Errol Morris says the making of “The Fog of War” came about somewhat by chance, but winning an Academy Award for the documentary was no fluke.
“Maybe sometimes people get Oscars by accident. But in this case I got an Oscar because I was supported by a lot of terrific people at Sony Classics. Michael Barker always said he wanted to get me an Oscar, and he did.”
He originally wanted to interview the former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara for his Bravo TV series “First Person,” but didn’t expect him to say yes.
“I called him up. He was confused, he thought I was part of his book tour. He agreed to come to Cambridge, where I’m based, and talk to me. It was touch and go whether he was actually going to do it. Shortly before, he called to say he wouldn’t, then spent half an hour on the phone explaining why. In the end he said he’d give me 10 minutes, and he ended up giving me 20 hours!”
The initial session involved four hours of filming over two days, using the special system that he calls his Interrotron, enabling his subjects to speak directly into the camera.
Afterward, McNamara gave him what Morris calls “a homework assignment.” “He told me to edit this (down to) four hours and show him some of it. If he liked it, he’d come back for more.”
That was when Morris knew he had the makings of a movie. He called up Barker and Tom Bernard, who had signed a deal for his earlier movie “Fast, Cheap and Out of Control” in the men’s room at Sundance’s Egyptian Theater. They agreed to come aboard, without a script and only the vaguest of concepts.
“I never know what anything is going to be when I start out,” Morris says. “If you know exactly what questions you are going to ask, and what answers you expect, why bother asking them in the first place?
“Tom and Michael have taken a lot of risks with my movies,” he adds. “I see them in my future. I have a new project in mind for them, but I’m not going to tell you or them about it yet.”
SONY PICTURES CLASSICS AT 20
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The Stories Behind the Movies
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