Megyn Kelly announced a comeback on Friday, teasing an interview that will be posted on Instagram and YouTube — an interview with a woman who was fired after she was suspected of leaking a video hot mic moment of ABC News' Amy Robach, complaining that the network didn't jump on the Jeffrey Epstein story three years ago.
“We just sat down with her, and we got the full story, and I think you are going to be fascinated by it,” Kelly said in an Instagram post.
The woman, a producer, had since moved to CBS News, but after right-wing site Project Veritas posted the footage, ABC News reportedly informed their rival network of what had happened. Kelly said that the employee was fired because she had “marked” the video of Robach, but they “suspected that she leaked” the video.
Spokespersons for ABC News and CBS News did not immediately return requests for comment.
Inthe video, which was from last summer, Robach says, “I had this interview with Virginia Roberts. We would not put it on the air. First of all, I was told, 'Who's Jeffrey Epstein? No one knows who that is. This is a stupid story. Then the palace found out that we had her whole allegations about Prince Andrew and threatened us a million different ways. We were so afraid we wouldn't be able to interview Kate and Will that we, that also quashed the story.”
After the video was posted at Project Veritas, Robach issued a new statement. She said that she was caught “in a private moment of frustration.”
“I was upset that an important interview I had conducted with Virginia Roberts didn't air because we could not obtain sufficient corroborating evidence to meet ABC's editorial standards about her allegations.” she said. “My comments about Prince Andrew and her allegation that she had seen Bill Clinton on Epstein's private island were in reference to what Virginia Roberts said in that interview in 2015. I was referencing her allegations — not what ABC News had verified through our reporting.
“The interview itself, while I was disappointed it didn't air, didn't meet our standards. In the years since no one ever told me or the team to stop reporting on Jeffrey Epstein, and we have continued to aggressively pursue this important story.”
With The Lighthouse, director Robert Eggers has created one of the best, and weirdest, movies of 2019. His follow-up to The Witch is a tale of supernatural New England horror, a dizzying descent into paranoia and debauchery, and a filthy comedy about what it’s like to share a small space with the roommate from hell. You’ve never seen anything quite like it and quite frankly, you probably aren’t prepared for it.
I was able to speak with Eggers on the phone for an all-too-brief interview where we discussed his New England roots, directing the film’s intense performances, and yes, crafting fart jokes.
Pardon the anecdote, but I grew up with a mother from Boston, and her bookshelves were full of ghost stories and tall tales and legends of New England. So I grew up with a vision of New England being a place where everything is terrifying. After The Witch and The Lighthouse and you being born in New Hampshire, I have to imagine you also have an interest in the dark corners of New England. Why does that appeal to you?
laughs There are plenty of people who grew up in New England who are interested in the Red Sox and the Bruins and look at lighthouses on the coast of Maine romantically and are quite normal. But if you are slightly interested in the dark side of life, it’s impossible not to be affected by the New England surroundings. My grandpa lived in a house from 1740. I grew up in a clapboard house surrounded by giant white pines, and I was sure that when I was tromping around in the woods past random family graveyards that had been grown over and crumbling stone walls that were on the boundaries of former generations past, that there were ghosts of Puritans and witches and werewolves in the woods behind my house. It’s a tangible feeling, and any time I’m doing press in New England, people come up to me and describe having similar feelings when they were kids growing up there.
So many of my favorite horror and genre writers are from New England – Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft – at what point did you realize there was an entire genre of weirdness, horror, science fiction, fantasy, that grew out of this region of the United States? What do you think makes it different from the South, which has its own unique ghost stories and tall tales?
Well, the Anglo-Protestant culture that was brought over on the Mayflower gives a certain kind of austerity to New England folklore and New England horror. Southern gothic is something very different, much more romantic. I think that romanticism is what’s different. Poe walked the line between both things, having spent time in the South and the North and having gone to boarding school in England. He gets to incorporate everything. But yeah, when you see Lovecraft become unhinged, you really see how that New England culture can repress people and turn them into real maniacs.
It took me a few minutes to realize how funny The Lighthouse is and that it was OK to laugh. A friend of mine had a compliment that The Lighthouse feels like Kubrick trying to make Step Brothers, so at what point did you realize this was a comedy? Because The Witch, which I love, is not funny at all, so I was expecting something similar. When did you realize, “Oh, this movie’s funny”?
