Filmmaker Max Joseph Discusses The World’s Most Luxurious Bookstores + Debuts New Film On World Book Day

Max JosephPhoto Credit: BOOKSTORES

Award-winning filmmaker Max Joseph (he of “Catfish” fame) loves to read, which is why today, World Book Day, he’s releasing a timely film, called “Bookstores.” His latest creative non-fiction short explores some of the most beautiful bookstores in the world and how we cope with the anxiety we feel towards our content diet. We chatted with Joseph, who also directed Zac Efron in the 2015 drama “We Are Your Friends,” about his new film, why he moved on from “Catfish” after seven seasons and why he decided to take a massive step back from social media in his quest to go analog.

Max Joseph Photo Credit: MJ Photo

Tell us a bit about “Bookstores”, and what inspired you to make this creative non-fiction short.

Bookstores have always driven me crazy in both good and bad ways, so I thought making a film about them would help me unpack that and potentially find a way through. There’s also a great new social media platform called Vero who have supported a couple of my last short films. In our first encounter I mentioned this idea/anxiety to them and they immediately identified and sympathized. So finding like-minded partners helps. The app is also ad-free, does not data-mine, and has a great community of artists and culture mavens so it’s a supportive audience of more niche fare.

You’ve made over 80 creative nonfiction shorts and a feature film. How has making “Bookstores” compared to some of your other work as a filmmaker?

In a lot of ways it’s very similar to my early work. It’s mostly just me running around with a camera and tripod which is extremely liberating. The making of the film becomes a journey in and of itself and allows it to be really personal. I do also have a great producer Kaela Crawford, a great animator Marina Valentina and a new thing I did here was arrange for local drone and steady-cam operators to visit the stores and shoot them using these great new tools.

What’s next for you? Are you looking to create more projects like “Bookstores” or venture into other realms of entertainment / storytelling?

I kind of made “Bookstores” in the background over the last two and a half years—filming when I could, editing when I could. It’s great to have a project you can work on whenever bigger projects go slow—which they inevitably do. I’ve been working on a new film as well as some TV projects but can’t really say more than that, other than I’m excited about them.

Max JosephPhoto Credit: Jaguar PS /

What was it about these bookstores that ultimately made you decide to include them in your film?

I did a bunch of research and chose what I felt to be the most beautiful aesthetically. There are certainly many important and historical bookstores all over the world—as well as many other beautiful ones on many of the continents I visited and also the ones I didn’t. I only had so much time and I definitely got so carried away that I shot way more than what is in the movie. I’ll have to make a Part 2 one day.

How have you coped with the anxiety you feel towards balancing your content diet? Do you feel like you’ve been able to allocate enough time for reading within your content diet?

I have really taken a huge step back from social media and am barely active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram these days. It has allowed me a lot more time to focus more deeply on longer projects as well as meditate and read more. As Eric Barker suggests, I try to catch myself going to check my email or instagram and instead open up a reading app on my phone. It has allowed me to get through many many more books! Also, connecting reading to meditation was a big paradigm shift. Seeing the act of reading as slowing oneself down and going to another mental plane has definitely helped center me more—reading before I go to bed and now in the mornings a little too before I check my phone. It helps me stay grounded for the rest of the day.

What are your top five must-reads within the last year?

  • Denis Johnson – The Largesse of the Sea Maiden
  • Irvine Welsh – Dead Men’s Trousers
  • Robert Greene – The Laws of Human Nature
  • Daphne duMaurier – The Scapegoat
  • Sally Kohn – The Opposite of Hate

Max JosephPhoto Credit: TK

What are a few of the most luxurious bookstores you’ve encountered anywhere in the world?

All the ones featured in the film are definitely the most luxurious ones I’ve ever seen—particularly Ateneo in Buenos Aires, Lello in Portugal, and Cook and Book in Brussels—that was definitely my favorite and the one I could spend the most time in.

What’s next for you project-wise?

Whatever it is, I’m probably working on another one of these personal video essays somewhere in the background.

Why did you ultimately decide to move on from “Catfish”?

I have always wanted to make films and “Catfish”, which was an incredible experience was always just supposed to be a detour. Little did I know it would go on to become what it is. It was getting harder and harder to do both the show and develop these larger projects and it was just finally time to cut loose. Making the show and traveling across the country for the last seven years has definitely impacted me in all ways—creatively, socially, and politically—spending weeks at a time in other people’s living rooms and getting into their emotional problems definitely shakes you out of your head and exposes you to a wider perspective that I’m thankful to have.