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Six-and-a-half days — that’s how long it takes NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to make an orbit around Saturn.
Though it falls a hair short, this length of time fits into 7 Days Out director Andrew Rossi’s schema of there being a “natural, organizing principle to a week.”
The new Netflix documentary series, which hit the streamer Friday, follows the seven days leading up to the Cassini mission’s end and five other monumental events: Chanel’s Spring 2018 Haute Couture fashion show, the League of Legends Championship, the Kentucky Derby, the Westminster Dog Show and the reopening of Eleven Madison Park in New York.
Rossi previously directed fashion documentary The First Monday in May, chronicling the 2015 Met Gala, and executive producer Joe Zee has served as creative director of Elle and editor-in-chief of Yahoo! Style. The pair, who worked together with executive producers Andrew Fried and Dane Lillegard, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about how they’re setting 7 Days Out apart from other Netflix series and the challenges of the project’s time constraints.
How did you get involved with the project?
Zee: I went to Sony studios for a meeting…. I was just saying that there’s so much about what we see right now that, in a way, we’re very sort of tapped out and really oversaturated and having so much access to things…. I think we were using the example of the Oscars, where the red carpet became the thing that was so much more exciting for people than the actual awards show because the red carpet felt like a peek into that preshow foray into the glitz and the glam and in a way I feel like the red carpet’s also very oversaturated. Now people want to see what happens in the lead-up to the red carpet. So in a way, the birth of the series happened, saying, it’s not really about the event, but really about those seven days out, really about the week leading up to this event and how all hands are on deck, how everything needs to happen. And there are so many times that we’ve all been in this situation in our own lives and work or whatever, where you feel like, “Oh, the event could potentially fall apart.” But it never does, and we wanted to tell that story in a real documentary way, where it was through the filter in the eyes of real human stories.
How did you choose the events you did? What was the criteria you were looking at?
Rossi: For me, the criteria is always, where can we get the most authentic and deep access, and what event is going to give us a window into some really extraordinary vision that is up against the wall and is facing a really significant challenge. We did, sort of, weekly calls where we would talk about all manner of events globally. Everything in all kinds of different categories of fashion and food and science. And I’m personally, in my filmmaking, always drawn to big institutions that capture the popular imagination but feel a little bit remote, or they feel invincible and we don’t totally understand how they operate.
Zee: And I think we were very, very conscious of not doing, “Oh let’s do three episodes on fashion or let’s do two episodes on food,” and really checking off the boxes…. We’ve approached all these topics, as almost like a Sunday paper, where, when you get the paper at home, you’ll all reach for your favorite section first and read it. But by the end, you would have read every section, and I think we want people to approach our series in the same way.
How are you differentiating 7 Days Out from other documentary-style series on Netflix?
Rossi: Our show has a very clear format, every time you tune in, you’re going to see the seven days leading up to a seminal event, but it has the variety and the depth, I think, that you wouldn’t find in other kinds of, maybe reality shows, that you find on broadcast television. So I think we’re differentiated, to your question, just in the ambition of this show.
Zee: It is almost like getting a 44 minute mini-movie. You walk away and each episode is its own mini-documentary on this incredible topic.
What kinds of challenges did you run into while filming the series? Obviously time is a constraint for your subjects, was it a constraint for you as well?
Rossi: It is an incredible challenge to form the bonds of trust that are needed to get really meaningful windows into people’s approaches to these challenges in such a short amount of time. Normally, if I’m filming at The New York Times, I’m there for over a year, or at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for eight months. And in this case, I just think that somehow we did that dance of trying to parachute into people’s lives and have the empathy to be able to connect with them and to give them space, but then on the other hand also push enough to be there for those moments that can be really nail-biting for them.
For the Chanel episode, were you guys able to get access to the fashion show and Karl Lagerfeld because of your backgrounds in documenting fashion?
Rossi: Yeah, absolutely. I think Joe really opened the door with Chanel in a huge way. I also was lucky enough to have filmed with Anna Wintour in The First Monday in May, and I think that from what I understood, the folks at Chanel liked that movie and I had interviewed Karl also for that…. Karl really opened up. I think that, and Joe, you know better than I do, but basically the final moments where he’s showing the collection to journalists — those are moments that are rarely captured on film if ever, and he was very gracious to let us shoot that.
Zee: It still took months for us to really get through all of the discussing and the negotiating. It wasn’t something where I just made a phone call and it happened overnight. I made a phone call and it took a couple months to sort of really ease them into the process, because it is number one, a huge international conglomerate and it’s also a company that has been very private, and I understand that. And they’re not just going to open up their ateliers and their employees and allow cameras to come in. And the fact that we are on season one, so, you know, it is still getting people to trust us on some level because there is no proof of concept.
So these events are obviously so disparate from one another, but did you see any similarities in the processes of making them happen?
Rossi: There’s this countdown that naturally takes place in the last seven days. That exists in the world of parties, it exists in the world of curation for museums. Even literally, the orbit of the Cassini probe around Saturn…is six and a half days. The Bible says that the Earth was created in seven days. There’s this kind of natural, organizing principle to a week. And so that is, it probably seems kind of obvious because the show’s called 7 Days Out, but that is the consistent thing and the similarity across all of these worlds, again, is through time.
Zee: At the end of the day, it’s about that sort of investment of human emotion for something that you love. And yes, while maybe none of us will ever be seven days out to a Cassini mission or seven days out to bringing a dog to Westminster, we all, at the end of the day, have big events that we’re all invested in, whether we’re planning our own wedding, whether we are getting together Christmas dinner. Whatever it is, that week going into it, we all feel that anxiety, we all feel that sort of stress and then we also feel that elation as it comes together.
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