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SXSW '06 Interview: 'Al Franken: God Spoke' Directors Nick Doob & Chris Hegedus

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Al Franken: God Spoke' Pitch: Al Franken fearlessly confronts pundits and politicians, blurring the boundaries between political satire and impassioned citizenry. Featuring a host of beltway big mouths including Ann Coulter, Michael Moore, Al Gore, Robert Kennedy Jr., Sean Hannity, William Safire, Karen Hughes and Henry Kissinger, the film is an often hilarious look behind the front lines of the media wars during the most contentious election in recent history.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
Al Franken: God Spoke is the story of a comedian’s relentless pursuit of media and political evildoers and how he is transformed in the process.

“I take what they say and use it against them. What I do is jujitsu. They say something ridiculous and I subject them to scorn and ridicule. That’s my job.” – Al Franken

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
Chris: I’ve been to SXSW a couple of times and have had a fantastic time. My favorite part is spending time with other documentary filmmakers. These films are often long labors of love and it is great to have this bond. The hardest part is pumping your own film and not seeing all the other terrific movies.

Nick: I was here with Down From the Mountain in 2001. The audiences are wonderful here. They’re smart and musical, and they like to laugh. You can’t beat that.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a …” what?
Chris: I always said an artist. Back then I had no idea how a woman could make a Hollywood movie and the documentaries shown on TV seemed like they were either about animals or WW2.

Nick: I wanted to be an airplane test pilot. Somewhere during high school I got interested in being a journalist in some way that involved photography, and that evolved into documentary filmmaking. Since the end of highschool I never wanted to do anything else.

Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
Chris: Handycams were far from being invented. I started making super 8 movies when I went to art college. There was no sync sound so the films were driven by image and music. Later I bought a 16mm Bolex camera but it didn’t have sync sound either. I began making documentaries when I finally got my hands on a 16mm camera and sound rig.

Nick: I made a film instead of doing my last months of highschool. It was shot in super8 and spliced together using scotch tape and scissors. I made the sound track on 1/4” tape which had some rough lip-sync & music, and kept sync using the rheostat on the projector. It was all a little crude, but I was hooked after that.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”
SXSW is our premiere so it will be the first audience, which is always a bit scary, but also exciting -- no matter how many film festivals you’ve attended.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
Chris: I wasn’t really the Muppet generation. But I do remember going to Henson’s studio once and he walked down the stairs with those big bird feet on and I always wondered how he could do that without falling.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
Chris: Because our films often follow stories in real life, I am usually just trying to figure out where the story is going and how we can continue to get access.

Nick: There are sometimes evil eyes looking over my shoulder while making a film, telling you it’s not good enough, but otherwise I get too caught up in the filming and incessant logistical worries to think about festivals or distribution or reviews.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
We read about the feud between Billy O’Reilly and Al Franken in 2003 but after Fox’s lawsuit against Al’s book was literally laughed out of court we thought to ourselves “now that would have made a funny film”. So a couple of weeks later when we heard that Al was beginning a book tour we decided to call him up. It turned out he was a neighbor so he came over to our office. Al began telling us how it was strange but huge crowds were showing up to hear him speak. They seemed desperate for answers and felt lied to by the Bush Administration and manipulated by the right wing media. Al said he was moving in a new direction so it seemed like an interesting time to follow him around. We knew almost nothing about what he was doing or what lay up ahead for him. We shot on and off for nearly two years – when the Air America radio idea first came up, USO tours, the election and when Al decided to enter the political ring.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Chris: Be persistent and don’t give up if you feel passionate about your subject. No matter what happens, I always learn something important from either my subject or from the process of making the film.

Nick: I think it’s the same lesson I re-learn on all films: to be patient, persistent and tuned in enough to let a story evolve by itself.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition? Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
Chris: Fellini is my favorite filmmaker. Recently I have been inspired by many of the younger documentary filmmakers who because of DV cameras have been able to make unique and fascinating personal stories.

Nick: Don't Look Back and Monterey Pop got me very excited about filmmaking. I also loved Antonioni films, which had something to do with a kind of texture and surrealism.

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
Not going to happen.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...
A richer person but also a person who leads a less rich life.

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
My dog would not allow me to answer this question.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
We have always felt that film critics are important, whether or not we agree with them is a different story. But art is subjective.

What’s your take on the whole “a film by DIRECTOR” issue? Do you feel it’s tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it’s cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
We mostly use “a film by” – but director seems to explain something to people so we use it too. However since we don’t direct our documentaries it seems foolish to call ourselves directors. And yes films are very collaborative. We could not have made our film without the support from D A Pennebaker, Frazer Pennebaker, Rebecca Marshall, and Walker Lamond – our film family.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
Good jokes trump ideology. As Dick Cheney says, “Republicans f*cking love Al.” Where else would you see Al Franken do his Kissinger for Kissinger or Al go head to head with Ann Coulter – if you are an Al fan you won’t want to miss this.


Al Franken: God Spoke will premiere at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for festival information, and be sure to check out the official Al Franken: God Spoke website.

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originally posted: 03/03/06 09:05:14
last updated: 03/06/06 16:20:19
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