Whom Peter Berg Wants Next
While Berg still enjoys steering big-budget movies, he says doc projects with HBO give him "creative balance."
Actor-director-producer and boxing-gym proprietor Peter Berg cut his documentary teeth directing "King's Ransom" for ESPN's 30 for 30, about Wayne Gretzky's 1988 defection to the Los Angeles Kings and last year helmed HBO's On Freddie Roach. The six-part series about Manny Pacquiao's trainer is an Emmy hopeful in the nonfiction series category.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: What drew you to the documentary format?
Peter Berg: To be able to go from a big Hollywood popcorn spectacle like Battleship or Hancock to something very simple like Freddie Roach, like the Gretzky story; it's just a great combination. It definitely satisfies me creatively in a very thorough way. I love the psychology of athletes and the culture of athletics.
THR: What documentary films first made an impression on you?
Berg: Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies was the first documentary I saw that really floored me. And the other one was Gimme Shelter, [Albert and David Maysles'] Rolling Stones documentary about the stabbing at Altamont. I was very impressed with Davis Guggenheim's An Inconvenient Truth. He's inspired me as one of the newer, cutting-edge documentary filmmakers.
THR: Guggenheim's work (Waiting for Superman) is less verite and more advocacy journalism. Are you interested in exploring that kind of filmmaking?
Berg: I'm talking to the Obama campaign now. I have a lot of friends in the military, particularly in the Navy SEAL community, who are generally Republicans. And I've had many conversations where my Republican friends admit reluctantly that the military has given them freedoms that they've never experienced before. And Obama really is a warrior in chief. He's not afraid to get the job done. And I think that's an important story.
THR: What kind of person makes a good documentary subject?
Berg: I like people who are on the cusp of celebrity or who are behind the scenes in an environment where there are lots of famous people. That's what was so appealing about Freddie. I think we are probably looking to open up the next documentary series for HBO to someone who is a bit more visible. But the challenge then becomes access. It's a catch-22. Say you wanted to do a verite series on Obama; it would obviously be controlled. And the key to doing it is to minimize the amount of control that your subject puts on you. That's what we're struggling with: finding the guy who is accessible and compelling and will give us the unique access. That's what separates us from other shows. It's a raw, unfiltered look into someone's life. I don't know that I would let people have that access to my life.
THR: Who are some other people you're looking at?
Berg: We're looking at Tim Tebow, Rahm Emanuel.
THR: Emanuel has a reputation for being hostile toward the media. Have you approached him yet?
Berg: I've known Rahm since I was a freshman [at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.]. [Rahm's brother] Ari and I went to college together, and Rahm used to host these coffees. My recollection is that everyone would come, get a cup of coffee, Rahm would physically take your wallet out of your pocket, take all the cash you had, which was maybe $18, and say, "Thank you, you just made a donation to the Democratic Party." He still basically does that, just on a much larger level. I feel like if anyone has a shot at cracking Rahm, it's me. That being said, I don't know that I'll succeed. But guys like that are of interest to us: people who are talented yet flawed and undeniably successful. Rahm is fascinating. He's very candid and very polarizing -- the kind of guy who is most appealing to me.