Monday, August 13, 2012
Alec Baldwin: I’m Alec Baldwin and this is Here’s the Thing from WNYC Radio. Recently I’ve been producing a documentary film series each summer on Long Island on behalf of the Hamptons International Film Festival and I’m pretty much addicted to documentary films.
A good documentary film requires a mixture of four basic ingredients: a great story, a filmmaker with passion, an experienced crew and money. Today on the show, I’ll speak with two documentary filmmakers who each made controversial political films using a slightly different formula. The story was there, but without any money or experience they had to make up that deficit with excess passion – or perhaps a better word, obsession.
My first guest is Anthony Baxter. Baxter was a radio journalist for the BBC who turned to filmmaking when a unique strip of coastline near his home in northeast Scotland was threatened with development by billionaire Donald Trump. Trump had purchased a few thousand acres of land with the intent of building a golf course. Baxter’s film, You’ve Been Trumped, documents the drama that unfolded amongst Trump, the Scottish government who supported the project, and the community of people who were deeply rooted there.
Donald Trump: I’m going to build for the people of Scotland the greatest golf course anywhere in the world. There’ll be nothing like it, and it’s going to be done environmentally perfect.
Female speaker: It’s just so false, you know. All these people arriving suited and booted and, 'Yes, Mr. Trump. No, Mr. Trump.'
Male speaker: It’s a real mosaic of habitats. You’ve got everything from open sand to shrubs to trees to wetlands.
Donald Trump: I’ve received many environmental awards over the years. The greatest thing I’ve ever done for the environment is what I’ll be doing right here in Aberdeen.
Male speaker: There are people don’t approve of this. I don’t approve of bullying.
Alec Baldwin: Filmmaker Anthony Baxter lives in a tiny village just 50 miles south of Aberdeenshire where the film takes place. And it was Baxter’s pure frustration that fueled the film.
Anthony Baxter: The first thing was, really, I felt that this story is not being reported accurately in the media. The two local newspapers were saying this is going to be a fantastic thing for the area.
Alec Baldwin: They were on board from the beginning.
Anthony Baxter: Absolutely.
Alec Baldwin: Right. Why do you think that is?
Anthony Baxter: When Donald Trump arrived, the red carpet was rolled out. His private jet touched down at Aberdeen Airport, the press were invited, and they all came along and they all said this is going to be fantastic. In a way I think it was celebrity is coming to this little part of Scotland and Donald Trump is gonna bring with him all these jobs. The media just kind of latched onto this as if it was going to be a saving thing for the area.
Alec Baldwin: Who was the primary employer there? What’s the primary means of employment there?
Anthony Baxter: The main employer for the area is the oil industry, I would say. That has been the driving force of the economy in that part of the world. That’s why there is only one percent unemployment; one percent in Aberdeenshire which is where Donald Trump said he was going to be building a golf course resort and employing thousands of people. And so when I heard that was happening, when I heard that this was going to be essentially saving the local economy, according to –
Alec Baldwin: You thought that was strange because it didn’t need saving.
Anthony Baxter: Well there were two things that struck me about it. One was the economy I felt didn’t need saving. The other thing was that the environmental impact of this development is going to be enormous. I mean this was being built on a stretch of unique scientific interest; a site of special scientific interest is the highest accolade that our country can bestow to a protected site.
Alec Baldwin: So it’s the equivalent in the United States of like a national seashore.
Anthony Baxter: Absolutely.
Alec Baldwin: Where you have some massive tract of land that is of unique environmental value.
Anthony Baxter: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: So it was a protected land.
Anthony Baxter: It was protected. It was supposed to protect it from development. Now what happened was nobody reported the environmental impact this resort was going to have. I knew, having made a documentary for the BBC, that it was going to be significant. I knew that this was a protected site and none of the local press was saying anything about this. Instead they were focusing in on the spat between Donald Trump and one local resident who didn’t want to sell his property. And you know, I felt the local people were being parodied and so I went up and I spoke to them.
Female speaker: I usually get up about 7:00 and let the cat out. On this dark mornings, I just nip back to bed again and turn on the TV and lie until about say half past 7:00, get ready, start my porridge.
Male speaker: What was the first thing he said to you?
