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so I'm I'm here with famous filmmaker Davis Guggenheim I'm smirking when you say this famous anything you you are I am Inconvenient Truth the waiting for Superman great teacher project amongst others but just to rewind I'd like to talk more about all trickly all the stuff that you've worked on but but how did you get started I have always been fascinated when I see people who are filmmakers huh there's no there's not a traditional career how did you get started my father was a great documentarian he no one knew who he was he rode his bike to work but he made all these great social justice documentaries and he was my hero but after college I moved to LA to not make it doctor what did he do in college what did you think you were gonna do I was a history major and I wanted to get out of my father's shadow like and and I moved up to Hollywood I'm not gonna make documentaries but but you did you have an idea of what you were going it was gonna make Hollywood movies okay it's gonna make I was gonna be he makes documentaries I'm gonna be a hotshot Hollywood director but you had embraced this filmmaking aspect of your I mean that's yes that's not as big of a departure for most people that seems pretty close so kids if doctors can become a lawyer you know kids of lawyers can become an accountant but no one no one is as kid of a documentarian and becomes a doctor it's a degenerative it's a degenerative skill that's passed down you never understand that right because your your your family your father would have judged you if you would become a tradition no no I think I don't think I could have frankly I think very dyslexic not good in school and so became tuned to other things my brain was tuned to other things so what you saw your father and you saw film crews and you saw and that did right kind of resonate with you it's a goodness circus yeah and a good lights cables cameras I mean what your father did did strongly influenced yes this I'm gonna go to Hollywood and he was a hero to me I just could never be as good as him imagine if your hero was Superman or Iron Man you'll never be as good as that so youyou thought that like oh it would be amazing to be a great documentarian like my dad but I'm never gonna be able to do that he won 12 he won four Academy Awards it was nominated 12 times so you started off saying no one knows who he is and he rides his bike to work and I he was a big but no one knew who he was so he had the double threat I'm totally anonymous and but but also remarkable in his in his what were some of his he made films about the Johnstown Flood the Klu Klux Klan the Kennedys those out there beautiful movies beautiful movie yeah of course yeah beautiful beautiful wonderful movies and so you have you that is like just the high-water mark and you could you could maybe not you can do that but you can do a big Hollywood blockbusters right and there's more like we talked about this earlier the the son finding his identity outside of his father like you know just to just to follow in his footsteps would have been pathetic for me as an 18 year old so I had to go off and make it on my own and everybody but how did you think about it I you know it's not I mean did you think about what are my odds of being able to succeed you know I did the math is it visible yeah and and so but you still decided to do it oh you mean to go to Hollywood well yeah well filmmaker generally Hollywood in particular yeah but the like the odds of me being a doctor or a lawyer was worse it was like it was not even possible so it's just there were no odds so you were you were full at you were naive you you like the Mets winning the World Series you knew so you were just right after college so you're the 21 22 where'd you go to college you went I went to NYU and then Brown NYU and brown and history and what did you at brown and I remember walking around the campus of brown senior year going documentaries are kind of over Ken Burns as Ken Burns there's no place for me like it'll never like the establishment is there and there's no there's in its set the things I'll never change so he started in when you transferred to brown yeah you're a history major the entire time yeah but film was always kind of in your mind went to NYU just study film write was famous for that and after a year I said this I don't like this it's not for me I'm gonna study history and why is because I think NYU at the time was very practically based it was teaching a lot of skills that I think a lot a lot of people a lot of my fellow students really dug and learn from but I knew that and from what my father taught me that the the Corp the key piece which is which is the ultimate thing to learn is storytelling and I wasn't seeing anyone who taught storytelling so why not learn history or the great and and you know my father should have influenced me he says you know if you learn to write if you read a lot if you sort of figure that part out then you can figure out stories but the path the beginning again filmmaker is not about the equipment or the technique it's about stories and so when you were sitting in a history class and Brown and one of your friends says hey you know I'm gonna apply it for grad school in history or I'm applying for a job in Wall Street or whatever you would say oh I'm gonna go to Hollywood like you knew the whole time you know that you were studying history the film was your thing yeah and when you say the odds I mean I think you're being a little bit fo humble that you couldn't have been a doctor you transferred a primary just kind of like very dyslexic transfer to it well but I couldn't have done what's the big the coordinate chemistry no I mean not even around that not even close I in fact wiggled my way through passing the key things and Brownwood had no core curriculum right right so I I wiggled my ran through high school and did I worked really hard to get sort of a c-minus average I'm not boasting I'm not boasting in my life happened to get into one of the most selective and why he was