I wanted it to be funny from the beginning. The Witch takes itself very seriously, indeed. It is humorless, aside from a couple moments with the twins. I frankly don’t think it would work without being so self-serious. But there’s something about it that feels a little film school-y to me, in that seriousness. I felt if I was going to explore misery again, I wanted to be able to laugh at misery as well. So it was very early on, when I was taking notes and outlining things, before I was writing it together with my brother, that I was thinking about flatulence making sense in this tight, claustrophobic world of two men living in a giant phallus. And then I realized, OK, the first fart in the movie is the first fart joke in the movie.
I think anybody who has ever had a bad roommate can relate to this. I’ve never lived in a lighthouse, but I’ve had my fair share of really crummy roommates.
Absolutely. Working in the dregs of the New York indie film scene, I definitely had to share some close quarters with flatulent co-workers.
Pattinson and Dafoe look absolutely miserable in this movie. How much of that is performance and how much of that is location?
It’s all location. I mean, Willem Dafoe says you can’t act a red nose. Of course, in this movie you can’t see a red nose, either. laughs But you don’t have to act, but if you’re – spoiler alert – actually being buried alive. You don’t have to act if you’re in gale force winds in the pouring rain and it’s just above or below freezing on a rock in the Atlantic Ocean. You don’t have to act that stuff.
One thing I really like about the filmmaking decisions you make here is that when I first saw footage of it, I was like, “Oh, he’s shooting it like a 1930s film. That’s a cool aesthetic choice.” But when you see it, the narrower frame and amount of close-ups you use really emphasize the claustrophobia and how much these two don’t have any personal space whatsoever. As a director, how do you map out making these aesthetic choices that not only give the film that unique look and feeling, but also really puts you in the shoes of your characters?
It’s instinctual. Certainly it comes from studying other filmmakers and watching a ton of movies and trying to understand what works and what doesn’t work, what turns you on, what excites you, what inspires you. How does it make you feel? How do you understand the perspectives of the character by watching these other movies? But Jarin Blaschke, the DP, and I make our choices having to do with who our protagonist is and whose perspective the scene is being told through. Nearly every moment in this movie, we experience it through Rob’s eyes. Even that is subjective from audience member to audience member, I don’t think they’re always going to experience something through Rob’s eyes. After the two shot of them looking into the camera and Willem walks into the house, we’re basically with Rob for the rest of the movie, aside from a couple moments. Therefore, at that point, if you see a wide shot in the movie, it’s because Rob is experiencing the grandness of the landscape or the power of nature or whatever. It doesn’t turn into narrator mode necessarily. Will the audience perceive it like that? I don’t know. But anytime we decide to make a cut from one shot to another, that’s based on where we are with Rob. That means in the shots that Jarin and I design and the work that I do with Louise Ford, the editor. It all comes from how Rob’s experiencing things.
I’m glad you mentioned that, because my favorite shot in the movie is Willem Dafoe cursing Robert Pattinson and turning and staring right into the camera, and if I remember correctly, it’s in one mostly long, unbroken take that escalates with his performance. I want to know the origin of that speech and that shot, because weeks later I’m still thinking about it.
Thank you. Yeah, I will say that you say it’s mostly unbroken, and the thing is, that the entire thing from beginning to end is one take from Willem. We needed to break it up because we needed to see Rob’s reaction, because as I mentioned, the movie is from Rob’s perspective. But if we omitted those shots of Rob, Dafoe – even as it is – for over two minutes, doesn’t blink. The unbroken version, he never, ever, ever blinked. laughs The dialogue for this film was heavily researched except for that sort of faux-Shakespearean, faux-Miltonian stuff because of The Witch and some other things I’ve written, I just kind of do that now. But it was inspired by Ahab’s more romantic language in Moby Dick. It was also inspired by, I saw a not particularly good stage production of Hamlet when I was early in the writing process on this movie where the only thing that struck me about that particular performance was the actor who played the lead player of the players who come into Elsinore, the lead player was incredible. Shakespeare has a speech about Hecuba that is written in sort of a clunky, old-fashioned style for Shakespeare’s day. The actor who played the player just killed that speech. You really did picture Priam and Hecuba and everything with such clarity when he was giving this really old-fashioned, clunky speech. And I thought, “OK, we should have a sea spell that should do something like that.”
