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To read more about Episode 183, visit the main episode page.
Michael Moore [00:01:25] This is Michael Moore, and this is Rumble. You know, I was thinking the other day in anticipation of today’s episode that we’ve all had that feeling, you know, walking out of a movie theater, feeling exhilarated, inspired, in wonderment about what we’ve just witnessed. I know that’s not all the time, but you know those times when that happens. For me, it’s like when I walk out of a movie like that, I can’t get in a car. I can’t get on a subway. I have to walk because what’s just happened to me has been almost an out-of-body experience. My mind is spinning with ideas and emotions. But for all the glitz and glamor of Hollywood and the incredible actors, the special effects, the costumes, the makeup, the common denominator in every great film that you or I have seen: great writing. It all begins with great writing. I know maybe you’ve heard that it’s a cliche by now, but it is the truth. And one of the great Hollywood screenwriters of our time is our guest today, Eric Roth.
Michael Moore [00:02:55] Eric Roth, these are just a few of his writing credits. “A star is born,” the most recent one with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. “Extremely loud and incredibly close.” One of really my favorite films of all time, and we’re going to talk a bit about that. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Good Shepherd.” “Munich.” “Ali,” “The Insider,” “The Horse Whisperer,” “The Postman” and the screenplay for which he won an Academy Award for in 1994, the little known but well-regarded “Forrest Gump.” Eric has also written screenplays for what I believe are two of the most highly anticipated films in our upcoming post-pandemic world. And these two films are “Dune, yes, “Dune.” Finally, we’ve been waiting for it.
Michael Moore [00:03:58] But the other movie that I have been waiting for (if you have been a listener of this podcast since the second episode, I believe when our guest was Robert De Niro, and he talked about this film that he hoped they would be doing. And on my way out of his office, he gave me a copy of the book, which is becoming the movie). It’s called “Killers of the Flower Moon.” It’s being directed by Martin Scorsese and will star Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. But today, there’s a movie out that Eric Roth has helped make, and not as a writer, not as a screenwriter, but as a producer. And you’ve heard me talk about this movie for the past number of weeks on Rumble. One of my favorite films of the year, “Mank.” “Mank” was directed by David Fincher and was written by Fincher’s late father, Jack Fincher.
[00:05:03] In this film, Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of a scathing social critic and somewhat alcoholic screenwriter named Herman J. Mankiewicz, as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane for Orson Welles. The film stars Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried. It also features the wonderful music of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. “Mank,” my Friends is truly one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It’s available now. You can see it on Netflix. It has, in fact, 10 Academy Award nominations for this year’s Oscars, including obviously Best Picture, Best Actor (that’s Gary), Best Supporting Actress (Amanda), Costume, Makeup, Score. Every one of them deserves a nomination, and I am honored to have its producer and one of our great screenwriters on today’s podcast. Please welcome, Eric Roth. Eric, how are you?
Eric Roth [00:06:06] I’m surviving. I’ve made it through. I’ve got my vaccinations. I got to hug my grandchildren. So, yeah, I mean…but their dad went out and all of a sudden there was fucking traffic. You know, it’s like you’d better be in sanctuary here. I don’t know. Right, right. But certainly it gets people back to work and all things.
Michael Moore [00:06:36] Right, right. But it would have been nice had we gotten some sort of magic wand waved over us a year ago, and you could have driven down the 405 at 90 miles an hour and not a car in sight.
Eric Roth [00:06:53] Yes. We have a place, a very rural place, in Montana and we drove and stopped and just got to the bathroom in Las Vegas and I literally walked down the middle of the strip without a car. It was a bad, dystopic movie.
Michael Moore [00:07:10] So let me just start off by asking you this because I’m going to try to get through all this. I have a number of questions I want to ask you about your previous films. So let’s start with Mank and the first question, maybe it’s just the obvious question, so you’re nominated for this year’s Oscars as a producer?
Eric Roth [00:07:29] Yeah.
Michael Moore [00:07:30] For Best Picture. And it is a film about a screenwriter. And yet you are a screenwriter, but you are not nominated for this. So you’ve been nominated, I think, for four best pictures that have been written by you. So how does it feel?