Male speaker: 'Give this man a job,' he says. 'Give this man a job.'
Female speaker: My father, he sung songs that you never hear of today. He used to sing a song, “You’ll Never Miss the Water ‘til the Well Runs Dry,” which is a very true saying.
Alec Baldwin: Here are people who live in an almost kind of hermitic and very innocent lifestyle. They’re minding their own business on a farm on the Scottish coast and along comes Darth Vader, if you will, who’s gonna rip the whole thing down and displace all them. They seem like incredibly, incredibly innocent people. Did they strike you that way, that they just wanted to be left alone and go about their business?
Anthony Baxter: Absolutely. I mean when I first spoke to the people there, um, I said to them 'Look, I think that Donald Trump should be held accountable for his actions here and I want you to give me your trust that I will follow this story and hold him to account for this.' And all over the world, you know, whether it’s in New York or whether it’s in Michigan; whether it’s in Denver or all the places we’ve shown the film, people have come up to us and they’ve said 'The same kind of thing is happening here.'
You know, it’s not always Donald Trump, but often there is a developer coming in saying 'Look, we’re gonna develop this land. We think it’s gonna be fantastic for the economy' and the local government gets on side maybe. There’s a real – this is striking a chord.
Alec Baldwin: Let me just say that Trump is a very mixed bag. If he was a filmmaker, you know he’d have Waterworld on some of his slate, and he’d have, and I’m not gonna say Citizen Kane, but he’d have some pretty estimable things. Trump is a very, very complicated person and I’m wondering you were around him, how much were you – because in the film it doesn’t seem like you are in direct proximity to him all that often. Is that true?
Anthony Baxter: Yeah, I mean I went up there, the first day I went up to film, really, was in May when he came over. I heard on the news he was there, so I went up and I said to the guy on the door of this press conference, 'Look, I’m from Montrose Pictures, the production company,' which I am. And I went down and started filming there. And when I saw Donald Trump standing there saying, 'We are going to stabilize the dunes and make them better than they were previously' - scientists had said to me that if you stabilize the dunes, it’s the worst possible thing you can do. By stabilizing the dunes you are taking away the thing that makes them of special scientific interest. They’ve been there for many hundreds of years moving and shifting.
Alec Baldwin: On their own accord.
Anthony Baxter: On their own accord. And if you stabilize them to build a golf course then you are changing the landscape forever, and that uniqueness –
Alec Baldwin: Changing the nature of them, yeah.
Anthony Baxter: Well you see the thing is with Donald Trump, he’s used to having media around who are going to give him good press.
Alec Baldwin: But I disagree with you. I think maybe that’s the case over there. What was it about what was going on over there that people who bit the Trump hook – because in America they don’t do that any more. Trump is someone who is viewed with as much skepticism as he is with fascination. Who didn’t say no and why didn’t they say no?
Anthony Baxter: First of all, local government said no and the Scottish government called in the decision overruling the local government.
Alec Baldwin: Why, do you think?
Anthony Baxter: Their argument was that this is in the Scottish national interest. This is gonna create so many jobs. They said look, this is gonna put Scotland on the map for golf, even though as we all know Scotland is stuff full of golf courses. It’s where golf was founded, you know, at St. Andrews. And it’s baffling to me I have to say, Alec.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah.
Anthony Baxter: I don’t understand it myself. I mean in the end –
Alec Baldwin: Was there someone that you could point to who was ultimately responsible for that decision on the national level?
Anthony Baxter: Well the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, refused to do an interview with us. But essentially he was the one who –
Alec Baldwin: Who rubber stamped this.
Anthony Baxter: Absolutely. And now, of course, we’ve got the extraordinary situation where Donald Trump is furious about a wind farm which is being planned off the coast.
Alec Baldwin: Yes.
Anthony Baxter: He’s saying that if the wind farm is built –
Alec Baldwin: He’s out.
Anthony Baxter: He’s out.
Alec Baldwin: Who’s gonna make that decision?
Anthony Baxter: That’s down to the Scottish government, to Alex Salmond. But you see, Mr. Salmond is – so far there’s been a wall of silence after Donald Trump wrote a couple of letters to the First Minister – furious letters – saying, 'You promised me this wind farm wouldn’t be built.'
