TSJ SAT DOWN WITH JOSEPH GARNER, the director and subject of the documentary, Craigslist Joe. The film is an interesting social experiment about a young man’s quest to survive 31 days with no money, using only the help of the Craigslist community for food, transportation, shelter, and companionship. The film is executive produced by Zach Galifianakis and will be released on August 2 on iTunes, Video On Demand and in a select number of theaters through Tugg.com and the Laemmle Music Hall Theater in Los Angeles.
Craigslist Joe Trailer
The Smoking Jacket: What is this movie about?
Joe Garner: Craigslist Joe is one part in a social experiment, seeing for myself how technology and social media is changing the definition of community, human interaction, and how we engage with each other. And one part, a way to push my own boundaries, step out of the routine of my everyday life and try to challenge myself.
TSJ: What was your plan and method for using Craigslist to fuel this experiment? What sections of Craigslist was used the most?
JG: I went out there with no game plan. I didn’t have anything set up, [I had] no idea where I was going to go, who I was going to meet, or even where I was going to sleep. Craigslist seemed like a logical portal, giving me the benefit of interacting with complete strangers while using technology to make these connections. I relied on my own posting and replied to hundreds more everyday. My favorite sections were “Free”, “Ride Shares” and “Missed Connections” (for the hopeless romantic in me).
TSJ: What inspired you to take on this adventure?
JG: I have always been interested in what makes up the human experience and how that has evolved over time. In spite of these amazing technological advancements we have made and the changes to the way we communicate with each other, does the fundamental core and values of being a good person and looking out for your neighbor still exist outside of my little bubble?
TSJ: Why THIS journey and THIS experiment in 2008 when you were 29?
JG: At the end of 2008, I was working as an assistant on the movie The Hangover. We were shooting in Las Vegas and I was living in a hotel in a casino. The country was going through the worst economic crisis of my lifetime and I was pretty much cut off from the outside world. I was about to turn 30 and I never felt more disconnected from what was going on beyond my immediate surroundings. There was a fire burning inside of me that I just could’t ignore any longer.
TSJ: What do you want audiences to take away from this film?
JG: My hope is that for anyone who watches this film will feel empowered to do the same thing. You don’t have to leave all of your things behind and travel the country, although I recommend that as well. You could simply start off by making a small change in your life, say hello to a stranger, volunteer at your local community center, pick up the phone and tell your family you love them. If every person pitches in a little we can activate a whole lot.
TSJ: You directed the film, as well. What were your biggest concerns, production-wise?
JG: It definitely was challenging being the subject of my own film. I never had any intention of doing that, but I couldn’t convince any of my friends to go so I had to go by default. I wanted to be fully engaged with whoever I was interacting with and not worrying about the best angle to shoot from, and sometimes that can be a hard thing to do when you’re also wearing the director’s hat.
TSJ: What were your biggest concerns personally?
JG: That I would never get out of LA.
TSJ: In 2008, who was Craigslist Joe before he started on this journey?
JG: I was, and still am, just a regular guy. Good friends, supportive family. I like going to movies, listening to music… the only thing that’s changed is knowing that whenever I’m feeling disconnected or stuck inside my one head, I know there is something I can do about it.
TSJ: A lot of people have a negative impression with documentary films that take on social experiments. A common reaction I hear is, “It’s not a true experiment because this man or woman could probably pull out of it anytime; most likely having a safety net in finance and job security.” I’m not saying one needs to be homeless to engage in an experiment like this… but I can see why people would feel this way when a white person from the suburbs of Chicago would partake in this? What’s your reaction to that?
JG: Before I began my journey, I promised myself I wouldn’t give up. My subsequent completion of the month-long experiment by no means trivializes the daily suffering of so many people today. No matter how committed I was to the project, my privilege is highlighted by the fact that billions of people around the world are trapped in poverty. While my 31-day experience with no guarantee of food, shelter, money, or community to lean on were challenging and pushed my boundaries, a hope of mine in making this documentary is to draw attention to the lifelong struggles of too many around us and to offer a potential remedy to their suffering and isolation. Ultimately, the people in the film that I came across helped convince me that if we each show acts of compassion toward our neighbors, we will have enough resources in the world to provide for everyone.
