‘There’s a Story in Every House’ … How Film Director Errol Morris Finds It

The award-winning documentary filmmaker reflects on Zillow's unconventional advertising shoot — and his childhood home.

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Inside a chilly Hollywood warehouse, we sat in directors chairs staring at a monitor. But no one knew what to expect when the cameras started rolling. There were no scripts, no storyboards — just people and the places they call home.

Over the next three days, we got glimpses of their lives — painful, comical, courageous — through the lens of acclaimed film director Errol Morris.

“The oddity of individual stories always, always interest me,” he says, reflecting on the shoot. “That people are trying to re-create their childhood in some way. … People who are running away from home as fast as they can and trying to re-create something completely different and unique. People who have gone through disastrous marriages. People who are having a child for the first time. There’s a whole range of stories.”

For many, the stories seemed cradled by four walls.

“There’s a story in every house. And every home,” Morris explains. “One of the stories I like best is this woman who’s talking about how unhappy the house was — that it had been a happy house in the past, but people had died, the house had been sold [and] fallen into disrepair. Now she got the house, and it was being brought back to life. It was becoming a happy house — a happy home — once again.”

Through jokes, gut-wrenching questions and a dose of compassion, Morris took us on an emotional journey. One by one, strangers looked into the camera at the director’s face through his interviewing device, “the interrotron.” I was skeptical of his unusual technique, but when the tables turned and I got to interview Morris, I sat back in awe. It felt like I was having a private conversation between two people — not a stranger and a foggy lens.

“Zillow’s a website,” Morris says matter-of-factly when I get him in front of the camera. “You can think of it in really de-emotionalized terms. Why would you necessarily connect emotion with a website? It’s like two radically different ideas. But in fact, given that it’s real estate, given that it’s home, it contains all kinds of emotional resonance.”

For everyone on set, this reality started to sink in: Home is a complicated thing.

The place where Morris grew up is a mix of memories — memories of the contraptions his brother built around the house, memories of losing his father when he was very young, memories of being raised by his mother.

“My mother was a musician,” he remembers fondly. “It was one of those houses with two Steinways, not one. … I played a lot of music with my mother. She is now dead … although I have one of the Steinways from that living room. … She would be enormously pleased. Playing music keeps her alive in that house, at least for me.”

Check out our newest commercials at Zillow.com/TV.