Alec Baldwin: Did they?
Anthony Baxter: Well, the Scottish government’s line at the moment is that was the previous administration. I actually – you, the thing is, is that this golf course development was given the go-ahead by Mr. Salmond who said we’re giving this the go-ahead because we believe the idea it’s gonna bring all these jobs. We understand there’s gonna be a serious environmental impact, but sometimes as a government you have to make tough decisions.
Alec Baldwin: How did he address the concerns about the environment? He just ignored them?
Anthony Baxter: He basically acknowledged there would be an environmental impact, but he said that the economic developments, the economic gain, outweighed the environmental concerns.
Alec Baldwin: In the film you see that the bulldozers have torn into the whole thing. The whole thing is completely lacerated.
Anthony Baxter: And it looks like a golf course because the destruction, as you say, has been done, but what hasn’t happened yet is the skyscraper hotel and the 1,500 houses and all the facilities he -
Alec Baldwin: Let’s say he doesn’t get the skyscraper hotel and he doesn’t get the condos, are they – they’re gonna still have a golf operation there?
Anthony Baxter: They’re gonna have a couple of temporary buildings. But now he’s saying that work on the rest of it is on hold until there’s a wind farm decision.
Alec Baldwin: What’s the status of the wind farm decision?
Anthony Baxter: Well we’re waiting for a decision from the Scottish government on that, and you know, that remains to be seen. But Donald Trump is a developer. That’s what he does. He builds skyscrapers. He builds resorts. The Scottish government said in this case, look, we understand there’s this big environmental impact but the economics outweigh that. I think that question has to be put to the Scottish government.
The Scottish government at the moment is fighting to have Scotland as a fully independent country. There’s going to be a referendum in 2014 for true Scottish independence where Scotland would be completely separate to the rest of the United Kingdom.
Alec Baldwin: What’s the public support for that?
Anthony Baxter: Well, it’s an interesting question. I don’t know what the latest surveys are on that, but if you’re gonna have a government which overturns its own strict environmental policies in order to give a developer the green light to build a golf course resort and a skyscraper hotel and 1,500 houses on one of its last wilderness areas. Then you have to ask yourself the question how will the Scottish government be behaving in the future?
Alec Baldwin: Right.
Anthony Baxter: You know, this was an opportunity in a way for Scotland to stand up and stay look, we have here a prized part of our country which is beautiful. It’s one of our last wilderness areas. We could stand up now and say look, we know there is this development proposal to come in from Donald Trump to build this resort. It’s gonna bring a few jobs, although the economists who we have in the film say the number of jobs will be closer to zero.
You know, they have an opportunity to stand up for the environment – the Scottish government had that opportunity and it refused to take it. For the future of Scotland, I think that sends out huge alarm bells if you have a fully independent Scotland and that’s gonna allow that kind of thing to happen again.
Alec Baldwin: But I’m wondering, when you make films like this which involve these causes, what does this do to you in the long term? Meaning the golf course is there.
Anthony Baxter: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: The damage is done to the scenic beauty.
Anthony Baxter: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: Do you feel any compulsion to participate in this process now beyond you having cut the camera or do you just walk away from it now and you’re not really engaged by what’s going on?
Anthony Baxter: No, I think it really does get under your skin.
Alec Baldwin: You still care.
Anthony Baxter: I think the thing is, is that the story doesn’t really leave you. I think in a way this – as you say, the golf course is there. It could be reclaimed in hundreds of years. In fact there’s a Scottish singer/songwriter called Karine Polwart, who’s written a song inspired by the film where the sea fog in Scotland, which is called the haar, reaps its quiet vengeance on the resort and eventually it’s reclaimed by nature.
Alec Baldwin: How did you raise the money for You’ve Been Trumped? Where did the money come from?
Anthony Baxter: So we didn’t have any money. The way it works now for filmmakers is you go to a pitching forum often, and you say look, I’ve got this idea for this film I think is an important story. You make a trailer. You fund that yourself. You then stand in front of a load of executives from around the world and you tell them why you think this story is really important as a documentary and they, then, decide whether they’re going to fund it or not.