With Doctor Sleep, writer/director Mike Flanagan finds himself serving three masters. First, there’s Stanley King, who penned The Shining and its literary sequel, the subject of this new film. Then there’s Stanley Kubrick, whose iconic 1908 film adaptation of The Shining has legions of fans but remains hated by King himself. And then there’s Flanagan himself, the impressive filmmaker behind The Haunting of Hill House, Gerald’s Game, Hush, and more, whose distinctive voice blends chills with honest sentimentality.
I attended an early screening of Doctor Sleep in Estes Park, Colorado, home to the famous Stanley Hotel, the place where a young Stephen King was inspired to write The Shining in the first place. And the real miracle is this: Flanagan has made a movie that is a direct sequel to Kubrick’s film, a loving tribute to King’s original vision, and, most importantly, a proper Mike Flanagan movie through and through.
Shortly before I sat down to interview Flanagan, I learned that he was staying in the famously haunted Room 428 AKA “The Cowboy Room” at the Stanley Hotel, the same room I had stayed in prior to his arrival. Figuring this would be my only chance to talk to a noteworthy horror director about our experiences in the same haunted room, I used that to break the ice.
Maybe a slightly odd question to start with, but I was told you were in Room 428?
I was in there the other night before you arrived. So we have two people who have both been in a famously haunted room. Did you see anything or hear anything or feel anything odd while you were in the infamous Cowboy Room?
I did not see the Cowboy. The biggest thing I noticed was the wind against the window and the wall that night was loud, like a fist punching the wall. Those noises were startling, but no, I didn’t see anything.
I heard movement above me, where there is no place for there to be movement.
That’s messed up! I’ve stayed in there before, though. The first time I ever stayed here, I stayed in that room.
I’m a skeptic by nature, but I believe in ghosts. Where do you fall on this?
I’m a skeptic by nature, and I do not yet believe in ghosts. But I’m wide open. Like any good skeptic, my mind is wide open to the possibility and I actively seek it out. That’s why I ask for rooms like that.
Do you think that’s part of the thrill of being a horror fan? Wanting to find that stuff?
Yeah, nothing would make me happier. Because even if I have a really scary experience, to be able to say with certainty that there is something waiting for us on the other side of this life would be so cool. I’d love to know that. For me, it doesn’t feel knowable, and I haven’t seen it. But I know other people claim to have, and who am I to argue with that?
Interestingly, Doctor Sleep also has a similar viewpoint of “life goes on,” and in the world of Doctor Sleep and lots of Stephen King stories, being a ghost isn’t necessarily a curse. It’s being there to watch and help the people you love.
Can you talk a little bit about finding the optimism in your horror? I feel like you, like Stephen King, are an optimist at heart. I feel like you believe people were persevere.
Yes, I do. I didn’t always used to be this way, either. It’s funny, I look back at some of my early work – when I watch Absentia, for example, I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s bleak.’ Oculus is bleak. That optimism has kind of grown in me as I’ve gotten older, and it’s grown in me because I had children and I want to be optimistic for them. I want the world to be OK for them. And it’s because I met my wife and as my life congealed into a really positive thing, for the first time I wanted to believe in those things. I wanted to have faith in the existence, in the universe and purpose and justice. I want to believe all of that. It’s comforting for my kids. I can’t imagine them growing up in a world that is completely indifferent and hopeless. That wrecks me. I can’t let it happen.
It’s interesting, because you also see that in Stephen King’s work. He grows more humanist as work goes on, and even the creator of The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman, ended his comic book run recently and wrote an essay in the last issue saying that his original plan was to end it with humanity wiped out, but changed to the opposite ending because over the years he had kids and realized he could not bring himself to do that. Do you agree with me when I say that there’s a wisdom in growing older with horror like that?
Yeah, I think so. I agree with that completely. I think, when you look at what horror is meant to do, it’s a safe space for us to entertain the things that scare us the most. As a kid, I used to look at it as a chance to be brave in short bursts. That making it through a scary movie or reading a scary book, when I didn’t want to look at the screen anymore or hide behind my fingers or a pillow, if I was able to push through that for five minutes, for 90 minutes, whatever it was, that was like exercise. I think even our darkest expressions of the genre are really a wonderful exercise for us to cathartically – they say when you’re really terrified of something happening, [you should try] exposure therapy. Experience it. Realize it isn’t the end of the world. See how you react to it. See how you really are on the other side of an experience like that, because there’s nothing flimsier than untested virtue. I think horror is optimistic, because it basically says that for as dark as this is, as scary as it is, it’s going to end and you’ll still be here. As the viewer, as the reader, you carry on. I think it’s incredible.