very easy to get into a 1982 very very easy but Brown well and then I transferred to brown after I did really well first freshman year I see so I and I I was ambitious but not student interesting so you get I'm suspicious of all of this even better okay I really could not have been a doctor earlier and then you go to Hollywood I mean what are you telling yourself you're you it sounds like you knew the the odds so the art I'll give you a quick arc yeah you know assistant to somebody you know working you know small jobs 10 years and it finally get my break and I sold a script that a friend of mine wrote to Warner Brothers I was gonna direct it my big break it was a training day with Denzel Washington wow that's huge move and I get fired I get fired I don't even get to meet him I don't get to meet Denzel Washington get fired this is my dream this is what I've worked towards for 10 years and it was for all the wrong reasons and I just and I bought into this Hollywood system I thought it was I thought if I was a good soldier it would pay off to me and if I did everything right and it was gonna be a great movie and it was a great movie and I was the only one who wanted him in the role and I got fired and it was so disillusioned I hit rock bottom as a person and as a director that I said screw it and I bought a little $800 high eight camera I'm gonna make a movie about people I like and I made this film about first-year teachers called the first year first thing I ever did and I drove to all these public schools all around Los Angeles and Compton and wast in East LA and I made my first movie a documentary and I just felt right and you were able to do it and it was mine and the great thing about documentaries is you can control the means of production and that was the beginning of it now all the means of production that we use to make a documentary art can be done in my office right in a way that they couldn't have been done even in documentaries only a few years earlier but I sort of it was such a devastatingly apocalyptic moment in my life that I had no choice but to do the thing that I had to do which is to tell a story about someone I loved and admired and and it was and it was I mean you you're saying the documentary was an important medium for you because you could be in control of the story I mean but all of what you've done starting with that first documentary until now has been there's been a social justice piece of in fact there's always been this narrative of maybe just through this documentary you might be able to move the dial in some way is that well my father had some part of that because he did a lot of social justice documentaries and there was a part I direct a lot of television to which is very gratifying it you know shows like 20 for ye are Deadwood and really gratifying but there is there's a bit of factory work to it my wife is on the show CSI and there's a bit of hard work routine work that the quality of the job is so good the people who do it are so good but there's something that when I got the taste of it and I wanted to do I wanted to be a big holler director when I got a taste of it having told stories made documentaries that had some little fragment of this film is going to not even do good but actually have some kind of influence on a conversation that might do good was addictive right and now and and after Inconvenient Truth which had never been made and I never thought would do any good but why should it never have been made but after that movie I became a junkie for it well that's a good enough in maze so it was pitched to me like they said we're gonna make some of these people came to me how I knew and they so here's a documentary what do you think it's a documentary about climate change I'm like okay I'm in I like that that's good I'm Eve that that's an important issue it's based on a slideshow that Al Gore gave us I'm like okay no slideshow you can't make a movie about a slideshow and I mean I and I have great fondness and respect for Al Gore but I don't think you should make you feel about a politician because it comes with its own baggage no matter how much you like that politics can't be done and I said no terrible idea and and and and what can so you weren't at all enamored I mean obviously National international figure it was a hot topic was terrible idea terrible idea so you'd kind of given up on any of the oh this might be you know this might be a super hit or anything like that it was you just thought about even when we had finished it yeah we didn't think it was gonna do anything so but what convinced you them to do it do this terrible idea so the producers Laurie David and Lawrence bender said don't say no yet go to the Hilton where he's gonna do this thing in front of the luncheon and Al Gore walks on stage and there and there I remember this they were serving like cold like it's supposed to be hot but cold chicken mashed potatoes and like bad gravy and you're like just sawing into your chicken there's al gore's like history of the planet oh my this lecture slide show Al Gore terrible idea and he really and the graphics were like you know kind of rudimentary and then by the end of it I was by the end of it there was this feeling that I I think people have at the end of the movie which is like holy [ __ ] this is this is deep and this is urgent and and I was physically shaken and it's a really good lesson I think it's filmmaking which is that when your body feels something when you feel something that you're not convincing yourself to feel there's something you have to listen to and that clever is often misleading I'm gonna do this movie because it's clever or I'm gonna make that choice it was clever instead of like following a feeling like a response that you have trust that more than trust clever and so you were I mean so my chicken was like the gravy had dried up chicken was half-eaten the fork of the knife or the left there but I was like oh my gosh and even if I make this movie and ten people see it that's a good thing and I want other people to understand what I