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Documentaries & Non-Fiction Series

Editor David Remnick, EP Alex Gibney and Showrunner Kahane Cooperman Preview The New Yorker Presents 

Editor David Remnick, EP Alex Gibney and Showrunner Kahane Cooperman Preview The New Yorker Presents

Based on content from The New Yorker, America’s most award-winning magazine, The New Yorker Presents is a unique viewing experience, combining documentaries, short scripted narrative films, comedy, poetry, animation and cartoons. As with the pilot, new episodes will bring the pages of the magazine to life, drawing upon the reporting, fiction, humor, poetry, and cartoons that distinguish The New Yorker. The season will feature content from award-winning narrative directors and A-list talent from the worlds of film, television, art, and music, and will debut provocative and insightful documentary films from America’s most acclaimed non-fiction filmmakers.

The New Yorker editor David Remnick, showrunner Kahane Cooperman and EP Alex Gibney introduced the series to us last month at the Winter TCAs.

On why they’re taking their brand to TV now.

David Remnick: “What you want is The New Yorker as a collective of intelligences and creative personalities who have the capacity to go out into the world, whether it’s in fiction or nonfiction, bring these stories home, and then, with the talents of people like Kahane [Cooperman] and Alex Gibney and Jonathan Demme and all the rest, do something with it that makes sense for television.

Inside the magazine, we don’t pretend to be experts at television. We are in, kind of, an ‘advise and consent’ role with our partners at Amazon and Jigsaw, which is Alex’s concern. I’ve been absolutely thrilled about the results. What these guys have done, taking stories that began in one form and making them real television, whether it’s funny or moving or deep or journalistic, the results have been astonishing, and I’m over the moon about it.”

On how far back they’ll go in the archives.

Alex Gibney: “I don’t think there’s any limit to how far back we could go. It’s really a sense of, ’Is it a good story that would work on television that would be exciting? Is there a filmmaker that has a passion for a particular take?’ That’s what we are looking for. So there’s no limit on it in terms of time.”

Kahane Cooperman: “I can add that, for this season, I think the oldest story that we looked at and turned into a film was about 15 years old. While the main character has changed in that story, the institution that it’s about still exists. So the filmmaker was able to do research and find another equally compelling character doing the same thing. Then, we were able to make a film that was inspired by that original article but follows a different individual.

We can go back to 1925 when the magazine first started. That is something that, if we move into the future, we’d love to be able to explore. It’s a different kind of challenge, but I think there’s a lot of really great ways to go back to stories that have been reported over time and make them into films that we can show as part of this series.”

On the mood and tone they created for the series.

Alex: “The key and the challenge was to have it emerge from the spirit of The New Yorker but at the same time to bring on board filmmakers who had their own voices so that they would respond to something in the material, they would come at it in a way that was particular to them. The ones that got us the most excited were when people came in and said, ‘I want to focus on this part of this longer story, and here’s how I want to do it.’ It was that personal vibe that I think was really great. I mentioned the word ‘eclectic’ earlier, that’s what we were looking for, that personal dig at some of the material in The New Yorker that inspired folks.”

David: “Burk Bilger wrote an amazing piece about the phenomenon, particularly in the Southwest, of little kids being in rodeo. You write your piece, it goes out into the world and that’s it. It’s your thing. We’ve had to learn how to give that kind of story over to somebody else who is looking at it fresh.

So we have the maker of Hoop Dreams go to this story. You’ll see it in the second episode. At first, you’ve got to think your heart is a little bit in your throat because here’s somebody else you don’t even know going at what you think of as your story. But the people that Kahane and Alex have selected are so amazing. So the maker of Hoop Dreams goes at this story fresh, and I was moved all over again and in different ways because television and filmmaking do different things. It has different capacities, different limitations and different horizons. That was very exciting, but it’s something that, as a writer, as an editor, [you] had to put yourself in the hands of smart, creative people and let it go.”

Kahane: “The whole show has been an incredible collaboration, obviously, between Amazon and Jigsaw, the writers and editors at The New Yorker and these filmmakers who have their own visions and are established.

So, early on, as we are figuring out which filmmakers are going to be doing what stories, we let them choose from a selection. We actually have a phone call, and we have the writer, the editor, and the filmmaker and myself and the supervising producer all on the phone together. The filmmaker talks about how they see the film. They are able to ask the writer questions. The writer is able to give them some insights and directions that you don’t necessarily glean from the article of their personal experience with it. It’s really an incredible conversation to be a part of because you see these different minds coming at these stories in the same way, and then, in the end, you can see how the filmmaker interprets that story.

It’s just an incredible process to be part of, and, I mean, the results are in the show. But that’s one thing that we thought was really important was to have all the people who were involved in the story and the people who were going to take the story somewhere else at least have one time where they are talking together, and it was pretty fantastic.”

On if every episode is based on something from the magazine or website or if the filmmakers can come to the series with new ideas?

Kahane: “In this season, every single piece except for one came directly from The New Yorker. We have short interstitials that are about life in New York and dropping in on moments around New York and looking behind the doors and windows of what’s going on in the city. They are in the spirit of The New Yorker, but those interstitials are not directly from the pages of [the magazine]. 90, 95 percent, come from The New Yorker, and it could be a mention in listings, goings-on about town, or it could be a full essay or an article or a short story or anything else that’s from those pages.”

David: “I should say that this show is a show. It’s not a branding exercise. This is not for The New Yorker to advertise itself. It’s a really creative venture, creative experiment, too, in which filmmaking is foremost. The people at the magazine itself, at the website, participate where we can be helpful, and that extends even to fact‑checking, which is something that we pride ourselves in the level of accuracy. Part of the reason I feel like I’m working with such kindred souls, Alex and Kahane and people that they have at their place, is that they picked up on this ethos with real relish. There was no resistance to our fetish for accuracy and refinement. In fact, it felt one and the same. These are real brothers and sisters in arms.”

Edited for space and content.

The first 2 episodes of The New Yorker Presents will be available on Tuesday, February 16th on Amazon Prime.

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