I recently had the opportunity in the midst of his media blitz to interview Ami Horowitz. He had just concluded an interview on Fox & Friends and was scheduled to do several more through upcoming days prior to the release of his documentary movie U.N. Me. I had just finished the review of this exceptional documentary and was pleasantly surprised at Ami’s willingness to talk. The following is the transcript of that interview:
Ami Horowitz – Hey Mike, how are you man?
Mike Furches – Doing good how are you doing Ami?
AH – You know Mike, I’m sitting in an Embassy Hotel and I’m talking about my movie. I’m doing pretty good right now.
MF – You’ve been making the circuit.
AH – Yeah.
MF – Who all have you been speaking with the last few days?
AH – First, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, but oh my God, you name it, Fox, Huffington Post, Yahoo, Washington Post, we’ve done, I don’t know, probably a hundred interviews.
MF – That’s quite a bit and with a limited release?
AH - Yeah, and listen man it’s all about awareness.
MF – A few questions I have for you…
AH – A few that’s it? (laughter)
MF – Yeah just a few.
AH – That’s all you’ve got for me?
MF – (laughter) Well I was wanting to ask a few things that maybe folks haven’t asked. Your movie poster; I live in Kansas…
AH – I love it, you start off officially asking a question no one has asked before. (laughter)
MF – Okay, I live in Kansas and I could not help but pick up on the Wizard of Oz theme. Tell me the reasoning behind that theme and its imagery.
AH – First of all let me ask you a question?
MF – Okay, go ahead
AH – Be completely honest, because I am curious, but, did you like the poster?
MF – I love the poster, I know it went through several changes and variations though.
AH – I’m glad you did, and it went through a lot of versions. A lot of people didn’t like this poster, I happened to like it. It’s this whole notion of you journey to this place where you think all is going to be great. Ultimately what comes down is that the Wizard behind the curtain is not what we thought. In the case of the movie, it was not the benevolent leader of the world that was trying to help us to the noble mankind which is what I think we would all like the UN (United Nations) to be, and is supposed to be, and some of us think it is. In reality it is something much more complicated than a lot of movies, it is something much darker than that. The movie really is about a journey and the Wizard of Oz kind of struck me as a very similar type of step that I was taking.
MF – I was impressed with the look of the film, can you tell me some about your crew, their shooting techniques, cameras used and so forth
AH – Okay, another question no one has asked me, a filming question; Wow! I never get filming questions, it is always human questions. You know, I had zero filming experience prior to going into this thing. I knew I needed to surround myself with a crew that was very talented. Not just a crew, but a writing team, an editing team, and more, so that’s what we did, we put together what I think was an all-star crew to make this of writers, editors, photographers. I chose them very carefully. I made a list of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen and I hired the people then. That was important. Equipment wise I didn’t know film making at the time, I do now, but we basically split most of the movie between two cameras, an A camera (a Panasonic Varicam) and a B camera (a Sony HDX).
MF – And the names of some of the folks who worked on your crew, specifically in the cinematography? I actually thought that for a documentary the cinematography was actually quite good.
AH – Well thank you, I appreciate that. The two guys who shot the vast majority of it was Bob Richman. Bob is an absolutely phenomenal cinematographer. He shot An Inconvenient Truth; he shot Some Kind of Monster and some other great films and a whole bunch of other big time movies. He shot thousands of hours. He tried to capture all kinds of moments; it was almost like a sport. The other fellow, Wolfgang Held, he shot Bruno. I really wanted somebody who had the sense of both the traditional documentary sensibility but also the comic timing sensibility. I wanted to capture that. I knew we were going after some pretty funny, but at the same time scary, stuff. I wanted something that would capture those moments in the right way.
MF – One of the things I know is that you come out of a banking background. That said, your sense of timing, especially the comedic moments were rather ingenious to think about it. To address such a serious subject and at times serious situations and transcend that with comedic moments was quite good. Were there people who helped with the scripting on that or is that just a part of your natural talent.
AH – (laughing) Oh geez, it was all my ability, Mike. (both of us laughing now)
MF – (Laughing) and the writers had nothing to do with it?
AH – You know, it is a combination of luck, a combination of good lighting, and I guess, yeah, timing is a part of it. Also, let’s be fair, you have the ability to edit out the parts that didn’t work and made sure we kept parts of it that did work. Yeah, it was a combination of all of those things. I took a big risk of putting myself in the movie, and believe me, it wasn’t because I wanted to, and that is a long, long story. I prefer to only look in a mirror, if I can. It was a big risk but I did feel that it was important the audience was there for somebody, it was on a journey. It wasn’t just my voice—that makes people feel disconnected. Having a face they can attach to, identify with, that was really important.
