Return to The War Room
A conversation with Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker as the classic campaign doc joins the Criterion Collection.
Hegedus: You know the irony of that story for us was when we wanted to use that in the second film, CNN charged us—and it was our film! It was sort of outrageous, you know?
Slate: How much did they charge?
Hegedus: Oh, it was actually a lot. It was a huge battle with the lawyers there to even get to use our film in their report because of Anderson Cooper being the TV personality in it. They didn’t want us to use their report of our film. They charged a lot; I think in the end we had to pay something like $12,000; they wanted more.
Slate: I bring that up because the expectation now is that video can be uploaded instantaneously, and that any video is as worthwhile as the next one, regardless of the source. Could you make another documentary like this about a presidential campaign?
Hegedus: No, it’s a totally different world.
Pennebaker: When we did the second film, we ran into a whole new problem, which was following people around with a recorder and a camera—because they’re one thing now—and they had cell phones, and they didn’t want us around all the time.
Hegedus: The cell phone kind of makes it offices everywhere at every minute of the day, where back in 1992, you had to talk on a landline, for the most part, somewhere, so you were at your desk talking on your phone, having your business time. I wouldn’t know how to shoot a film in this era, where everything is just out there immediately, and people are so aware of media and how it can be misused.
Pennebaker Hegedus Films.
Pennebaker: You know, the thing that was sort of funny for us in 1992 was most of the television coverage of any of the candidates was of them going in and out of hotels. You realize the picture itself doesn’t give very much information that you don’t already know, but whoever put it on the air, it gave them a chance to talk about something they had else-wise about the campaign. It was the door, in a sense, in and out of their story. They would have maybe 10, 15 cameramen with Ikegamis and huge microphones on long sticks waiting at the doors of the hotels where people were going to come and go, with no intention of interviewing them, really; they just wanted to watch them come and go. Which was peculiar.
Slate: Let’s say you actually could do this again. Who, in 2012, would you want War Room-style access to?
Hegedus: I’d still like to get access to Clinton.
Pennebaker: Or Hillary.
Hegedus: Yes, Hillary. You know, unfortunately, she never has been filmed in that way. I don’t know if you’ve spent any time around her, but she’s a much different person and kind of much funnier and interesting than she ever lets herself come out to be I think in other public situations.
Slate: She’s not really in The War Room at all.
Hegedus: No, she’s hardly in The War Room. Just in the beginning.
Pennebaker: We did film her a little but we didn’t use it. But you know who would be interesting for me? I would like to spend—it’s kind of ridiculous – but it would really interest me to spend a week with the ex-governor of Alaska, whatever she’s doing, just to watch her daily conversations with whoever she has…
Hegedus: She already had that, Penne. She had a reality show.
Pennebaker: I never saw it, but that was cooked up by Fox! I mean a real documentary. She might do it. People do this for funny reasons. I always wanted to do something with Nixon because I thought, you know, a Thanksgiving dinner with Nixon and all his family would be fascinating. You could just see him sitting at the end of the table with the turkey. Here’s a person who knew more about what was going on in the world than anybody alive. And the grandmothers would say, “Just carve the turkey, Dick, No more political talk.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.