You’ve spoken before about how childhood trauma and its effects is like horror to you because you had a good childhood, so that scares you. But my real question, the pressing question, is why are you so afraid of hand trauma?
Because in Doctor Sleep and Gerald’s Game, my hands hurt so much!
It’s become a running gag now. I have a phobia of fingernail injuries. It’s the most uncomfortable thing I can imagine. In Oculus, we had a scene where Rory [Cochrane] pulls off his thumbnail. I still haven’t been able to watch the whole thing. I can’t. It was a reshoot. It was a last minute addition to the movie. I was against it because I’m so uncomfortable with it and I can’t look at it. But with Hush, Hush was kind of, in a lot of ways, it was me feeling like I was never going to be able to make Gerald’s Game. Kind of riffing on a lot of things that are in that book. The crushing hand injury in that felt right for that story, and it was also kind of Gerald’s Game-y. But I didn’t have a vendetta against hands.
But then with Gerald’s Game, it was like, OK, now it’s starting to feel like a vendetta. And with [The] Haunting [of Hill House], Henry stuck his hand in the fan, he was like, “You’re starting to do this on purpose, aren’t you?” In Doctor Sleep, that’s why happens to her hand in the book. It gets pretty mangled. But I was like, “Here we go again!” At this point, it’s just becoming a dare, like how can I get a really gruesome hand injury in there. Because fuck hands! What do they do for anyone? Nothin’. But yeah, it’s just kind of fun.
I think the strength of gore like that is we don’t know what it’s like to have our face ripped off by a masked killer, but we’ve all stubbed our finger, we’ve all had a hangnail. We all know what that feels like.
Yeah, it’s like when you pull that hangnail just a little too far, and the tiny little tear happens? We all know how that feels. Because we use our hands for so much of our lives, an injury to those? It’s really frightening to me. It’s eyes and hands for me. Having any impediment to sight or being able to manipulate things. It scares me to death.
Doctor Sleep, by returning to many of the ideas and imagery of Stephen King’s original novel The Shining, in addition to being a sequel to Kubrick’s film, feels like a direct response to saying Kubrick’s worldview is “we’re doomed” and Doctor Sleep’s view is “no, we’re not.” So I want to talk about your process of staying true to Kubrick while also putting Stephen King’s proper vision out there in front of millions of people for the first time.
Yeah, and that was one of the things that was so exciting to me about this, was being able to do the ending of The Shining. To do the ending of the novel. But I don’t know if I’d put it all on Kubrick, to say that he’s got this kind of “we’re all doomed” [outlook]. I don’t know that I can speak to his worldview that definitively. What I will say, though, is that The Shining is very much about addiction, which is doom. It’s about annihilation and the destruction of a family. How addition can destroy an individual, and how that destruction can reach out and destroy others around it. I think that’s what King was writing about the most. He always had this note of redemption and sacrifice to it. He had this wish of how it would go, and Kubrick was more interested in the madness. He was more interested in the destruction, for sure.
But I think Doctor Sleep, written by the same author but with decades of sobriety under his belt, Doctor Sleep is about recovery. In the way that addiction feels like doom and annihilation, recovery is rebirth, and recovery is salvation, in a way. I think they’re two sides of the same coin, these stories. I think Kubrick gravitated very naturally toward certain notes of that story. And clearly, Stephen King, I think, desperately wanted the redemption because he needed it for himself and he needed it for his own family. When that wasn’t included in the movie, I think he took that personally, and I understand why he would. But I think that’s why he’s so passionate about it. To finally kind of be able to give him back in this story, it was an honor to be able to do that. I hope, though, that we’re also able to honor Stanley Kubrick and the masterpiece of cinema that he made. Because as many liberties as he took with it, he made a film that has profoundly formed me and has shaped the way I see cinema, and will always. That was the hope. Not to say, “this was right” or “this was wrong” or “this is the real Shining and this isn’t,” it was more to try to pull all of that together and celebrate all of it.
The rest of the interview delves into spoilers and will run on Monday. Prepare for that by checking out Doctor Sleep, which is in theaters now.
CBS has put in development dramas Vanishing Point, from writer Breen Frazier Criminal Minds, and The Honorable from Everybody Hates Chris co-creator Ali Leroi and Michelle Amor Playin' For Love. Both hail from Jay and Phil McGraw's Stage 29 Productions and CBS Television Studios, where Stage 29 is under a first-look deal.
