Conservatives Take Back Filmmaking
Move over, Michael Moore — check out Newt Gingrich's new documentary
Conservative filmmakers have long tried to mimic Michael Moore. They demonstrated that they, too, could pull together philosophically biased films to preach to the choir.
But there was a difference. Love him or hate him, Moore’s documentaries are sophisticated and entertaining. Meanwhile, most conservative films are awful. They have no story lines, are obsessed with preaching, use contrived and robotic dialogue and employ none of the storytelling tools filmmakers use to make their work memorable.
Many are the movie-editing equivalent of paint-by-numbers. Stock footage is frequently unoriginal and on-the-nose. There is no story boarding or creative vision and filmmakers fail to use the best of what they have. Far too often they put political messaging before art.
But it’s starting to change. Skilled conservative filmmakers are now producing documentaries of comparable quality.
Part of the credit goes to technology. High-definition film equipment and filmmaking software, such as Final Cut, Adobe Audition, and Final Draft, have shortened the learning curve and increased opportunities for producing a quality film.
As a filmmaker who has produced numerous independent films and TV shows — and studied film — I say with some authority there is more to this than software. There is a deeper understanding of the craft and artistry of storytelling. The status quo is changing — and rapidly — thanks in part to some of these films and cultural changes:
‘Do As I Say’
In 2008, director and writer Nick Tucker adapted Peter Schweizer’s book “Do As I Say” for the screen, and he brilliantly pointed out the hypocrisy of left-wing public figures.
Tucker’s grasp of storytelling, the visual medium, and humor created a compelling and bold documentary. The film was produced by the Moving Picture Institute, which has become a powerful force in helping rising right-leaning and libertarian filmmakers produce films. It helps place students and recent graduates in paid internships at production companies in Hollywood.
The group also provides financial grants for those who develop, produce and distribute “pro-freedom” films.
‘2016: Obama’s America’
Dinesh D’Souza’s “2016” film envisioned what the world would be like in 2016 after the world experiences President Obama’s second term. Film critics panned the film, but D’Souza’s director, Gerald Molen, whose film credits include “Schindler’s List,” “Catch Me If You Can,” and “Jurassic Park,” created an efficient and effective visual journey. It is one of the shining examples of what can happen when conservatives team up with Hollywood conservatives to produce a quality film.
‘The First American’
In addition to running for president and doing punditry on cable news networks, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has spent the past few years as a filmmaker. (In full disclosure, I was involved in producing three of his previous documentaries.)
His most recent production, “The First American,” tells the story of our country’s first president, George Washington.
“The First American” is a unique conservative documentary because it has all the elements of a History Channel-quality program — top-notch interviews with historians, re-enactments, historical sets, appropriate dialogue, action scenes, and compelling narration.
This documentary is a production of Gingrich Productions and Peace River Productions. Gingrich’s director, Kevin Knoblock, who previously produced Biography Channel productions, has been instrumental in producing quality productions with the Gingrichs.
The Breitbart Effect
No discussion of conservative filmmaking is complete without a mention of Andrew Breitbart. Before Breitbart, progressives were always more savvy about building institutions and planning mission creep for long-term impact.
Breitbart may be better known as the media maven who built a powerful news website, rallied the Tea Party in 2010, and took down ACORN, but he had a huge and far-reaching cultural impact on the West Coast.
Through happy hours organized by Breitbart and fellow Friends of Abe conservatives in Los Angeles, the conservative community in Hollywood was born. Film directors, producers, writers, executives, actors, and crews forged relationships with each other, offering each other opportunities and scoops on upcoming work in the business. Marriages, children, and productions have been born from these relationships in Hollywood’s conservative underground.
The group created a confidence for conservatives that hadn’t before existed. Numerous Hollywood stars “came out” as conservatives and more kept it private but knew and felt connected to the network.
When stars did come out, Breitbart helped with media contacts and by introducing them to the conservative insiders in Washington who actually get things done. This bridge Breitbart created between D.C. and Hollywood has led to better conservative filmmaking. Groups looking to create quality films now have avenues to find like-minded filmmakers.
Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood” website gave well-known Hollywood actors, directors, producers, and writers a venue to play the role of pundits. Some celebrities wrote proudly. Others wrote under aliases. But all of them and all of us benefited from this linking of Washington and Hollywood.
“He was tremendously generous and energetic about sharing contacts and bringing people together — he soon became the hub of a large network of Hollywood right-wingers,” Hollywood screenwriter Andrew Klavan said. “To this day, when I’m sitting with friends, talking about projects or whatever, I’ll suddenly stop and think, ‘Wow, all of us know each other through Andrew.'”
Soon, conservative film festivals, such as the American Film Renaissance, the Liberty Film Festival, and the GI Film Festival, began to raise awareness of conservative filmmakers and projects.
If conservatives wish to continue to increase their influence in Hollywood, there are a few ways they can improve their positioning:
1.) Conservative producers should seek to hire conservative filmmakers. It doesn’t help to waste a production staff slot on an unskilled Bernie Sanders voter for the sake of diversity. There are plenty of quality conservative filmmakers hungry for gigs on productions they believe in. If you don’t believe that talented conservative filmmakers exist, you’re not looking hard enough.
2.) Donors should support groups and productions that help advance conservative filmmaking. Breitbart once told me he envisioned having a house for young, aspiring conservative filmmakers in Los Angeles. Perhaps one day, we can make that happen.
3.) The left dominates the documentary world. We should be smarter about distribution — such as having more of our films on Netflix, iTunes, and On Demand. We should focus our distribution efforts on where people watch documentaries today: at home or on their computer.
There is always room for improvement, but conservative documentary filmmaking has a hopeful future. I can’t wait to see how it continues to evolve. With the help of various innovative filmmakers, groups, and our late friend Andrew, we’re making progress.