Marina ZenovichI liked Marina Zenovich from the get-go. She came recommended. My buddy Joe Neff worked with Marina on a film about the Duke Lacrosse team’s legal debacle for ESPN’s 30-for-30. Joe is an ace investigative reporter in Durham, NC who writes for The Marshall Project. Marina is a two-time Emmy winning documentary filmmaker in Venice, CA. She made a truly great film about Robin Williams you can find on HBO and an excellent documentary about Lance Armstrong you can find on Amazon Prime. That’s not to mention her films about Roman Polanski for which she is best known. Now she wanted to talk to little ole me.

Marina quizzed me on the phone for about 90 minutes. I got in the car and drove 54-hundred miles round trip to Santa Monica and back to be interviewed by her on camera. There’s a little more to it than that.

Marina wanted to ask me about a particular type of investigative report. I can’t say much more. She’s working on a yet-to-be-revealed documentary series. I didn’t shut up for an hour and a half. I did very little listening. She laughed. Her assistant laughed. She said the magic words: “No one has explained it the way you have.” I would have married her (but she’s happily married – as am I).

I told her she really wanted to talk to a buddy of mine – a much better investigative reporter than I am. Turned out yes – she DID want to talk to exactly that person. So I called up my buddy and asked him to talk to her. He said he would. He hasn’t yet – but he said he would.

Then she said she wanted to talk to ME on camera. OK I said, we’ve got good cinematographers in North Carolina. Nope. She wanted me to talk to her camera crew – out in California. They’d get me a plane ticket. I didn’t want a plane ticket. It’s not so much the plane in the midst of COVID (although not great). It’s the rental car vans. I wanted to drive my own little red VW. Besides, I wanted to talk to women in Birmingham, New Orleans, Austin, Phoenix, San Diego, Santa Monica, and Las Vegas for my podcast @ManListening. I could drive five days each way and do these face-to-face interviews (with masks – at a safe distance). Then I could also talk to this world class filmmaker.

OK, they said. But we’re not made of money. We settled on travel costs that would cover gas and hotel rooms. My wife packed a cooler with apples and nuts and cheese and soda water. I set out.

I also insisted on talking to Marina for my podcast. And thank God I did. I was sitting at the feet of a master. She schooled me for more than an hour – and not just about documentary filmmaking. I’m not gonna spill all the beans. I want you to hear it from her in this week’s podcast.

But I’ll set the scene and give you one gold coin you’ll find in the midst of this. We sat in a room just off the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean just blocks from the Santa Monica pier. She talked about her politician father, her mother from the former Yugoslavia, how she met her husband (amazing) and what it’s like to have a teenaged son (unbelievably great).

She was SUPER generous in her advice to a wannabe documentarian (me). She said she admired my spirit of adventure in taking off across the country in the midst of a pandemic. We took every safety precaution in shooting and recording our interviews (including THREE COVID tests). It all came off without a hitch.

Here’s my takeaway: when you say yes to a buddy and meet a new buddy and go off on an adventure, that’s where the really good stuff starts happening! Just listen.


Stuart’s conversation with 2x Emmy winner Marina Zenovich drops this Thursday, January 7, @ManListening.