PAUL T. GOLDMAN's Jason Woliner on the Meta Series Finale and the Vital Paul Realizations - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

PAUL T. GOLDMAN’s Jason Woliner on the Meta Series Finale and the Vital Paul Realizations

January 27, 2023 by  

PAUL T GOLDMAN finale explained

PAUL T. GOLDMAN — “TBD” Episode 104 — Pictured: (l-r) — (Photo by: Tyler Golden/Peacock)

[Warning: This post contains spoilers for the entirety of PAUL T. GOLDMAN.]

From the start, PAUL T. GOLDMAN’s Paul T. Goldman made it clear his story was real and unbelievable. But, as the finale of the Peacock series revealed, while Goldman may have believed his ex-wife was part of a sex-trafficking conspiracy with her pimp (dubbed Royce Rocco in Goldman’s books), it wasn’t exactly the case. In fact, Goldman’s entire thesis about Royce was based on evidence that, uh, didn’t belong to him.

PAUL T. GOLDMAN director Jason Woliner traveled to Florida to get to the bottom of things and interviewed many of the people involved in what Goldman was a conspiracy…and brought the evidence back to Goldman in the finale.

Here, Woliner looks back on the bonkers, unbelievable finale, which featured Paul coming to terms with the truth, seeing the premiere of the show—and getting a taste of how the general public might interpret his journey.

Looking to the sequence where you tell Paul about your findings—there isn’t a sex-trafficking conspiracy, and there were logical explanations for at least that element of his story—what steps did you have to take in order to both protect him as this bubble he lived in for so long was popped and also protect whatever footage you were looking to obtain?
I mean, that was that final interview in his kitchen. We shot that for four hours. We went through every bit. I went to Florida on that last trip to try to determine the truth of everything as best I could; try to find the real people. And yeah, once you meet these guys, it was clear to me that they were not dangerous criminals. But I believe Paul has believed this, and I don’t think he’s lying. A lot of people watching this think he’s lying and he made it up. It’s like, no, this was his reality. The evidence that he found, he put together, and formed this picture that he was dealing with a dangerous international crime syndicate. 

And when I told him we were going to talk to [the accused traffickers], I thought it would be interesting to see how he reacted because I was like, if he says, “Oh, he’s gonna lie to you,” that means Paul is just mostly afraid of losing control of his story. Paul has been the voice of this, and I’ve challenged him, gently, here and there throughout, but he’s really been allowed to tell his story without being very challenged. And I knew if he said, “Oh, he’s just gonna lie to you,” then that’s Paul being afraid that, “Oh, he’s not going to be the only voice in this. He’s gonna have to grapple with another completely different perspective.” And then I said, if Paul says, “He’s going to kill you,” then that means he really believes that this is a dangerous criminal. And as you can see in that scene, I said it to him and he said both. [Laughs.] So both are true. 

I’ve known Paul for a decade…people are like, “What do I think about this guy? Do I hate this guy?” No, I like Paul. I like him almost like a family member. I feel very warmly towards him. I’ve known him for a long, long time. Do we drive each other crazy sometimes? Of course. [Laughs.] This is a very weird, hard thing we’ve engaged in together, and the power dynamic is off in that I was always gonna be the one editing the show. And so it’s a weird situation. But I do like Paul, and that is to say you can like someone who’s made some mistakes. And you don’t have to fully write people off because they have behaved in not the best way sometimes. And I think at the end of the day, his behavior…it got troubling, but it didn’t cross a line into, “I can never talk to this person again.” So I cared about him. I didn’t want to destroy him. 

So we went and interviewed these guys, and we found out what we believe to be the truth, and we could present it to him. But like everything in this show, it was a true experiment in that if he had stormed off, I would have had to put that in. That’s real. It would have been a story about someone so deep into an incorrect understanding of reality that you just couldn’t pull them out. And I would have had to accept that, because this whole show—[it’s] let’s see what happens and try to portray it as honestly as we can. 

So I sat him down. And yeah, I thought that moment where you see his eyebrows furrow, and you see just something clicks and something opens up. And he’s like, “Okay, maybe I was completely wrong about that part.” [Laughs.] And it was incredible to witness; I never thought I would get there with him. 

