IN CONEY ISLAND
Amy Nicholson • Art Director • New York, NY
Zipper: Coney Island's Last Wild Ride, the third documentary by WNW member #453 Amy Nicholson, opens a one week engagement at IFC Center this Friday, August 9th. The film follows the struggles of a small-time ride operator and his carnival contraption as they fall victim to the battle over the future of Coney Island. We asked Amy about her process of making Zipper over the past six years and how she transitioned from art director to director. If you can't make it to the IFC Center, Zipper will be available on iTunes August 9th and opens in LA August 30th. Check out the trailer above and get more info at zipperfilm.com.
What drew you to Coney Island?
I’ve been going to Coney Island since I moved to New York back in the 90’s. It’s really some of the best people watching in the world. It’s one of those places where you feel like anything can happen. It smells like the ocean and sausages and candy, it’s loud, there are freaky people – what’s not to love?
And the Zipper was my favorite ride as a kid. Before the world was plugged into the web, you went to the carnival to escape your boring middle class life. Every carnival had a Zipper and it was a mean machine. I loved that they still had one in Coney Island. When I read it was leaving, my heart sank.
Did the story change at all from what you originally expected to capture?
That’s the understatement of all time. Yes. I set out to make this homage to my childhood and just make a short with the Zipper leaving. The guy who owned the Zipper ended up getting one more summer, so we kept filming through the summer of 2007. That fall, it was still bothering me that I didn’t really get what was happening politically. I kept digging and before you know it, it was a really big hole!
How was this different than making your last documentary, Muskrat Lovely?
Muskrat Lovely was dreamy. First, I was shooting in a remote town on the Chesapeake where the people we went to interview made us lunch and got mad if we didn’t wave to them while we were out getting B roll. The whole shoot schedule was 2 ½ weeks. And it was a contest, so you have a definitive beginning, middle and end. Zipper involved getting interviews with high-powered politicians, sneaking in to City Hall, dealing with crazy crack head carnies, schlepping to Kansas twice and then to Honduras, and trying to unravel a really complicated land use issue. Then for fun we told a parallel story and monkeyed with the timeline of events. Sheesh.
Many creatives have aspirations of making films. Did you find the transition from working as an art director to a director difficult?
It’s amazing how many skills you have that you don’t realize you have. There’s so much writing and promotional stuff to do, so it’s really helpful to already know how to do all that. Plus you are telling a story – something you have done a million times. The difficult part is that it is 7,000,000 times more work than you think it will be and you will basically have 2 full time jobs for the length of the project unless you take a big hunk of time off.
Did you direct anything in advertising first before moving onto your own projects?
No. When I first started freelancing I took the summer off and went to NYU and did their core curriculum for first year film students. Out of that came my first short, Beauty School. I made Muskrat Lovely a few years later. After that, I was signed to direct for a while, but it was at the height of the recession and A directors were taking C boards, so I certainly wasn’t getting anything. But I did do a few small projects for no money and it was a blast. I might try again…we’ll see. I don’t want to be a crappy director pooping out Vagisil commercials.
What's the weirdest thing you saw on the Coney Island boardwalk?
Not something I saw, but I’ve watched it a million times and it is the epitome of why Coney Island is magical and why I love it so much. My pal Charlie Denson from the Coney Island History Project shot it one day at Cha Cha’s, back before the city sterilized the boardwalk and they got kicked out. (Fun fact: Cha Cha’s tagline? Fun for the Hole Family)