Since my Update announcing the identity of our Stage of Development Episode Six subject caused somewhat of a minor fracas yesterday, I wanted to set the record straight on a couple of things.
First, it wasn’t my intention to launch the Kickstarter with an unannounced episode. I recognize this might have been seen as a marketing move, or potentially misleading, but neither of those were my intent.
The fact is the timing of the Kickstarter announce overlapped my conversations with John Bain by a few days and neither of us were able to say for certain that we’d be able to collaborate on the project by the time I announced the Kickstarter on Monday. Having worked in production for 30 years, I can tell you that this is a thing that happens. The logistics leading up to actually showing up at someone’s house or office with a camera crew can be daunting, and often more complex than the actual production itself. We even have a name for all of the work that goes into cold calling, pitching, planning, scheduling, pre-interviewing, and preparing that goes into a production. It’s called “pre-production”. And yes, my budget and plan for Stage of Development include time and money for pre-production. Because that’s a thing that a lot of people forget about, and later learn they should have planned for. I’ve made that mistake in the past. Now I no longer make it.
Episodes 2-4 of Stage of Development are all still in pre-production, but John’s was a little behind the others. So we weren’t able to announce for sure he’d be in the series when the Kickstarter launched on Monday. That changed on Tuesday, and I announced his involvement on Wednesday. And that is all there was to it.
The other thing I want to make it clear to everyone is this will not be a puff piece. None of the episodes of Stage of Development will be puff pieces.
If any of my interview subjects (or anyone else, for that matter) wants to have a glowing marketing video done about them, then they can contact my direct-to-client production company at email@example.com and we’ll set them up with what they need. Our rate for that kind of work starts at around $10,000. We’re very good at it. Just ask Harmonix. This project, however, is documentary journalism. It is not intended to be a marketing vehicle for the people involved. It will present each subject’s story as I see it, not how they want it. And there is a huge, and often overlooked difference between the two things.
For a marketing vehicle, I would meet with the clients, listen to what they want to achieve and design a production that promotes their product or service in the most appropriate way. They would then give me notes on my work, I might make changes based on their feedback, and in the end they would have final say over when (or if) the product gets released. They would then pay me.
For a documentary, all of the subjects involved have agreed that I am in sole control over how and when their story is told. They are sympathetic to my overall goals, of course, and I, to a lesser extent, theirs. But they will have no say over what questions I ask, what answers I use, how the video is edited or polished, when and where it gets released, or what picture it ultimately paint about them. They are also not paying me. This is journalism.
For the most part, these people are willing to submit to this sort of production over which they have no actual control because they trust me and respect my body of work. I do not make “hit pieces”, and I do not put words in peoples’ mouths. If they say it, I may use it even if they wish they hadn’t said it. But they all have known me (or known of me) long enough to respect that I will respect them, and paint as true a picture as I can. Even if they aren’t paying me.
I recognize some of my language in the original announcement may have led some of you to believe that I am a TotalBiscuit fan, and that my goal in interviewing him may be to shine sunshine up his nethers. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I intend to paint a clear picture, and tell his story as I see it. That may reveal good or bad things about him, but it will not be by-the-numbers marketing/journalism. It will not be designed to his specifications or liking, and it will not be driven by any agenda other than my own, to tell a true story.
As my long-time editor Matt Leone would be happy to tell you, when I am excited, my writing gets a little too sunshiny. I am excited to interview John Bain, and my description of the project probably skewed a little glowy for some. I apologize if my language gave anyone the wrong idea about what I intend.
I am fully aware of some of the reasons that many people dislike John Bain. I’m aware of things he’s said and done. I’m aware of what others say or do in his name. I don’t endorse those behaviors.
Regardless, I’m excited to interview John Bain, not because of anything he has said or done, necessarily, but because I want to understand what’s really behind the controversial persona that causes so many to become energized and others to want to throw up. As a journalist, that kind of story gets me super jazzed, because people like him are much rarer than people about whom you might have no opinion. And understanding what drives someone so loved by so many, yet so hated by so many others reveals, what I think, is best in humanity. You don’t become that loved or that hated by being boring, is my point.
Many have expressed concern that this is “giving a platform” to someone who already has one, and has used it terribly. I can’t argue with that, because I don’t have an opinion about how John has used his platform. I don’t really know how much of why he is despised is because of who he is versus what people have done around him. That’s part of what I wold like to try and find out. But again, I am not interviewing John to further whatever agenda he or his followers may have. Nor am I interviewing him to further the agenda of his detractors. I’m there to try and learn about him, and I hope that’s valuable in and of itself.
If you haven’t seen the recent documentary Burt’s Buzz, I highly recommend it. It’s a good example of the kind of piece I’m pursuing with Stage of Development. You could argue that a documentary starring Burt of Burt’s Bees, and telling the story of how he built his company would be giving him a platform. And to an extent, the documentary does paint an interesting picture of how this company came to be. But ti also makes Burt out to look like a horrible, spiteful and unlikeable human. Which is what he is.
Just like all of us, Burt is flawed. He has done some remarkable things. He is well-known and much-loved. But he has also fucked up. He has ruined relationships, mis-manged his business, and generally alienated everyone who knows him.
I did not expect top learn this about Burt when I watch this documentary, but I did. And I feel more alive, and more connected to humanity knowing that someone with such seemingly flawless public image is actually, just like me, kind of fucked up.
I hope that my documentaries can be as revelatory, as real, and as true as that one. And I hope that is what you value if you choose to back my project.