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by Lela Scott MacNeil
June 2nd, 2010

One of the big treats for audiences at this year’s Rooftop Films summer series is the fact that they’ll have several chances to get to know NJ Lady. Florence Lazar, the grandmother of director Jesse Selwyn, is a true New Jersey Grand Dame, blunt, opinionated, and fall-off-your-chair hilarious. Rooftop Films spoke to Jesse about what makes Florence so special and the phrase you never want to hear your grandmother say.

See Florence in action at “Dangerous Docs” on Friday, June 2nd.

Tickets and more information here.

Rooftop Films: Give a brief description of your films for those who haven’t seen them.

Jesse Selwyn: NJ Lady is a short form reality series starring my grandmother, Florence Lazar. She truly is a classy, vintage New Jersey Lady – as denoted by her NJ LADY vanity license plate for the past 30 years. The series is powered by her witty sentiment, blunt delivery, and old school perspective on current events. My brother Zach often moderates the scenes, but I assure you it doesn’t take too much pushing to get to comedic gold. It works so well because she’s got a quick answer for everything, she’s a one-liner machine, and she’s very real. She’s always sure to have her opinion heard, and we love her for it.

RF: Looking at a wedding album is normally a happy occasion. Did you have any idea things would become so morbid, as in “Dead”?

JS: “Dead” took barely any setup. It was the first one we created, and it was spawned by an actual conversation my brother and I overheard between Florence and our mom. After witnessing Florence rattle off lists of dead relatives and friends without hesitation, we knew we had to capture it. We knew what we were getting into. Sure, it’s a bit morbid, but her ability to make light of that sort of thing is a true testament to her unique appeal and likability.

RF: What gave you the idea to film Florence watching “The Jersey Shore”? Did you think she might like it?

JS: We knew Florence would be appalled by “The Jersey Shore.” The show had recently become huge and, as Florence often has such interesting perspective on pop culture, we had to sit her down for an episode. This was an easy one — since she spent her days growing up on The Jersey Shore (granted, her time was spent in more upscale locales than those featured on the show), we knew she’d have a thing or two to say about its current state and cast of characters. As you see in the video, she was pretty shocked/disgusted/taken aback that a) the Jersey Shore has descended into such farce and b) this type of programming with such “disgusting people” is so hugely popular.

RF: Did any of her responses surprise you? For example, she seems generally appalled at the content of the show, but then seems almost disappointed that you don’t get to see Snooki getting punched.

JS: Yeah, there are always surprises. Especially when she mentions things like “menage-a-trois.” Those are words you never want to hear your grandmother say. By the time it got to the Snooki punch scene at the end of the show, I think she actually might have been getting into it a little. We all know those shows have a way of sucking you in… I think she was just expecting that since they showed some of those other visuals during the episode, why would they leave out the punch?

RF: Are you a full-time filmmaker? If not, what else are you up to?

JS: I work as a director/producer/editor and musician full-time. Right now I’m involved in a lot of branded content, commercials, new media, music videos, and viral advertising.

My brother Zach and I work together a lot which is great. NJ LADY was originally sort of a side project for us and a way to archive great content of our grandmother. But since episode 1, it’s secretly become our favorite project. It lacks polish and production value, but who cares – she’s hilarious.

RF: Describe your next project.

JS: I’ve got a few things going on right now. I’m about to direct a commercial in support of education funding in California, I’m working with a few major brands developing advertising campaigns, I’ve got a few music videos to put together with my brother for Comedy Central, and he and I are also in the process of presenting some television pilot concepts to networks. AND – we’re looking for funding for an NJ LADY short film or pilot!

RF: What excites you about having your film at Rooftop?

JS: Rooftop is the perfect venue for NJ Lady — it feels like the right scene and the right energy. It’s outdoors in the middle of Manhattan, so it’s urban and it’s real. It’s got the east coast edge and the right amount of grittiness to it for NJ Lady to fit in perfectly. I think she’ll be very well received the Rooftop setting. We couldn’t be more excited to be involved!

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2 Responses to “Filmmaker Interview: “NJ Lady””

  1. Gabe says:

    Hahaha I love NJ Lady – this is great!

  2. Mark Allen says:

    I caught a couple of these NJ Lady pieces at the 5/29 screening.. definitely a big highlight of the night! Well done.

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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