Fans know director Craig Zobel for his quirky independent dramas, and he often claims that his experiences help him on film sets. The director spent his first few years in New York City, but his family moved to Georgia when he was young. Zobel admits that he was something of a nerd in high school, spending more time studying and watching movies than dating or making friends.
That all changed when he studied at the North Carolina School of the Arts. While working on a film degree, he met director David Gordon Green. The two formed a close relationship, which led to collaborations on several films. The first of those collaborations came in 2000 when Green began work on the film “George Washington” and hired his close friend as producer. Zobel continued working with Green, serving as second unit director or production manager on the 2003 releases “All the Real Girls” and “Undertow.”
The confidence that he gained on the film set led to Zobel trying his hand as a director. His first film was “Turkey in the Straw.” The film gained him a small level of fame, but it was his next film that helped him make a mark in Hollywood. “Great World of Sound” is a comedy film that blurs the lines between reality and fiction. Zobel used real life footage of people auditioning for two actors who they believed were talent scouts. He won the Breakthrough Director Award at the 2007 Gotham Awards, and the film received a nomination for Best Film at the same time. He also won a Critics Award for the film that same year and received a nomination for an Independent Spirit Award the following year.
Zobel has a particular interest in comedy, which he fostered during his early years. After attending the North Carolina School of the Arts, he gained admittance to the University of Georgia. There he met Mike Chapman, who is part of the comedy duo The Brothers Chaps. While in school, the two gained jobs working for the 1996 Summer Olympics. The pair visited a bookstore and got a kick out of the humorous children’s books on sale. Their jokes led to the idea of creating a website to parody different ideas.
“Homestar Runner” launched not long after the Olympics. The website primarily relies on Flash animation to tell stories and jokes about ordinary events, and many of the jokes reference pop culture. Zobel turned the website over to Chapman to focus on his film career. Though he occasionally contributes to the site, The Brothers Chaps now run the site.
Zobel’s most recent film is the 2012 drama “Compliance.” The story focuses on a teenager who makes prank phone calls to businesses and restaurants, convincing any employee who answers the phone that he is a police officer. A similar storyline occurred on the television show “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” but Zobel claims he based the story on true events.
The film serves as Zobel’s introduction to the world of drama. Though he previously worked as a producer or editor on other dramas, this is his first time as director. He added darker elements to the story that draw viewers into the film. His main character, Sandra, is a recently engaged employee who doesn’t want to do what the caller demands, but she feels like she must because he is a police officer. The film left many viewers questioning what they might do in similar circumstances.
“Compliance” had its premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Critics loved the film, giving it favorable reviews, but audiences had a less than favorable reaction. Some reviewers claimed that it was one of the most controversial films at the festival. The darker tone and shocking scenes led to some viewers leaving the theater in the middle of the film. Following the premiere, Zobel met with fans during a question and answer session. Some audience members actually shouted at the director during the session, while others left before he could respond.
Despite that reaction, many viewers responded to the themes in the film. At the Locarno International Film Festival, he received a nomination for the Golden Leopard, one of the most prestigious awards in the film industry. The director plans to follow that film with the upcoming drama “Z for Zachariah,” which tells the story of a teenage girl and her life following nuclear war. Zobel hopes to straddle the line between the drama and horror worlds, and with his long history of success, it’s clear that this one will likely be another hit with critics.