Nerd Stuff: 3 Behind-the-Scenes Documentaries To Check Out

Most of my friends know I am a sucker for a good behind-the-scenes or making-of story.  I have been known to spend hours going down the Youtube rabbit hole that IS Inside the Actors Studio interviews (James Lipton is both delightful and strange, and I wish someone would interview him about his apparently “colorful past.”).  I love hearing actors talk about their “process” or filmmakers talking about how certain films got made.  So many people only care about the finished, magical result, but I love seeing the mechanics of it.  For me, that doesn’t take away from the finished project, it enhances it.

So, without further ado, here are 3 behind-the-scenes docs I’m currently obsessed with:

  1. Ballet 422 (Netflix, DVD/Blu-ray, Amazon) gives viewers a peek into the world of the New York City Ballet as then-25 year old corps dancer, Justin Peck, has two months to choreograph and stage the company’s 422nd new ballet.

    Fans of ballet will appreciate the access NYCB granted filmmaker Jody Lee Lipes into their rehearsals, costume fittings, and performances.  I think I especially loved seeing the collaborations between Peck, the costumers, and the lighting designers as they worked to visualize all the concepts of Peck’s ballet. 

    Finale from Peck’s “Paz de la Jolla” image: Paul Kolnik

    Peck is one of the most exciting new choreographers working today (check out his collaboration with indie musician/singer Sufjan Stevens on Year of the Rabbit) and is only the second ever Resident Choreographer for the New York City Ballet in its long, storied history.

  2. Listen to Me Marlon (now playing in NY & L.A., nation-wide release TBA) is a fantastic, intimate look at Marlon Brando’s life through his own words. The late actor recorded over 200 hours of himself talking about his life and his work on tapes that were recently discovered. 

    Director Stevan Riley weaves these recordings throughout his film along with TV and radio interviews Brando did throughout his life to great effect. For the first time, viewers get a real sense of Brando’s approach to acting, his influence on the art form, his thoughts on some of his greatest films, and his own troubled life.  It is a thrilling, engaging documentary chock full of wisdom for aspiring artists but also a cautionary tale about fame, alcoholism, etc.  Marlon Brando will always be remembered as one of the greatest actors of all time, but Listen to Me Marlon proves the man is actually just as, if not more, interesting than the myth.

  3. You Must Remember This podcast (iTunes, is the brainchild of film critic and historian, Karina Longworth who writes, edits, and narrates each episode about lost and/or forgotten history from Hollywood’s first century. She has covered the loves of Howard Hughes, various sex symbols (Isabella Rossellini, Theda Bara, etc), star contributions to the war effort, etc. 

    Charles Manson during his trial in an undated photo. (AP Photo)

    Charles Manson during his trial in an undated photo. (AP Photo)

    However, her current summer season is focused exclusively on Charles Manson’s Hollywood, which is a wholly engrossing, meticulously researched history of Charles Manson, his family, Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski, and all of Manson’s Hollywood connections.  It’s incredibly addictive and full of surprises (like the fact Manson knew both Dennis Wilson and Candice Bergen and ran around for a bit with Angela Lansbury’s daughter, Didi).  The way Longworth is able to make connections between seemingly unrelated persons and events is incredible, and I love how she uses all of it to illustrate both the cultural climate of the late 60s and the murders themselves as well as showing how some of the greatest films of the 1970s (like Polanski’s Chinatown) were deeply influenced by the paranoia and fear of the Manson Murders, the murders at Altamont Speedway, and several other copycat murders that popped up following the events of August 8, 1969.  Parts of the podcast are quite gruesome and unsettling, but the most unsettling part is when you remember that Manson and many of his “family” are still alive and well in prisons around the United States.