Director Chris Smith on making Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton and what he learned from making the Netflix Original.
It’s been almost twenty years since Jim Carrey played Andy Kaufman in the film, Man On The Moon directed by Milos Forman.
In Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton, now streaming on Netflix, the documentary reveals and thrills with footage of Carrey’s process to become Andy Kaufman. Director Chris Smith screened over a hundred hours of footage to deliver a tight look at how Carrey embodied the role, not breaking character while he was filming the 1999 biopic.
Smith intercuts footage from the film, behind the scenes footage, and interviews with Carrey in the present day as he traces his career while allowing us to understand his method.
I caught up with Smith in LA recently to discuss working with Carrey and the message about life goals he learned while making the film.
How did Jim and Andy begin for you?
This one, I feel so fortunate. I was brought in late to the process because the footage was shot over eighteen years ago. Spike Jonze had become aware of the footage and was friends with Jim. He’d bring it up every time they talked and he said they needed to do something with it.
It took a while for them to suss out what it could be. Once Spike saw the footage, he was talking to Danny Gabai and asked if it was something I’d be interested in.
I loved Andy Kaufman and I loved the film. Really, I have such admiration for Spike’s work knowing there was something in that footage. There was the interest in Jim and Andy, but knowing Spike was committed to the idea and is selective about what he dedicates his time to, once I got into it, it became apparent about what material was there. Sitting down for Jim with the interviews was when it became apparent that it was something else.
You have so much footage, how do you whittle that down and what to take out to put into the film?
It’s a process. It first appears overwhelming. There are four main elements being juggled. One is the event of the making of the film. Andy’s biography, Jim’s biography and the aftermath and how the experience shaped and affected Jim’s life going forward. So, it was really challenging trying to figure out where to pit all those things together and make them fit in one tone rather effortlessly. As we spent more time with the footage, it revealed itself over time.
I love your direct shot style of interviewing and it was perfect in the way you capture Jim.
Jim’s gaze is so intense and seeing him stare directly into your eyes, I feel is so soulful and his perspective in where he is in his life is very intimate. We filmed in his house and it felt like the perfect medium to have this dialogue with him.
We have this direct connection in the interview, but it’s also there with the audience. When I sat down with him, there’s something so magical with the experience and what he was willing to share.
There’s a great and interesting message to the film about life and what happens when you reach those goals you set out. What was your lesson?
The greatest lesson I took from the movie was about life and what we’re doing here. You seem Jim as a teenager even. He’s so focused and he knows what he wants. In the movie, he talks about reaching the goals he had set for himself and still being unhappy. To me, the lesson and the message of the movie is that we all run around with the idea that we’re going to achieve something one day and that’s going to allow us to be at peace with the universe and you have someone here who did that and is still unhappy.
The dialogue and discussion for me were for everyone to take a step back and reevaluate what the goals we’ve set for ourselves are and if they’re really going to make us happy.
90 minutes is a great running time given all the footage that existed.
I feel I’ve made movies that have overstayed their welcome. The cuts at festivals have been too long and it’s a great learning experience to sit in a theater with an audience and see the cut isn’t working. I remember seeing Rushmore and thinking about how long it was. It was close to 90 minutes and I thought there was no reason for a movie to be longer than that if you can tell that much story. I feel it’s a great length if you can fit something in that time frame. It’s the perfect time frame for us to tell the story. For this, and keeping it in that range was the right goal in order for it to move well. It’s an interesting question. If you can craft something that seemingly effortless and make the movie stronger then you can make a stronger movie.