Joseph Garner Talks Craigslist Joe, available on iTunes and VOD August 2nd
Available on iTunes and VOD August 2nd, with select screenings around the country, Craigslist Joe is an enthralling and very funny documentary that follows Joseph Garner as he ditches everything to go on a journey fueled and funded solely by the people of Craigslist. Attempting to survive off the goodwill and support of this 21st Century Town Square, Joe spends 31 days traveling America, and the results are nothing short of astounding.
We recently caught up with the director, who places himself in some quite precarious situations, to talk about the film, what it means to our gadget laden culture, and what, exactly, Zach Galifianakis had to do with it all.
Here is our conversation.
It must have been impossible to know what to expect when you set off on this journey. What were your expectations for the project at the beginning of this whole ordeal?
Joseph Garner: Right, I had no idea what would happen. I had this feeling that I was a little bit stuck and isolated in my routine. I came up with this idea a couple of years ago when our country was going through a recession. A really bad one, where we didn't know where the bottom was. That still hasn't subsided, but then, we were just at the beginning of that. People were hurting around the country. People were losing their homes. They were losing their life savings. I didn't have any way of knowing what the average person was going through just by turning on the news. I felt that there wasn't any true sense of what people were going through. This was a combination of wanting to get out of my little routine, break out of my bubble, and also engage with people, and see how technology and social media is enabling better interaction. That was my hope, initially.
What are your thoughts about the journey now that its all over with, and people are able to see what you went through?
Joseph Garner: I was completely blown away. It didn't take long into this journey to realize that I was not fully prepared for what I was about to find out here. I initially thought, "Okay, can I survive my struggle and my adventure?" It was about me breaking out of my thing. I didn't go into this thinking about how the people I would meet would obviously share this in such a profound way. As I was meeting these amazing people, and I was hearing their stories of struggle and survival, and the resilience they have in their lives...I started to realize that this was way bigger than my little adventure. There was a unified theme that I was picking up on. People's desire to connect with one another. No matter how much technology and social media comes into play. People still have to have that fundamental desire for human interaction and need. I felt like people were really opening up and engaging, because, yes, I was taking a chance...But they were also taking a chance on me.
You bring up an interesting point. I always hear, as I am sure you do, older people complaining about how social media and technology is moving individuals apart from one another. That the kids always have their faces down in their phones. That society is in trouble. Do you feel that is not that case? That we aren't really losing touch with our humanity? That people will still find that human connection?
Joseph Garner: That is an interesting one. I don't feel that, just because I did it, its true for everyone. I feel like that is going to be a major thing that we, as a country, and as a world, will be dealing with in the next ten, twenty, thirty years...Just how technology and social media enables us to interact with people all over the world. We have this access to information like never before. I am a huge fan of it. But at what cost? Is this replacing face-to-face interaction? Are we less likely to help a stranger change a tire. Do you know your neighbor? Do you know the person living next to you anymore? Now that we don't necessarily need as many people to get by? You can be pretty self-sufficient. You are shopping on line. You are booking your airline tickets online. You aren't talking to anyone. These are things that are great. I am all for technology and progress. But we just need to be very aware that we need to work hard to not let that be the end all, be all. Even though it is the interacting, and intersecting of every aspect of our lives, can we still break out of that? And put the phone down, and interact with people?
I don't know if you believe in any doomsday scenarios, but the one that sounds most plausible to me is losing a vast amount of electricity across a large expansion of land. That we find ourselves without access to our phones, and technology in general. That could, and has, happened. Do you feel, after taking on this project, that you, as an individual, are a little better equipped to deal with that?
Joseph Garner: I guess it depends on the circumstances. Even in earthquakes, or in New York, where the heat waves are causing power outages right now...If there is so much congestion, and the cell tower is out, and the cell phones just don't work, that is scary. People want to know that they are okay in the midst of something bad happening. But I will admit, I am no better than anyone else. I sleep with my phone right next to my bed. I, unfortunately, bring it into the bathroom when I am in the shower. I am looking at emails when I'm brushing my teeth. It is something that has infected my life. Now that it is here...We can't pretend like Facebook, and Twitter, and technology in general doesn't exist. They do. But its like, okay, how do we deal with that? How do we make sure we are still engaging with people inside our social circles, but outside as well? Engaging with people that have differing points of view and backgrounds from us? Really, making sure we still have that desire to interact and take care of each other.
Have they invented a device that allows you to take your phone into the shower yet?
Joseph Garner: It's not in the physical shower (laughs). It's in the bathroom part, on the counter. While I'm showering. I still have my day job. I, unfortunately, need to always be around my phone. But its also, like, I need to kill two birds with one stone. I get out of the shower, I'm brushing my teeth, I am also replying to emails. (Laughs) It is pretty pathetic hearing that out loud.
I don't know if you watch The League, but one of the guys was putting his iPhone in a Ziploc bag so he could take it in the shower...
Joseph Garner: Yeah, exactly (laughs). I don't know if anyone has made a waterproof device for their phone, yet. I don't have one.
I never take my phone past the sink...Now, 31 days...A lot happens to you in 31 days. Do you feel that was enough time? Not enough time? Too much time?
Joseph Garner: I felt it was the perfect amount of time, given the constraints of a movie documentary. I'm not going to make people watch the twelve-hour cut that I initially had of this thing. I did ask some very nice friends to do that, and give me their notes. But, I think, if I went on for a year, or six months...There would be so many amazing things that I would want to include, and just couldn't. In 31 days, I was able to travel the entire country, and come back, and meet tons, and tons of people...Essentially hundreds of people. The people in the film are a sampling of that, and they get three or four minutes of screen time. A lot of these people I spent days with, and I really got to know them well. And very quickly. It's a traveler's mentality. I don't feel we have that as much in the United States. But other countries, where traveling is more a part of their culture...They are a little more open to strangers, and interacting with people they don't know. Here, it's about breaking out of your shell, and interacting with people you don't know, or have a common interest with. I think the timing was great. Personally, I would like to be doing it right now. I had an amazing and inspiring time doing it.
