‘Nick Santore’ dir. Jake Zalutsky

A son (Nick Santore, 26) visits his father (Nick Santore, 53) over a short weekend and reflects upon their relationship and his own identity.

Director: Jake Zalutsky
Producer: David Huzieran
Composer: Blake Luley


C8: Where did you come across the story of Nick Santore and what encouraged you to create a documentary about it?

JZ: The film came out of a friendship with Nick Jr. He had been exploring a scripted film about his childhood and through conversation the idea for this film emerged. I’m particularly interested in a type of documentary storytelling that views subjects as collaborators— that is, rather than telling someone’s story from the outside in an “objective” fashion, I’m seeking to work with the subject. This story felt like a great opportunity to do that as I already had a strong relationship with Nick and I knew he would be a strong collaborator. In addition, as someone of a similar age as Nick, the film’s central themes regarding maturing relationships with those who raised us are significant to me and in some ways, I think of it as a personal film.

C8: The film contains an aesthetic that feels almost like a narrative short. Were you conscious of straying too much into that territory?

JZ: For me it is not about if the film appears as narrative or documentary. The intention is to do my best to make something honest that might touch on some fragment of truth and the form follows that motive. Ideally the form is something viewers don’t think much about, but if anything, it is my hope to bring into question the conceptions that traditional documentary (like vérité or interview) is more honest than a film that includes narrative filmmaking technique.

C8: You’re a DOP as well as a Director. How did your background in cinematography assist on this shoot?

JZ: I’ve always been interested in making images and I want to approach documentaries from that place. Of course in a narrative film it’s a much more collaborative process with the director, but in a lot of ways, I view the practice of cinematography and the documentary filmmaking the same way. The main difference being in a narrative production is that the director builds the scene:  the “mise en scene”— in documentary it is already present.

C8: Describe your set up, did you operate with a skeleton crew or something larger?

JZ: We went out to Arizona with a super small crew: Producer David Huzieran, Sound Mixer Jon Farley, Myself, and of course Nick. Having a close group that understands the project is super important. We all slept at Nick Sr’s house and generally kept the footprint as light as possible.

C8: What challenges did you face during production and how did you overcome them?

JZ: The largest challenge was really in finding the right tone for the production. It was important for me to tell the story visually and make the imagery as strong as possible, and often that requires some level of intervention. So, we needed to fulfil the needs of the camera while not intervening too strongly on the experience of Nick Jr/Sr. It was a constant battle, especially because this is the first time I have worked in this way. But having good relationships with the people involved and having everyone be knowledgeable of what we were trying to achieve (Nick Jr/Sr included) made it possible.

C8: How did you go about funding the film? Did you receive any support from film organisations?

JZ: At the time of prep and production I was a member of a film collective and they funded the project. The budget was very small though— much of the equipment was donated and everyone did it pro bono. During post production we decided to disband our collective with two of the producers re-organising into the production company Strange Loop which handled the editing and most of the post production on the film.

C8: What had you done in your career up until this point and what have you done since?

JZ: Nick Santore is my first film as a director— I have been working as a cinematographer since my early 20’s in narrative, music video, and commercials. Prior to that I directed some snowboard films and I have also directed some commercial documentary and branded content work. The film premiered this fall and I have been continuing to work as a cinematographer in addition to beginning to develop new documentary work.

C8: What’s next for Jake Zalutsky? Any exciting projects lined up?

JZ: I have been interested in documentary filmmaking since the beginning of my career as a DOP. I’m excited to make more work; I think it is a very exciting time for documentary. I have a couple short films I’m developing right now that I don’t want to say too much about as it is still early on. I’m also continuing to work as a DOP. The projects and collaborators get better every year and this year should be no different.