Ben Patterson directed Maddman: The Steve Madden Story: 'He just has this level of honesty. He can't be anything but himself.'
This fall has brought two documentaries on leading shoemakers: Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards, about the remarkable Manolo Blahnik and now Maddman: The Steve Madden Story, about an entrepreneur who made a fortune catering to a less monied clientele than Blahnik.
Madden built his empire only to see it threatened with collapse after he was convicted on stock manipulation and securities fraud charges as part of the government investigation into the high-flying brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, founded by Jordan Belfort and Danny Porush. Madden was portrayed by Jake Hoffman in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street.
What I admire about him is he's like he just has this level of honesty. He can't be anything but himself.
Ben Patterson directed the documentary, which will hold its New York premiere November 11 at DOC NYC. It becomes available on digital platforms December 1. The filmmaker showed Maddman to an audience at the iPic Theaters in West L.A. on Wednesday, a screening we attended.
"Steve... was sort of the embodiment of the good and the bad of the American entrepreneur and a guy so driven to succeed," Patterson told Nonfictionfilm.com. "Simultaneously [that] was something that brought him great happiness, great wealth, great success, but at the same time compromised sort of the basic things in life. For me there was a fascinating insight to a universal story just as told through Steve."
On why he wanted to make the film, Patterson added, "He had this sort of cultural equity as a guy who is an artist but also a businessman and a great capitalist."
The film shows how Madden's apprenticeship in a shoe store led him to found his own company, and the drive, energy and marketing savvy that made it a resounding success. We asked the director what he admired about his subject.
"He just has this level of honesty. He can't be anything but himself. He really really can't and that gets him in trouble sometimes but not really necessarily in a bad way. It's just in a way that you have to accept him for what he is," Patterson said.
Madden, like others shown in The Wolf of Wall Street, led a fast life fueled by Quaaludes and alcohol. He eventually got clean, and the prison term he served for his securities conviction seemed to help him rededicate himself to his business, which has flourished since his release.
Patterson said Madden was motivated to do the documentary in part to share what he's learned the hard way.
"He's a guy that really believes in second chances. I think his experience in prison, his experience with drugs and on the other side of that knowing that there's light and that's there wisdom that can be taken and applied," Patterson told us. "I see his motive [as being] that his story can help people and inspire people.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.