Then, when we were in the sound booth on that same trip, he was doing the sound recording for the dog cartoon. I just hit a point where I was just like, “Why are you doing any of this?” It wasn’t even part of a plan. I was just standing, looking at him for the 100th hour of interviews. We’ve done so many interviews, and I never flat-out asked him that before. And he’s standing there doing these dog voices and I’m just like, “Why do you do this?” And incredibly, he launches into this speech, this kind of rambling speech that coalesces into this kind of grand statement. It was like watching a movie in real life. I’d never seen anything like it. 

Just watching it and I was like, “Oh, I see. I’m watching the end of the show.” And I never knew that would happen. I never thought we’d get that out of him. So it really has been, that finale…even when we got to the edit of it, I was like, “Here’s a handful of scenes from the Chronicles and the spin offs. Here’s some ideas of what we can do. And then we know we want to go find the truth as best we can.” But we had no plan for that finale and that all came together just in editing and trying to figure out, what is the story here? And you just have to look at the footage you have and put it together in as honest a way as you can.

From what you know, does he actually accept what you presented him as fact? Or did he snap back into his old ways as soon as the cameras were off?
That’s a great, great question. You know, he does. He’s changed his thinking about it. And the next day, I think he changed the book on Amazon, because it’s a print on demand book…I think he added a disclaimer or something. He said he’s gonna change the book. 

There’s still so many details he’s been hanging on to, so I think there’s, afterwards, a little bit of, “What about this?” And I just have to be like, “Paul, Tony is not a bad guy. I promise you.” And he believes that. 

The thing with his second ex-wife, that’s trickier. And as you see in the show, that’s not cut and dry. This would be a much easier show to do if Paul was wrong about everything. And he wasn’t wrong about everything. I think there was a difficulty in dealing with the nuances of what the truth was, in terms of an escort service versus a kind of grayer situation. It’s hard. It’s hard to understand reality, especially when you find out your life is so different from what you thought it was. And so that’s why I think the ending is…we do see how he took a lot of information that was very confusing, and very overwhelming, and shaped it into a kind of clean, simple narrative about an international prostitution ring, run by these two arch criminals. I mean, you can watch the episode and see; I don’t think that’s exactly the case [in reality]. But for him, I knew that was going to be a trickier thing. 

Also, there was the personal element of being betrayed and I think that is still a wound for him. But I was just very happy that, for the bigger part of it, I was able to kind of bring him out of that.

You were filming beyond the show’s premiere. Are you filming now? 
I’m not currently filming with him. [Laughs.] We haven’t filmed since the KIMMEL day.

Looking back at that premiere screening experience, what was it like having that conversation with him after he saw the show for the first time? 
The only thing that was going through my mind was that I was going to try to talk to him after he watched episodes and see how he reacted. And, again, it was something where best case scenario is what he said to me, unprompted, unscripted—he said it better than I ever could, “Well, there’s stuff in there that’s not flattering, but hopefully people will see I’m a real person, and not a character.” And I was like, “Yeah, I hope so, too.” 

You can tell in the scene, it was very weirdly emotional for me, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It’s a complex thing. I think we have this very unique relationship. I think some of it was about…just standing there in this moment, knowing it was probably the last time he and I would film together. 

And, also, this weird kind of magic happens when you think of a scene in this type of project and then you’re just living it. Because you’re kind of engineering, “Okay, I know he’s gonna watch and I want to talk to him about it.” But then when you’re living in this thing, that hunch you had of an idea of how you wanted it to go, and then it just becomes alive and becomes something else…it’s this very crazy feeling to live in a moment like that. [Laughs.] But I certainly didn’t intend to get emotional on camera. God, what a nightmare. I always avoided being on camera my entire adult life. Yeah, it just happened.

There was also an important scene with a media trainer, who made it clear to Paul some of his mindsets and phrasings were, frankly, sexist. What led to the decision to include that and make that a part of the text versus subtext?
For most of the show, he’s more or less unchallenged on views that are, one could say, outdated.  [Laughs.] Others would say other things. So for me to not be putting judgment on it beyond if something is funny, allowing it to be funny, [and the same with] if something is sad, heartbreaking, shocking, or something is inspiring, letting that stuff exist without my own kind of spin on it. But I did feel like at a certain point, there was going to be a real hunger from a viewer to at least acknowledge that a lot of this stuff is not typical. 

