We previously spoke to filmmaker Anthony Desiato about his previous film My Comic DocumentARy. He has a spin-off coming out soon By Spoon! The Jay Meisel Story following the comic store owner Jay Meisel who we saw in the first film.
We got to speak to Anthony again to get the scoop on another excellent film that peals back the world of comic shops.
Graphic Policy: How did By Spoon! The Jay Meisel Story come about?
Anthony Desiato: I enjoyed telling a shorter version of Jay’s story in My Comic Shop DocumentARy, and his segment played very well at screenings, so I knew I wanted to do more with him.
GP: How long did it take you to film it and edit it to get it to release?
AD: There was an initial round of filming in winter 2013, and then a second round in late summer/early fall. I didn’t really get into the editing until early spring of this year. I finished around May.
GP: During the documentary, it feels like you discovered a story with the closing of the location he was at, and that might not have been what the intent was going in. How did that change the narrative of what you went in to film, and what you ended up making?
AD: That is absolutely what happened, and it’s a perfect example of the beauty of documentary filmmaking: finding a different story than you originally intended during the filmmaking process.
When I began this project, there was no indication that the flea market would close. The documentary was originally intended to be a profile of Jay. I probably would have delved a little bit deeper into his backstory. And it would have ended on the question of, “Is there an end in sight? How much longer will Jay spend his weekends at the Empire State Flea Market?”
Then, months after I thought I was done filming, Jay got word that the market would close. As his friend, it was tremendously sad. As a documentarian, I knew I had to chronicle the end.
Had this film remained a profile, I’m sure it would have been a solid piece. But the closing of the market gave the film weight and an arc. I’m very proud of the finished product.
GP: In the film, you seem to capture the crossroads the comic industry is in. There are the changing entertainment tastes, demographics, and new technology. What is it about the industry that makes them so reluctant to embrace new technology?
AD: It’s funny, because as with my first documentary, I wasn’t necessarily trying to make any sort of statement about the industry. My only intention was to tell one man’s story. That being said, it’s gratifying that the film can have that larger meaning.
As for what makes the industry reluctant to embrace new technology, I suspect it’s a combination of tradition and the collector mentality. Certainly, on the retail side, I think the fear of becoming obsolete is very much a factor.
GP: There was an interesting discussion online about whether the digital experience could ever copy the in person experience from shops. What are your thoughts on that?
AD: Having worked in a shop for many years, and having made two documentaries about comic shops, I’m definitely biased. Still, I think there’s something to be said for those personal, face-to-face interactions.
On the other hand (see, there’s the lawyer in me!), online communication can bring together people who would never otherwise connect, whether due to geography or other factors.
GP: In the years I’ve been going to shops, there’s also this massive divide of shops that are clean, with nice displays, very professional, and others that have the stereotypical set up of being a dingy dungeon. And you’ve shown that in your two documentaries now. What’s your impression on that?
AD: That’s a great observation, and I’d have to agree. I don’t know that I’ve been to many middle-of-the-road shops. Most do seem to fall into either the clean or dingy categories. I’m not exactly sure what would account for that. The only thing I could offer is that maybe it comes down to the reason for opening the store. If the motivation is more of a business-oriented one, perhaps that leads to a more professional appearance, whereas owners who are fans first and businesspeople second may be somewhat less organized.
GP: Jay is quite a personality. What is it about comic shops and attracting larger than life personalities and the types of “characters” that go to them to shop and hang out?
AD: Jay is absolutely larger than life. It’s hard to ask for much more in a documentary subject (except maybe for someone who doesn’t address me so much while filming, but at least I got some good bloopers out of it!).
I don’t know what exactly it is that attracts such characters to comic shops, but I’m honored to be part of that club!
GP: How is Jay doing now with his new set up?
AD: As shown in the film, Jay moved his merchandise to his garage when the market closed. He’s done some garage sales since, and set up a table at a couple of local flea markets, but that’s about it. As shown in the film, it’s not exactly like business was booming to begin with in Port Chester. I think what’s hit Jay harder than anything is not having those interactions with his customers anymore.
GP: What’s next for My Comic Shop DocumentARy and By Spoon! The Jay Meisel Story?
AD: My Comic Shop DocumentARy continues to be discovered on YouTube, and the responses have been tremendously positive. I’m always looking for new ways to spread the word about it.
By Spoon! has its first film festival screening on October 19th at YoFi Fest. I hope to continue to show it at festivals, but more importantly, it is very much my goal to find a true home for it this time around