just figured out so the power of it was already there and I don't know how to do this it's a great thing I don't know how to do this a slide show with a politician it makes no sense but I have to do it so I've driven by that overwhelming desire that the cleverer sighted me said do not do it wasn't a pattern here then you could Oh like look up all the it's really very profitable documentaries about slideshows with politicians in them you can't find it do you think about profitability when you even for a documentary no but I think about who's gonna watch it it's a terrible feeling and I've had this experience where you make a movie and no one sees it right it's heartbreaking like you know it's heartbreaking when you work really hard and you tell us to write no one sees it all right but then you you do it and it turns into it goes where frankly documentaries have never gone before it turns into a mainstream right movie right and does that does that change how you perceive yourself what you do what what your next project was going to be it puts more pressure on you when when you've had a successful film and there's a sort of expectation on the next film I mean that that film regardless of where someone is on the political spectrum I mean that changed the discussion that moved and that's a lot of it a huge portion of it Al Gore's work in building that slideshow a huge part of it and enlightening did strike like it was it landed right when bush president george w bush was starting to fall from grace in the public's mind and so that was helpful and people were starting to reconsider gorras in his story everything that sort of in the end Katrina had just happened so all these things sort of fit so it wasn't the success of that movie was not necessarily about I think was actually had very little to do with it well but the filmmaking work yeah so the experience worked yeah I'm not saying as filmmaking was poor filmmaking worked the audience experienced what I hoped they would experience but its success had very little to do with the filmmaking and so now you do you feel pressure that you kind of have to do something of that magnitude again or it's not something I feel like I have to probably will never do it again but I'm a junkie for that feeling but you kind of did it again with Waiting for Superman I mean that was another movie that really entered the national conversation in a different way I mean it's a more complicated experience because it have a more controversy involved in it but but so but I'm a it's not about box office it's about having a feeling like if I tell a story maybe the conversation will change that's exciting maybe people with this movie will think maybe we changed their minds about what a teacher is that'd be cool that's true actually and it's fine I I can ask you a question that I've always wondered when waiting for support why was it called Waiting for Superman where did that wasn't you was it someone else Geoffrey Canada had this great thing Geoffrey Canada started this incredible school in Harlem and he talked about when he was a kid the heartbreaking moment of his life was when he realized that Superman was I know and he was as a kid in the projects and he thought that Superman could come and help him because and give him some power and save him and the day realized that Superman wasn't real like I say and so a sort of he sort of had that metaphor already and so and I didn't come up with the title Leslie Chilcott the producer did but it was like wow that's we're waiting in the same way he was waiting for Superman and now that you've done I mean frankly several of these I mean whether or not you admitted you're especially in certain certain you're a household name I mean is there a temptation to and a couple in like three households oh no no you know six million households well make that assumption I mean is there any temptation to go back I mean there must have been a little pity part of the Hollywood movie the the computer graphics and the you know the real you know there's no temptation to do transformers for I would I I would love to do another movie I've done a couple and it have to be something really special I wouldn't want to do transformers 4 and so forth so there's so much work yeah and Michael Bay is so good at yeah no I'm not it's not that Michael Bay needs to be replaced right no no but I'm saying like that's a different skill right but I I'm a junkie for that I much prefer to make documentaries much prefer so what what if what would what would have to be true about a commercial film to to have you do it you know watch my kids this weekend watch the movie 42 about Jackie Robinson yeah and that did something very different but did something that I love and storytelling like they got to see a moment and that's its most it's it's a true story but it's fictionalized but they just saw a great story and they they learnt they they learning is not the word it's their connecting to the world they're connecting to the human experience in a way in which some sometimes movies can do and when that happens that's pretty great and if I'm part of that that's cool and do you think I mean you started off wanting to do a Hollywood movies do you think you're inherently better at one of the two types I made two feature movies then I would call one a c-minus and the other a d-plus would you mind saying what the food so one was called called gossip movie called gossip which is it you know it's a sort of a genre movie it's okay I did a pretty good job and the other was a movie called Gracie which was this you know it was pretty good so you weren't really happy with how they turned out I think I did a pretty good job I think I would like a workmen's job yeah I would say I'm not exceptional as a feature director and and I know so I the whole thing I am fascinated I think I think i mean i'm personally fascinated not i hope people listening this would be too i mean it you kind of glazed over that 10-year period between college and write your first almost break being this thing that changed your view of