And so I pitched this film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and we were voted, essentially, the best pitch. However, one of the executives from PBS actually said to me, 'I hope you’ve got a good lawyer um, because if you’re gonna take on Donald Trump you’re going to need one.' And there was no money forthcoming from that pitching session. So I had to remortgage the house and we hit the Internet and crowd-funded. This is how many documentary filmmakers are making films now. They hit a Web site like Indiegogo or Kickstarter, they make a trailer, and they ask people to contribute money.
Alec Baldwin: So you were in like the land of Robert Townsend and Hollywood Shuffle, where you’re putting it on your own credit card and borrowed. You’re just doing whatever you can.
Anthony Baxter: It’s the only way you can do it.
Alec Baldwin: What was the budget of the film finally?
Anthony Baxter: I’m terribly British when it comes to things like this. I hate to talk about money.
Alec Baldwin: I’m asking because I think people find this interesting, meaning a guy on his own found a way to cobble together X. Would you say it was north of $500,000.00?
Anthony Baxter: Oh gosh, way south of that. I mean we –
Alec Baldwin: Oh, way south of that. Okay, that’s interesting. I was just curious.
Anthony Baxter: I mean I’d say in a way, to be honest with you Alec, if you have a camera and you have memory cards or tapes to put into the camera, you’re really talking about your time.
Alec Baldwin: The location was a drive away from your home.
Anthony Baxter: Exactly. So I was able to drive up there and that was really what was so important to me. That’s what documentary filmmaking, for me, is all about – trying to get to the truth of something. You find well, is this real life? Is this really unfolding?
Alec Baldwin: Doesn’t seem real?
Anthony Baxter: Sometimes life is stranger than fiction and this is a classic example of that.
Alec Baldwin: I don’t think your film is finished. I don’t think it’s finished, or there’s a part deux that you can do.
Anthony Baxter: Well, in a way there is a part two. I think the thing is what we found is that, for example, we’ve been showing the film in Croatia recently. We showed it in the town of Dubrovnik, which is under threat from an alleged Israeli arms dealer. He’s building this golf course – he wants to build a golf course resort overlooking the town of Dubrovnik, which is a UNESCO protected site.
And the local villagers put the film on to try and bring home to people this is what the future could hold for us if we allow this kind of thing to happen. In Croatia, the government is supporting the building of 100 golf resorts. In a way the film, where we’ve been screening it in America, the people come up to us and say, 'There’s a similar kind of development being planned for here.' And so you’re right, it isn’t over.
Alec Baldwin: What are you working on now?
Anthony Baxter: Well, at the moment I’m working on trying to get the film out to an audience. We think that this story is one that has to be told. It’s one that resonates with people here in America, but we really –
Alec Baldwin: But you don’t have distribution.
Anthony Baxter: No, we don’t have distribution.
Alec Baldwin: Let me ask you, why do you think you don’t have distribution? Do you think that some people are – overlook the film in the distribution world because what’s new about spitting on Trump?
Anthony Baxter: Well I think our film shows Donald Trump as you’ve never seen him before.
Alec Baldwin: How so?
Anthony Baxter: Because here you see him bullying and harassing local people and developing a unique wilderness area and destroying an environment.
Donald Trump: See, I happen to be a very truthful person. This property is terribly maintained. It’s slum-like. It’s disgusting. He’s got stuff thrown all over the place. He lives like a pig. And I did say that, and I’m an honest guy, and I speak honestly, and I think that’s why some people like me and some people probably don’t like me. But I think he’d do himself a great service if he fixed up his property.
Alec Baldwin: You do show it on camera. There’s a thing that Trump does – which is the thing I love most about the film – and there is Trump condemning these people and marginalizing these innocent people, these completely innocent people.
Anthony Baxter: We were surprised ourselves, I think, about the impact it would have on audiences, but the people in theaters, when they see it. It’s got a tremendous power, I think, because people feel very strongly about what’s happened and they feel very strongly for these people and for the environment.
Alec Baldwin: Donald Trump’s golf course in Aberdeen, Scotland opened last month. Plans to build the hotel are on hold pending a decision by the Scottish government to allow wind farming to be built within view of the course.
