Interview with My Brother-in-Law Jack C. Newell, Director of Big-Screen Documentary ’42 Grams’

posted in: Chicago, Family 3
A still shot from Jack C. Newell’s feature-length documentary, “42 Grams.” Image courtesy Zaxie Films.


Remember Quilty? Like, original, vintage Quilty? Good times, my friends.

Jack C. Newell, my brother-in-law, directed Quilty for the five glorious years we made the ol’ girl If you loved the show — how it was lit, the pace of it, the edits, the music, the mise en scene, the sound — that was Jack’s work you loved because Jack called the shots on Quilty, literally. It was an honor and a pleasure to make that project with my sister Rebecca and Jack, who were dating at the time but not yet married. 

Well, I’m thrilled to tell you that my brother-in-law is becoming kind of a big deal in the world of motion pictures. He’s running the Harold Ramis Film School at Second City, which is like, seriously huge. He’s winning awards for his films: feature-length; short; documentary — he does them all so well, these crazy opportunities keep coming his way. He’s being screened at major film festivals, and though Jack said I can’t spill the exact beans about a big thing that is coming soon for him/the world, he gave me permission to say “big things are coming.” 

The “big things are coming” comment may or may not have to do with his latest doc, “42 Grams,” which is now available to watch on AmazoniTunes, Vimeo, and Google Play. All of those links will take you to a page where you can watch the trailer and then the film, however each site handles that. (You know I only link to outside things when it’s really worth it to me/you. It’s worth it.)

The movie follows the meteoric rise of Jake and Alexa, two Chicagoans who started a restaurant out of their apartment a couple years back. The restaurant, “Sous Rising,” had critics and diners in Chicago and beyond freaking out all over the place. I actually remember hearing about this “underground restaurant” that was the best place to eat in the entire city. Well, that was just the beginning of this truly entertaining, truly suspenseful, truly heartwarming story …

… that my brother-in-law got on film. Jack was there with Jake and Alexa for years, documenting one of the most exciting, stressful, you-can’t-write-this-stuff time of their lives. That’s what “42 Grams” is all about and it is a gorgeous movie. You don’t have to be a “foodie” to love it, but if you’re into food, you’re going to love Jack’s movie even more. 

And now you can watch it on real-life screens! Like, right now, after you read this interview! Yes, we’re so proud of Jack around here, Pendennis and I interviewed him for you. It has to be done! How often do you get to talk to a real-life director about making a real-life movie? I mean, Pendennis has that kind of access. But he’s family.

Interview With Jack C. Newell, a Big-Time Movie Director Who Is Also My Brother-In-Law

PG: I have to know … You made a documentary about an incredibly talented Chicago chef: Did you eat amazing food all the time?

JN: Yeah, I got to eat stuff pretty regularly. The way that this level of cuisine works, when [the kitchen] makes meals for, let’s say, 10 people, they’ll have enough components for 12. If the color isn’t right or something’s a weird shape, it’ll go onto a little plate and thrown in back.

PG: And it was Jake’s food that started the whole thing off, right?

JN: Yes, Rebecca and I went to eat at Sous Rising.

PG: You guys were dating at the time and now you’re married!

JN: That is true, yes.

PG: I just thought I’d point it out. Tell me more about how the documentary project began.

JN: I was just wrapping up a feature film — a fictional story — titled “Open Tables.”

PG: Which is also available on iTunes, Amazon, and Vimeo.

JN: That’s right. “Open Tables” took place in the food/restaurant worlds of Chicago and Paris. Because of that project, I had eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world. Then Rebecca and I went to Sous Rising and this guy was turning out better food out of his apartment kitchen than some Michelin starred restaurants I had been to. I thought: There’s something here.

PG: Was it ever awkward? Was Jake ever looking at you guys with like, dagger eyes to get out of his way?

JN: The point of documentary is that it captures humanity, and not all of life is sunshine and flowers. You have to be there for all of it. You can’t look away when it gets hard/bad/weird/awkward.

PG: Pendennis is very sad that life is not all sunshine and flowers.

JN: Sorry, Pendennis.

PG: You told me that from the time you had the idea till now, when the movie is debuting everywhere, it’s taken three years to make.

JN: Documentaries. Take. Forever.

PG: Feature-length films, like talky-picture-movies are faster, right?

JN: That’s fair, yes. Talky-picture-movies?

PG: Jack, I’m wondering … Why make a documentary? Why not turn this into one of your feature films? It sure is a great story.

JN: No one would believe this story if you made into a fiction film.

PG: Let’s see: “Young, struggling couple in love start restaurant out of their tiny apartment and become the toast of Chicago …”  Yeah, it’s too perfect to be true. Except that it is true. That really is amazing. Were you just marveling that you had this tale unfolding before your eyes? And it was real?

JN: I have to say that I’ve fallen in love with making documentaries. It takes so long and is so hard because you’re totally out of control. But when you capture a real human moment, or bear witness to something amazing, or you can illustrate an idea and you can deliver that to an audience I think that’s really special.

PG: Pendennis would like to know how many people it takes to make a film like this. I think he’s interested in working with you again. [Pendennis was a fixture on the Quilty set bookshelves, as fans will recall.]

JN: Our crew was myself, my director of photography, editor, and sound [engineer.] Nick “Takénobu” Ogawa did the score. For this particular film, shooting in close quarters like this, small is sort of mandatory. And I don’t like having a large crew when it comes to documentary, because I want to try to be as invisible as possible when filming so people feel comfortable. If there’s all these people standing around and taking up space, that becomes hard.

PG: I have to ask you about Alexa. Jake is the superstar chef, but man, Alexa is amazing.

JN: Without Alexa the film wouldn’t work. She acts as a foil to Jake as a normal, non-culinary genius entry point for the audience member who is not a world class chef. She also provides a lot of the pathos.

PG: On opening night of the “real restaurant,” it’s seriously tense. As a viewer, I was really on the edge of your seat.

JN: It’s a roller coaster ride. We really take you on a journey. I think the first 30 minutes, when Jake and Alexa are “underground,” you’re like, “Wow, this guy is sorta … crazy.” Then we see him create a menu and it’s like, “Wow, this guy is crazy talented!” But then the cracks start to appear and it looks like, yeah, he’s got the skills but can he keep it together?

PG: Exactly! You did such a great job with this whole film, Jack. “42 Grams” is so cool.

JN: It’s incredible we were able to document this story. When you watch the film you get to go on this journey with these two passionate people who have a dream and you enter the film at the dream state and it goes from there all the way to the end. I can’t really spoil the ending here, but it’s a very special thing to see something full circle, I’ll say that.

[Congratulations, Jack!!!]