Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Making of a Political Documentary

Directors Statement: got healthcare?


In 2008, thinking people were very tired of George W. Bush, and especially the wars that waged on endlessly. There was a lot of political issues debate between McCain and Obama supporters during the presidential campaigns. I had done some pro-Obama political blogging with the Huffiington Post. I bought his hype and lies. In September with the market crash and subsequent bailouts, McCain as a Republican, became the underdog in the presidential race. This was all a function of what happened on Wall Street. In a way, it was Wall Street that elected Obama, including through direct financial contributions. Earlier, in March of 2008, there were some big anti-war protests marking the anniversary of the war and occupation of Iraq. I decided to do an anti-war documentary. I filmed local protests. I did research and built a website. I read The Three Trillion Dollar War (2008, Nobel Prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda J. Bilmes). I found RSS feeds to veterans anti-war groups, like the IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War), and the West Point Graduates Against the War. Then this activism was subverted by health care reform.


After Obama's election, activism quelled. Had McCain won, more activists would have been galvanized to greater action. The pressure on Congress would have been overwhelming and we might have seen an end to the wars. Although it would have taken another cycle to get a receptive regime into the White House. As it is, Obama persisted Bush's programs and policies, and escalated war, with little pressure from the public to do otherwise.

The war protests were subverted by Congressional interests in health care reform. Senator Max Baucus (D - Montana) held hearings (excluding 'single payer/medicare for all' advocates), and then hired Liz Fowler (former Wellpoint Insurance PR exec) to write a bill. This launched street protests by activists around the country. These were activists often subverted from war protests. Obama successfully got the attention away from the wars and onto health care reform. But the media had virtually no coverage of the street protests nor the ones inside the Baucus hearings. Since I was on activist email lists, I got wind of these protests and decided to go out to film the coverage the media ignored.


I was surprised and even amazed to find very intelligent activists including doctors and nurses out in the streets at these protests. I asked them what their concerns were, as much for myself as for a potential film. I interviewed over 65 people. I got answers to what it was all about. There were alarming statistics. 45,000 Americans died annually due to lack of health care. 48 million Americans had no health care insurance. Most people with insurance were denied coverage. The insurance industry overhead costs 30% of the money spent on health care compared to 4% in other countries. America ranks 37th among all countries for health care performance and 51st in fairness. 61% of bankruptcies and foreclosures are due to health care debt. Over half of all doctors are in favor of a single payer system. All these statistics remain true or are worse in 2014. The opposition to these protests were conservative organizations or paid protesters known as Astro Turf (fake grass roots). I filmed them as well and got their sides of the story. They said the health care industry needed more competition, and that we had a problem with tort. They said they didn't want the government making health care decisions for us. One woman didn't want "those people" in her hospital. Another said health care would be diluted and that we have to pay for care, that there is no free lunch.

I used this to go back and forth between one side and the other to get responses to the opposition. The activists laughed at the competition argument, saying that what we already have and that's what's caused the problem. They said tort amounts to only one percent of costs compared to the 30% insurance companies spend on administration and advertizing. They said we pay taxes and deserve care and that health care is a right and should be handled by government, just like fire and police protections to life. They said lobbyists spent millions daily to buy Congress. Senator Baucus received hundreds of millions from health care industries. In this way I constructed a stream of conversation film with one side making a point and the other side making a counter point.


Going it Alone

Maureen Cruise RN
I filmed these protests with no screenplay, no written plan, and no crew. It was just me with a camera and mikes. I edited it myself using the material to define the structure. One of the nurses, Maureen Cruise, was extremely knowledgeable and spoke so eloquently that I considered her as a sort of narrator. I used pieces of her 28 minute interview throughout the film. Later on, after I had a cut ready, she offered to distribute DVDs. So I credited her as an executive producer, whether she wanted to be one or not. Another great thing was that activist organizations like MoveOn, and health care reform groups, staged protests, rallies, and sit-in, complete with arrests and other entertainment. this all help ed to make for some dramatic footage along with the very passionate activists. It was all there for me to simply show up and point my camera at. Many of the doctors and nurses were and are members of PNHP (Physicians for a National Health Program), the Mad as Hell Doctors, HCA (Healthcare for All) and what is now the LA Healthcare Coalition. The issues persist along with the activists.

Editing and Distribution

I had a cut ready at the end of 2009. It was two hours. I got some feedback that it had to be cut to at least 90 minutes. I did that about five more times with improvements in each version. Maureen became involved in 2011. She even attended the AFM with me. She found AFM somewhat disgusting with all the posters for blood and gore horrors and thrillers. She later wrote that she thought Hollywood would never give issues like this a forum. But the experience gave her an education and helped me a lot. I got a good handle on what it takes to market and distribute a film. I did connect with sales agents interested in the film. But they were relatively unknown and didn't have any kind of track record I could have any faith in. You have to research these companies. They also wanted all-rights deals for outrageous time ranges (up to 20 years) and percentages (up to 40%). I could have negotiated better deals. But I had no faith in any of them and turned them down.

The latest major cut was in March 2013. I added footage of the Baucus hearings protests and coverage of the ACA (Obamacare) passage and reaction from 2010. I was able to sell a few hundred dollars worth of DVDs on my website and through Amazon. A few activist organizations have had screenings. Lately I've had renewed interest in the film.

More about got healthcare? (a political documentary) here.

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