Filmmaker Michael Moore weighed in on the differences between TV and film as a platform for documentaries and the importance of including women in the filmmaking process during his closing keynote Q&A Saturday at the Produced By NY confab.
Moore told the crowd at the Time Warner Center that he tries to keep his docu pics off TV as long as possible because he wants his audience to make the active choice to watch his movies as a collective experience in a darkened theater.
The glut of documentaries that followed the success of his Oscar-winning “Bowling For Columbine” and other feature docs a decade ago flooded the market with limited releases and Oscar-qualifying runs for docs originally designed for the small screen.
“Documentaries that are meant for TV should not be in theaters,” he said during the closing session of the daylong confab presented by the Producers Guild of America. “I don’t think it’s a good thing. I think there are documentaries that are made for TV and the way you should view them is on television.”
The flood of product left audiences with the impression that there wasn’t as much urgency to see documentaries in the theater because so many films were popping up on TV so quickly after brief box office runs.
“I try to keep my movies off of TV as long as possible,” Moore said. “Television is a passive device. A movie is a commitment. It’s active. … TV isn’t a commitment. I have a better chance on the political stuff I’m trying to do if people see the movie with other Americans collectively. I want people to be angry” in the hopes that maybe 10% of those leaving the theater will be inspired to take action, he said.
“I’m not going to get that if people are watching on an iPhone,” he said.
Moore stressed that he is not a TV snob — he’s worked in TV in the past for NBC and Bravo. He’s in the midst of binge-watching “Mr. Robot” (“I never thought I’d watch anything on USA”) and he admitted to watching “The Bachelorette” occasionally as a guilty pleasure. But clearly, Moore has strong feelings about screens big and little.
“If you’re watching ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ on an iPhone, I’m here to say that’s not ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ I don’t think that’s a movie,” he said. “I think a movie implies you’re seeing it in a theater in the dark with strangers.”
In the wide-ranging Q&A with Columbia University film professor Annette Insdorf, Moore made a point of stressing the urgency for industryites to bring more female voices to the table at the highest levels. He cited the paltry 2% showing of female directors on the list of the top 100 box office titles in recent years. On his latest movie, “Where to Invade Next,” Moore said that eight out of 11 producers were women.
“Things are actually better with women at the table. It’s always better to have diversity. It’s nice to have people in the room with volume control on their voice,” he said. The dearth of female directors and producers with real clout means that “we’re missing out on how many thousands of stories that don’t get made.”
In keeping with this populist-activist approach, Moore suggested that the industry insiders need to be vocal about diversity. “If the audience was made to understand that they’re the loser in this, this would change,” he said.
Moore’s latest movie, “Where to Invade Next,” involves him traveling the world to “invade” countries such as Italy and Germany. The experience taught him that the quality of life for everyone in many cases is better in countries where women have more authority and corporate boards have mandates to include women.
“We’re going to look ridiculous one day that we were happy that there were 20 women in the U.S. Senate,” he said.
Moore said that after he turned 60 (he’s now 61), he has felt the need to do more to motivate Americans to agitate for change on many fronts. He’s been inspired by how quickly the tide turned on the issue of same-sex marriage.
“That cliche that life is short isn’t a cliche,” he said. “I’m in the final third of my life. I don’t have time to wait. … I want us believing that we can make the impossible happen.”