Eric Roth [00:07:54] Fincher and I are best friends for life, you know. We’re great collaborators. We fight like cats and dogs, and we did “Benjamin Button” together, and he’s always asked me to give my God’s honesty about his movies. And then at some point, he tells me to shut up. No, but he’s a man of incredible gifts. And he came to me and said, You know, my father wrote the screenplay a number of years ago, he passed on 16 or 17 years ago, and he said, I would love to see if we can keep it intact as much as possible. Let’s have his voice heard. And yet, how can we do this without messing around with the script and rewriting it to death and everything else?
Eric Roth [00:08:44] And I said, Let me read it, you know? And I read it and I said, I think this is like 85-90 percent there. I said, I think we can do due diligence. And he said, Well, if you will do this with me, kind of be my eyes and ears and also utilize whatever knowledge you have of screenwriting, which is a lot of Hollywood, which is too much, how about you produce a movie? I said, I don’t produce anything I do. I know how to produce television shows like, I did “House of Cards” and stuff, but that’s strictly me with the writers. And so this was a new world, and I took it seriously, you know, and I went every day and learned everything I could and became, I think, close with all the great craftspeople he has, he has a stock company of craftspeople, much less actors. And so I think I actually deserve the credit. You know, I think I worked and earned it (and I’ll shut up about it if you want), but it’s as close as close to, I think, a work of art that I’ve been involved with.
Michael Moore [00:09:49] Yes, it is definitely that. And I can see exactly why he would want you to be the producer of this because as one of our greatest living screenwriters to have your eyes and ears there as his, you know, I don’t want to say back up, but just as a collaborator.
Eric Roth [00:10:12] Well, we did. Well, so anyway, there was X amount of months before things were supposed to begin. We started zooming every morning or whatever. 5:30-6 in the morning. David’s a big taskmaster and we went line by line, you know. But we were always sort of obliged to keep as best everything he did. And there was very little I did. I mean, I think most was actually within kosher like even the Writers Guild, where you’re allowed to, as a producer…transposing things and editing, but not really doing anything of any consequence that way. And I think it’s also a way for David to relearn the script, find what the rhythms of it were and David’s incredibly logical. He wants one one thought to follow another, and I’m a little more fanciful, so that was a part of our arguments. He would always win. But it was his dad’s movie anyway. I came in for trying to protect and trying to enhance the screenplay where I could. And certainly David and I did it together.
Michael Moore [00:11:29] I had Aaron Sorkin on this podcast a few weeks ago, and he would not stop talking about the genius of David Fincher. And both of their films are up for Best Picture this year.
Eric Roth [00:11:41] I mean, David…and I want to vomit because we’re talking too long about him, but he is a really rare bird. I don’t even know if he finished high school, but he has, I don’t want to say a rain man quality about him, but there is a savant quality about him. Particularly, you know, in sometimes infuriating ways. But on the other hand, it’s breathtaking what he knows, not only about making films, which is something one could learn, or even at least have the artistry for. But he also has a great well of knowing human behavior, how to know pick out your worst insecurities. So he’s brazen and outrageous, and he’s also particularly human in so many ways. I’ve worked with a lot of directors and I would say David would be at the pinnacle. With him would be Marty, Kurosawa, Steven Spielberg, etc. So David has earned his right to feel that he’s a national treasure.
Michael Moore [00:12:56] I would certainly agree with that. And you have worked with these other national treasures, not just in this country, but as you said, from Kurosawa to Spielberg.
Eric Roth [00:13:16] Yeah, that’s the thing. You get choked up about it because, you know, you’re going to be in memoriam at the Oscars one day. Well, it’s like, Oh boy, right?
Michael Moore [00:13:32] No. But it’s true for you. Yes, you’ve worked with Scorsese and Spielberg and Kurosawa, and Michael Mann. But, you know, the public hears about this sort of screenwriter-director back and forth, we’ll call it, but it’s an interesting position to be in and those of us who make movies, we understand it. And of course, you know, most of my movies are documentaries. But you know, I’ve always felt like a writing credit, the WGA should create a category for the editor, because the editor of a documentary…we have no script, he or she’s not in the edit room.
