Roundtable: 6 Documentarians on Lance Armstrong's Lies and Alec Baldwin's Secret Talent
Alex Gibney ("The Armstrong Lie"), Errol Morris ("The Unknown Known"), Morgan Neville ("20 Feet From Stardom"), Teller ("Tim's Vermeer"), James Toback ("Seduced and Abandoned") and Lucy Walker ("The Crash Reel") tell the truth about telling the truth in THR's first documentarian roundtable.
How has the digital revolution changed your jobs?
Gibney: Well, we have digital cameras.
Teller: When we went to visit [artist David] Hockney, he'd had really bad experiences with documentary people before and he didn't want anything videotaped. So we didn't bring along our fancy Red cameras, but we did slip a couple of cameras into our overalls. And he brought us into his kitchen, into his dining room, made lunch for us, and we went up to his studio. On the way up I said, "David, is there any chance we could shoot this?" He said, "Sure, go ahead." Which is why the sound in that particular scene just sucks royally. But thanks to digital stuff, we were able to correct it enough that you could at least understand it.
There are more opportunities now for people to watch documentaries: PBS, HBO, Netflix is becoming involved, CNN has started running documentaries. Does it matter to you whether your movies are seen in theaters or on TV?
Toback: Let's face it: Everybody knows that most people now consume movies in a nontheatrical environment. I hate to say this, because I grew up loving theaters, but I don't see how they survive. Unless it's 3D Imax and even then, eventually, there'll be living room 3D. I don't see how it survives.
Teller: I think snacks are the answer. It's one of the reasons why I think cineplexes don't care too much when you sneak from one theater to the other, because you're buying outrageously priced snacks.
Walker: With The Crash Reel, we're putting it in theaters after HBO, which is an unusual experiment. And I'm actually convinced that this is a better approach because it's so hard to have the resources to create the awareness for a proper theatrical [run]. And we're treating HBO as a wonderful sort of promotional instrument, in addition to reaching a certain demographic.
Gibney: Yeah, it's all changing and it's changing in an interesting way. I live in the suburbs, and some theaters sell subscriptions to a slate of movies, 10 movies. And the theaters are packed. Why? Because usually somebody from the film or somebody who's interested and knowledgeable about that subject shows up and they discuss it afterwards. That "town hall meeting" thing becomes a very interesting component.
So then you're optimistic about documentaries finding an audience?
Teller: I think there is a big problem with the word "documentary." The word documentary sounds like "document," sounds like something you do in school. Sounds like something you would do in a legal case. I mean, here, I'm going to go to the movie theater now. Will I go to a documentary or a thriller? We need a better word.