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EXCLUSIVE: Behind the Scenes with Alex Gibney at His Jigsaw Productions

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood November 6, 2013 at 2:13PM

It’s not just productivity but prescient subject matter that marks Alex Gibney’s work as a director. His Lance Armstrong portrait “The Armstrong Lie” opens Friday; “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” was released in July. Last year, Gibney directed “Park Avenue: Money Power & the American Dream,” which created a stink when it was revealed that WNET offered to preview the film for one of its subjects – billionaire right-wing puppetmaster David Koch.
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Alex Gibney in "The Armstrong Lie."
Alex Gibney in "The Armstrong Lie."

Today’s documentary world seems to be living through the Age of Gibney: Having directed 20 nonfiction projects over the last eight years, with one Oscar under his belt and two films in contention, Alex Gibney is the hardest working man in socially progressive show business.

How? Why? And where?

Way out west, it turns out -- where Manhattan meets the Hudson, and the hurricane of last year left fewer changes than two decades of gentrification. When Alex Gibney came here 15 years ago, it was the home of ball-bearing factories, transvestite hookers and an assortment of dubious characters. Today? Well, the ball bearings are certainly gone.

Instead, here’s a beehive of film production offices which Gibney oversees like the pope. In fact, in his office, with its panoramic view of the river, there’s a hilarious mock-up of a recent pontiff, in white and gold, with Gibney’s beatific face peering out from under the miter. His hand is outstretched in blessing. The wedding ring is a nice touch.

Lance Armstrong in 'The Armstrong Lie'
Lance Armstrong in 'The Armstrong Lie'

To call Jigsaw the Vatican of documentaries would be an overstatement. To say there are 18 projects under way at any one time might just be an understatement. Gibney is renowned as the most prolific doc maker at work today – and there are, as he’s the first to admit, a lot of people making that happen.

Still, it’s not just productivity but prescient subject matter that marks Gibney’s work as a director. His Lance Armstrong portrait “The Armstrong Lie” opens Friday; “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” was released in July. Both are among a competitive pack of 2013 Oscar contenders. 

Last year, Gibney directed “Park Avenue: Money Power & the American Dream,” which created a stink when it was revealed that WNET offered to preview the film for one of its subjects – billionaire right-wing puppetmaster David Koch. Also in 2012, Gibney contributed to the anti-fracking film “Dear Governor Cuomo” and directed one of his angriest and most angering films, “Mea Maxima Culpa,” about priestly pedophilia. In 2011, he indulged his inner sports nut with “The Last Gladiator,” about hockey goons, and “Catching Hell,” about the famous case of fan interference at a Cubs game.

The same year saw “Magic Trip,” his reconstruction of the Merry Pranksters 1966 bus tour with Ken Kesey. In 2010, it was “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer”; a section of the omnibus “Freakonomics”; “My Trip to Al Qaeda” and “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.” Plus he’s producing.

Also, BTW, he won the Oscar in 2007 for “Taxi to the Dark Side,” joined the Academy and now reps the Doc branch on the Board of Governors. 

Obviously, it’s not just output that distinguishes Gibney and Jigsaw, it’s timeliness. The films seem to come out at the right time, on the right subjects. Which is explained not by luck or ESP, but persistence.

This article is related to: Alex Gibney, Alex Gibney, The Armstrong Lie, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, Sony Pictures Classics, Sony Pictures Classic, Sony/Screen Gems/Sony Pictures Classics, Documentary, Documentaries, Awards, Awards, Oscars, Awards Season Roundup, Awards Season Roundup


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.