Your Complete Guide to Pilots and Straight-to-Series orders
Written by Frazier, Vanishing Point revolves around a cavalier but brilliant behavioral psychologist and his methodical FBI agent ex-wife, who are forced to re-team together on a missing persons case that may in fact be the spark they need to rekindle their relationship and finally locate their own teenage son who disappeared years before.
Frazier executive produces with Dr. Phil McGraw, Jay McGraw, Julia Eisenman for Stage 29 Productions, along with Marc Provissiero and Bob Odenkirk for Odenkirk Provissiero, and Lee Schneller and Jeremy Evans.
Chicago mayoral drama The Honorable is written by Leroi and Amor. In The Honorable, for the young, idealistic new mayor of Chicago, winning the election will seem like a cakewalk compared to the challenges of running one of the most politically fraught cities in the world, balancing her own tangled personal life, and navigating an old rivalry with a powerful family.
Leroi executive produces with Dr. Phil McGraw, Jay McGraw, Julia Eisenman for Stage 29 Productions. Amor is co-executive producer. CBS Television Studios is the studio for both projects.
Frazier has been with Criminal Minds since the series' launch, starting as producer and rising through the ranks to his current role as executive producer. Frazier also was a co-producer on Ghost Whisperer and worked on Alias and Roswell.
LeRoi co-created Everybody Hates Chris, which aired from 2005-2009, first on UPN then moving to the CW for its final three seasons. He also created TBS comedy Are We There Yet, which aired for three seasons, and was an executive producer on Survivor's Remorse.
Amor's writing credits include features Of Boys and Men and Playin' For Love.
Tom Segura is one of the best comedians out there right now. The Cincinnati native released his first Netflix special, Completely Normal, back in 2014, and in the five years since, his skills as a storyteller have only sharpened. Segura’s jokes continue to grow longer and funnier, making for some of the most consistently funny Netflix comedy specials available. You can often find him at The Comedy Store in West Hollywood and, most recently, all over the country and Europe for his recent tour, “Take It Down.” If you didn’t get a chance to see him perform on his latest tour, the good news is all his new material will be available this month in a new special.
Segura can also be seen in the new horror movie, Countdown, which is produced by director Sean Anders. The two worked together on Instant Family, which gave the comedian his first prominent role in a major studio comedy to date. Segura isn’t only interested in acting in comedies, though, as he told us.
During a recent conversation with the comedian, actor, and co-host of Your Mom’s House podcast, he told us about his hope to see in all kinds of movies and what’s different about his new material.
How’s your new material playing?
It’s been doing well. I’ve actually been touring with it for quite a while. I have a new special coming up, so this [tour] is kind of winding down.
Even though it’s winding down and you’re about to leave for Europe, are you still tweaking material or, at a certain point, is it complete?
In my experience traveling in different countries, it’s best to not overthink it, just do it, and see how it goes. I think we tend to get in our heads about it, but if it works in most places, it probably works in other places. I’ll just do it and see what happens. I feel like most of it will translate. Some of it is real specific, you know, like a reference to a story or city people might not know, and you might have to explain that reference, but other than that, it’s fine.
I can’t think of too much from your specials that wouldn’t translate. It’s mostly universal material.
I think so, I think so. I mean, especially if you’re telling stories about relationships, your kids, parents, or someone you ran into. All those kinds of usually make sense.
For Countdown, since you had worked with Sean Anders, was it just a phone call you got for the part or did you have to go through auditions?
No. I got lucky because they just called me. Initially, they offered me another part, but when I read the script, the Derek stuff just made me laugh. When I said I wanted to play that role, they said, “Are you serious? You want to play that?” I thought it’d be funny, so I was excited to play that part.
I just like the idea of you playing a part in a demon movie. What people know about your stand up, was it also just a funny idea to you?
It is. When you think about it in terms of the catalog of your film career, it excites me to be in all types of films, you know what I mean? I would want to do children movies, a thriller, or a really physical comedy. Doing all types of stuff is exciting. I feel like it would be fun to mix it up. When I was on set and I got to see the demon, I thought, “This is amazing.”
When you’re going out for auditions, is it usually comedy or are you trying out for thrillers and dramas as well?