MF – You said that you had watched several documentaries that you thought were among the best. What were some of those you watched and studied?
AH – I would say that my favorite documentary of all time is called One Day in September. Did you ever see that?
MF – Yes.
AH – A really powerful documentary. It did have some influence on us in the way that it told a story where we all know how it ends. Right?
MF – Right!
AH – They were able to keep it so taut that you were on the edge of your seat, but they were also able to break out details that nobody knew. A lot of us know this story, we know it, but I had to find a way to create something interesting so I spent a lot of time watching that. Obviously all of the Michael Moore stuff. Despite what one thinks of his politics, the man does know how to take a documentary and make it interesting. He took the movies in what I think was a staid genre and he turned it on its head. I have certainly noticed how much he has influenced me.
MF – One of the things I said in the review I did was that I thought U.N. Me deserved just as much of a national theatrical release as anything Michael Moore has done in the last 20 years.
AH – Oh thank you, that is very kind.
MF – It was clear to me that you had learned some of Moore’s influences but I also made comparisons to Morgan Spurlock.
AH – Sure.
MF – A couple of tougher questions; It seems like a lot of the religious and political right are supporting the film, for example, Fox and others. One of the questions I would have is there are a lot of issues that are addressed in the film; what do you believe are some of the solutions to the issues addressed in the film related to The United Nations?
AH – So your question is what are the solutions to the problems?
MF – Yeah.
AH – Yeah, well there’s two parts. If you are asking if they will ever solve them or whether or not there are solutions. I do think there are solutions; I am not sure they will ever solve them or get to it. For instance, there are things I think they should do. One is I would hope they would have accountability and transparency in the UN because there is none there right now. That’s one of the major problems. They are accountable to no one. They’re completely non transparent. The second thing is to implement standards. They have no standards. That’s how they end up in the muck. You’ve got to say to Iran, a nation who beats women on the streets for dressing improperly, you can’t give advice here on women’s rights movements at the U.N. It just can’t be. You can’t have Libya when Gaddafi was there, chairing the Human Rights Commission. These things are insane; Syria can’t be present in the security counsel. Once they begin to implement standards, I think they’re going to have a head start to solving their problems, especially once they implement transparency and accountability. Now the question is if I think they are going to do that, I am not sure that is going to be the case. Not unless they are forced to. We can force them, the take away here for the audience is that we can force them to be accountable and transparent if we want to, because, we the United States supply them 25% of their financing every year. That from the beginning is where we are now. If we tie our money to reform that is the only way change is going to happen there.
MF – That’s a message that should reach across political lines. Would you agree with that?
AH – 100%! I happen to be a little bit to the right of center; everybody else who worked this movie outside of me is to the left of center. I am assuming you felt this way too, we made sure there was no politics involved. We made a movie we thought was right, there was no left or right leaning, we said here’s right, here’s wrong, not right or left, but right or wrong. The way it came out is I don’t think it had any political bias at all. That was the intention, in fact, if I can take one thing away about this movie, other than box office, (laughter), I would hope that right and left come together on this issue completely, to be honest with you. But as you said before, and I can’t control who likes the movie or likes me, but the right is a big supporter of this movie, yeah, I understand the interviews and all I am getting, and I saw the Washington Post piece that came across 15 minutes ago, but in a time where we are so divisive, if we can bring right and left together on this issue and do something together.
MF – Thanks so much for your time I really appreciate it and hope the movie does well.
AH – Thanks so much and I really appreciate it.
In closing I have to ask a question: is it possible that, on such matters as the United Nations doing such inappropriate things, people can come together despite their differences? I just finished watching the mini series The Hatfields and the McCoys. I sometimes wonder, is the political climate such that injustice, warring attitudes, and I-don’t-give-a-rip attitudes exist which prevent people with differing beliefs from coming together and doing what is right? Are we destined for a feud between the Left and Right that resembles the Hatfields’ and McCoys’? When an agency that is supposed to promote peace and justice around the world idly sits around with no accountability and no transparency, I have to wonder, how far will this idiocy go before we, as a nation, come together on an issue of such importance? I will admit, I pray for our leaders, I pray for those that govern over and are given the responsibility of caring for others. I pray they seek wisdom and quit being so dogmatic as to where they do nothing. In our United States, seeing as how we spend approximately ten billion dollars a year and host an agency that is not doing its job, I think it is fair to speak up to our officials and express our opinions. I would hope that all people, all citizens, whether Republican or Democrat, could at least come together on this issue. Until we do, innocents will continue to be abused and killed. God save us all when we allow that type of attitude to continue.