TSJ: What does Craigslist Joe say about…
COMMUNITY: It has changed and will continue to change as time goes on, but it’s definitely still out there if you can tear down the walls that sometimes isolate us.
HUMANITY: There are people who want to do good in this world, and there are people who are in it for themselves. In my experience the human spirt is still alive.
THE INTERNET: It’s fundamentally changed the way we access information, communicate with each other, even live our lives. If we use it as a tool to enhance human interaction rather than replace it, it’s definitely a good thing in my opinion.
TSJ: Wildest encounter or story you can share on this journey?
JG: I met a dominatrix in Chicago. She worked for a very reputable corporation by day, whips and chains by night.
TSJ: Most life-changing moment in the film?
JG: I had a total emotional breakdown when I was traveling through the lower ninth ward in New Orleans. After weeks of incredible generosity and kindness I had experienced, I was floored by the complete devastation of a once vibrant community, now pretty much wiped out. But I met a guy out there who showed me a completely different side. In the midst of the destruction, he and his friends were taking these abandoned houses and rebuilding them into art spaces, where people from all over New Orleans would have community gatherings. It was the most inspirational experience of my life.
TSJ: What were some of the odd jobs you did?
JG: I waited tables for a day in exchange for a free meal, I volunteered at a state park picking weeds and trimming bushes, I spent eight hours cleaning a woman’s apartment in New York, to name a few.
TSJ: Any terrifying or scary moments happen?
JG: It was really late at night and the camera guy I was traveling with almost got mugged. He was approached by a group of guys, who apparently wanted his camera, but fortunately there was a coffee shop that was still open and he managed to duck inside. I didn’t know what had happened at first, I just looked back and he was gone.
TSJ: Any romance or sexual encounters experiences? Craigslist Personals section ever used?
JG: I was single at the time and wanted to experience all aspects of Craigslist.
TSJ: Any tips for survival?
JG: Yes. Make sure you’re in damn good shape if you plan on going out there for a month with no food or mode of transportation. I ended up traveling the entire country and back and lost about 15 pounds along the way.
TSJ: How many cities did you stop in? What was your favorite and why?
JG: I’m not sure how many exactly, but I did more traveling in that one month, than I think I’ve done in the rest of my life combined. I even made it to Mexico!
TSJ: How did Zach Galifianakis get on board? What was his involvement with the film?
JG: I met Zach while we were working on The Hangover. I had always been a fan of his standup comedy and his “Between Two Ferns” and we really bonded. I pitched him the idea and he liked it. He is the Executive Producer of the film.
TSJ: Does Craigslist have any involvement in the film? If not, have they seen it or commented on it?
JG: I emailed Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist) while I was on the road. To my surprise he got right back to me and I offered to meet with me. They didn’t know I was doing this project at the time, but have been very supportive of me and the film.
TSJ: Why Craigslist?
JG: Good question. One I’ll probably get a lot. I didn’t want to go out there and just talk to people on the street. I wanted to incorporate technology and social media. Unlike Facebook, Twitter or some of those other sites where you know the majority of people in those circles, Craigslist is a place you can go without having to know a single person. I also love the fact that they don’t have those annoying advertisements or banners all over the site and they are pretty hands off. It’s simplicity at it’s finest.
TSJ: What’s your opinion of Craigslist and the “community”?
JG: Before I made this doc, I wasn’t an avid craigslist user. I’d occasionally go on there to look for an apartment, or a job, or to score some concert tickets, but that’s pretty much it. I had no idea how powerful the community would be. Of course, with anything, there are always some bad apples trolling around doing shady shit, but for the most part I steered clear of those types.
TSJ: How was the film funded?
JG: We shot this for a super low budget. We were able to give the camera guy some money for food and had to buy the tapes, but mostly finding people who wanted to help out and join the team is really what made this whole thing possible.
TSJ: What’s the release and distribution status?
JG: The film will be released on August 2 on iTunes, Video On Demand and in a select number of theaters through Tugg.com and the Laemmle Music Hall Theater in Los Angeles.
TSJ: How has this changed your perspective on life?
JG: I don’t alway succeed, but I try to live my life with a more open perspective. Take chances, challenge myself if I get too comfortable, mix it up once in a while.
Craigslist Joe hits iTunes, Video on Demand, and select theaters on August 2. Request a screening in your city by going to www.craigslistjoe.com.