The Epoch Times: Interview with Grant Heslov on Good Night & Good Luck
(L-R) Writer Grant Heslov, actor David Strathairn and
director/actor George Clooney attend the premiere of
Good Night, and Good Luck.(Evan Agostini/Getty
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Interview with Grant Heslov
Co-writer, Actor and Producer of Good Night and Good Luck
By Frederic Eger
Epoch Times Montreal Staff
Nov 24, 2005
The Epoch Times: In Good Night & Good Luck, the two main themes
are the social and political role of media, and, the use of fear from
the third power to gain popularity or to control the masses. Why did
you particularly choose to portray persons from the past (beyond the
personal interest of George Clooney for the Edward R. Murrow
character)? You could have portrayed journalists that are
contemporary to us, like Peter Jennings or Dan Rather, journalists
that are in there own way committed to trying to bring awareness to
the public and performing investigative journalism. Why did you
choose to go back so far into time?
Grant Heslov: I feel that the best way to examine contemporary
issues is to look back in time and examine if things have or haven't
changed. In this case, the issues that Murrow was dealing with are
entertainment versus the news. I think this is as relevant today as it
was back in the 1950's. There is that same fight. Also, Murrow is the
gold standard of broadcast journalism.
The Epoch Times: Is Murrow considered the kind of index reference for broadcast journalism and news magazine hosting?
Grant Heslov: In a way, yes, he is at the bar. Also, his battle with McCarthy is one of the two most historical moments of
broadcast journalism in terms of taking on an issue and investigating on it; I think another example was Walter Cronkite with
the Vietnam War, that also went that far. And it actually changed policy in a way. So I don't think Murrow single handedly
brought out McCarthy. He certainly gave a big show. Arthur Miller did the same thing in his play the Crucible; he was
attacking the red scare and the blackness that came with it at that particular moment of American History. What was
interesting to us was that Murrow as a journalist and Arthur Miller as a writer were denouncing the same general psychosis
going on in America.
The Epoch Times: How much were you and George Clooney influenced by Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 and Robert
Greenwald's Outfoxed, in terms of willingness to initiate a project that dealt with the same issues; media criticism, political
issues and the links between the third and the fourth power ?
Grant Heslov: I would say that if it had influenced us, it was in a way you probably would not expect. We did not want to be
heavy handed. We did not want to use an iron fist, we did not want just to be one sided. We really wanted to make a piece
that appeared more subtle and less heavy handed. These films(Fahrenheit 9/11, Outfoxed) have their utility and market, but
that's not what we were trying to do. We tried to avoid their approaches and find limited ways to bring up our point of view.
There is a scene toward the end in which Murrow talks with Paley and Paley says "why didn't you bring out about your history
? Were you afraid of protecting non-communists? I thought we were censoring there. And we all censor." And we've used that
scene because we wanted to show Murrow wasn't perfect in what he was doing as a professional on a daily basis. So if
Michael Moore's or Robert Greenwald documentaries had an influence on us, it was more in helping us to try to be a little
The Epoch Times: Good Night & Good Luck was shot quite quickly in 6 weeks, in black and white, to keep a certain balance
between archive footage and the film itself. And we see it as a pretty standard budget movie for a Hollywood film. But what
was impressive was the historical reconstitution, the re-enactment of this everyday television event that was sort of "See it
now !" I wanted to know how you managed to give such fluidity, such life, to that show, just as if it was today, just like if we
were there. Can you give more details about what it involved in terms of daily personal commitment, production design and
Grant Heslov: Jim Bissell, the production designer, just designed a fantastic set. It was one sound stage and not a huge one,
but what George wanted is that if you want to be able to shoot any direction. He wanted to be able to see through glasses,
to see deep background action happening. And Robert Elswit, the Director of Photography, George (Clooney) and I watched a
lot of archive footage and tested film stocks; we just went through countless tests to figure out what we wanted to shoot on
and how we wanted it to look.
The Epoch Times: Camera movements shift so much and appear so remarkable, kind of like the ones of ER(the television
Grant Heslov: Obviously, George is extremely familiar with that aesthetic. We watched a lot Pamela Baker's documentaries,
we watched the film Lenny. We watched numerous amounts of film to figure out and determine the style and aesthetics we
were exactly looking for. By doing so, from the initial ideas and concepts we had for the style of the movie it ended up being
completely different by the time we started shooting. But, really, all the credit goes to George because he really had very
specific visions of what he wanted the film to look like. And the way he wanted the sound to be like. And just the feeling the
film had to deliver. George had put together a tremendous team of people who would be able to give reality to the vision he
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The Epoch Times: What is also amazing is the way he managed to recreate the atmosphere of the time, likely due to the
daily consultancy of the real Joe and Shirley Wershba on the set. Was this a helpful and exciting experience?
