It’s that time of year film festival fans – Park City movies time! That’s right, yours truly will be covering both the Sundance Film Festival (stay tuned!) and the even more illustrious Slamdance Film Festival for the great WhySoBlu.com to include reviews, interviews and even special stuff you won’t see anywhere else. (A very cool announcement coming this week!) But since the films are coming fast and furious (an on purpose movie pun!) even before the festivals star let’s get this ride underway!
First up is a Slamdance film in the Documentary Features category titled Who Is Arthur Chu? – a flick that every misunderstood nerd can get behind. (Yup, that includes this movie geek!) It follows famed Jeopardy! champ Arthur Chu, a smart gent who became vastly popular and unpopular for his all across the board winning style. The film follows him through life, love and family history hat folks don’t know and makes for one real and revealing doc. We wanted to know more about the behind the scenes stuff, so we sought out the filmmaker behind the project and it turns out there are two. So below we dissect the doc Who Is Arthur Chu? – from approaching Arthur to the logistics of filming – with insightful duo directors…
YU GU & SCOTT DRUCKER
How did you come to know about Arthur Chu and what made you think he would make a good documentary film subject?
Yu Gu: Scott was like, ‘Do you know this guy Arthur Chu?’ and to be honest I don’t really watch Jeopardy! nowadays, but I used to as a kid. So I looked him up and I thought he was interesting. And at that time he had already started writing articles for The Daily Beast and we realized that this guy was much more than just a game show contestant.
Scott Drucker: I saw the viral frenzy online and I was curious to know more about Arthur as a person. Also just the reaction itself and why he was hated so much. So a little bit of both – Jeopardy! and then also the backlash to Arthur on the show.
How did you contact him and convince him to be a part of the project?
SD: We emailed him and it was actually quite easy because at that time he was already pursuing his own creative career as a public speaker and a writer and cultural pundit. For him it felt probably like a good chance for more people to hear his voice and what he had to say. So we basically went out to Cleveland and spent a weekend with him and this was right after the initial Jeopardy! run before the Tournament of Champions. And there were a lot of other themes we were interested in seeing like the reason he went on Jeopardy! in the first place, which you never get when you watch these shows. There’s a little sound bite with Alex Trebek. They’re not going to go into the fact that this was kid who was marginalized, who felt like an outsider his whole life and just to assimilate he learned all this random knowledge and these trivial things.
What were some of the logistical and emotional challenges of following Arthur around with a camera for so long?
YG: Logistically one thing in terms of practical things – he doesn’t actually have a phone line, he just has data on his phone. So the only way to communicate with him was though email or direct messaging on Twitter. And he is notoriously difficult to get in touch with, but the fact of the matter is he really enjoyed having us around filming him. So he would contact us saying I’m going to do this and that – you want to come? I live in Los Angeles and Scott lived in Chicago for a long time, so we would both try to convene at whatever place we had to go.
Making the film what was something you learned about Arthur and what as the biggest misconception?
SD: People immediately form their opinion from someone on television, but who is this person actually? And Arthur’s quite quiet and he’s reserved in a lot of ways and he’s constantly analyzing and thinking about every situation. He’s not that aggressive person he is on the game show. I mean there you’re trying to win money and win and from that all these opinions are formed in the public eye and they’re not always accurate. To me that was something to peel away and show who this person really is.
I was shocked by the caustic and downright cruel tweets you put on display in the film about Arthur from real people – I even found that one was from a third grade teacher. Were either of you shocked at how openly mean spirited people were towards Arthur?
SD: Not really – you hold up the mirror…the fact that a lot of people with families and teachers and professions that are quite honorable are saying a lot of these things because they’re anonymous and they can say whatever they want…
But these are folks tweeting from their real accountants and quite frankly I was disturbed by it!
YG: I think a lot of times there’s the idea that it’s the Internet and it’s not real life, right? It’s not real. If I say these cruel and terrible things it’s not gonna have any real effect on the other person that I’m saying this to. And going further death threats, rape threats and saying ‘those are just trolls – it’s not actually real.’ It’s a really interesting space I feel like where people do treat it differently than real life. But to me the saddest thing is people like that third grade teacher and this darkness inside of them – where does that come from?
Seeing those I felt so bad for Arthur!
YG: I think Arthur tried in the beginning when he was thrown hate it was like water off duck’s back or something, but the more we followed him the more it does get to him. It’s not something you just brush off – the moment you read that tweet you can’t erase it. You repress it, but inevitably it comes back.
I was moved by the seemingly unwavering relationship at the beginning between Arthur and Eliza Blair – what did you observe as far as their relationship over the course of filming and what is their status today?
YG: That was another surprise for me because we hadn’t really met Eliza. We didn’t know who she was at all until we got to Cleveland. She’s such a rich person herself and she has her dreams and her passions, but it’s so terrible because her disease fibromyalgia. They really had dreams to be a super nerd couple and they’re going to conquer the world with their ideals and change the world together. But with the reality of her condition and the fact that she can’t work and is stuck at home and he’s getting so busy and involved with things outside of the house, that just kept building and building. And at some point it was not a tenable relationship anymore because there was no communication and we definitely observed that while filming – it really broke our hearts.
SD: Also the mounting pressure on Eliza to constantly be in a support role and Arthur losing sight of how much he put himself and his own mission first I think it’s the cost of fame.
YG: We talked to Eliza a little bit and they’re divorced now, Arthur moved out and he has been in not a great place lately.
Very sad to hear. So what’s next for you guys?
YG: I have been filming another documentary for years now and it follows former NFL cheerleaders who are suing their teams and the NFL for wage theft because they were either not paid or paid well below the minimum wage. Hoping to finish by the end of this year or early next year. Beyond that I would love to do something in the narrative space – I love science fiction.
SD: I have another project on and off and I have this other doc that’s a long-term project that would be in Chicago and it’s hanging out with a group of kids – a Hoop Dreams kind of documentary.
“WHO IS ARTHUR CHU?” SCREENS AT THE SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL ON FRIDAY, JAN. 20 AT 7PM AT THE GALLERY AND TUESDAY, JAN. 24 AT 1:30PM AT THE BALLROOM. FOR MORE INTO CLICK – HERE!