George Clooney. Writer, Director and Star of Good Night, and Good Luck.
In the world of broadcast journalism, there's one name that stands out - Edward R. Murrow. He was a legend of the business, but he will always be remembered for taking a position on communism in the 1950's. He was the first journalist to actually go on the public airwaves and go against what Senator Joseph McCarthy preached.
George Clooney has brought that part of Murrow's life to the big screen in Good Night, and Good Luck. George wrote the screenplay, directed the film, and starred in the film as Fred Friendly (Murrow's producer and right-hand man).
We had a chance to speak with George about the film. It was clear from the beginning of the interview of how passionate he was about the subject matter.
Here's what he had to say:
What was it about Edward R. Murrow that interested you in making a film about him?
George Clooney: He was a big part of my growing up; my father's an anchorman, been doing news his whole life. Murrow was always the high point for broadcast journalists; my father would always refer to it as the standard that was set no one could ever reach again. I revisited some of the speeches I knew, and I had heard a lot of the shows, but I had started to watch those shows again and started to get incredibly inspired.
How did you make sure everything was right?
George Clooney: The question is and when Grant (Heslov) and I started going over it, that it's not easy, the democracy, it's constant diligence. It's not black and white. I didn't want this to be a polarizing piece; I wanted it to be a factual piece and I had to treat this like my father did and he talked to me about it for a long time. We double-sourced every story, weather Joe and Shirley (Wershba) or Milo Radulovich or if it was Fred Friendly's book, it was infinite numbers of the documentaries we could get our hands on for each of the scenes. Cause we wanted to be able to say – and that's why we used McCarthy playing himself – the same reason – we wanted to be able to say ‘You tell us what we did wrong.' I had Joe and Shirley on the set every day – ‘Tell me what we're doing wrong; tell me where we're missing it.' Because I know there are going to be people out there that are going to try to marginalize it, because all you have to have is one thing wrong and someone to say ‘it's all horsesh*t. Ah, it's all crap.' Then I have to go ‘Ok, I have to be very careful with what I put in.' So that was my job – to look at all the articles that were against Murrow. We went through the idea of taking sides, but we felt it was important to balance the arguments.
Can you talk about the reason why the film is in black and white.
George Clooney: Simply, the one thing there is to define it, and when you use the archival footage, it would just stand out so badly if we did it any other way. But then, grant and I started talking about knowing it was going to make it very hard to sell. It made it very hard to sell, shockingly hard to sell; you'd think at this point in my career, if I'm going to write this for a dollar, direct it for a dollar, and act in it for scale in the second biggest part in the film, I could get seven and a half million dollars to do a movie. It took forever; we did it piece by piece by piece. But I only know Murrow and McCarthy in black and white; I've never seen them in color, I don't know anything about them in color. So I think you have to film things in the way you remember them. So I started going through some films in the beginning, look at the lenses like Super 16, but then I realized that was a dumb way to do it. I thought a better way to do it was be like a ‘fly on the wall.' But black and white was the only option; we shot it on color film, because you can use much less light. If we actually shot it in black and white, it would have taken twice as long. So we have a color print of it and we've seen it and it's freaky looking; it looks like a sit com.
What was the reason for a lack of an external score?
George Clooney: I'm a fan of the film Fail-Safe, and we're in a world where we're terrified of everyone; we're afraid we're going to lose our audience so you've got Bloomberg TV where sh*t' is flying everywhere. If you watch Fail-Safe, there's a stunning silence and silence is very important; I found that the tension is really in the silence and what isn't said when you're counting down and waiting. This movie doesn't work unless David Strathairn is in the film; when he's looking at the camera and he's about to go against McCarthy and it's silent, you get this sense of him as a warrior. So the only three songs I put in, I went to the guy who produced the music for my Aunt Rosemary. Diane Reeves came to me with a couple songs, so we picked some, shot them and then arranged them on camera. Everything is shot live; to me, it's easier and there's such a different energy when you shoot live. I like that era of music and I wanted her to be the sort-of Joel Gray in Caberet, and be this sort-of moral point of view that you could constantly go back to.
What impact did David have on the film?
George Clooney: I'm so happy for David, but the truth is, if you take a camera and stick it on some guys face for five minutes and not move it, that's the actor. Murrow's a good writer, but that's the actor. David just knocked this thing out of the park; he did it in two takes, he actually did it in one take, but I had him do it in two takes because I felt so bad. We did the first take and it's like a ten page monologue, we're all looking around saying ‘that's pretty good' and we knew we had it, but we'd look like schmuck's if we only did one take. But he's great!
Good Night, and Good Luck opens in select cities October 7th; it goes nationwide October 14th. It's rated PG.