We reached out to Trump’s office, but never heard back from him. You’ve Been Trumped is playing at the Village East Cinema in New York. It opens in Los Angeles on August 17.
My next guest, Dylan Avery, was an 18-year-old film student in upstate New York when he came up with an idea for a summer action movie about a vast 9/11 conspiracy. While working as a waiter at Red Lobster, Avery combed through hundreds of hours of eyewitness accounts, news footage and official reports from 9/11. His fictional script gradually dissolved into an obsessively-researched documentary called Loose Change which alleged that 9/11 really was an inside job. Here’s a clip.
Male speaker: A Boeing 757 is 155 feet long, 44 feet high. It has a 124-foot wingspan and weighs almost 100 tons. Are we supposed to believe that it disappeared into this hole without leaving any wreckage on the outside? Why is there no damage from where the wings or the vertical stabilizer or the engines would have slammed into the building?
Alec Baldwin: Avery’s film became an online sensation. After being posted on the Internet, Loose Change spawned a “truther movement” composed of people who believe that the government orchestrated 9/11 and then covered it up. And as with all conspiracy theories, talking about them in public can get you in trouble. This hasn’t stopped Dylan Avery.
Dylan Avery: The 9/11 Commission was a cover up and the only question is what it was covering up.
Alec Baldwin: What do you think it was covering up?
Dylan Avery: Easily the complete abundance of warnings that it appeared the government received. When you have John Ashcroft flying private jets in July 2001, when you have massive put options placed on American and United Airlines leading up to the events, that is suspicious, to say the least.
Alec Baldwin: When you take those facts – I mean, because this is a game obviously. I shouldn’t say game, but this is an exercise that a lot of people have toyed with. One thing you do say in the film, which is the one I can’t let go of, is the destruction of the entire Rolls Royce engine system and the entire fuselage of the plane that goes into the Pentagon.
Dylan Avery: Shanksville is more glaring than the Pentagon because the Pentagon, I mean I’ve seen news footage taken immediately after. I’ve seen photographs taken that day, days after the fact and there is just nothing there. There’s a hole in the ground. There’s no fuselage, there’s no engine, there’s no tail, there’s no -
Alec Baldwin: What did the 9/11 Commission say about that?
Dylan Avery: They simply said that the plane crashed going at a very high rate of speed. There are Web sites dedicated specifically to airplane crashes and to the the debris left over. You can go to any jumbo jet crash ever and you will see something – some kind of trace. I mean the eyewitnesses that showed up to the site said themselves, 'I didn’t even know if I was in the right place. I didn’t see a plane.'
Alec Baldwin: What happened to the people that were on the plane? That plane took off. What have people postulated to you has happened?
Dylan Avery: Oh, man, there’s –
Alec Baldwin: That makes sense to you.
Dylan Avery: There’s a lot of theories out there, but I – and that’s the one thing I’ve tried to avoid talking about for the past couple of years is theories because it’s just dangerous territory. You start talking about things that may or may not have happened.
Alec Baldwin: But to the extent without endorsing or even discussing any theory, are there any that address that, for example, that have made any sense to you at all?
Dylan Avery: I mean there’s all kinds, that the four original planes were herded to an Air Force base and then the passengers – because all four of the planes on the morning of 9/11 averaged about 25 to 30 percent capacity.
Alec Baldwin: Right.
Dylan Avery: I don’t know how often you fly, Alec, but even back in 2001 on a weekday morning, it was hard to get four planes that empty. One of the theories is that the four planes were shepherded to an Air Force base, the people were taken off of that [sic] plane, put onto a fifth plane, and then that plane was shot down. Again, just a theory. I’m not saying that’s what I believe, but -
Alec Baldwin: Let me just finish this. We could go on and on. You can take all the truth – you can take all that information and set it aside because what’s daunting is you never will know. So we go down there now and what do we have? What do you think of what’s happening at the site of the World Trade Center now?
Dylan Avery: At the site itself?
Alec Baldwin: Yeah.
