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Behind the Scenes with 'Craigslist Joe'

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Courtesy: Joe Garner


Would you ever completely ditch your responsibilities to devote yourself to living off the kindness and generosity of strangers you find on Craigslist?

Joe Garner did.

Garner, 32, teamed up with funnyman turned executive producer Zack Galifianakis on a new documentary called "Craigslist Joe" in which he did just that. Set to premier Aug. 2, the film follows Garner cross-country as he relies solely on Craigslist ads to eat, sleep and bathe, among a few other things.

Garner is no stranger to the film industry. He was the assistant to director Todd Phillips on what he calls "a little movie at the time," which later turned into the blockbuster hit "The Hangover." It was on the set of "The Hangover" where Garner and Galifianakis first started discussing the premise for "Craigslist Joe." Living in a hotel casino in 2008 while filming the movie, Garner said he was isolated in Vegas, watching the country fall falter around him.

"The country was falling apart around me, people losing their homes, people just out on their own. So I got to thinking: If I lost everything, what would happen? I'd probably be OK because I have great friends and family. But what if I didn't? Who would I rely on?" Garner asked.

So he put social media to the test to see how reliable it was in times of need. Garner said he didn't have a central goal but wanted to prove that help was possible.

"I'm going to go out and be as open as I can, talk to regular people around the country, and see how technology is going to enable me to better communicate with those people to make meaningful face-face-connections," Garner explained.

He hired a cameraman he found on Craigslist a week before he set out on his journey. Equipped only with a laptop, a new cell phone with a new number he hadn't given to anyone, a new email address, a passport, toothbrush and the clothes on his back, he was ready to embark on his month-long adventure.

"We started off in L.A. I've lived here for over 10 years, and it was just very odd. I've never experienced L.A. as much as I did in those first four days," said Garner. "It was about getting out of my routine and isolation in my own world and just opening up and realizing, 'whoa, there's other things in front of us that's happening.' I t was a good time to go, since our country was going through such rough times, and I wanted to find those stories and see how people were coping."

When Garner communicated with people on Craigslist he claimed he was just a regular guy looking to meet up, go out of town, go on a hike, whatever he could find. It wasn't until after they agreed to meet him person that he disclosed a camera would be involved, documenting their journey along the way.

"It was all about establishing trust. People weren't just initially helping me because of the camera because they didn't even know about it at first," said Garner.

Garner first had to learn the fundamentals of living through Craigslist.

"How am I going to eat today? You get pretty hungry when you're just walking around, even after a few hours. I allowed myself as much water as I could find," he said.

His two favorite sections on Craigslist that became his lifelines were "Free" and "Ride Share." Garner explained this is where "someone would literally be giving away milk." But he warns you must be careful when using Craigslist, especially the "Ride Share" portion.

"Meet up in a public place, write down their cell phone number, check out their ID, you definitely have to be smart about it," Garner explained.

The 31-day social media experiment taught Garner a few life lessons, especially while visiting the Ninth Ward in New Orleans.

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Courtesy: Joe Garner

"Everywhere I looked around the country were these pockets of inspiration. It's one thing to see it on TV, or read it in the news, but I broke down in the Ninth Ward," said Garner. "After a couple weeks of exhaustion, the amazing kindness that people shared with me I realized, here I am in the middle of this place that was once a totally amazing community that is just totally wiped out now. But these people are taking abandoned houses and creating them into art spaces," he beamed.

If given the chance, Garner says he would absolutely embark on another Craigslist adventure, even for a lot longer than a month.

"What I did was no big thing. The biggest thing was making the decision to let go of the things I hold most important and step out of my comfort zone," Garner said. "It was the most amazing experience of my life. I've never felt so connected with people around me."

"Craigslist Joe" will be released in theaters and available on iTunes Aug. 2.

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