Laurie David, Lawrence Bender, Scott Z. Burns
At first, it sounded like an absurd idea for a movie.
A slideshow about the science of global warming? Presented by the famously awkward public speaker Al Gore?
“I was among many people who said, ‘I don’t know how you make a movie about a slideshow; it’s a terrible idea,'” says Davis Guggenheim, who wound up being the director and executive producer of “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Laurie David, who approached Guggenheim with her friend Lawrence Bender, knew better.
“With her singular ability to refuse ‘no’ when she knows it should be a ‘yes,’ she said: ‘You have to come to the slideshow. It’s going to be a brilliant movie. You don’t know this yet, but it’s going to change the world,’ ” Guggenheim recalls.
Not only did David’s view prevail, but she and fellow producers Bender, Scott Z. Burns and co-producer Lesley Chilcott accomplished one of the more unlikely filmmaking feats of the year: getting the docu completed and into theaters in less than a year.
They agree that would have been impossible without the contributions of each and every credited producer.
David, an environmental activist and friend of Gore, had him make his presentation in Los Angeles. Bender and Burns saw it and agreed with her that it should be a movie. “It was really visual,” says Bender, and the issue was getting traction. Guggenheim also quickly saw its potential.
Soon the foursome — plus Chilcott, who would serve as line producer — were winging to San Francisco to pitch the somewhat reluctant former U.S. vice president.
“We had to persuade Al to trust us with what in some sense was his life’s work,” explains Burns, who remembers telling Gore, “If you keep going around to do this for a couple hundred people, you could do it every day for the rest of your life and still not reach that many people.” A movie was the answer.
To pursue financing, Gore traveled to CAA HQ in BevHills and made his presentation to a small group of bizzers, including Participant’s Jeff Skoll. Following the presentation and a lunch with Gore, Skoll wrote a check on the spot — almost unheard of in the documentary world.
Guggenheim says he and Chilcott worked nearly around the clock to get the film done in “half the time, for half the money.” Skoll had put up about $800,000, but late in production he had a brainstorm: Adding a 90-foot-wide custom-made screen, in front of which Gore would give his presentation, would kick up the impact of the graphics and lend visual drama. It was, says Bender, “a stroke of genius.”
It would also cost another $200,000.
“Ricky Strauss and Jeff Skoll within days said, ‘Fine, we’ll give it to you,'” says Guggenheim.
Notably absent from the long list of producers, however, is Gore himself.
“(That) was a conscious choice,” Burns says. “We all felt for someone to be the star and the topic of the movie, and the producer of the movie, begins to infringe on the authenticity of the project.”