Jed Weintrob '91 (Writer, Director, & Producer, ON LINE & THE F WORD)
By Dominique Kalil '00
What I find most surprising about Jed Weintrob’s story is his unwavering focus. It seems to me that most people who choose careers in the entertainment industry try something else first, or wander into the field inadvertently; not so for Jed. He was born and raised in Manhattan, but for most of his adult life he has shuttled between Los Angeles and New York pursuing his projects and cultivating what has turned out to be a prosperous and successful career in film. Jed graduated from Harvard in 1991 with a degree in Visual and Environmental Studies but by that time he already had filmmaking work experience under his belt. After his sophomore year, Jed took a year off from Harvard to work as the assistant to the director of a TV show in Los Angeles and upon returning to Harvard, teamed up with a Harvard Business School student to produce a $350,000 independent film, “The Color of Love,” during his junior year of school. It surprised me that he decided to stay in college after that experience, as I definitely wouldn’t have.
After college, Jed moved to Los Angeles to pursue his passion for directing and writing features, but producing and new technologies beckoned. When he was hired by independent production company MPCA to produce the low-budget horror sequel, “Pumpkinhead II,” Jed saw a unique opportunity to leverage the synergies between video game and film production. He produced the first concurrent film and video game ever (yes, I am haunted), and quickly became known as an interactive entertainment pioneer. When Orion Pictures acquired MPCA, Jed went on to found and run Orion Interactive, the studio’s video game and Internet division. Jed continued to develop genre video games based on studio properties, including a game based on a Stephen King book. When MGM bought Orion, Jed was given the option to have his contract bought out. Jed seized this opportunity to shift his focus back to directing and writing. First, however, he took a complete break from the industry. He left the U.S. and traveled around the world for a year, bicycling and backpacking through India, Africa and South America. This time of exploration and exposure profoundly influenced Jed’s view of the world and what he wanted to communicate in his films. He came back to the U.S. inspired, rejuvenated and in 2002 made his feature directorial debut at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals with “On_Line,” a sexy thriller about intersecting love triangles. “On_Line” went on to be released theatrically in more than 80 cities nationwide and in over 40 countries worldwide.
It’s interesting to me that in our conversation, Jed constantly used the phrase “hybrid fiction/documentary” He used it to describe the direction towards which his work is moving as well as to describe “The F Word,” his latest feature film. I would assume “hybrid fiction/documentary” belongs to the genre of a type of creative realism. “The F-Word” is a hybrid influenced by Haskell Wexler’s “Medium Cool,” a film shot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and the current day potential for increased media restriction and erosion of the freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment. “The F Word” is the story of Joe Pace, a fictional radio talk show host whose program, “The F Word,” is being shut down by the F.C.C. after racking up over $1 million in unpaid indecency fines. On his last day on the air, which coincides with the last day of the Republican National Convention, Joe sets off to broadcast his own one-man march through Manhattan. “The F Word,” made as a non-profit on a non-budget, was extremely well received at the Tribeca Film Festival this summer and is in the process of negotiating distribution at the same time as Jed is developing it into a television series. At times in the film, the distinction between reality and fiction becomes indistinguishable, suggesting to the viewer that the reality of this fictional character and story is a genuine possibility, and I think therein lies the beauty of the idea.
Jed pointed out to me that “The F Word” was very much like his senior thesis film at Harvard, “Go West,” which explored similar themes and encountered similar creative hurdles. He also mentioned that Harvard and its connections have influenced his decisions, not only creatively, but professionally too, as he has consistently worked with former classmates (including Tanya Selvaratnam ’92, Jeannette Draper ’91, Darren Aronofsky ’91 and longtime writing partner Andrew Osborne ’89). And that Harvardwood was a great way to reconnect and use what our education provided. Ok, he didn’t say that last part, but let’s just say I invoked a little creative realism.