These tri-state economic stories are a bit of a specialty for you - why did you choose unemployment as a focus this time?
We've done a few films on the human face of the economic crisis, and some of the history, too, with 'Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags' and the Triangle Fire story. In a way, you could say these are the children and grandchildren of many of the characters you saw in Schmatta. This Great Recession, you hear all the statistics, you read the articles, and yet you kind of lose perspective on the human story. Levittown after World War II became the metaphor for the new suburban dream, so why not look around there at some of the fallout of this Great Recession, at people who'd really had good lives and now are beginning to question the whole future of the social contract and the American Dream?
Was there a moment that this story crystallized for you?
There were two things. We were pre-interviewing people, and this character Alan Fromm listed a litany of near-catastrophes in his life that he had survived. I asked him about unemployment, and he said, "Oh, being out of work for a year isn't that big of a deal. I've been through much worse." That was a starting point in our whole journey. Here's a guy who's survived everything - including the collapse of the World Trade Center - and then he's thinking of ending his own life and whether his insurance policy would cover his family. You realize what a toll this takes on an individual, even though sometimes it's hard to see at first. The other thing was the isolation of these characters. We found out that a number of these support groups and networking groups meet in diners because no one goes to the unemployment office anymore; it's all done over the internet. So these unique Long Island diners, with their classic oldies playing from the 60s and 70s, reminding everybody of the good times, became a motif and a nexus point for us.
Of all the millions of unemployed people out there, how did you end up with this particular group?
A lot of people talked to us, but I have to be honest with you, when we wanted to turn the camera on, a lot of them weren't comfortable going public with their stories. So first it was getting people to go on camera, and then we wanted to focus on mid-island around Levittown. There also seemed to be more of a support network out on Long Island than in Jersey or Westchester, so we were able to connect with more people there who were likely to cooperate.