- Wednesday, Apr. 29, 2015
Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg’s latest documentary “In My Father’s House” was named one of 15 must-see movies at the Tribeca Film Festival by Rolling Stone. The directing duo, represented commercially by kaboom as ricki+annie, discusses their process and what inspires their creativity.
How did you become directing partners?
ricki+annie: We met working on a narrative feature and we began spontaneously working together on projects when we were at HBO. It was an organic process that started with The Trials of Daryll Hunt and In My Corner, and eventually fused as our roles became increasingly interconnected.
Baseball, fashion, foodie finds, political issues, the late, great Joan Rivers and your newest focus - Che "Rhymefest" Smith. How do you choose your subjects?
ricki+annie: We thrive on diversity and the balancing act of where our interests lie; however, we tend to tell stories through character. It is always going to be a love affair with character, even against the backdrop of a larger issue or when we are hired to tell a story for a brand or network.
How do you get people to open up and go deeper than a surface answer?
ricki+annie: You need to be emotionally available and really connect with people so that they trust you to tell their stories. If you only have a few hours – as is often the case with short form projects – it is about guiding them through the process, and finding a mutual connection point. Having a crew with whom you share a short hand really helps to keep the focus on the subject. That’s always the number one priority.
Do you ever provide questions in advance of filming?
ricki+annie: On occasion with brand based projects, but rarely on our documentary features. We do our homework and write our own questions that shape the filming, but once that camera rolls we don’t break eye contact to look down at notes. We want to be fully present with the person being filmed. It is more important to listen and be open to where the conversation takes you, and we want things to feel alive. We absolutely guide our subjects in order to capture what we need, but we always want their story to emerge in a way that feels authentic and true.
What do you enjoy most about short-form work?
ricki+annie: It’s amazing how big a story you can tell in a short period of time. There’s an eloquence to short form that we really appreciate.
What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?
ricki+annie: There’s so much planning, changing, evaluating and responding that is required throughout the production process that it is gratifying to sit in the edit suite and watch the story really come together. On a bigger picture level, it’s immensely rewarding to continually have a creative outlet.
"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" was called a wonderful eulogy for Joan.
ricki+annie: Joan Rivers was clever, kind, generous and funny. She was a groundbreaking woman, but she didn’t take life or herself too seriously. The film is an historic record of how she lived her life and we are glad the film exists, and that people are able to appreciate her through it.
Your new feature doc "In My Father's House" just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. It follows Grammy and Oscar winning rapper Che “Rhymefest” Smith as he tries to find his long-lost father and build a new future in Chicago’s turbulent South Side. How did you discover Che’s story?
ricki+annie: Sometimes we seek out the story and sometimes it finds us. “In My Father’s House” came to us via a friend. Two years ago, we received a call from Daniel Kellison, a producer in Los Angeles. Daniel was sitting with Che “Rhymefest” Smith, a Chicago rap artist he’d met when he was producing Jimmy Kimmel Live. Che, recently a co-writer on the Oscar winning song “Glory,” is a Grammy-winning rapper who also co-wrote “Jesus Walks” with Kanye West. On that first hurried phone call, Che shared his story with us and we were totally hooked. Within a couple of weeks we booked our tickets to Chicago and began what would end up as an 18-month experience tracking Che and his father’s journey from homelessness and alcoholism to self-discovery and redemption.