‘The Delicacy’ Interview With Director Jason Wise

Stephanie Mutz in "The Delicacy" (CR: SOMM TV)
Directed by Jason Wise (SOMM), The Delicacy centers on how the sea urchin is harvested, eaten, and why it has become such a popular staple in the culinary world. The film’s heart and soul, however, resides with the sea urchin divers who are spotlighted in the documentary. Wise talked about his compelling new documentary and explained why, as much as millions of people love uni, The Delicacy pays close attention to the people who help bring sea urchins to our table.
“The Delicacy” Director Jason Wise (SOMM TV)

The Delicacy is now available via the SOMM TV streaming service, and Jason Wise is also the host of the SOMM TV podcast. Plus, I’ll also be checking Wise’s Rose Marie documentary Wait For Your Laugh sooner than later. There was a ton of stuff to cover in this interview, so let’s get to it! (FYI I love The Delicacy and I’ll also be subscribing to SOMM TV just to watch more of Wise’s documentaries).

The Delicacy is more than just a documentary for uni lovers, and I appreciated how your film focused on the sea urchin divers who risk life and limb on a daily basis.

With this particular film, the approach was always, how do we make a nature documentary about people without them knowing it? 

Humans are animals and the nature documentary is one of the great formats – it stands to me with westerns, horror films, melodramas, and romantic comedies and all the great genres. Yet the nature format, where you follow something and you tell the story of a life cycle, it does not (get enough credit) as a genre.

I like films that are a lot of things about one thing. Sea urchins are a very simple organism (in comparison to) a cow or human or an elephant. Its circulatory system is basic. It has no eyes, at least how we define eyes. It has no relation to people. 

In March of the Penguins you see humans in penguins. When you see otters, they look cute because you see people in them. Sea urchins don’t have that, so my approach to this film was to say let’s look at the people and how they behave.

One of the strange ways that people behave is that they go down in the water and they collect this spiky animal, which I happen to love to eat by the way, and they bring it to restaurants and they try to figure out how to sell it. Their friends die from shark attacks. 

What a weird behavior for an animal to do. That is why the film is called The Delicacy. It is not about food you eat to satiate your body; it is about food you eat for a thousand other reasons. It’s adventurous. It’s unique. It’s a treat. Or you’re rich and it’s (being served) at the restaurant you can afford to go to. It’s a very strange thing when you think of people as animals. So that is the approach with the film.

Stephanie Mutz and Harry Liquornik sorting urchin in “The Delicacy” (SOMM TV)
Can you talk about your streaming service SOMM TV? I’m assuming curating a collection of documentaries and narratives to an engaged audience was part of the reason for its creation?

It was. We have quite a bit of output we are doing ourselves and it was tricky with Netflix and Hulu. They’re wonderful streaming services – I love them, but when you sell it to them, they determine what it’s worth. It was a very tough thing.

We have a very large audience and they are underserved and I wanted to pretty much put a syringe into them rather than have them decide between my film and Goodfellas. I know a lot of filmmakers feel the same way and my thought was let’s create a space for food, wine, spirits, and beer. Let’s start from the industry and move outwards. That’s what we did.

For those of us who are working within this field and getting typecast as (people) who are only making films about food or about wine . . . as you said, The Delicacy is not just about food. SOMM and my sommelier movies are not just about wine. How do we make documentaries and narrative features educational and (also entertaining)? We needed a home.

We want the audience to feel justified. These people love food. They love wine. They need a place to be and so SOMM TV was created with that in mind. The podcast is part of a full ecosystem. We have an entire podcast network launching not too long from now. It has to do with topics in food and wine with some major players. Big chefs and big sommeliers and wine makers. 

It’s kind of like how Marvel movies are so popular now. For 30 or 50 years nerds were going, “I love this stuff” and now everyone is saying “Oh, it’s so cool.” We’re trying say listen, “We know who you are, we know you love this stuff, let’s be in the same house together.” So yes, curation is so important and validating people is everything to me.

I’m really looking forward to checking out Wait For Your Laugh, your documentary on Rose Marie. Was that a special project for you to direct? (the documentary is currently streaming on Prime Video).

First of all, I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever made. That comes from a very biased place. I miss her so much. She was such a dear friend of mine and my family. My children knew her. 

She was a consiglieri to me. Even during the making of The Delicacy she was giving me advice on to not kill myself. I think anything I accomplish in my career from now on will be due to the advice Rose Marie gave me. That is the most important film I’ve ever made.

And having two daughters, it’s so important for them to see sometimes you don’t get credit for what you deserve. I just think it’s important for people, but also girls to see this movie. It is a film about somebody who never – she didn’t take it personally. She put her head down and she worked forever. When stuff got very difficult, she just kept doing her job. That’s a rare thing in this day and age.

I think Rose Marie is the ultimate role model. I adore her.

During my interview with Jason Wise, he broke down his thoughts on why he loves shot The Delicacy on film and why he is very passionate about utilizing both film and digital in his filmmaking. Wise’s in-depth discussion on the benefits of film begin at 11:51:
Can you name one of your favorite movies and what is it about this film that still resonates with you?

I’m going to go with Michael Clayton. It’s a film with a lot of major actors. It resonates with me right now because the amount of overbearing stress in that film is exactly how I feel.

It is a perfect script. It is perfectly acted. If anybody were to ask me, “show me one of the greatest performances in history,” I’d point them right to Tilda Swinton. Michael Clayton is a movie that I watch once a month to remind myself why I want to make movies.

With your podcast, SOMM TV service and documentary filmmaking, is there a secret sauce to managing your hectic work schedule?

There is. It’s a very large amount of wine. Extreme amounts of wine. I would say that would be the reason.

The Delicacy is now available on SOMM TV.

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