I’m trying to think. It’s funny, when you’re on tour it’s so demanding. When things start coming in I can’t even… I don’t have time to prepare for auditions. I’m thinking about the last few auditions I did. I did one a week ago for a pretty serious thriller, and then a silly comedy one. I guess I lean a little more comedy, but yeah, it’s a mix of things.
With your experience of performing in theaters, is it not that intimidating auditioning in front of a few people or do you still get nervous for an audition?
I feel like it really depends on the day. I mean, auditions can be super intimidating, but it is like performing live in that, day-to-day, it can vary. You’re not always the same every day. You can do a show and feel a certain confidence and calmness, but then there are days where you’re all worked up about it. I think auditioning is like that. The best auditions are when you’re relaxed and dialed in. I feel like I get that sometimes, and sometimes I don’t. I don’t like auditioning, I’ll say that.
[Laughs] I feel like few people say they like it.
I’ve heard a few people say they don’t mind. I’m like, are you serious? “Yeah, no, I don’t mind. The process is fine.” I think the biggest turnoff of acting is the auditioning. It usually feels awful, man. It really feels awful. It’s weird, too, because hands down the best I’ve auditioned, you don’t hear anything. I’ll think, “I nailed that,” and then you don’t hear nothing. Then when you feel like you’ve stumbled through it you’ll hear, “Yeah, they want to see you again.” What?
It’s funny, I did a podcast a week ago with Judd Apatow, which hasn’t come out yet, but we were talking about picking talent, like selecting talent to play different parts. We’d look at Internet videos of weird people and he’d say, “Oh, I’d cast this guy, I’d cast that guy.” I was like, “Would you really cast them?” And he went, “Yeah, because there’s so much charisma.” Then I asked him, “When you’re looking for potential actors for a part, do you look more for charisma than auditioning well, knowing your lines?” He said, “100%. For comedy, if I see a spark in their personality, I’m going to cast that person.” I just thought it was interesting, you know? Sometimes I do think, “How did I not get a callback for that? I did it so well.” It just happens.
It could be them, not you, but when you leave auditions do you ever think, “Screw it, I’ll just go work on material for myself”? Do you write many scripts for yourself?
Totally. I think like that all the time. I just wrote, directed, and acted in this sketch we’re going to release on my podcast youtube channel. I do it for that reason, like, I just gotta make stuff, man. The other thing is, too, they’ll let you know if they’re moving on [with someone else]. Most of the time you’re like, “What did they say?” And you hear, “I don’t know, man. They said you were great, but…” It’s a very unfulfilling and unsatisfying feeling. It’s not my primary career, but if I want to act in something, I’ll just go make something and shoot it.
Plus, being a stand-up, you could easily walk away from auditioning one day.
Oh yeah, I would say I primarily do that [Laughs]. I shot four movies in the last year, and they were all from phone calls. People called me, like, “Hey man, you want to be in this movie?” “Sure.” I did audition for Sean for Instant Family because he requested I audition, but even he said, “Yeah, it wasn’t a very good audition, so…” [Laughs]
[Laughs] One of my favorite characters of the last few years is DJ Dad Mouth.
Do you have more characters like that in mind you could do as a movie or show one day?
Yeah, there are different ones. There’s one that I can’t tell you about that’s coming out, which I shot. You are going to shit your pants. I’m telling you, dude, you should hit me up after. It’ll be on my personal youtube channel, Twitter, and Instagram. I shot it in a 14-hour day with an unbelievable level of production. I think you’ll go, “Oh my God.”
I look forward to it. You have such a strong voice as a comedian. I was wondering, do comedians have that a-ha moment of, “I’ve found my voice,” or is it just a natural progression?
I think it’s a progression thing. In a way, you knew it was there all along, but it wasn’t developed. It’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s who I am.” You just didn’t realize it, you know? It’s when you realize how you present it to people. It’s finally developed when people anticipate it, like, yeah, they know who I am. They know you’re going to have an opinion, and they might not know the words, but they know how you’re going to feel about this, and that’s when you feel like a developed comic, I think.
With the recent tour and the new special, what were some new things you wanted to try as a performer?
You’re always trying to improve. I’m always trying to be a better comic. I feel like the one thing I tried, and I’ve heard some people acknowledge it, is being a little more physical and a little more animated. You know, a part of it was deliberate. Another part of it is being uncomfortable being animated. When I say physical, don’t picture Jim Carrey, you know what I mean?
[Laughs] That’d be cool to see, though.