Grant Heslov: The presence of the real Joe and Shirley Wershba did help us a lot. Every morning you'd show up and all the
actors would have had New-York Times from that day in the script linked to the American History. The actors would be
reading the papers then we would have been talking of some of the events. So under the dialogues that George and I wrote,
actors would add further conversations going on, about the current events being covered by CBS. Sometimes we were
bringing them in the forefront of the set and scene if they really worked well, sometimes we were just leaving these
conversations in the background. The objective we wanted to reach was to feel the atmosphere of a real working newsroom,
where actually people were talking over each other and there was multiple conversations
The Epoch Times: George Clooney has said "It's a film of passion and I'd do it for no money." The amazing thing, according to
the press file, is that George Clooney proved that this statement is accurate since he put his house as collateral in order to
get the completion bond from the financial institutions in order to do the movie. The question is double. How far did you all
have to go in terms of compromising to put together the budget of that film? Three production companies and a studio were
involved, what did that project mean?
Grant Heslov: The truth is it's hard to get any money for a black and white film. Nobody wants to make a black and white
film. And we from the beginning really wanted the film to be black and white. That really made it difficult. Now, because
George and Steven Soderbergh are involved in Section Eight Productions, we were lucky to have such names that we could
push stuff through. If we were just two kids out of film school trying to make our first film, I think we would still be trying to
raise money. So I sort of look at it like we are really lucky that with these names on board we sort of managed to go through
obstacles that would have been walls in other conditions. Todd Wagner from 2929 Productions and Jeff Skoll from
Participant Productions stepped up and financed the project.
The Epoch Times: Have you been confronted by any form of censorship from the financial institutions considering the fact
that these financiers were arguing that because George Clooney was recovering from back and neck surgery he wouldn't have
been able to handle the project ? Didn't it look like a biased way of saying you will not make your movie on Murrow against
Grant Heslov: No, no. The truth is when you are making a film the director had to be bonded. There are certain things that
have to be in place. As for me, I didn't feel that they were censoring in any way. It didn't mean they didn't want George to
make the film. But, there are certain responsibilities that everybody has to assume and it was just a lot for George
physically. He and I had no doubt we would be able to make the film. We knew it wouldn't be an issue at all�
The Epoch Times: I really felt that putting the house as a collateral was an important personal sacrifice. Grant Heslov:
Sure, it was certainly a personal sacrifice, because sure he was willing to take what it took to get the film made. No
question about that.
The Epoch Times: The conclusion of Good Night & Good Luck, if you think about it, is quite pessimistic because of a certain
nostalgia that is perceptible from beginning to end. This film tells us in a way: " Please take a look at men that believed in
what they were doing, that had a sense of what the word responsibility meant, and that fought for what they thought was
right." In a certain way, you are saying "This doesn't exist anymore". What feeling do you want to generate from the audience
when they leave the auditorium? Do you want people to get involved politically, specifically in the field of media awareness?
Grant Heslov: I don't agree on your assessment that the film brings out a pessimistic feeling when leaving the auditorium.
It's quite the opposite. The truth in democracies, they go wacky every once and a while. If something bad happens, the
citizens get scared and then they overreact, and then there is a correction. And in this case, Murrow was part of the
correction. I think that in World War II, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we took all the Asian-Americans and locked
them up in prison. Then, we apologized and fixed it. In a way, we are honoring and holding up for the world to see what a
great journalist Murrow was. I think there are a lot of journalists all over the world. This film isn't a knock on journalists in
any way. But, for me, in certain ways, it's a knock on the public. They have to demand less entertainment and more news.
We certainly don't want the audience to walk out with a pessimistic frame of mind, but on the contrary an optimistic one.
We have mechanisms to make the world right. And in these mechanisms that is their job, to question authorities, to bring to
light unknown issues for the public.
The Epoch Times: What would be the message you would like to spread on Good Night and Good Luck ?
Grant Heslov: By the end of the day, the reason we make films, and that one in particular, is that it will generate a debate.
You hope it makes the people leaving the theater questioning a lot of things and having a discussion in favor or against or
regardless party. That's what I hope it does and it seems it is what it is doing. People have to feel optimistic and excited
about the possibility to bring awareness and mobilize.
The Epoch Times: Do you believe a drama narratives can generate more action than a documentary ?
Grant Heslov: I think they both can generate a lot[of action], I don't think necessarily that one can generate more or better
than the other. But, I do think that dramatic narrative, once it reaches success, has a potential to reach a much wider
audience. If you compare Fahrenheit 911 to Apocalypse Now, I tend to think Apocalypse Now had more influence. And I am
sure there are other examples. But look, I love documentaries and even regardless of the subject. But still, I feel a
narrative, structured the right way, might have an incredible impact.
Interview given to Frederic Eger, a regular Epoch Times contributor.
Copyright 2000 - 2005 Epoch Times International
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