Andrew Jenks, the filmmaker who has created several award-winning documentaries and the MTV show “World of Jenks,” owes part of his film career to basketball.
As a freshman on the Hendrick Hudson High basketball team in Montrose, N.Y., his coach asked him to make a video for the awards banquet with highlights and interviews from the season. Jenks loved making the video so much that he immediately started to take film-making more seriously.
Now Jenks, 26, is involved in several film projects, including “World of Jenks,” which premieres Monday night at 11 p.m. on MTV. He also just released a book, called “Andrew Jenks: My Adventures as a Young Filmmaker,” and is dabbling in a few other TV pilots and documentaries.
And you can also find him at Madison Square Garden a couple of nights per week, as he’s a devoted Knicks season ticket-holder.
Jenks recently sat down with ESPN Playbook to talk about the Knicks, his time spent with Bobby Valentine in Japan, Iman Shumpert’s rap album, and what viewers can expect in the next season of his show.
You created “The Zen of Bobby V,” a movie for ESPN Films that chronicled some of Bobby Valentine’s time as a baseball manager in Japan. What was that experience like?
It’s really hard to articulate because it’d almost be like if a Japanese person came to America and lived with Brad Pitt or LeBron James for seven months. There was a poll done in Japan, in a newspaper or something, asking people if they could pick one person to be their boss in an ideal world, who would it be. And like 91 percent said Bobby Valentine. After he won the Japan Series, and won the Asian Series, he became a demigod. There was a street named after him, a burger named after him. We were jet-setting across the country with the most famous guy. He couldn’t walk anywhere without being hounded.
He really did value and respect their culture. It wasn’t like he went there, managed baseball games and came home and watched DirecTV and ESPN. He loved the food. He would get pissed whenever I told him I was going to Outback or Starbucks, which I went to a lot -- he would get sincerely upset that I was doing that and not respecting the great food they had. He learned the language, which he definitely didn’t have to do that. He would go to little local events in small little towns. And so, although we were with this guy who was up there with the prime minister, he would also go to poor little towns and play baseball with the kids. He gave us various angles and insights into the country from a baseball perspective and non-baseball perspective.
And then he came back to America with the Red Sox, and it didn’t go so well. After seeing him as a demigod, as you said, were you surprised by what people were saying about him here?
When I was in Japan, I would film Bobby on the third-base line, and he would be in the dugout, and I would have him miked. And it was awesome. If you’re a sports fan, imagine listening to everything the coach or manager has to say the entire game. As a baseball fan, it was just the coolest thing in the entire world. And he’s a guy who always forgot the mike was on, so even if he was [in the bathroom] or something, you’d be like, “Oh, God, gotta take the headphones off.”
So, anyway, what struck me the most during that time was he was just a brilliant baseball mind. So maybe people were questioning his management style, but in terms of strictly baseball, I think -- and a lot of other people recognize this and that’s why he gets big-time gigs -- he’s just brilliant. While I was filming him, he would say things like, “Oh, this guy can’t hit fastballs and he’s about to strike out on a fastball.” And boom, it would happen. “Now he’s going to throw a curveball and it’s going to be a foul ball.” Curveball, foul ball. Ninety percent of the time he would sort of whisper it to himself and say what was going to happen.
I think it’s unfortunate that in the States, people don’t understand or realize how smart of a baseball guy he is, and instead get caught up in his personality. Sure, Bobby’s a big personality, he says what’s on his mind. Maybe rightfully so, he gets in a lot of trouble because of it. It was frustrating to see him get treated that way in Boston.
I think there were two reasons behind it. I think, one, I don’t know if he had assimilated to the culture here where players are making way more money than the coaches. They don’t really give a damn that much about what the players have to say, unless they have a special connection. So I think the era of guys like Lou Piniella is over. And also, I think people forgot the Red Sox had a ton of injuries. To me, you have to give a guy more than a year. Like a TV show. "Seinfeld" would’ve been canceled after a year.
