Rocket Science maker defies Hollywood boxes

By @ibtimes on

Jeffrey Blitz does not want his work stuffed into a neat little Hollywood box, which is one reason the director of Rocket Science has jumped from documentaries to feature films to television and back again.

Blitz's first film, the documentary Spellbound about spelling bee contestants, was nominated for an Oscar in 2002. But instead of building on his success as a non-fiction filmmaker, Blitz switched gears and made the fictional comedy Rocket Science, which debuts in major U.S. cities on Friday.

The movie, about a teenage stutterer on a high school debate team, left January's Sundance Film Festival with huge fan buzz, good reviews and a best director award for Blitz.

Its success put the 38-year-old on Hollywood's map of film directors to watch. But instead of movies, he directed episodes of the TV comedy The Office, is at work on a documentary about lottery winners and is writing a fictional screenplay.

Among earlier generations, people would think the egomaniac would be the film director; the quiet noble type would be making the non-fiction thing; and the sad sack guy who couldn't be the film director is making TV, Blitz said in a recent interview.

For my generation, none of that stuff applies anymore. There are such great opportunities to tell different kinds of stories in different ways that people who hang on to the old ideas about it are really missing out, he added.

Blitz loves to pingpong back and forth, between media, and said it was nice to mix long, intense projects like movies with shorter ones.

Films are like long-term relationships ... you engage in a really deep emotional way, he said. Commercials and TV are like great one-night stands. There is no expectation that they will go on beyond the brief amount of time you are there.

Blitz said his penchant for stories that made him laugh was the one element unifying all of his writing and directing, regardless of whether he was working in film or TV.

Spellbound followed dozens of smart adolescents competing in the 1999 National Spelling Bee, but the quirky contestants and the film's sense of humor made the documentary stand out.

Rocket Science tells the unlikely story of stutterer Hal Hefner, who is coerced into joining his high school debate team by an ambitious girl with whom he becomes infatuated.

The film is loosely based on Blitz's adolescence -- he also joined his high school debate team despite a stutter. But Blitz said he was not interested in making an autobiographical film.

Hal is a very shy kid and he recedes into the background and seems like he'd be more comfortable if everyone left him alone. I was never that kid, Blitz said.

Fittingly, he ruled out making another movie about the pressure of being a teenager.

I don't particularly want to stay and explore those worlds for the rest of my adult life, he said. That would be creepy.

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