I also thought it would be interesting…a lot of the finale and a little bit of the fifth [episode], like when he goes to his public speaking tour, it was like Paul kind of dipping his toes into the greater world. You know, he’s been in a very small bubble for the entire 14 years since he put out the book…there’s positive Amazon reviews or negative ones, [and] he sold a few 1000 copies of it. I’m the only person who’s been talking to him for most of this time. And I’m not like, saying, “Yeah, that’s pretty messed up.” What’s gonna happen when this show comes out, and he’s exposed to scores of people—he’s gonna get a lot of different opinions. And I wanted to document what happens when that starts happening. Yeah, let’s put him in front of people and see what happens. That was very interesting. The question that the young woman had, we had other questions. We had reactions [from them]. I was like, let’s start seeing when Paul breaches that bubble and starts meeting the real world. Let’s see what happens. So that was interesting. 

And then the media trainer was kind of a step further: here’s Paul meeting the world. Here’s Paul’s perspective meeting the accepted, modern day perspective, and see what happens. 

He’s not the type of person that would get offended or angry or rail against wokeness; I don’t even know if he knows that concept. He’s so open and friendly. I mean, he wants to be liked and he would hate to offend someone. And so that was an earnest reaction where he was like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll change.”

At the same time, he wants to be successful in this, so if it was an element of, “Oh, will that make the show more popular, will that sell more books?” I think that was also…you see what kind of makes a person change their tune. But it wasn’t about attacking him; it was about, well, let’s put him with Shannon, the media trainer, and see what happens when someone is finally actually, directly, challenging him on his views or trying to kind of bring him into the world. And that was also the focus group. We thought it’d be interesting to focus group the show and have him be a part of that process. And yeah, it was all about culminating in [him] on a talk show, he’s a public figure by the end of that episode. A lot of it was just steps about what happens when Paul meets the world.

Looking back at this experience, is there anything you wish you knew at the start that you know now?
[Laughs.] I don’t think there’s anything. If I knew it would take a decade, I probably wouldn’t do it. And everything I learned along the way is included in the show, in a way. I think things tend to unfold exactly in the only way they could.

I’ve been trying to do this since 2012, but I think the version that I did now is much better than it would have been back then. It was crushing that Hulu passed on the pilot. I remember that night, it was December of 2017. I got a call saying, “Well, it’s not happening on Hulu.” And I just went for a walk by myself. I went to an Indian restaurant and just ate until I couldn’t eat any more. And then I walked across the street to McDonald’s and had a second dinner. [Laughs.] And I was wallowing, like, “Well, what do I do now?” It’s really, really hard to get a show going once it’s been passed on, even if it was something that a few [places] wanted early on. Once something is kind of damaged goods…you hear about things moving from one streamer to another, but it’s actually exceedingly rare. And I was like, this is a real setback; I really wanted to do this.

I also think doing the BORAT MOVIE gave me skills. It’s a very different kind of project, but in terms of watching how Sacha Baron Cohen works, in terms of setting up situations, in terms of the adventurous spirit that he takes into projects, of like, “Let’s go and see what happens. Let’s discover.” Or just you have a new idea you love and you just follow it. It’s this balance of staying true to what got you excited about an idea in the first place, but being really open, if something new presents itself, being able to pivot and chase it. And on this project, constantly things were presenting themselves, especially in that last episode. 

I had no idea this show would end like that. I thought the show would end early on with some kind of indictment of the audience where Paul is famous, and you watched this—you helped. And I realized that would just be so empty and dark. And when that stuff happened in Florida a few months ago, where he accepted this whole different reality than he had been believing, and wound up reframing this quest as something inspiring and not cynical, I realized that the ending had no choice but to be a somewhat uplifting one, which was not my plan. Which I’m happy about, but I don’t think it would have happened earlier. So I don’t have any regrets.



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