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Goodnight, and Good Luck - George Clooney interview

George Clooney in Goodnight, and Good Luck

Compiled by Jack Foley

GEORGE Clooney talks about the reasons he made Goodnight, and Good Luck and why its story still has plenty of relevance to the political scene today…

Q. Can you talk about the choice to shoot it in black and white?
A. Really, the first and only thing to define it was that we were going to use the archival footage and it would just stand out so badly if we did it any other way. But then we also, Grant and I started talking about knowing that it was going to make it very hard to sell. It made it very hard to sell. It made it shockingly hard to sell. You’d think that at this point in my career if I’m going to write it for a dollar and direct it for a dollar and act in it for scale as the second biggest part of the film that I could get $7.5 million raised to do the movie and it took us forever. We did it piece by piece by piece to get it.
But I only know Murrow and McCarthy in black and white. I’ve never seen them in color and I don’t know anything about them in color. So I think that you have to film things in the way that you remember them. I started going through some art films in the beginning because I thought that maybe I’d shoot it on super sixteen and try to get those lenses and something like that and realized that that was a dumb way to do it. Then I started going back to the documentaries and then I looked at the documentaries like Crisis and Primary and ones like that. I thought that was a better way to do it so that I could make it more of a fly on the wall kind of look. But black and white was the only option. It’s funny, we shot it on color film because you can use so much less light. I mean, if you’re shooting in black and white it would take us twice as long to light it. So we have a color print of it that we’ve seen and it is freaky looking. I mean, it looks like a sitcom. It looks so wrong.

Q. What was it about Edward R. Murrow that fascinated you and made you want to make a movie about him?
A. He was a big part of my growing up. My father was an anchorman, doing news his whole life and was a big part of what I – Murrow was always the high water mark for broadcast journalists growing up and that’s always what my father would refer to as sort of what the standard was set at that no one could ever reach again. Cronkite did pretty well. He did pretty well in Vietnam. So anyway that was a big part of my growing up, first of all. Then I revisited some of those speeches that I was pretty familiar with. I knew the Box of Lights and Wires speech really well. Most people who studied any journalism at all always heard that. I had heard a lot of the shows. I hadn’t heard all of the television shows. I hadn’t heard the Annie Less Moss Show before and I hadn’t heard his rebuttals to McCarthy. But I started watching those speeches again and I thought that they were incredibly inspiring as I think they are, and I miss that kind of clarity at times. It’s sort of like when was the last time you
were watching network and you heard Paddy Chievsky’s words? And you go: “Wow.2 So they sort of represented us at our best, and I’m always the guy in the car going: “You know what I should have said?” So I really enjoyed the idea of talking about Murrow again.

Q. Were you always a fan of Fred Friendly as well?
A. Yeah. When I was kid in school I was a big fan of Fred’s. Some might remember the ‘Ethics in America’ that Fred Friendly did. So I read a lot stuff about Fred Friendly. He always carried a copy of the constitution, a little copy of the constitution in his bag. I have one here too and I always kind of keep it in my bag with me. It’s kind of a great foundation to go back and look at.

Q. Do you think McCarthy would have fared better if he’d just admitted his mistakes?
A. Don’t you think that’s the best way? I mean, think about the best way to neutralize an argument. That’s to accept the arguments immediately. For instance, Kennedy’s first act as president was The Bay of Pigs, which was the dumbest first act that any president has ever done in their lives.
If you’ve ever watched that press conference, which is one of the greatest moments that I’ve ever seen by a president, he walks out and even before anyone asks a question he says: “What happened yesterday is my fault. I take full responsibility. I did it. I
took some bad advice. It was a dumb thing to do. First question.” And they were like: “Whoa. Uh. Wasn’t that a dumb thing to do?” He goes: 2I just said that. Next question.” So then it was like: “What’s Jackie going to wear to the…?” And it was over. You realize that the truth is not to be afraid to ask the questions that should be asked.

