When Deconstructing Woody Allen, Whatever Works

| November 18, 2011 4:00 AM video
Directed by: Robert Weide
Watch the documentary on American Masters online
Photo by B Plus Productions.

According to filmmaker Robert Weide, the hardest part of shooting a documentary about Woody Allen was convincing his subject to cooperate. Over the course of a decade Weide, whose two-part film premieres on Nov. 20, said he sent several letters to Allen asking to let him shoot.

He received several politely-worded “no’s.”

Finally, in 2008, Allen’s assistant called Weide. “The assistant said: ‘If Woody were interested, would you agree to…’ That was all I needed to hear. I’m in!” Said Weide. Allen eventually agreed to sit for six on-camera interviews with Weide and allowed cameras to document his creative process and personal life.

But persistence is nothing new for Robert Weide. Undeterred by several rejection notices from film school, Weide made a career out of producing films about his “cultural heroes.”

At age 22 he produced “The Marx Brothers in a Nutshell” for PBS. Over the course of his career he has turned his camera on other comedy legends like W.C. Fields, Mort Sahl, Billy Crystal and Lenny Bruce.

    Managers Charles Joffe (left) and Jack Rollins (center) with Woody Allen. When "Annie Hall" won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1978, Joffe accepted the award on Allen's behalf. An enthusiastic clarinetist, Allen skipped the ceremony to play a gig with his jazz band in New York City. Photo by B Plus Productions.

    More recently Weide is known for his work as principal director and executive producer for five seasons of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

    Weide said he first encountered Woody Allen in the early 1990s while working for Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe, co-producers of many of Allen’s films including “Annie Hall.”

    “So it was like a very minor acquaintanceship, a little hello in the hallway or something,” said Weide at a press conference according to McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

    As Weide got inside Allen’s head, he learned just how self-deprecating the man can be. Although he’s produced an average of one film per year for 40 years, Weide said Woody Allen still thinks he’s nothing special.

    The documentary includes interviews with a number of actors who have starred in Woody Allen's films including Larry David who headlined the 2009 film "Whatever Works." Robert Weide has also worked with David on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Photo by B Plus Productions.

    “He’s working on the quantity theory. He thinks that if you keep knocking them out, every now and then one will come along that hits,” said Weide.

    In press appearances, Weide has joked that Allen could have produced three films in the year and a half it took Weide to complete this documentary.

    “Woody Allen: A Documentary” spans Allen’s life from his upbringing as Allen Stewart Konigsberg in Midwood, Brooklyn to his recent stint of films set in international locations like “Vicky Christina Barcelona” and “Midnight in Paris.”

    The film includes interviews with a number of Allen’s actors and friends including Mira Sorvino, Sean Penn, Diane Keaton, Josh Brolin, Martin Scorsese, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, John Cusack, Chris Rock, Owen Wilson, Larry David and Dianne Wiest.


    Filmmaker Robert Weide discusses working with his long-time hero Woody Allen and the genesis of “Woody Allen: A Documentary,” which premieres Nov. 20 at 9 p.m. on THIRTEEN as part of the 25th anniversary season of “American Masters.”

    • Stephen Folkson

      I watched the first part of Weide’s film on Woody Allen and absolutely loved it. Every time I watch something that Allen does, I fall down laughing. Weide is to be congratulated. I really can’t believe that he got Allen to open up so very much.

    • Joanne Theodorou

      Yes, very insightful docu, Allen is unique, as is his work, remarkable body of work….. but I am assuming that part of the agreement in getting Woody to participate was NOT to push Woody on his involvement with his adopted daughter( excluding mention of the press coverage)?

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