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Entertainment & Arts

The Safdie brothers on their 10-year journey to make ‘Uncut Gems’

Benny Safdie, left, Adam Sandler and Josh Safdie
Director Josh Safdie, left, actor Adam Sandler and director Benny Safdie from the film “Uncut Gems.”
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

For writer-director brothers Josh and Benny Safdie, their latest film, “Uncut Gems,” feels like a summation of all their past work.

“The movies that we were making before gave us the ability to make this movie in the way that it should have been,” said Benny when he and his brother Josh were guests on this week’s episode of “The Reel” with Mark Olsen.

“Naturally, ‘Uncut Gems’ was our meta-destination,” Josh said. “That was our North Star.”

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It took the brothers 10 years to finally get “Uncut Gems” off the ground. In the interim, they made movies including 2010’s “Daddy Longlegs,” “Heaven Knows What” from 2014, and a basketball documentary, “Lenny Cooke.”

“All those roads basically led to Uncut Gems,” Josh said.

The film centers around a Diamond District jeweler, played by Adam Sandler, in New York City. The duo says the movie was inspired by stories from their father, who used to work in the Diamond District. And because they like to set their films based in reality, this particular district was the ideal centerpiece.

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“The energy, the vibe. It’s like, it only can exist New York City,” said Benny. “It’s populated with people who we love, that kind of character.” Josh continued: “It’s infectious. It’s a very unique place in the planet. In that, it’s very old world. It’s handshake deals. It’s cash based… And there are these things that exist amongst the industry here. These physical, mythic, little shiny objects. They’re objects. That’s all they are. But they have a mysticism towards them.”

Despite the decade-long time frame it took to make the film, the brothers told Olsen that they faced other difficulties as well, like casting the movie.

“We always wanted Adam Sandler, but we couldn’t get him right away,” Benny said.

Since the characters and roles kept fluctuating over the 10-year span, there were more than 120 drafts of the movie, according to Josh.

“A lot of that goes into the casting process. But it’s also the constant reworking,” Josh said.

The movie also features a character played by retired NBA star Kevin Garnett. The movie weaves through actual events from a 2012 NBA playoff series and focuses on moments from real life.

“We always love fiction and reality. So, having this real center, with these games, kind of changes your perception of everything around it,” Benny said.

Now with “Uncut Gems” set to release on Christmas Day, the brothers have reached their final destination with the film. What’s next for the two brothers, you may be wondering. They wonder too.

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“This is what it was about,” said Josh. “What do you do? Do you turn around and go back home? Or do you keep going? Or, do you try to find a whole other vibe destination. It’s tricky.”

Check out other episodes of “The Reel” here


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