When it came to making his debut feature, Arbitrage, it was a relatively short, but undeniably strange trip for Nicholas Jarecki. A computer hacker of note by the age of 15, the now 32-year-old Jarecki was first introduced to the wonderful world of filmmaking when he was hired as a technical consultant on the 1995 web thriller Hackers. It was whilst on set that Jarecki noticed the power the director possessed. Here was a man who could tell a young Angelina Jolie what to do. The teenage Jarecki was hooked.
Not that getting to boss beautiful people around on a film set was going to happen overnight. Realising just how difficult it was to be the man with the megaphone, Jarecki interviewed those who had made that giant leap, the interviews collected in his 2001 book Breaking In: How 20 Film Directors Got Their Break. Jarecki’s own break into film came four years later, with The Outsider, a documentary that saw the budding director shadow filmmaker James Toback on the 12-day shoot of the latter’s 2004 film, When Will I Be Loved.
“People always assume that when you make a feature film debut like Arbitrage, and it becomes a hit, hey, you’re an overnight sensation,” smiles Jarecki, “but, just like every other overnight sensation, I was plugging away for years before I got to sit down with someone like Richard Gere. “When I walked out of that meeting though, knowing that Richard was on board, that’s when I thought, okay, finally, I’m actually getting somewhere now…”
The role Richard Gere signed on for is the Bernie Madoff-like Robert Miller, a business tycoon who’s living on borrowed money. Lots of borrowed money. With his company on the verge of collapse, everything is riding on the signing of a new contract, but the billionaire in question ain’t biting. Even after Robert has cooked his books to hide his massive losses. Throw in your standard issue tempestuous French artist mistress in the passenger seat for a late night car crash, and Robert’s spiral is suddenly given a Chappaquiddick twist. Tim Roth, once again doing his pale Al Pacino impersonation, plays the cop who smells a very rich rat, whilst Susan Sarandon is the good wife at home who, you suspect, is willing to do just about anything to hang on to the good life.
Having taken far more money than anyone expected in the US, this $10million production broke the record for a day-and-date theatrical and VOD release, and is already comfortably in profit. “Which, as you can imagine, is a nice surprise to all of us,” says Jarecki. “The expectation was that Arbitrage would open well, just not this well. It means the movie is getting noticed before it opens elsewhere. And it means I’m getting noticed too. Which is good.” Which is very good. Especially considering that leading man Gere had openly expressed reservations about Jarecki early on. Reservations that any established leading man would express about an unproven director.
Asked by thewrap.com how big a concern it was, working with a director who had never directed before, Gere flatly answered, “Huge”. Was Jarecki concerned? “I was nervous, sure,” he says, “but we had had such a good time in rehearsals – we did quite a lot of rehearsal, which is rare for a first film – and even with that first meeting with Richard. We ended up playing out a scene in that first meeting, where I took on the role of the mistress, and it just sparked between us. I kinda knew then that we were going to be alright, so, that made the actual shoot a lot less stressful than it might have been.”
Nonetheless, in that same interview, Gere went on to say that Jarecki “didn’t know where to put the camera, he didn’t know what lens… He didn’t know how to talk to actors”. I’m guessing Gere wasn’t being mean. Just honest. “Well, I had some idea, but obviously not as much as someone who has made so many, many movies,” laughs Jarecki. “The whole thing was a learning experience for me, and I was happy to be taught all these valuable lessons. My ego wasn’t about to mess this experience up either. I knew I was working with people who knew more than me about the fine art of filmmaking. What I had was the story in my head, the script that had attracted all these people. It was simply my job to get that story up on the screen.”