Dylan Avery: It would have been nice for everything to be built and for there not to have been this long drawn out battle over the memorial. It would have been nice for the 10 year anniversary, I don’t want to say back to normal, cause how are things ever going to get back to normal in this country? It just it seemed like something wasn’t complete. Um, it was a very surreal day for me. It’s 10 years after the fact. A lot has happened in the past decade. A lot has happened with the movement. With the country. I mean, Ground Zero was a madhouse, it was just a maze, we all felt like we were being corralled through these gates and fences, and eventually made our way to the free speech zone where the Truth Movement was assembled, essentially.
Alec Baldwin: When you say quote un-quote 'The Truth Movement,' is it a disparate bunch of people from different distinct groups, part of that umbrella?
Dylan Avery: It’s tricky. I supposed it is a giant umbrella at this point. When you tell somebody you want the truth about 9/11, they probably already have many preconceived notions about what it is you are asking just because they have seen so many aspects of this movement over the past decade.
Alec Baldwin: A lot of it propelled by your film.
Dylan Avery: A good percentage of it.
Alec Baldwin: Yours is kind of the Gone with the Wind of the movement.
Dylan Avery: Yeah, unintentionally so.
Baldwin: It was never a goal of yours.
Avery: It was just 'Hey, let’s make this movie to express these things.'
Alec Baldwin: I want to get to that, but so you are there, are you treated like a diety among those people? Do they kind of think you’re -
Dylan Avery: I didn’t get recognized that much which I was kind of okay with because I don’t like being idolized, and being put up on a pedestal.
Alec Baldwin: Having attention drawn to you.
Dylan Avery: I’m just a filmmaker that’s all it’s ever come from. When you first get into this, and when you kind of start to open your eyes to this information, it’s very easy to get sucked in. It’s very easy feel overwhelmed and to feel almost anything could be true, you have to reach that point where you take a step back, and you start to analyze things, alright, what’s good for the movement. What’s good for the cause? And what are the things that truly matter?
AB: You just said 'The Movement.' Do you believe that you are filmmaker who is making films, and that you are pointing, casting a light on a set up facts? Or do you think you are part of a movement or both, or neither? Which is it?
Dylan Avery: Primarily I’m a filmmaker. That’s the whole reason Loose Change exists.
Alec Baldwin: Am I wrong to assume that you’ve kind of gotten out of the movement business the last couple years?
Dylan Avery: Well, it’s tough to say. I’m still involved. I was still there at Ground Zero. On the 10th anniversary, I still talked to all the people that are active in the movement.
Alec Baldwin: Why -- Why did you go?
Dylan Avery: I went mostly to pay my respects. And to see how construction had come along. And to see the people that I hadn’t seen since 2006– 2007. This is a movement and these are people that I care about and that I know. I went down to Ground Zero mostly just to be there.
Alec Baldwin: So tell us, how does Loose Change begin?
Dylan Avery: The original Loose Change feature film script was ambitious, if I had to pick one word. It had car chases, it had people assembling at The White House on the end. It had this, it had that. I wrote a script without any care to budget or how I would actually film it. So when the time came around to actually start to plan out this film, this thing that I’d spent a year, two years writing, it was kind of a slow realization that the film that I wanted to make was not possible.
So it was – especially after Cory came back, my best friend Cory who signed up to the Army –
Alec Baldwin: He signed up after 9/11?
Dylan Avery: He signed up before. His first day of basic training was on September 11 because he signed up in August 2001. It was kind of a running joke at the time. It was like, 'We’re not in a war. There’s not gonna be a war any time soon so we don’t have to worry about you. It’ll be fine.' Then the timing couldn’t have been creepier. So I would send him DVD’s of the movie as it was –
Alec Baldwin: Over to Iraq.
Dylan Avery: Over to Iraq, yeah. So while he was over in Iraq fighting the Iraq war.
Alec Baldwin: So while your best friend was over in Iraq fighting the Iraq war, you were sending him the basic elements of your 9/11 conspiracy-theory film.
Dylan Avery: Well, yeah. I hesitate to use conspiracy theory, but yes.
Alec Baldwin: Or whatever.
Dylan Avery: Whatever you want to call it.
Alec Baldwin: I know, but I would prefer to at least have some common language with you. What’s the phrase you would rather use?
Dylan Avery: I suppose a 9/11 Truth Film.
Alec Baldwin: Fine.
