A Brief History of My Garden State

Every project has a history, a backstory, a string of moments that shape it, and then, you hope, a moment when the project takes on a trajectory of its own, independent of the creator’s intentions, as we used to say, takes on a Life of its own.

The genesis of My Garden State revolves around two focal points. The first was the wave of emotions that flooded me the first time I exited the Holland Tunnel into New Jersey. A mix of awe and dread and horror at this wasteland below the elevated road – a mix of steel and toxins and waste, waste in the classical sense of the unusable, the discard, the offal. How could this be? Was this what my life was producing? Necessarily producing? How could I transform this landscape? Since the physical nature was beyond my powers, I vowed to transform it through film- to a thing a beauty, of rebirth.

The second focal point was walking past a dumpster on 20th Street and Broadway, at night, la la la, coming home from the gym, and seeing a box that said Kodak. Great, I could use an empty box. So I reached in and grabbed it, but it wasn’t empty! After digging around and even a second trip back there were 20 rolls or short ends, over 6000 feet, and that was the start of My Garden State.

I bought a car, took the rear doors off, built a speedrail rig all around it, and had a shooting platform for my Arri S. We shot over the hours and days and seasons to get a sense of time. Since the roadway was at that time US 1+9 that was the name of the film. All this momentum came to a head on a huge shoot day carefully picked for the golden glow on the Pulaski Skyway. We couldn’t wait to see the dailies, they were amazing, until we noticed a hair in the gate – to me all the footage was ruined. But really the Universe simply was saying we weren’t done. So we had to reshoot – as that progressed we came to a new realization of what we were able to capture on film. Time passed 9/11 happened. And we weren’t finished.

Ultimately it was clear we were approaching the ability to create abstract images on film. Already My Garden State was devoid of all human figuration – as a choice – and in the last shoot we were able to consciously work within the vocabulary we had established to realize images that to us felt original and complete.

My Garden State has gone through many iterations. A silent feature length film (the intent), a near feature length cut to a musical score, and now finally realized as a multi-screen projection. This allows the viewer to enter into the mind space that we occupied during the course of making this, while bringing their own worldviews and memories to make a project that is at once singular and universal.


Fred Soffa