If that is the case, why can't this work as a TV pilot? Is something like that in the works? Where we see you doing this on a weekly basis...
Joseph Garner: That's certainly a possibility. To expand on this...I feel there is the element of adventure, and not knowing what is going to happen today. It's going to be different from tomorrow, and it will be different from yesterday. That possibility of a lot of new things happening depending on who you meet...More of these social issues can be brought up. Like, the inequalities, the educational systems, and the lack of food...There are a lot of issues I'd like to dive into given the opportunity to explore that.
How many people did you have with you? Who made up your crew? Did you just have the one cameraman?
Joseph Garner: Yeah, it was just he and I. I found him on Craigslist the week before. We didn't have a sound guy, we didn't have a guy or a girl cutting the footage as we were sending it along. It was about going out there and seeing what we could find, and then shaping it in the editing process. I came back and hired an editor, and brought on a couple of people who could really give some input, and whittle this down, these 80 hours. Really, what is the essence of the story we are trying to tell? It was like reverse filmmaking, in a way.
How less dangerous does a trip like this become when you have that one person who is always with you?
Joseph Garner: You could definitely make that argument...People are more willing to help you out, and they aren't going to mess with you when you have a camera. That very likely could be true. I like to think the people I interacted with would have done the exact same thing had I not had a camera. In fact, no one knew I was doing a documentary when I was interacting with people on Craigslist. I just seemed like a normal person, "Hi, do you want to go for a hike?" Or if someone was going from San Francisco to Portland, and they had extra space in their car, I'd be like, "Hey, I'd love to get up there. I can drive the entire way. I can exchange some services. I can barter. Whatever you need. I am down." It wasn't until those people said, "Yeah, okay, sure." That I said, "Hey, do you mind if the camera guy comes along? We're doing this little project. Most people were okay with it. There were a couple dates that fell through because of it.
Did they ever explain why it fell through? Or was it just obvious?
Joseph Garner: It's about establishing a rapport with people. For example, I was in Chicago, on my way to New York with a guy I'd met on Craigslist. My cameraman was in the backseat. I had a wireless Internet card for the month, because I didn't want accessing Craigslist to ever be an issue. So I got a new cell phone with a new number so that no one I knew could contact me. I wouldn't be tempted to contact anyone I knew. I was sure I could engage in these new interactions. And I brought a toothbrush. I wanted nothing else...So, yeah, we're on our way to New York. I look in the strictly platonic meet-up section, and I found this girl. We exchanged emails, we hooked up on the phone...I was really excited. She was excited to meet me as well. Then, the guy we were traveling with said, "Have you told her about 'you know what' yet?" I said, "No. That's coming next." I called her. I wanted to give her a heads up. I said, "I want to meet you. We're doing this little project. Is that okay?" She's like, "No." (Laughs) Even though she was down to meet up before. There was very few times that this discouraged people. I didn't want that to be the leading thing. I didn't want certain people to help me engage, and I didn't want to prevent certain people from wanting to do the same thing, if they thought it was some lame reality series, and they didn't want to be embarrassed. So, it was about doing it very genuine. "Hey, looking to meet up. I'm just a regular guy."
Did your cameraman have different rules from you?
Joseph Garner: Yeah, he had a meal stipend, so he was able to get food. It wasn't a lot. He certainly roughed it. The nights I was out shooting on the streets, he was there shooting right along with me. He was definitely a trooper. He went with it.
What is Zach Galifianakis' role in this project? Is he on as an executive producer just to lend his name to the movie? Or did he help at all in the creative process?
Joseph Garner: I met him on the set of The Hangover. I was always a fan of his stand-up, and I kind of got to know him pretty well on that movie. And then we worked on two other movies together. There is so much to him. He is a really thoughtful, deep guy. I thought, "Huh, maybe he would be interested in something like this..." Just when I was coming up with the idea. I talked to him about it. He thought it sounded pretty cool. He said he'd love to see where it goes. I went out there...We didn't have a big budget to shoot this. It was just me and a camera guy. I put together a cut, and sent him a DVD to get his thoughts. He said he was really inspired and moved by what I had here. He thought it would be more of me going throughout the country, partying. It's not that at all. He thought it was great. I was able to talk to him, and he offered to help get involved. He put his name behind it, he really supported it, and he gave me notes. Obviously, it has been great having him there as a supporter.
What are you doing to promote the movie that ties back into what you actually do in the movie?
Joseph Garner: We signed an agreement, where it is coming out on iTunes and VOD August 2nd. So it will be available for anyone to watch starting August 2nd. We are also working with this company called Tugg (), where its event type screenings. We have ten of them scheduled throughout the country. There is one happening in New York on August 2nd. Then we are doing Los Angeles, San Francisco, Port Aransas, and other cities throughout the country. How it works is, if you live in Boston, Mass, and you want to see the movie, and enough people request it, and say, "Yeah, I'll go see the movie at this time." Then it happens. The movie is happening, like my experience in the movie, it is living off the community. If there are enough people out there that want to see it, it can happen. People have the opportunity to request a screening if its not in their town. We're really doing a grassroots effort with those types of screenings. I'm excited about getting it out there, and hopefully we will get some good word of mouth.