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Indie Filmmakers Shop Small: Julien Nitzberg

The director of the decidedly indie doc The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia shares his tips for shopping small. Some of them are wild indeed!



Tribeca is working with American Express this holiday season to help small businesses throughout the country. You’ve probably heard of Black Friday and, more recently, Cyber Monday. Small Business Saturday is a promotion designed to support the small businesses that fuel our economy and invigorate communities.


So, leading up to November 26, we will be shining a little extra light on the moms-and-pops whose local, independently-owned businesses deserve the attention of holiday shoppers on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and beyond.


In a way, small business is akin to independent filmmaking. With that in mind, we’ve asked some of our Tribeca Film independent directors, producers and actors to share with us their favorite ways to “shop small.” Over the next week or two, we’ll share their recommendations and inside scoop. Happy holidays!


First up: Julien Nitzberg, director of the decidedly independent documentary The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.



Could you share a few of your favorite local businesses with us (restaurants, boutiques, bars, coffee shops)?


My favorite restaurants right now in Los Angeles:


Hunan Chili King the spiciest, most delicious food known to man. There really is no better restaurant in Los Angeles County. And the day after you eat there, you experience a cleansing that no Master Cleanse could ever compete with.


I've never been a big fan of vegetarian restaurants, but there is a new one in my neighborhood that is blowing my mind called Sage Organic Vegan. This is not a bunch of crappy tofu dishes with wilted broccoli that you could make at home for $1.50. They do crazy-interesting-complicated dishes that make you think, "What kind of LSD did the chef take that allowed her to communicate with the cooking gods and receive the inspiration for this f&*%ed-up combo of flavors that taste so good?" I even tried their vegan chorizo, which left me with the sick/gross feeling of real chorizo! The fact that they could make something vegan taste so unhealthy is a testament to their genius. They also make some crazy-ass tacos with jack fruit and one with "walnut cranberry meat." I know that sounds wacky, but it is really, really good in a way your brain can't make sense out of. And they just started making their own kick ass hot sauce, which makes them even cooler.




Chili John's has been serving chili in Burbank since 1946. I like their chili over a bowl of spaghetti. They have no tables. It's all served at a horseshoe counter with the cook in the middle. It takes you right back to a 1940s noir movie. For some reason, a lot of obese people eat here. If they got fat eating Chili John's, I say it was worth it!


I had my birthday last year at The Gorbals, located in downtown LA. The food is a mix of Scottish and Jewish, so they serve bacon-wrapped matzoh balls. For my birthday we ate a half a pig's head. It came with the skin on, looking all piggy and creepy. Half the table was scared of it. Those who ate it, loved it. Delicious. 


I also had a party at Phong Dinh in Rosemead. Their specialty is baked catfish, but they also serve a special energy soup made with a male goat's genitals. And by genitals, I mean not only the dong but also the gongs. The waiter was so nice. He served it to all my friends and told them the meat was just goat meat and didn't reveal to them what part of the goat it was from ‘til after they'd eaten it! How considerate!



In Pittsburgh, my favorite restaurant is Primanti Brothers, which has a sandwich with French fries on it that is so weird and good. Why eat a sandwich with fries on the side when you can have them on the sandwich itself and save a bunch of time? I also really liked a place called Nola on the Square. It was a very amazing take on New Orleans food and was as good as any I'd had in New Orleans.


In Louisville, my favorite food is Indi's Fried Chicken. You order through bulletproof glass and the chicken is so spicy that while eating it you want to shoot the person who served it to you. That's probably why they have the bulletproof glass.


In New York I always eat at White Castle and Papaya King, and I get bialys from Kossar's. Those are my holy trinity. And I try and eat at the White Castle inside which the band the Dictators (the Bronx's greatest contribution to punk music) shot their album cover .


If you are in Boone County, West Virginia, you have to eat at the Park Avenue Motel Restaurant. We stayed there for the whole shoot and ate almost every meal there. Our cameraman Dave Bird even invented his own omelet, which is now on the menu and proudly bears his name. It is a Philly Cheesesteak mixed into an omelet. And it is amazing. Travel to West Virginia just so you can order the Dave Bird Omelet! You won't regret it.


Pitfire Pizza

Especially when it comes to the creative process, we're all creatures of habit. Do you have any traditions or rituals around local businesses you can share with us?

I don't believe in writing in public. I think that is a private act like... well other private acts that should only be seen by your most beloved ones who don't judge you.
However, sometimes when I am working with my frequent collaborator and friend Jeff Feuerzeig on a project, we will brainstorm at Pitfire Pizza in downtown LA. This place is my favorite pizza in LA, and easily beats out any of the more written about joints that charge five times as much. The menu is always changing to use what's in season at the Farmer's Market, and they can make your pizza gluten free. This is something I once would have mocked, but then I started to date a really hot gluten intolerant girl and realized eating a tasty gluten free pizza is cooler than driving her to the hospital.
 Not only is the pizza good, but when my film The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia was playing down the block at the Downtown Independent Cinema, David Sanfield, the owner of Pitfire Pizza, saw the movie and invented a pie in tribute called "The Wild and Wonderful White Pizza Pie." And it was a white pizza! It doesn't get better than that.


Where will you do your holiday shopping this year?

Marky+Ramone%27s+Pasta+SauceFor the holidays, I often order books online from the coolest book company of the last half century, Feral House Publishing. Every book they publish makes my head explode. All their books are about subversive elements of our society that no other publisher would walk within two miles of, such as Weimar Berlin sex culture, Norwegian Black Metal, strange cults, conspiracy literature, punk history, etc. They even included an interview I did with Ted Kaczynski in a book they did on him called Technological Slavery. By going to Feral House's website, I make sure they (not Amazon or Barnes & Noble) get all the money, and we keep this last bastion of independent publishing alive.


I also ordered online as a present for a bunch of friends a few cases of Marky Ramone's Pasta Sauce. It's actually really tasty (though I add some red pepper flakes to make it more punk). I feel like any time I can give money to a member of the Ramones, I am happy. I only wish that Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee were still alive to have their own pasta sauces.
I also like to buy my friends as part of the Spirit of the Giving Season the present of lap dances. I usually do this at an amazing club in Gardena called Starz. All the women who work there look like they were in the Baby Got Back music video (which in my estimation is the best music video ever made). And so you know—the club Starz had the name long before the cable channel. They really should sue them.


Running a small business isn't totally unlike shooting an indie film. What are the best characteristics one could have for making either successful?


Persistence and stupidity. 


If the filmmaking thing hadn't panned out, what business would you open?


I always wanted to open a papaya drink and hot dog stand like Papaya King in New York. But I soon realized that my hot dog stand had to have as its icon someone bigger than a king if I was going to compete with Papaya King. I was stumped, but then I realized that my stand had to be called Papaya Messiah. I'm still up for doing it if anyone wants to finance it.


Where will you shop small this Small Business Saturday?



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