Barry Sonnenfeld, a comedic, quirky and anxious filmmaker and producer, will share tales of his dysfunctional Jewish family and how he got a start shooting pornography in Atlanta, of all places. He has plenty of “cred” from his alliances with the Coen brothers, “The Addams Family” movies, producers Steven Spielberg and Jon Peters, and actor Will Smith.
He describes his own late mother as “a lovely woman to others, who cared deeply about all people. Her heroes were Eleanor Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson. Her problem was a deadly combination of narcissism and insecurity, which led to her being profoundly overprotective of her only child. She told me if I went away to sleep away school [others call it college] she would commit suicide.”
Laugh on as Sonnenfeld shares a preview with the Atlanta Jewish Times.
Jaffe: You have history here.
Sonnenfeld: I have been in Atlanta once in my life to shoot a short documentary about a prostitute. I was the cameraman. Our subject and I fell in love and became boyfriend/girlfriend for about a year, before we realized that we lived too far apart. I love to watch the Atlanta-based Weather Channel. If I wasn’t a writer/producer/director, I’d want to be a weatherman, hanging out with Jim Cantore.
Jaffe: Does your comedy come from a place of pain?
Sonnenfeld: I have a quirky surreal attitude towards comedy. I was very drawn to the dark visual humor of Charles Addams, as revealed in his drawings for The New Yorker. His comedy forced the viewer to find the joke, which is how I like to direct my comedies. I was lonely and depressed through my teens, but I wouldn’t call my life full of pain.
Jaffe: How did you happen to have your bar mitzvah in a church?
Sonnenfeld: I was born on April Fools’. Temple Beth Shalom sold their building to an Orthodox sect, and their new temple wasn’t going to be available until April 9. The rabbi asked the nearest church if we could borrow their facility for my bar mitzvah and Saturday services. The rabbi and cantor spent Friday night covering the crosses and crucifixes with burlap bags.
Jaffe: How do you inspire folks who’ve had a rough beginning?
Sonnenfeld: My father told me, which seemed to work, “Decide what you want to do that will bring you joy and do it. You’ll figure out a way how to make money at it.” What I would add is, decide what you want to be and declare yourself that thing. I got out of graduate film school, decided I would enjoy being a cameraman, bought a used 16mm camera [this is before the days of video cameras] and declared myself a cameraman. I never worked my way up the ladder, becoming a film loader, second assistant, first assistant. I was a cameraman! I met Joel Coen at a party, who told me he and his brother were going to film a trailer to raise money for their first feature “Blood Simple.” I told him I owned a camera. He hired me to film the trailer on the spot, and we eventually went on to film three movies.
Jaffe: What’s left on your bucket list?
Sonnenfeld: I would like to become happier and more relaxed. That would be a good bucket list hope.
Jaffe: You were originally scheduled to appear in Atlanta. How has the pandemic changed your time?
Sonnenfeld: The pandemic has been devastating for everyone. I don’t want to sound like I’m suffering more than others. As it relates to the book, Sweetie [wife] and I got out of New York, the first stop on my book tour, and back home on March 12, just when things started to look bad. The rest of my tour – upstate New York, Toronto, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Austin, Miami and Atlanta – all cancelled. Bookstores closed. This devastated sales, in spite of great reviews in The Wall Street Journal and New York Times.
My day-to-day life: Get up, take out the dog, breakfast, take out the dog, read, take out the dog, lunch, take out the dog, nap and read, take out the dog, make dinner, take out the dog, stream “Billions,” “Succession” and “Unorthodox,” take out the dog, go to sleep, and repeat next morning.
Jaffe: If you could say one thing now to your mother.
Sonnefeld: Leave me alone. I’ll be fine.