[Laughs] Yeah. For me, I’m feeling a little more versatile.
That’s interesting because to me, you’re such a less is more comic.
Yeah, yeah. I think that’s always my wheelhouse, but it’s moments where you’re more animated with the expressions. For me, movements are three steps this way, three steps that way. It’s not pacing the stage. Those little things, for me, usually involve just standing still.
On the Netflix Hollywood compound recently, a capacity crowd gathered in an amphitheater for an event with the crackling energy—and almost the look—of a UFC title bout.
The contenders in the ring at Real to Reel: A Netflix Documentary Showcase Presented by Deadline were all heavyweights, not in MMA but nonfiction filmmaking—Oscar nominees, Emmy winners and Sundance honorees all with important new work streaming on the Netflix platform.
“Documentary filmmaking is about capturing truth,” declared Karim Amer in round 1 of Real to Reel. He and Jehane Noujaim directed The Great Hack, a film untangling the complex Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data scandal that exploded after the 2016 presidential election.
Deadline's Awardsline editor Joe Utichi refereed the discussion, asking Amer and Noujaim about the truth they capture—that information shared by people through social media is “being bought and sold like stocks.”
“In many ways I think people will look back at this time like this was the grand theft, where we gave up so much of our autonomy without fully realizing by [skipping over] the terms and conditions” of social media apps, Amer observed.
The Great Hack has triggered “a really strong reaction,” Noujaim commented. “Everybody who has a cell phone and uses social media...cares about this. From women that have seen it and have decided to delete apps because they've read the terms and conditions and realized they don't want their kid near it to the reaction that we got in Trinidad and Tobago because they realized that their election was manipulated, to here.”
“I think that no matter what happens with the data, we have to mobilize people,” responded Rachel Lears, director of Knock Down the House, which documents the 2018 insurgent primary campaigns of four Democratic women candidates, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“I think that our democracy is stronger the more people believe that their voice matters,” Lears continued. “That's very much what we were trying to do with Knock Down the House is make everyone feel at multiple levels—emotionally, intellectually—that their voice matters and not just their vote but that you can work and organize and come together with your neighbors and friends, colleagues and really build a movement that can challenge established power structures.”
The theme of round 1 of Real to Reel was “The World of 2019.” No film speaks to contemporary times more directly than American Factory, from directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. Issues related to globalization, U.S.-China relations and, indirectly, immigration come up in the documentary about a billionaire Chinese auto glass entrepreneur who built a factory in Dayton, Ohio in the shell of an old GM plant.
Bognar addressed how he and Reichert gained the trust of so many characters—Chinese and American factory workers, managers and even the billionaire chairman himself, Cao Dewang.
“It is an ongoing relationship,” Bognar noted. “Someone can say, 'Yeah, you can hang out with me for awhile,' but if you are not a good person in the room...and say that stupid thing that was in your head you can easily derail a relationship and then the film can go off the track... Access is one thing; trust is a whole other level, and trust is an everyday kind of question.”
Filmmaker Nadia Hallgren developed trust by empathizing with subjects of her short documentary After Maria, about people from Puerto Rico who sought refuge in New York after Hurricane Maria wiped out their island home.
“They're still struggling in the ways that many people do when they don't have active employment,” Hallgren revealed. “There are deep trauma issues from the storm and the way that they were treated while they were in Puerto Rico, having no access to food, having no access to water and then coming to the United States and losing their dignity in a lot of ways, the way that the government handled them. So those experiences don't just go away.”
A year ago the Camp Fire incinerated Paradise, California, killing dozens of residents and displacing tens of thousands of others. Filmmaker Drea Cooper, who had spent time in the community as a boy, returned with cameras to document the devastation for his Netflix short documentary Fire in Paradise.
“What we found was a lot of these people hadn't really told their story yet,” Cooper shared. “This was just an amazing testament to the documentary process where it becomes this therapeutic process and can be very positive and revelatory. It's a chance for a lot of people for the first time to just verbalize what they'd gone through. And just in doing that you could see this weight kind of lift off people.”
Identity was the theme of round 2 of Real to Reel. African-American identity and the struggle to share in American opportunity come into focus in The Black Godfather, about Clarence Avant, a behind-the-scenes power broker who quietly advanced the careers of black entertainment, sports and political figures. While making the film, producer Nicole Avant—Clarence's daughter—discovered how her father helped NFL great Jim Brown transition from the gridiron to movie stardom.