So you think it’s that much harder for coaches to form a bond with players in America than Japan? Could you see Japanese players speaking out against a coach the way some Red Sox players did with Valentine?
The Japanese baseball culture is much more respectful to the history of the game. There’s an understanding, really through cultural values, that the players must be in line with their manager. He’s the guy who’s going to lead you all to victory. In the U.S., it’s the other way around, which I think some people are saddened by. Maybe I’m sounding like an old man here, but it’s too bad that players these days are like “Screw it, I just want to get my stats and my next big contract.” While in Japan, while not perfect, there’s a respect and value to the coaches. You have a boss. You listen to what the boss says.
American sports fan can be pretty harsh. How does the fan culture compare between America and Japan?
The fans are endlessly loyal. They’re like Western European soccer fans. They do chants all game. They stand all game. Whenever a player’s up, they have a specific chant for that player. They sing to the players. They have shrines for the players. I remember when they lost in the playoffs, fans were sobbing. They were obsessive almost to a scary degree.
How stoked are you to now be a Knicks season ticket-holder?
I’m a lifelong Knicks fan. And once I made money, Knicks season tickets were literally my first purchase.
Most athletes and people with money splurge on the car. But I guess you live in New York so you don’t need that.
I could live in Sacramento and those would still be my first purchase. [laughs] But yeah, that’s true.
What do you think of the team this year?
I’m friends with Iman Shumpert. Did you listen to his rap album?
I did. I actually thought it wasn’t bad.
Right? ESPN called it the best athlete rap album of all time. Which isn’t exactly saying that much, but it says something. Do you know that song “Supaphly”? I told him I would shoot the video for that song, and I’d do it for free. But he’s focused on basketball right now. Anyway, I think they’re legit. I think if Rasheed [Wallace] didn’t get injured, if Shump is able to get back going, if J.R. Smith doesn’t go John Starks on us in the playoffs and shoots 30 shots while only making two of them, I think we can go real deep into the playoffs. But it’s been a bad streak these last few weeks.
I think Mike Woodson is great. I heard he walked in the first game -- and I don’t know where I got this from -- and walks up to Carmelo [Anthony] at halftime after he had scored 16 points or something in the first half. And Woodson says something like, “So, you’re in the NBA, you’re supposed to be a superstar, you’re 6-foot-9, and how many rebounds do you have?” And he doesn’t have any rebounds. Woodson goes on and on about how Carmelo has no rebounds, and then walked out. To me, that shows the difference between a good coach and a guy who isn’t as good. He went up to the best player on the team, and said I’m not impressed, and then Carmelo went and got like 10 rebounds in the second half.
So what can viewers expect on the second season of your show?
With Season 1 it was 12 different people and 12 different episodes, and it was only half an hour. And hopefully people, at the end of each episode, were interested in that person. But it was like, “I’m into this person,” and then we went to the next one. In this season, it goes over the course of the year and it will be an hour long, so we’re hoping it will let viewers get to know that person more than they would in 19 minutes and 20 seconds. That was the primary reason.
The three stories you chose were a 20-something woman with cancer, a teenager with autism and a young man whose brother was killed in Oakland. What stands out to you most from this upcoming season?
I think with Kaylin, the ups and downs were so extreme. For example, she produced a fashion show in Brooklyn and published a comic about a girl going through chemo. And then we also saw her in the hospital in late nights in the emergency room, when her cancer had returned. Same with D-Real. In Oakland so many people are killed by gun violence, and his best friend and brother were murdered. So we went to the white crosses in Oakland, where there’s a cross for every person that’s died that year, and for the first time since his brother had died he actually cried. It was obviously really sad, but it was also kind of a tremendous relief. And we went from that to him opening up for Mac Miller. With Chad, we went from him going to prom and having his first kiss, to him finally moving out of his parents’ bedroom where he slept with a blowout mattress, to living in his own bedroom. It was interesting to see such highs and such lows for these three people.