Q. Who is the successor to Murrow? Do you think that it would be Bill O’Reilly or Larry King?
A. That’s a good question. Bill would think that it’s him because he takes a side and takes a stand. So I would imagine that Bill probably thinks that it’s him. I would suggest that first of all I don’t think there is a lack of journalism. There isn’t a reporter that I knew and I grew up with them that doesn’t want to break a big story. I mean, there really isn’t. That’s the fun of it. The problem is that sometimes when you ask a tough question you get sent to the back of the press conference room and you lose access and then you’ve traded away one story for the entire network’s access. So that’s how it’s censored. It’s not that you can’t ask the question. It’s just that you might get: “Okay, you’re done. Go to the back of the room.”
I’ve seen and talked to network news anchors who have told me stories of how, “I’d like to say this, but if I do I’m gone”. I thought that was too bad. Look, there are kids getting killed in Afghanistan and Iraq every day getting stories. I think that there is a great amount of beautiful journalism going on. I think that there is a lot of crap out there and it’s a different world now. There are three networks. That’s the difference. It’s a 24-hour news cycle. It’s a 150 channels. It’s all of that, and it’s going and looking for it. Ninety percent of the news that America gets is from television now, I think. People don’t read anymore.

Q. Can you talk about the absence of an external score in the film?
A. Yeah. We did that for a couple of reasons. I’m a fan of the film Failsafe, the original one and then we did a live version of it. We’re at a time right now where everyone is afraid that you’re not going to be able to hold people’s attention unless you have bells and things going off all of the time. If you watch Failsafe, there is this stunning silence – and silence is really important. I found that the tension in the film, I think of it as an action film, but the tension in the film is all in the silence of it and what is said in the moments when you are counting down and waiting and watching. I mean, I love it.
This movie doesn’t work unless David Strathairn is in the film. He’s so good. When he’s looking in the camera and about to go at McCarthy and it’s silent, you just see him as like this warrior. I love that. So the only music that I put in was about three songs. I went to the guy who did all the producing for Aunt Rosemary’s music and all the musicians are guys that played with my Aunt Rosemary. I knew that I was going to frame Hollenbeck’s suicide around the song, How High The Moon from the very beginning. So Diane Reeves actually sent me a tape singing, How High The Moon and it was great. We picked some songs and arranged them and then shot them all on camera. So everything that you see is sort of like Nashville in the sense that nothing has gone to playback. Everything is shot live.

Q. Was CBS helpful in giving you archival footage?
A. Well, there’s two issues. CBS was very helpful with the archival stuff. Les is an old friend of mine. It’s funny because he did this interview and he’s getting a lot of crap for saying that I’m going to change the news into MTV style and they’re using me as sort of this battering ram against him. I called him up and said sorry, but he was instrumental in helping us to get the archival footage because it was hard and it’s expensive for a $7.5 million
film. That’s a lot of money. The smoking commercial I put in because we’re smoking so much in the film. I’m not going to not smoke in this film. It’s accurate. Two thirds of those guys died of lung cancer, but it’s real. There is this sort of white washing now that wants you to take out cigarettes from movies.
In fact, there are policies at the studio. You’ll get a memo that will say absolutely no smoking in these films. Look, I’m a non-smoker and I had nine great aunts and uncles die from lung cancer, including my Aunt Rosemary. I think that it’s dangerous to glamorize it and we make it look pretty good. So I thought that it was important to at least make a point in there about it because it’s a pretty manipulative thing. You don’t know it’s a smoking commercial when it comes up.

Q. Can you talk about David Strathairn and what he was like?
A. The truth is that I’m really happy for David. Murrow is a good writer, but David just knocked this thing out of the park. He did that in two takes. He did it in one take. I did a second take because I felt bad. We did the first take and I said: “Okay, there we go.” I see him, and remember it’s like a ten page monologue and we finish the thing and we’re kind of looking around and we’re like: “That was pretty good.” I knew that we had it and I go: “Well, we should do another one because we’d look like schmucks if we just did one take.” So we did another one with him, but he’s great. Just don’t look at him in the eyes.

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