“I did not know the Jim Brown story,” Avant commented. “My dad [had told me] he knew him and helped him with something and then I see the footage. 'Helped him with something? You created a whole career for this person! And helped change civil rights in this country based on him trying to get into Hollywood and get into these films.' I just didn't realize the layers of humanity, the layers of the human soul that we were going to catch...It's about civil rights, social justice, dreaming against all odds, dreaming through adversity, dreaming for other people, serving other people.”
The identity at stake in The Edge of Democracy is an entire country's. Petra Costa's film questions whether her native Brazil is heading back towards dictatorship.
“One of the main things I learned making The Edge of Democracy was how Brazil as a nation decided to forget its past, the time of the military dictatorship and the crimes committed during the military dictatorship,” Costa observed. “As many other nations—Portugal, Spain—they thought that that was the best way to deal with the pain because otherwise it would re-traumatize, it would create anger. The United States did that with slavery to a certain extent and when you do that your past comes back to haunt you.”
The challenge of putting subjects at ease was a constant refrain for filmmakers at the Real to Reel event, whether Brazil's ex-president Dilma Rousseff in The Edge of Democracy or the families in Life Overtakes Me, the short doc by Kristine Samuelson and John Haptas.
“We ate a lot of cookies, we had a lot of cups of coffee. I did magic tricks for the siblings in the families,” Haptas explained. “But it just took a lot of time of being there before some of these parents could tell their very difficult stories.”
The difficult stories in Life Overtakes Me involve refugee children in Sweden. Hundreds of them have mysteriously fallen into a coma-like state, all kids from families traumatized by war in the Middle East.
One such child Samuelson and Haptas filmed eventually awoke, but remembered nothing.
“Basically she said, 'Was I sleeping?' But she just picked up her life as if she'd gone to bed the night before even though she was a year older,” Samuelson stated. “That is not always true for children who undergo this. Sometimes they have some memories. Some of the things they talk about is feeling like they were in a glass cage underwater or if they moved they would die.”
All of the films in the Netflix Real to Reel showcase are contenders this awards season and many have already claimed prizes, including Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. That feature, about a rollicking Dylan tour of 1975, won the Stanley Kubrick Award for Bold & Innovative Filmmaking at the Traverse City Film Festival and it's up for three awards at this weekend's Critics' Choice Documentary Awards.
“Dylan's been such a touchstone for [Scorsese], just the music and the poetry and also the trickster kind of nature of Dylan,” producer Margaret Bodde noted, adding that Dylan—true to form—wasn't the most eager of interviewees. “We have a subject who really was not interested in being there...He didn't want the hundred days [of shooting]. He wanted the least amount of time. 'Get me out of here. I don't remember anything.'”
Dylan wears a mask of white greasepaint at times in Rolling Thunder Revue, in keeping with his desire to remain opaque. The subjects of the Netflix short Ghosts of Sugar Landconcealed their identities behind masks for different reasons—to speak about a fellow Muslim-American friend who left the U.S. to fight for ISIS.
“They wouldn't agree to do it without the masks,” stated Farihah Zaman, the film's producer. “It became really like their avatars. Like, 'Okay, I'll do it but only if I can be Ironman.' We were a little bit surprised to see how much it conveyed emotionally.”
A terrible secret is unmasked in Ed Perkins' film Tell Me Who I Am, the extraordinary story of twins Marcus and Alex Lewis. After Alex sustained a traumatic brain injury in an accident, he remembered only his twin Marcus and nothing else. His brother helped Alex reconstruct his memory, but intentionally omitted their devastating childhood of physical and sexual abuse. Over the course of the film, the brothers eventually confronted what really happened.
“That's one of the paradoxes of the story we were lucky enough to tell,” Perkins noted, “which is so often the importance of talking about our past and learning from it is key and yet the human experience also suggests that sometimes it's easier to believe a lie than to admit the truth.”
In recent years Netflix documentaries have claimed multiple Oscars and Oscar nominations, including Icarus, The White Helmets and The Square the latter film directed by The Great Hack's Amer and Noujaim. Nonfiction filmmaking is in the streamer's blood, said Lisa Nishimura, vice president of independent film and documentary features, as she introduced the Real to Reel showcase.
“From the very inception of Netflix...documentaries have always been core and essential to the Netflix experience,” she affirmed. “Our commitment to the craft and to the unique filmmakers who bring these incredible stories alive only continues to grow.”