Eric Roth [00:14:19] Absolutely right.
Michael Moore [00:14:20] They are having to help write this with me after we’ve shot it.
Eric Roth [00:14:27] Even more complicated is that, you know, they are very protective about credits, which they should be. But you will have two or three people who don’t know each other, writing and rewriting each other, and then there’s a fight for who gets credit, which is not pretty. And I’ve always advocated and some people agree with me, some don’t, that they should have at least an additional writing credit. So it reflects honestly that other people have done some work on it.
Michael Moore [00:14:55] Yeah, I’m going to try to get this through the Writers Guild to acknowledge editors of documentaries. But if I don’t, then I’m just going to find a way to do it anyway in the credits because I feel like I need to share that.
Eric Roth [00:15:08] Yeah, I get that. My daughter’s a documentarian. And she actually won an Oscar for a short documentary. And I know how [much] she relies on her editor.
Michael Moore [00:15:17] Yes, but what I said in the beginning, introducing you, the one thing to understand as you leave any great movie, as you leave the theater, is that there’s no way this could have happened, no matter how great the acting was, if the story didn’t ring true. If the story had a false narrative or any time you can see it, when you can see the film doing that, you’ve been taken out of watching the movie. You’re no longer in suspension of it.
Eric Roth [00:15:54] That’s right.
Michael Moore [00:15:54] And we don’t want you to notice the movie. We want you to be lost in the story.
Eric Roth [00:15:59] Francis Coppola said it great, he said: if you’re watching the chandelier, we’re in trouble. It’s true. I always thought about this movie, Clint Eastwood’s movie “Million Dollar Baby.” He was saving money and he literally staged, I think, four or five fight scenes in the very same location. I think at the Olympic Auditorium. Anyhow, and all he would do was put a new sign up on the wall that said, you know, Albuquerque Fight Club or something, you know what I’m saying? But if you’re invested in the story, you don’t care.
Michael Moore [00:16:51] And in fact, if you do see Albuquerque Flight Fight Club, that’s exactly where you believe you are.
Eric Roth [00:16:57] That’s exactly right.
Michael Moore [00:16:59] Because you are subconsciously trusting the film at that moment. That’s right. If it’s not a good film, I mean, one of my great examples is the film, “Primary Colors.” You remember this Mike Nichols one very well?
Eric Roth [00:17:13] Yes.
Michael Moore [00:17:14] So the film is based on a fictional version of Clinton running for the first time for president and with, you know, Hillary by his side.
Eric Roth [00:17:28] And written by Anonymous.
Michael Moore [00:17:36] Now we know! And then I’m looking at the trailer…starring John Travolta as Bill Clinton. And I remember saying, Oh, I don’t see how that’s going to work. I mean, I love John Travolta. But I’m supposed to believe that he’s Clinton! But I have to say, maybe this isn’t true for you or anybody else, ten minutes into that movie, because it was so well written and directed by Mike Nichols and acted by, I forgot that it was Travolta. I was not thinking that he was going to bust a move in the next five seconds. Right? I believed that it was Bill Clinton. And I remember thinking afterwards, man, the power of a good film that can transport you like that. And you literally never think that it’s Travolta again
Eric Roth [00:18:29] I think that, not to sound pretentious, but I think that the writer does that to the nth degree and that it’s all a large matter of probably two or three things. One, certainly passion and then, two, a belief that you’re telling some truth, even if you know it’s complete bullshit. And, third, I think that with God being in the details that you then have the details and research to back almost everything up. I don’t want to misquote him, but Jim Cameron said something to the effect that a lot of his science was kind of, you know, made up science, but he gave it such credence that you believed it. You know what I’m saying, right? So it worked. You know, whether it was like in “Terminator,” where the guy’s becoming whatever transparent. Anyway, there is an art to that, too. And the more skillful, but also I always believed, and I think you have to in movies that work is you’ve earned the emotion of the audience. You’ve earned the laughter, you’ve earned everything that becomes important about it. If you haven’t earned it, you’re going to be in trouble.
