“People are always wondering what to do with a book on TV. But I was sure she would be an astonishing character. Which she was.” That’s film and television director Andrea Simon talking about cartoonist Roz Chast (right), whom she profiled in the short video below.

It was 2006, and Chast had just come out with Theories of Everything, a 400-page compilation of almost 30 years’ worth of cartoons. Simon was on staff at Bloomberg Television, producing and directing segments for a “wonderful if short-lived” cultural news show called “Muse.”

The rapport was instantaneous, starting with the title of Chast’s book. “In a way, that’s why I became a documentary filmmaker,” explains Simon. “I have theories of everything. The illusion of total lucidity, which the world does not support. Basically, it’s the spiritual quest: To systematize the craziness of everyday experience. That’s Roz’s genius as an artist.”

How do you capture someone’s essence in under five minutes of screen time? “You have to think of very good questions for the interview,” laughs Simon. “You ask things that will allow the person to bloom.” She typically spends a few days immersing herself in her subject’s history and work, then figures out “how to make that essence available. I think viewers need much less explanation and connective tissue than a lot of television producers assume.”

What’s interesting about Chast, says Simon, is that “she is prone to lots of fears. Her childhood was spent in a kind of immigrant environment, where the anxieties of assimilation and the recent poverty of the Old World were very much in everyone’s mind. She did lie around like the little girl in the cartoon, wondering about terrible diseases and bathtubs that would suddenly fall through to the floor below.”

A selection of Simon’s short pieces for “Muse” are online at Vimeo.com and her award-winning documentary Destination Mozart: A Night at the Opera with Peter Sellars is available on Netflix and Amazon. She has also done many films for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and for New York’s Jewish Museum, including those currently on view in the permanent collection galleries.

In closing, Simon has a request of WVFC readers. “Please leave a comment,” she says. “I would love to hear what you think.” So would we.

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  • Beverly Schwartz April 24, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    I love Roz Chast too. My office bulletin board is covered with her cartoons–just on the edge between matter-of-fact and aware of the insanity surrounding her–her own and everyone else’s. But thanks for the video. She’s just as I pictured her–perfect!

  • Laurie Needell April 20, 2010 at 9:04 am

    I love Roz Chast. Thanks for posting this!