- Film Maker -
Mario Savio, leader of the Free Speech Movement, suggested the standard for impressionistic filmmaking that I set out to achieve. Mario said, "It would take geniuses to make television programs that would leave the audience experiencing more of who they are, rather than less of who they are." So I decided to make programs that are as powerful as commercials.
The only programs on television that seemed to activate the audience were the commercials, which were responsible for giving the world consumerism. Shows were just putty between commercials, something to put people in a receptive state so that the commercials could activate them to go out and buy things.
I needed somebody who made commercials, not documentaries. Ron Dexter had made some of the best commercials on television for Miller beer, Chevy trucks, and Kodak cameras. I said, "Ron, would you like to make a 60-minute commercial?" He laughed, "Do you have any idea what those things cost?" I said, "No, but we don't really have any money. Would you do it for free?" Then we set out to make impressionistic documentaries.
Impressionism leaves room for the viewer to fill in the blanks. It is a genre that stimulates the pattern recognition faculty in the brain. You don't have to clobber the audience with a barrage of pictures and music and words that leave no room for interpretation. Like rocks crossing a stream, you lay down stepping stones that suggest a plausible path.
In five weeks of production over a two-year period, we shot 300 interviews on BetacamSP. I sat with some of the brightest thinkers in the world, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Huston Smith, David Brower, Robert Muller, Jean Houston, Alan Cranstan, and Ram Das. I had gone to UCLA law school to learn how to ask questions, and now I tried to ask the one question that this person could answer better than anyone else.
To Huston Smith, it was, "Where are we now?" For Mikhail Gorbachev, "Do you think we are going to make it?" in terms of population and the environment.
As the answers rolled in and we pored over transcripts, we methodically assembled their impressions into a luminous mosaic that seemed to suggest that we can't give up yet. In the words of Ted Turner, "There still is a fighting chance for us, and I don't think we really have any choice but to fight for our survival."
But when Ted Turner went on to say, "We need to consume as little as we possibly can," even his own network, CNN, could not broadcast On the Edge, our 52-minute program. Our speakers were challenging the very core of consumerism.