Michael Moore [00:19:46] So watching “Mank,” not knowing what to expect, trusting who the director was, looked like a good cast, you know, but there’s certain sacred cows that you don’t want anybody fucking with. And I would say “Citizen Kane” would be one of those. So I come into it at the beginning with that apprehension. I leave the end of the movie. And I didn’t realize this until two weeks later, I just happen to have Turner Classic Movies on. And there’s the host, the grandson of Herman Mankiewicz, Ben Mankiewicz.
Eric Roth [00:20:28] Yes.
Michael Moore [00:20:29] And they are now going to play “Citizen Kane.” And I start to watch the film, and I know this is going to sound like sacrilege, and if there’s a 12 step program for me, please let me know what it is. But it was fairly early on, and the film no longer rang true for me and the depiction of Marion Davies after seeing Amanda’s depiction of Marion Davies in “Mank.” And the story behind the story of telling the relationship that Mankiewicz had with William Randolph Hearst, upon whom Charles Foster Kane is based in “Citizen Kane” presented a whole new, I don’t even think perspective is a strong enough word. I was by watching “Mank”, again felt transported to the world of Hollywood in the late 30s and early 40s. But also instead of, I’d hate to say this and apologies to Orson Welles if he’s listening but “Mank” seemed more authentic. Am I wrong in saying that? I’m worried now that I can’t watch “Citizen Kane” again.
Eric Roth [00:22:18] Your biggest problem is you can’t take it back. I don’t know if I’d use inauthentic. I mean, I think there are a lot of important things in that movie, in particular…
Michael Moore [00:22:33] What movie are you talking about now?
Eric Roth [00:22:35] “Citizen Kane.” That was the first movie as a cinephile, or maybe it was a Russian movie, that showed somebody from different perspectives. They always got it from one. The only other one that was kind of famous was a thing called “The Bad And The Beautiful.” And it’s all about Kirk Douglas being a sort of rotten producer or something. But that, I mean, and that sort of was what kicked off some of the things we had to say. Or, you know what David’s father said about: you can’t do somebody’s whole life in two hours, you can only give an impression of it. And so then you then get into all these sort of mini impressions of people’s relationship to, you know, Citizen Kane or Charles Foster Kane or to William Randolph Hearst, as it was. And how did these people look at him? And then you have all these different points of view, which is what I think was the genius of the direction and the screenplay.
Eric Roth [00:23:43] And then I think on top of this, there’s this whole psychological notion, which seems a little bit simplistic now, but the idea of rosebud, of something being very important to traumas and everything else in life. I think it was underplayed, but I think there was a Freudian quality to this. So inauthentic, I mean, I don’t know, that’s a tough one. I mean, we had one argument, David and I, that, you know, there’s a whole thing in “Mank” where he’s apologizing to everybody in sight about how he didn’t mean to hurt Marion because he was friends with Marion Davies. And I said to David, who’s going to remember from the movie that he depicted this kind of not so sophisticated opera singer…and he said, well, they’ll have to go watch the movie. That’s how he felt about it. He didn’t really want to help the audience in that way.
Michael Moore [00:24:42] Well, except the Marion Davies, as depicted in “Mank,” is complex and layered.
Eric Roth [00:24:49] Yes, yes.
Michael Moore [00:24:50] Who is both smart and at times naive, but very intuitive and very caring toward Mankiewicz, toward him as a person who’s struggling.
Eric Roth [00:25:05] Yeah.
Michael Moore [00:25:05] Wow. And then actually TCM did like a couple of days of Marion Davies movies, and I and I watched a few of them and I’m like, Yeah, and I’d sing. I think I’m sure I’ve seen them before, but I was down through a whole new lens and realized that actually she was a good actress.
Eric Roth [00:25:22] Yes, pretty good. I mean, she was so unique. She was a comedian and then what happened was they were trying to put her in much more serious movies where I think she was like Marie Antoinette and things like that. Right?