Dylan Avery: Cool.
Alec Baldwin: You’re sending your friend the elements, the raw elements, of your 9/11 Truth Film.
Dylan Avery: While he’s fighting a war that is founded upon the events of 9/11 essentially. So yeah, it was a very interesting time to be alive.
Alec Baldwin: Then he comes back and what happens?
Dylan Avery: So when he got back we tried shooting a couple scenes and you know, in hindsight, for like my first time directing with a little mini DVD camera and no experience whatsoever, some of the scenes didn’t turn out too bad. But it became apparent after I started cutting it together, or attempting to cut it together, I realized the film just wasn’t gonna happen, not the way that I envisioned it.
Alec Baldwin: When you crossed the line from the narrative film to the documentary film, were the facts similar?
Dylan Avery: The facts were definitely similar and a lot of the basic premises, but the really interesting thing about it is that the Loose Change screenplay predicated the actual events of what happened after Loose Change occurred – or after Loose Change went viral – because in the script these three characters see these problems with the official story and with what their government is doing, and slowly take steps to educate the public. Then those steps go essentially viral around the world and suddenly they’re held up to be this thing that they wanted to accomplish, but they didn’t expect the whole world to actually listen to them.
So it was very interesting when Loose Change, the documentary was released and it went viral around the world and back and gave people some confidence to question the official story.
Alec Baldwin: And the popularity of the war was waning as well.
Dylan Avery: The popularity of the war was waning, so you not only had this increased flow of information about 9/11 and what happened, but you also had this increased distrust of the government and you had this climate where it seemed like almost anything was possible. So for a lot of people –
Alec Baldwin: That’s a big leap, though, don’t you think?
Dylan Avery: A little bit, yeah, but it’s –
Alec Baldwin: Do you see that leap now differently than you did back then? That’s a bit of a leap.
Dylan Avery: Well, to some people it may be, but then you look back, you look at the pretenses that have been used for war and things like the Gulf of Tonkin wall, although 3,000 people were not killed in broad daylight in the Gulf of Tonkin incident, you see these events which later turn out to not be everything they were cracked up to be.
Alec Baldwin: What was this like for you in terms of your own personal life? What was the cost for you of doing this where you were saying in the middle of a war, the government’s fingerprints are on this potentially?
Dylan Avery: The cost wasn’t terribly drastic. I didn’t – I had a couple of friends that while they didn’t necessarily distance themselves or disappear from my life entirely, they certainly didn’t agree with it.
Alec Baldwin: What about their parents?
Dylan Avery: Parents, not a lot of interaction. I didn’t really interact a lot with my friends’ parents on the topic, because again I was aware that it was a very –
Alec Baldwin: What about your own family?
Dylan Avery: My mom, supportive from day one. She – you know, I’m her shining star and she will do anything to support me. My father, no idea. He’s not really been in my life. My grandmother, staunch Bush-voting Republican, thought it would be better if I focused on my cartooning as a vocation as opposed to my filmmaking.
Alec Baldwin: Were there any conversations with her about that?
Dylan Avery: Brief, but it’s – I mean and she saw like early, early editions of it.
Alec Baldwin: You’re making a movie now.
Dylan Avery: I’m working on a couple of things. I’m wrapping up a short film. I have a couple of –
Alec Baldwin: You made a short film about what?
Dylan Avery: It’s about a guy who wakes up in a hotel room, has no recollection of how he got there. He’s dressed in a three-piece suit. There’s a gun on the bedside table. He gets a call on his cell phone and before he knows it, he’s beating someone to death – and of course immediately realizes what he’s doing and stops. It’s called Olson and it has shades of some real events that happened back in the 50’s, but the script has become its own entity now.
Alec Baldwin: You’re making a film about coffee?
Dylan Avery: I made that last year. That was a documentary I made when I was living down in Ocean Beach.
Alec Baldwin: What’s that film called?
Dylan Avery: Buzzkill. That was just a fun project that me and Wes Davis, my buddy, made.
Alec Baldwin: What’s it about?
Dylan Avery: My buddy Wes goes 21 days without drinking coffee. I know, I go from 9/11 to no coffee but it was just a fun project. We were hanging out at a buddy’s house and he mentioned it and it sounded fun.
