feel that film is the modern day art form, especially documentaries that have undergone such a renaissance over the last 10 or 15 years.
Take me through some of the casting selections in Arbitrage and how much say you had in who plays who.
One-hundred percent. We made the film independently and there was nobody to report to. We did nearly a month of rehearsal. Richard and I would meet at my apartment and we would sit around the kitchen table and go through the script piece by piece. Then everyone would come in and join us for a few days here, a few days there. Through that we were able to collaborate and improve the screenplay. We became very well acquainted with each other and I felt like I chose well. And I also felt like they chose me. They didn’t know me from a hole in the wall. I was a first-time director. These serious heavyweights in their profession taking a chance on me was something wonderful.
Speaking of something wonderful, bless you for casting Stuart Margolin. Why isn’t that man getting more work?
He came and did a reading with me a year before the film was made. It was a totally different group of people at the time. My casting director introduced him to me and I didn’t really know his stuff. Unlike other parts where I saw 40 or 50 people, he came for that first reading and no one else was ever seen for the part. He has such an interesting combination of ice cold scary and at the same time an incredible amount of warmth and humanity behind his eyes. So he really embodied the ‘power vs. humanity’ theme of this picture.
Are you at all familiar with The Rockford Files?
No, but I didn’t need to after I met him.
The character you describe is anything but the goofy flake fans of the show fell in love with. It’s like watching Albert Brooks in Drive; the funniest man in America is suddenly sawing someone’s forearm with a knife. If you’re familiar with Margolin’s comedy work, when you see him in a drama your initial inclination is to laugh. Margolin came through for you and it was great seeing him again.
Is Richard Gere’s character patterned after anyone in specific? Should we be calling Brit Marlng’s character “Ivanka?”
He’s not patterned after Trump. Trump is not even worthy of consideration. He’s inspired by many of the great minds out there in investment banking. If there is anyone I patterned the character after I guess it would have to be myself. I put the guy in really hot water and any time I got stuck, I asked myself what would I do. I don’t know what that says about me. Maybe some scary things.
When was the first time you sat down and watched the film assembled in its entirety?
Two days after we finished shooting. I’m not sure I’m going to do that again because I immediately wanted to kill myself. Assemblies are awful. A film that should run a little over an hour-and-a-half initially clocked in at two-hours-and-forty-minutes.
You had a cut of the film assembled two days after you called a wrap to the shoot?
The editor is working while we’re shooting. It’s in rough form, but at least you can see something. We edited the film in my home for 5 months -- 12 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week. There was a lot of editing.
Is there a particular moment where you sat back, smiled, and said “I nailed it?”
Absolutely not! (Laughing.) I am a completely obsessional person and ultimately had to take my hands away because I was down to changing individual frames. They say that you never stop working on a film, you just abandon it.
Who do you think needs to see Arbitrage?
(Laughing) I’d like as many people as possible to see it. I don’t really think there is a target audience. I’ve screened the movie now for people who are 14-years-old and people who are 90-years-old and have people both love it and hate it in that group. It’s for anybody who enjoys a little bit more than intelligent presentation that provokes you to think or keeps you on a little bit of a dark ride. If you are into movies where you want to take a walk on the wild side, this is for you.