— by ALEXA MILAN —
Filmmaker Nicholas Tucker may not be a household name, but his films are bound to get people laughing and get them thinking. Through a unique blend of fiction and non-fiction, Tucker seeks to educate viewers about political hypocrisy in his latest documentary “Do As I Say.”
In this interview, Tucker discusses the challenges of making “Do As I Say,” the film’s Jon Stewart-esque mix of investigative journalism and comedy and his upcoming projects.
What is your professional background? How did you become a filmmaker?
I went to school here in San Francisco at the Academy of Art, and that was where I got my technical background and I started doing film there.
I’ve done a couple of feature films. I did an experimental documentary that’s on Netflix now called “Fandom,” which was kind of a mix between a documentary and some fictional segments we mixed in.
Then I’ve done a couple of other small feature films that didn’t really get very far, as is the custom with small feature films I think. And I’ve done some commercial work and some documentaries for policy groups and things like that.
What’s the primary focus of your latest film, “Do As I Say”?
It’s a comedy documentary based on Peter Schweizer’s book, “Do As I Say, Not As I Do.” It was recommended to me by a friend, and they said when they handed it to me that they thought it would make a great film, which I didn’t really believe until I read it. I liked Peter’s voice, and I thought it was very interesting and very eye-opening but it was also very funny. It wasn’t mean-spirited and it wasn’t a bitter partisan rant. I liked it so much that I contacted the author and it all happened from that.
The film itself is a mix between something like “Borat” and “The Daily Show.” It looks at a lot of prominent liberal and progressive leaders and their record against their rhetoric. It also looks at some conservative leaders at the beginning to give fair balance and at least acknowledge that it’s not a partisan issue. It’s very much a human issue. I’m not really a die- hard conservative. I’m more of a libertarian. But I definitely feel like in looking at media coverage of these kind of scandals, there seems to be a lot more time and a lot more weight put on conservative scandals, so that’s part of what we’re critiquing.
We’re also kind of pointing out that a lot of the things that would be considered liberal hypocrisy or progressive hypocrisy don’t involve the bathroom stall liaisons or the drug addicts and things like that. It tends to revolve around financial stuff, which is a little boring. So because of that, it doesn’t get much coverage in the mainstream media. A lot of people I think have tried to chalk it up to bias. I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. I think it’s really just how do you make tax evasion funny?
Did any other experiences pique your interest in the topic, or was it mainly the book?
So the book was inspiring enough that I put the time and energy into developing it into a film. Beyond that, I really didn’t foresee myself doing an overtly political film. It probably isn’t a smart career move for me from a popularity standpoint. I certainly didn’t set out thinking “Boy, I really want to do the big political film thing. That seems like a real moneymaker.”
What was the filming process like?
We didn’t want to make something that was anything less than totally entertaining. Up until way into production, we were still trying to figure out the best way to put the whole story together, because in the book each chapter is about a separate person, and that doesn’t necessarily make for a great narrative flow. So we were trying to find a happy compromise between telling an episodic version of that and telling a story.
Peter Schweizer, when I first approached him about it, we had talked to him about doing some improv comedy to kind of put a face to things, and I didn’t realize how extensively at the time we would do that. But it wound up being a great way to communicate some of the ideas in the book.
For example, it’s really hard to explain to people what currency speculation is. It’s one of those arcane financial transactions that most people don’t have a great grasp of what it is. So we had to explain what it was, and the closest analogy we could come up with was having someone go around to small shops and buy things on sale, then go back a week later and return them at full price.
We started to get a sense for how everything was coming together well after we had begun filming. It was a little bit of improvisational writing and filmmaking along the way, which is a little stressful as an editor because you don’t know if you’ve got what you need, but I think with documentary in particular, it’s one of those genres where you have to be really open to just accepting what comes. Some of my favorite parts of the film are things we never could have planned.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced, and what were some of the most rewarding parts of the process?
