Zeberiah Newman Teams Up with Power Duo Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone on New Short Doc
Zeberiah Newman, born in the Catskill Mountains, New York, has worked for more than a decade as a supervising producer on The Late Late Show with James Corden and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. In 2021, he got his feet wet as a documentary filmmaker with the short doc Right to Try, which examines the issues around trying to find a cure for HIV through the intimate lens of a long-term survivor. The film, produced by Octavia Spencer, won the 2021 Outfest Audience Award. His second short doc, Unexpected, executive produced by Sheryl Lee Ralph and currently touring the film festival circuit, tells the story of women of color living with HIV in the South. Next month, Newman’s new short doc Relighting Candles: The Tim Sullivan Story, which he co-directed with Michiel Thomas (Game Face), will premiere at Outfest LA Film Festival. The project is executive produced by Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone, who will both be honored with the James Schamus Ally Award during the festival’s closing night, in recognition of their efforts to foster LBGTQ+ moving images and to promote the communities’ stories to a broader audience. This interview was conducted over Zoom.
In all three short docs, you highlight issues within underrepresented communities. What draws you to tell these types of stories?
I personally love subcultures, I’m very drawn to people living a life where there’s more beneath the mask that we see, the quiet crisis. I consider it a privilege to put cameras on people who are doing extraordinary things in the face of incredible adversity or fear and I’ve been very lucky to find just incredible subjects. I believe one of my strengths as a storyteller, is that I am really good at identifying who should tell this story. For me, it’s less about marginalized groups and more about unlikely heroes, people in crisis.
You’ve produced alongside amazing Hollywood talents such as Octavia Spencer, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone. How was it collaborating with them?
As a supervising producer at The Late Late Show with James Corden, I worked very closely with talent and their teams, so after collaborating with some of these people seven, eight, nine times, you build a relationship with them. For all three of my projects, Octavia Spencer, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy were all the first people to see the rough cut or dailies and they all signed up right away. The greatest contribution is that all of these amazing people have insane track records for storytelling, so when they’re giving notes and feedback on projects, there’s simply is no ego involved and it’s about serving the story in the best way possible. I feel privileged and very lucky to have been able to collaborate with such talents.
At Outfest you will release your latest short doc Relighting Candles: The Tim Sullivan Story. Can you can you share a little bit of what this story is about?
Tim Sullivan is very well known in the West Hollywood community; he owns a very popular and successful candle line called Timothy Jay Candles. Every holiday season, he hires homeless and newly sober people who are in transitional points in their lives to come into the candle shop and help pouring and packaging the 30.000 plus candle orders. Every year, some these individuals get sober, get into housing and their entire lives change. So, it’s not just a job pouring candles, there is a community of people talking in this sobriety language, trading resource information, encouraging each other. Tim is an incredibly lovable character who speaks in soundbites. To have a gay man in his eighties, being so active, being so service-oriented is a story almost like a unicorn, one that really needs to be spotlighted.
Finally, how do you look back working on The Late Late Show with James Corden?
James is very much like me; he comes from a humble background. Plus, he is a fan, right? So, when he gets excited about things, you get excited. He truly has an infectious energy that translates through the television. Honestly, I love him, it’s been the job of a lifetime, I worked eight years for him, I was on every episode. He is a friend, such a lovely, lovely, lovely person.