yourself in the world i mean that that's a fad I mean at ten years of just kind of it sounds like you were just taking whatever job you can your ass to do just to get closer to being a principal I mean did you ever think about giving up on that and going yeah I mean it's I directed a lot of episodic television which is you know guest director which means you're one of twenty directors on a given show and I when I hear about Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours that rings really true to me that there was there was a lot of learning the form and repeating the form and doing a pretty good job at the form to then one day be better at it like the Beatles playing genre tunes that they didn't write over and over again three nights a weekend so I learned I learned a lot in that era so you were getting work so to speak you there was a sense of progress I didn't right out of college you you were able to get I mean what did you get a first even guest director I'm so bad at this dates and stuff so so I land in LA in 1888 and I start directing in 93 so so you were live year 26 27 years old but then you know you hit a certain how does that happen I mean you resume how do you get how do you even get that job get your first job just banging it out like you know making short films and apprentice and so you had a portfolio of short films that you would send to people kind of and and then I would observe I would I would observe on other TV shows an unpaid job standing next to directors pretending I knew that I was doing and then one day someone took a but even how do you get how do you even get that you just just ask I mean I don't think if I called up some random director for CSI or something so yeah hang out with me right how do you how do you get there it took a while I mean part of us getting the job is the low paying job on another show and then you you know and the low paying job is anything from a PA production assistant I see and that's something that you have submitted a resume for and it producers a system and then you sort of like the great think the nice thing about Hollywood is that it's it is entrepreneurial it's like you don't have to go to graduate school pass the bar you can you can worm your way through the system and find a place do you think Hollywood eventually finds the real talent that's out there do you think a lot of people get lost in this in this that's interesting I think talent is so rare in Hollywood like let me put it differently scratch that I think there's extraordinarily great talent in all the crafts you know cinematographers sound people art direction wardrobe incredible people you can find incredible people and the depth of those people is incredible and the way Hollywood keeps make getting them better is incredible technology digital stuff but I think the part that's really hardest and I think anyone intuitively gets this is it the lack of great scripts and storytelling so the unique story that's the hardest part there's so few great scripts that they end up making more than they have good scripts for one thing that I'm curious I mean what's your sense of does does everyone who shows up in Hollywood and has talent do they eventually get found recognized I think there's a there's a certain persistence factor so I'm sure there's a very talented walk away so that's probably happens but if you're good and you stay for a while and you keep banging on the door and you're good and you've got something to say I think you'll be found and how do you know you're you're you're that and not someone who's on a kind of a fool's errand well that happens to I know a lot of people who have written 100 scripts and nothing gets made and for some reason it doesn't work I mean is there any clue is there anything you told yourself in those 10 year period where you were doing that you were being persistent where were you you said well that's a dead one that shows that I have some talent but if I just persist something Goods gonna happen you're on to something that question is the ultimate question and you know so you don't know it you see it you know and there was many many years where I really wondered whether I had anything at all to say and I for a long time felt there was nothing to say and I think if you said to Davis when he was even 30 30 or 35 you think you'll ever tell a story of any significance in my heart of hearts I would have said no and is that is that answer is that question the same as do you think I would be successful it's a different question and so because in that early period you were still you're going after commercial Hollywood production and where success is very different than yes so I was a I was a sought-after television director yeah but I don't I didn't I wasn't I wasn't my own storyteller I was in service of someone else's story I see so in that 10-year period you did have a momentum to your career that you were getting more responsibility more prestigious responsibilities to direct things and I had a chair with my name on it yeah and I was a member of a guild and I made a good living but but I wasn't doing what I came to Hollywood to do which is to somehow tell a story how long did it take you to get to that point where you said wow I can I can pay the bills with this eight years okay so it's yeah like the longest eight years of my life so that eight years so there wasn't a period where you felt like gee I'm just gonna stop this huh you know some of my friends wouldn't become became accountants and they can buy their you know buy a nice car and they have a down payment on the house yeah absolutely and so I do think there's a persistence factor there sort of like showing up and doing the work and and and did you quit knocking on knocking on a hundred doors for one to open but you were your so this whole eight year figure is kind of just getting by with the they were film related jobs that you were doing little jobs and some of them were not paying well and some of them were dead ends and but you didn't have to wait tables and that type of traditional story I took