Alec Baldwin: Did you feel you needed that, though, because like in my work, I find this necessary. You can go from doing King Lear and the next thing you want to do is The Sunshine Boys or something.
Dylan Avery: Yeah. It was nice. It was nice to do a documentary and to go into somewhere and be –
Alec Baldwin: Take a break.
Dylan Avery: Yeah, to take a break.
Alec Baldwin: Do you find sometimes it was suffocating you?-
Dylan Avery: Oh yeah, even to this day I still can’t get jobs because people are like oh, you want to direct a feature film? Like, okay. Didn’t you make that 9/11 documentary? No, thanks. It’s tricky because Loose Change happened because I wanted to make a film. It came – it was born out of the passion of being a filmmaker. Then Loose Change took over my life and now it’s almost like filmmaking is completely out of the equation now.
Alec Baldwin: Do you feel for you personally that’s one of the greatest impacts of 9/11? The loss for you – of you as a filmmaker.
Dylan Avery: Well, that’s exactly what it is. I get compliments on the film and how it’s made, but no one’s ever like here’s some money. Let’s make something –
Alec Baldwin: No one – or has there been some?
Dylan Avery: No. I – all I’ve ever had really is just broken promises and phones that don’t get answered and I’ve tried and I’ve tried.
Alec Baldwin: Who funded the coffee film?
Dylan Avery: What funding? It was the cost of gas and food.
Alec Baldwin: Do you find that’s the kind of movie you are forced to make?
Dylan Avery: Yeah. Even my short, it’s been a couple hundred bucks and that’s mostly just food and taking care of everybody, which is fine. Everybody has to get their start doing that. But to be at this place where Vanity Fair called it the first internet blockbuster – you really don’t much more of a glaring review than that. The Vanity Fair in 2006 came at such a good time. It was such a positive piece.
Alec Baldwin: Have you wanted to pull a Dalton Trumbo – have you ever had anybody that was willing to hire you and you just didn’t put your name on the film and you used a different name?
Avery: No, not even that.
Alec Baldwin: And you wouldn’t do that, you wouldn’t accept that?
Dylan Avery: I don’t know. It depends on the paycheck.
Alec Baldwin: What do you love about making film?
Dylan Avery: You’re creating these little universes. You’re inviting people into them for an hour or two at a time and you have this legitimate opportunity to take people away for an hour or two and to just suck them out of whatever’s going on their life. You’re giving them escape. You’re giving them a vacation for an hour or two. Directing right now is like a super power to me that I’m slowly working my way up to, because it’s just like when you can get on a set and when you can get these performances out of these people that just go down in history, I mean that’s art right there.
Alec Baldwin: Who are some filmmakers that you admire?
Dylan Avery: I hate to be cliché, but Kubrick. I mean, Stanley Kubrick, I mean that man commanded such power with his films and he had –
Alec Baldwin: Most powerful.
Dylan Avery: He had such a way with what he did and just the way his films came together and the way he approached it, but also maybe kind of a minor point for some people, but his penchant for natural lighting.
Alec Baldwin: Kubrick, to me, was someone who occupied his own zip code, so to speak, in terms of films; in terms of a tone, the mood. It doesn’t surprise me that Kubrick is your favorite director – one of your favorite directors – because Kubrick, to me, is the ultimate truther filmmaker. His films are disturbingly truthful, the way people behave, what they do, the nakedness of their ambitions and their intentions.
Dylan Avery: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: If Loose Change hadn’t gone in the direction it went, if it hadn’t put you where you are now, what do you think you’d be doing?
Dylan Avery: That’s a very good question. Maybe I would be directing feature films. You know, maybe I would have a career. Maybe I would have all the things I would dream of right now, or maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I would still be in Oneonta trying to figure my life out and trying to figure out how to break through. It’s tough to say, it really is. I do have those moments – a lot – where I think about 'what if?'
Alec Baldwin: Dylan Avery still lives in Los Angeles writing scripts and working toward his dream of directing feature films. Loose Change is still available on the internet as well as Netflix. This is Alex Baldwin. Here’s the Thing comes from WNYC Radio.
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