Searching for Sugarman: From Story to Screen

Rodriguez’s continuing story is not just documented in the film, but, it could be argued, the movie became an integral part of his own saga–it would go on to play at film festivals, introducing his music and his life story to entirely new audiences. But first, Bendjelloul had to interest “the right people to believe in the project.”

“That was the hardest thing. I thought it was evident that the story was good–had it been conceived by a screenwriter you would have thought that it was too much, too unbelievable to make sense. I thought that the fact that this really happened – and the way it happened – would be enough to attract investors. But in the end the story attracted everyone except the investors. Maybe it was because I was a new director. I was so passionate about it that I didn’t receive a salary for three years, I just worked on the movie, but there was a point where I had to find a proper job and I thought I would have to give up,” Bendjelloul recalls.

Fortunately, this was just a fleeting moment of despair. In fact, Bendjelloul had been directing documentaries focusing on filmmakers for years and as a director and creative producer for Swedish Television’s international cultural weekly show Kobra, where he made several short documentaries. One of those became the basis of MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS, starring George Clooney, and another served as the inspiration for the movie THE TERMINAL. Bendjelloul had ample reserves of personal creative resources, if not financial ones.

“I decided to see what I could do on my own. I had fallen completely in love with the story and couldn’t stop working on it. I started to paint the animation myself. For one month I was sitting painting with chalk by my kitchen table. I had never painted before in my life, but I thought my efforts might be good enough as sketches, and would reduce the work for a real animator later. And then I tried the same with the music. I used $500 midi software and composed a dummy for the original score. And I edited the film as well as I could on Final Cut. After the first six months I had 80% of the film done,” he says.