The biggest challenge was taking something that’s an investigative journalism format book and translating it into a 90-minute feature film. What we wound of doing is instead of making a movie of the book, we made a movie about the book, which is a little bit different. When we started to think of it as a movie about the book, it freed us up to do things differently. It freed us up to reference the material directly, it freed us up to kind of poke fun at ourselves and it made us a character in the film. And that, I think, helps propel the story forward in a narrative sense.
We also didn’t want it to be preachy. As much as I love Michael Moore’s films, I think one of the common traits to his films is that he doesn’t leave you room to have your own opinion. It’s hard to walk away from a Michael Moore film thinking that anyone who disagrees with his conclusions is anything but evil or stupid or ignorant. I’ve never really believed that. I live in San Francisco, and it’s probably one of the most liberal and progressive cities in the country. Most of my friends are very liberal and progressive, so I wanted to make a film that wasn’t about telling them they’re wrong. It was really just about informing them about things from another perspective.
That was the other challenge -– how do you tell a story about politics and hypocrisy without it being preachy? The solution to that was to take a tongue-in-cheek tactic that my character in the film is not out there to expose these guys -– he’s out there to learn the secrets of their success. He really wants to be a successful hypocrite like these guys because it’s worked out really well for them. I think that kind of takes the stakes down because it’s not an attack on liberalism as a whole. We just wanted it to be lighthearted and fun, something people could enjoy even if they didn’t agree with the perspective it was being told from.
How long did the process take, from the time the idea was conceived to the end of post-production?
It was about three years ago when I first decided it was something I wanted to do. It was in late 2006 that I started making contact with the author. It was in early 2007 when I secured the rights. From then it’s just been a matter of fundraising and getting donations and things like that to make it happen. It’s nice to finally see it come to fruition.
What do you hope viewers get out of the film?
I think we want people to take away from it that it’s very easy to become a hypocrite. It’s very easy to hold yourself to a separate standard of behavior. I think that’s fine as long as we’re not on the mount pointing at the actions and transgressions of others. So I guess if there was one single thing to take away from it, it would be the “you first” premise of public policy. If you really believe something should be done a certain way, you should do it yourself first and live it and be the way you want the world to be. And if it really does work, then everyone else will follow your example and you’ll never need to stand on a soapbox.
You’ve worked with editor and cinematographer Lucas Abel on a couple of your other films in addition to this one. How did you meet, and what is your work relationship like?
We met at film school. We had a screenwriting class together. He is very similar to me in that he’s very much a low-key kind of guy. He’s very easy to get along with. We both have a very similar point of view about things. We’re both from rural, small areas. So we had a lot of things in common to begin with. In fact we found out several years after we started working together that our moms went to the same high school.
The way it tends to work is we’re kind of a two-man band. Lucas is the shooter and does the camera work and the lighting, and I do the interviews and the sound and the planning. Once we’re in post, I’ll do the broad strokes editing and structuring and getting things built, and he’ll come along and clean it up and make sure the pacing is correct and things like. We complement each other’s strengths in that respect.
How does “Do As I Say” compare to your past films?
It draws on a lot of the same things. We mixed some comedy and improv comedy in there, so it has that mix of fiction and non-fiction.
It’s definitely an exploration of the non-fiction format and builds on things I learned in making “Fandom” and our other film, “American Vampire.” So it draws on that but it’s also very different.
I’ve never made an overtly political film before, and I wasn’t really overtly political as a person before making this one, so that’s unique to it. But it definitely integrates our quirky sense of humor.
It definitely integrates a lot of the same organic filmmaking techniques where we let things happen and figure out the best way to shape it into a story afterward.
What’s next for you? Do you have any other projects lined up?
I’m producing a series of short documentaries on things like lawsuit abuse for a policy group here in San Francisco. I did another 50-minute documentary on the state of the education system, specifically in California, but it also touches on the rest of the country. I’ve been working on several screenplays. I’ve been asked to possibly direct another film. I can’t really talk about that one yet, but hopefully that will come together.
THE TRAILER FOR “DO AS I SAY”:
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