J.D. Salinger Documentary Features the University of Oregon

Michael McDermott and his son, Maxamillion ’14 gather b-roll on the UO campus for a documentary on Catcher in the Rye author, J.D. Salinger

By UO student Chelsea Fullmer

Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger is well-known for his disappearing acts. A man of privacy and intrigue, his diversion of the public eye created a “sasquatch” phenomenon of photographers and fans trying to capture that one-in-a-million shot.

At the mere age of 20, Portland photographer and videographer Michael McDermott captured one of the most famous and few photos of Salinger outside a Vermont post office. As a young photographer working for Newsweek in 1979, McDermott was simply doing his job.  Although at first he had little interest in Catcher in the Rye or the mystery of Salinger, McDermott set out to find the notoriously private author.

Fast forward to 2008 where McDermott became the only person to capture not one, but two photos of the author, catapulting McDermott’s photos to the forefront of the recently released documentary Salinger.

“You get drawn into the gravity of J.D. Salinger. It was destiny. It certainly wasn’t anything I did,” said McDermott on catching the author on camera twice. His 2008 photo was also the last known photo taken of Salinger, who died on January 27, 2010.

After the producer and director of Salinger, Shane Salerno, contacted McDermott to ask for his assistance, McDermott teamed up with his son, Maxamillion ’14 to bring the project to the University of Oregon.

Salerno and the Salinger team needed more b-roll of people physically holding and reading the book. Because Maxamillion, a current UO School of Journalism and Communication student and active photographer himself, and because the elder McDermott has completed numerous videos for the UO, such as Adaptive Products, it seemed fitting to highlight the UO. On March 16, 2013, the McDermott crew and other UO photographers shot and filmed footage across campus of students, faculty and staff reading the beloved novel with the help of Amber Andri, office manager for the office of communication.

As the film awaited its release in September of 2013, McDermott was excited to see the footage of the UO prominently featured in the official trailer. Director Salerno was impressed by the UO footage and included much of the b-roll in the original cut of the film that premiered in New York City. But once the theatrical version premiered on September 6, 2013, the footage had been cut by The Weinstein Company. Studio McDermott and the University of Oregon still had screen credits but lacked the exposure of the campus.

“They had crews from around the world shooting on campuses and from those crews we were told by the director that ours was the most useful. They were very impressed that the faculty, students and staff were able to pull off,” McDermott said.

Therefore, Salerno restored the footage for the director’s cut that premiered on January 21 on PBS’s 200th edition of American Masters, representing the documentary’s largest audience to date. It has since been released to Netflix and then PBS, where it garnered the most exposure—a good thing for McDermott and the UO. Catcher in the Rye was also catapulted to number one in Amazon.com sales.

In addition to gaining exposure for the UO and Studio McDermott, McDermott’s Portland-based studio, McDermott and Maxamillion also gained IMDb credit (“the world's most popular and authoritative source for movie, TV and celebrity content”) for camera operations for the film. McDermott’s wife Amy, co-founder, creative consultant and client liaison for Studio McDermott, received special thanks credit on IMDb as well.

McDermott is happy about the exposure the film and the campus have received.  “It was very exciting to see the UO woven into the tapestry of Hollywood,” McDermott says.