As one of the more unusual independent film success stories during the mid- to late 2000s, Josh Safdie grew up in a Manhattan home with a New Yorker mother and a cinema-obsessed European father, who translated his love of filmmaking to Josh and his brother by constantly filming them. In his teens, Josh founded an eight-member production collective called Red Bucket Films, then formally enrolled in the film production program at Boston University.
Safdie and company produced a number of shorts under the Red Bucket imprimatur, such as the twin 2007 efforts The Back of Her Head and We're Going to the Zoo, but took a step up in profile and recognition thanks to Josh's meeting (via a mutual acquaintance, video artist Casey Neistadt) with the handbag entrepreneur Andy Spade, co-founder of Kate Spade Handbags. At the time, Safdie wanted to obtain funding for a feature entitled Yeah, Get On My Shoulders; Spade agreed on the condition that Safdie first direct a short narrative, designed to sell handbags.
The directorial assignment on the handbag commercial was not entirely unprecedented, as Spade had extended similar work to many prior filmmakers, including Neistadt, but it yielded a far more unusual outcome in Safdie's case thanks to his determination and restless creative spirit. With Shoulders still in the works, the upstart accepted a second commercial assignment for Spade during the interim -- this one a short narrative advertisement about a free-spirited kleptomaniac (neophyte Eleonore Hendricks) with a penchant for stealing handbags. In Safdie's hands, the idea evolved by leaps and bounds from a brief short subject of several minutes in length to a low-medium budgeted feature, also to star Hendricks, with roughly the same storyline. When Spade and his business partner learned of this, they openly embraced the opportunities to branch off into film production and backed Safdie 100%. The gamble paid off: the finished feature, entitled The Pleasure of Being Robbed (produced, directed, and edited by the 24-year-old Safdie, and co-starring him as well), landed the Fortnight spot at Cannes, secured domestic distribution and a theatrical run through IFC Films, and drew innumerable critical praises and more than a passing comparison to the early directors of the French Nouvelle Vague. It also demonstrated the rise of a vital new American filmmaker.