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Behind the Seams: Eleven Minutes to Make it Work

Documentarians Michael Selditch and Rob Tate share the secrets behind former Project Runway winner Jay McCarroll's foray into Bryant Park for fashion week.
11 minutes

Jay McCarroll, the first winner of Project Runway, makes great TV. That's a fact. He's bitchy, witty, eminently quotable, and truly likable, and it was pretty heartwarming when he was crowned by Heidi Klum as a designer to watch. However, with reality shows, the reality ends at the coronation. And the initial winners of skill-based reality juggernauts face a tricky time in the spotlight—on one hand, all eyes are on you and (binding) contracts are being thrown at your feet; on the other hand, you’re newly famous, but not for your talent, quite yet. You’re not exactly living off your skill, and if you choose the wrong path, you could end up in a Warholian nightmare, living off your moment of fame from the reality show.

So what’s a boy to do? McCarroll made headlines for turning down Runway’s grand prize awards of $100,000 and a mentorship with Banana Republic. They came with stipulations, and he didn’t want the production company owning a stake in his professional life. A year after McCarroll’s win, Bravo aired a spin-off documentary called Project Jay, which revealed his post-Runway life. Originally scheduled as an eight-hour series, the one-hour one-off showed the stresses of McCarroll’s life as he moved to New York and worked on a dress for Klum, who eventually, in an awful twist, went with another designer’s dress.

The triumphs and frustrations of Project Jay led to the new documentary Eleven Minutes. Directors Michael Selditch and Rob Tate (their other projects include the Sundance Channel series Architecture School) had met the designer while making Project Jay, and they approached him to ask for real access.

Eleven Minutes follows McCarroll for a drama-filled year as he prepared a collection for the 2006 Bryant Park shows. McCarroll makes for an ingratiating, funny, and sometimes frustrating host, as he lets the filmmakers get up close and personal with all the work—the blood, sweat, financial worries, and needlework that go into making a stunning dress that will be paraded for a very short time ("eleven minutes" being McCarroll's personal mantra) down a runway.

Tribeca Film had the chance to talk to Selditch and Tate in Randolph’s Lounge at the Warwick Hotel—a place that, Tate noted, “William Randolph Hearst built for his showgirl (Marion Davies).” [Note: Selditch and Tate have the rapport of friends who have worked long hours together, talking quickly and interchangeably—while I am confident that I attributed each quote correctly, I apologize to both men if their words are swapped out.]

11 min

Tribeca: How did Eleven Minutes start?

Michael Selditch: We met him doing Project Jay. He trusted us, he loved Project Jay and how it turned out. We said, "Let’s make it different." He wanted to make it a movie.
Rob Tate: We wanted to make it more of an Albert Maysles film like Grey Gardens or The Gates (TFF ’07). There’s a camera, and there’s mics, and we wanted to emulate that particular style. From day one we said, "What does reality TV do that we don’t want to do? We don’t want to use our vérité style as a crutch."
MS: I hate voice over, though. Put it in a book.
RT: He can’t even watch Sex and the City.
MS: We want to give the viewer credit and to not even have to explain it to them.

Tribeca: The film reminded me of Unzipped [the 1995 Isaac Mizrahi documentary]. Was that an inspiration?
MS: We set ourselves a bunch of parameters that were going to be hard.
RT: Unzipped barely showed the process at all. It’s totally a character study. All three of us wanted to show a process. On Project Runway you almost never see a needle going into the fabric.
MS: [In reality TV] a lot of cameramen won’t do the close-up. I want to see the hole in the fabric.

Tribeca: What did you learn about fashion from doing this film?
MS: It's mean and it’s fast and people care about it very much.
RT: No, they don't.
MS: It's disposable.
RT: There's a part of me that has respect for the industry.
MS: It’s a fast, unforgiving industry. It’s all about the process, the decisions.
RT: What we do as documentarians is all about the process as well, and there’s a similarity between what we’re doing and what he’s doing. We were originally going to call the film "The Process."

Tribeca: How did you get to Eleven Minutes as a title? It sounds very action movie-ish to me.
RT: Jay referred to the Bryant Park shows as “eleven minutes” [to show his work, to prove himself as a designer] a lot as we made the film.
MS: Of course, according to other [fashion people], a runway show could be ten minutes or twelve minutes.

Tribeca: It’s pretty fascinating to see Kelly Cutrone [the founder of fashion PR agency People’s Republic and current “character” on MTV’s The Hills and The City] as an actual person and not on those fake reality shows. How’d she get along with Jay?
MS: The difference between Kelly Cutrone and Jay McCarroll? It’s power. They’re very similar people, it’s just that she’s the business side and he’s the creative side.
RT: For the same reason I like Jay, I like her.

Tribeca: What was the editing process like?
RT: We had 250 hours of footage. We edited it down on a Mac laptop with Final Cut Pro. We color corrected on a laptop, too.
MS: The biggest expense that we had making the film was for music and lawyers. We were lucky to get a B-52's song on the cheap.
RT: Jay mentions Kate Pierson and there’s a big B-52's influence on his style.

Tribeca: What are you up to next?
MS: A second season of Architecture School. I’m working on a new Bravo show.
RT: I’m working on a Travel Channel show.

Tribeca: This film has played a lot of film festivals, both gay-themed and independent. Can you talk about that?
MS: We rode back and forth between festivals. We played over twelve gay film festivals out of the twenty-five that we went to.
RT: It’s a very queer film without being “gay.” I think it celebrates queer culture. No one’s trying to hide it. It’s the kind of place where I wish gay filmmaking would go.

Eleven Minutes opens Friday, February 20th at the Quad Cinema in New York.

Click here for more dates around the country

Want your own Jay McCarroll couture? He's selling it on his official website.


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