10 Directors to Watch
BIRTHPLACE: Berkeley, Calif.
PIC INSPIRATION: “I think I was 12 when I saw ‘Do the Right Thing’ in Oakland,” says Fleck. “I was one of the few white people in the theater. It was alive and exciting and everyone was talking to the screen; it was a combination of comedy, drama and social impact.”
Agent: Craig Kestel (William Morris Agency)
Growing up, Fleck’s favorite TV show was “Siskel and Ebert.” “Being a movie critic was the first job I ever wanted,” he says. But his socialist parents — his father was an activist and traffic engineer, his mother a labor rep for the California school employees — helped marry his love for movies with political action.
Fleck moved from Oakland to New York, where he studied filmmaking at Tisch School of the Arts. While working on a student film, he met his close collaborator Anna Boden, who was studying at Columbia U. “We share the same brain,” Boden jokes. “But he’s definitely the more intuitive mind, and I’m the more analytical.” “And we share a passion for what’s going on in the world,” Fleck adds.
After Fleck garnered accolades and a 2003 Sundance berth for his racially charged thesis short “Struggle,” he and Boden worked on the script that would become “Half Nelson,” the 2006 Sundance dramatic competition entry starring Ryan Gosling as a crack-addicted teacher trying to help a 13-year-old student (young discovery Shareeka Epps). To raise financing and workshop the story, Fleck and Boden made an improvised short called “Gowanus, Brooklyn,” which went on to share Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize for short filmmaking in 2004.
And like the short, “Half Nelson” employs “the handheld, long-lens, soft-focus verite way of Frederick Wisemen,” Fleck explains. “It’s just so much more raw and immediate. That aesthetic has always been the most appealing to me.”
In addition to cinema verite, Fleck also cites the films of Hal Ashby as a source of inspiration: “Hal Ashby’s films floor me emotionally. They have social or political spins, but it’s really about those characters. They’re all kind of fucked up, but you care for them so much.”
Fleck and Boden are developing various scripts, but the one they’re most excited about is a baseball movie — one in which, Boden adds, “we will find a way to mix in politics in some way.”