Michael Moore [00:25:48] Have you watched “Citizen Kane” since “Mank…”
Eric Roth [00:25:50] Yeah, I did. I actually watched it about two weeks ago. But, you know, look, I think a part of it, just having seen certain things you’ve seen so many times, they just disappear. But I always believed that great movies are like going to the other side of the Moon, where lives are still being lived and the “Godfather” still lives on. You know what I’m saying? All these things have some reality to them as if they have a life of their own. And the great ones do, where you can still imagine somehow this was real.
Eric Roth [00:26:30] You know, I remember you mentioned “Extremely loud and incredibly close,” which I think was a complicated movie and worked for some people, not for others. But James Gandolfini was in it. And I remember walking in to meet him for the first time to go over what we had written, and I sort of stopped, because there was Tony Soprano, you know what I’m saying? And he said, Don’t do that to me.
Michael Moore [00:27:00] Right. And so you got to know him and you knew that he was actually very sweet.
Eric Roth [00:27:05] Yes, exactly.
Michael Moore [00:27:07] Very wonderful human being. Well, actually now that you brought it up, but you said for some people it worked and for some people it didn’t work well. I guess I was one of those people where it really worked.
Eric Roth [00:27:26] I love that. Oh, the audiences I watched it with really loved it. And I was kind of surprised that it didn’t get great reviews. We did get nominated for Best Picture, so that was nice. I think what some people didn’t like, and I’m not blaming this young boy, but the director made a decision on Stephen Daldry, who’s a wonderful man and director. Yeah, he saw a little thing in the book that said that the boy was on the Asperger’s spectrum and he went and got a kid who had Asperger’s. And some people, I think, just didn’t want to watch that. I think it was hard for them.
Michael Moore [00:28:11] Well, that’s too bad.
Eric Roth [00:28:13] Too bad for them.
Michael Moore [00:28:14] Yeah, exactly how I felt. Well, let me say this because I have a couple of questions I want to ask about the film, but just to set it up for people who haven’t seen it. And first of all, I would please ask all supporters and lovers of this podcast to please watch this film. I’m sure you missed it when it came out. I will post where it’s available here on my podcast page so that you can, whether you get it on Amazon or Netflix, or whatever these days. Basically, this film is the story of a nine year old boy, who loses his father in the 9/11 attacks. His dad worked in the World Trade Center. And there’s an answering machine message that’s left behind. And there’s also a key. There’s a key that his father has left behind. And there’s no saying where it is to or from or whatever, but it’s obviously a key to something in New York City. And so the boy goes on a mission, because somehow he believes there will be some reconnection with his father once he unlocks the lock that this key belongs to.
Eric Roth [00:29:25] A very good author, Jonathan Safran Foer, wrote it. And the book is very funny and very touching. And I think one of the problems is that there’s great humor in the book. But sometimes when things are too real, they lose some of that, and I’ll give you an example. “Catch 22” is the perfect example because when you read the book, even when a guy’s head was chopped off, like with a propeller, and you saw that in the movie, it’s quite funny.
Michael Moore [00:30:02] And not so funny. You’re right about that. Yes, I saw that as a teenager. I remember saying to myself, Wow, that was really cool.
Eric Roth [00:30:11] Yeah, exactly.
Michael Moore [00:30:16] So in his journey across the five boroughs to find God knows how many, like millions of locks throughout our city, he runs across this elderly man, who’s played by Max von Sydow (the great Swedish actor who I first saw as a teenager in an Ingmar Bergman film; he’s best remembered, I think, by the public as the priest that gets tossed out the window in “The Exorcist”…and also as the CIA assasin in “Three Days of the Condor,” with Robert Redford. Chilling. This is one of our greatest actors of all time. And sadly, he passed away in March. You know, he never won an Oscar. And I had on my little New Year’s list this January to, as an academy member, as a former member of the Board of Governors, to write my letter of nomination for him to have a special honorary Oscar.
Eric Roth [00:31:41] He was nominated for “Extremely Loud.”