some bad jobs I took some you know I edited a conference for the CIA that seems interesting so they did a and all the old spies come out and talk about the Cuban Missile Crisis but they're all in their 70s and 80s and there were two Hilton and there and the sound was bad they were standing in a podium and they said here's thirty hours of footage can you cut it down to one and I did that I mean on paper it was a it was a terrible job because it was it was never gonna go anywhere no one wasn't gonna do anything but on a fascination level was great and so but so the good thing is even at those early days you were able to pay your bills doing something in your craft it wasn't the most glamorous thing barely barely you really get something you know I was a guy that was someone the producer's assistant for a assistant for a long time picking up dry cleaning making phone calls so there was a lot of grunt work and this portfolio of stuff this was just like we you and her friends with the camcorders that you would produce are you how did you how are you able to do a little bit of a break because I worked on this film Sex Lies and videotape I remember that and my boss couldn't pay me so he gave me tenth of a point so a thousandth of a piece of a movie no hundreds no a thousandth of a movie I wasn't of a movie and I was like well this is a low-budget movie no one's ever gonna see it and it turned out to be worth $30,000 in 1990 was it even 90 something so I $30,000 and I made a short film with that sounds like this little gift I remember that movie distinctly because my uncles wanted to see it and they were babysitting me so they took me and my cousin and they gave us $20 in arcade tokens in the movie theater and said we're gonna watch this movie now and you didn't go you just no well they because you ran it was like I think it was barely rated R right wasn't it even on those do you ever just dig memory of not being allowed to see it but I got $20 in tokens to spend the next two hours at the arcade because my uncle's wanted to see it they're probably very disappointed it was a very deep art film very little like fun gratuitous I see so that was would you do would you point pin point that is kind of the break that Elijah was one of the breaks and give you a lot of you know I think luck is a part of it I think being ready when luck happens is a big part of it like sometimes if your luck breaks and you're not ready you got to be ready when the luck happens see the door will open but then you got to walk through it and do something did you know people in Hollywood who you just think they're just the most amazing talent and they're just they just got squandered I mean yeah and or sometimes they're stuck yeah you know they're stuck working on a show that's paying enough money to put their family through but they doing exactly what they want to do it's really lucky to be able to find something or you can tell your own stories and have the independence to have it all sometimes it's like money and security or doing your own thing and having your independence it was always some combination I very people of both very few people and you do probably more documentaries aren't ya don't make it I I make a good living but not the kind of living you'd make if you were a big Hollywood dude right right but so there's a little bit of a compromise but I'll I've I picked independence and my own stuff over big-name success and big money success and there's a there's always a sort of a choice between those two doors and you ever regret the choice you made I think everyone is always always thinks about that the return of like we working at no brain and I do I think well what if I had done that and one of and you know but I think I've won the jackpot yeah because I have the I love this job I like being where you are which is meeting people and asking questions and learning the job keeps filling you up right and in the independence to sort of choose my stuff and this stuff I do is pretty great did your your dad's passed away now he saw my very first film on the first year the first film I did we talked about and then what did he think of it so that was one of the great memories I have is that we are screening in Washington and I left to go to the bathroom it's dark and I saw him watch the movie and he didn't see me watching him watch the movie so I got to see him sort of watch my movie and that was and he was smiling and enjoying it and I could tell that he he liked it did you tell that to you later on no I just saw that and you know he he was very few civ with praise but if you but kids start to hear that praise and they start to not believe it yeah so I got to see it I got to see it without him trying to praise me I get to feel his praise without him having to give it to me and so he and he was supportive of this the whole time that you were pursuing the movie I may was not the kind of he would make it was the opposite of what he would make and yet he still appreciate it that was the best part it wasn't making his movies this wasn't a documentary this was this is a career this was the first year this year this did you fully had made right yeah you made the commercial films after that before I made one of the commercial the most of my television career was before that right right and he'd seen that stuff yeah what are your siblings do decide Cassie my brother is a filmmaker my sisters are produced as documentaries so you're right you're right about that whole doctor though it just wasn't even a boston to generate thing you know there's no word there's no now there's not degenerative like being a doctor as bad it's just that once your parent is a filmmaker right your doc oh I yeah doctors teachers great but I just hard to go back right that maybe I'm using the wrong word Yeah right yeah yeah progressive you're in yeah it's kind of limiting it recommended you to that universe right right oh it's not a bad universe well thank you this was really really fun it's an honor to be in your office sitting in your office it's an honor to hear you say that