Michael Moore [00:31:43] Oh yeah. He was nominated. He’s been nominated. But 90 years old, one of our great actors and international actors of all time. And sadly, he passes away and it doesn’t happen, and they don’t give these posthumously. So anyway, he plays the elderly man who essentially becomes a partner in crime with the young nine year old in trying to find the secret to why his dad left this key behind. OK, I want to ask you this. This movie stayed with me for months. When you were writing this, and again, you were adapting it from this book by Jonathan…so this came out in 2011. So that’s 10 years after 9/11. Still, I’m sure a lot of people felt, I don’t know if I can handle this. It’s too soon, whatever. And while this wasn’t billed as a 9/11 movie, because everything in the movie essentially happens after 9/11, with the exception of his phone call, what was this like for you? You’re a native New Yorker. The country is still in not only disarray, but we have falsely gone to war against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.
Eric Roth [00:33:03] I know the whole thing was a mess. I mean, I had in mind, is it too early for this movie? And maybe it was actually. Maybe people weren’t ready to really absorb some of the things that had to be talked about. I think the grief was so palpable. I mean, it was such a shock to the body. The whole body of America. That we were that vulnerable, I guess. But also this kind of surreal way to kill people by taking planes into the buildings. So the whole thing took on such a life. And it certainly did for me.
Eric Roth [00:33:54] I mean, I’ve had that twice, I think, in writing experience, and that was certainly one. And the other was when I was in Munich. I had such mixed emotions about one day the PLO blowing up a school bus with kids in it, right? And I would say, fuck them. And then, you know, you’d say, Well, you’re doing what exactly you say you shouldn’t do. It becomes a nightmare of slaughter for everybody. So I don’t know what the end result is in the movie, I don’t think we come up with an end result.
Michael Moore [00:34:35] Well, actually, this was my next question. Because this isn’t the only time you deal with those twin towers. And again, this scene in Munich, you’ve got the two actors that are there, the main actor, Eric Bana, who is the assassin, Israeli assassin and the other actor, and they’re having this conversation there on Roosevelt Island about Eric Bana feels a lot of guilt and a lot of, I don’t know what, but he knows that harm is going to come because of what he did in killing people that did not get their day in court. They did not get to defend themselves. And it wasn’t good enough for him. Yeah, it wasn’t good enough for him to say, well, the people in the Olympic Village didn’t get to defend themselves.
Michael Moore [00:35:26] Doesn’t matter. We hold ourselves to a higher standard than a potential murderer. So this is the beauty of this film. The complexity of it, that you’re supposed to feel during the film. Yeah, kill them, kill them. And then how long can you hold that up? Kill them, kill them. And then, now civilians are starting to get killed in these assassination attempts and things are happening. And Eric Bana, the lead character, is having qualms about, if he’s really part of a democracy, if he’s really part of a free country, is this what we do? Just assassinate people? It’s a powerful moment, and it’s really kind of, at the end of the film. Don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler. It’s just the big philosophical questions are now being asked about the way that the Israelis and the Americans do business and just have a listen to this…
Michael Moore [00:39:08] As those last lines are spoken, the two characters step aside and go off frame. And what was revealed, they were standing in front of that smack in the distance are the twin towers, when they’ve just asked the question, will we pay for this someday? Is this really the way to go to bring about peace and to stop all this violence? And then boom, they walk off and it’s a chilling moment. And then the film ends. And that’s that and you walk out of that theater going, Oh man. And, of course, it’s hindsight now, because we know the twin towers are gone. And you then ask the question, Yes, when does this end? When does this end? And what can I do as a citizen who has no power, what can I do about it? Oh, the way you wrote that scene, the way Spielberg filmed it, and they had to digitally put in the Twin Towers…?
Eric Roth [00:40:12] Yeah, I think that was Tony Kushner. I can take credit for what they talked about to some extent, but I think that was Steve and maybe Tony who came up with that. Because it wasn’t on my radar. I wish it was, you know.
Michael Moore [00:40:34] Tony Kushner, our greatest living playwright.
Eric Roth [00:40:36] Yeah, I love Tony so much personally that I would never try to steal from him. That was smart, and he didn’t really know what the end result of this was, because I think there was internal fighting about how he felt about a lot of this stuff.
Michael Moore [00:40:59] Good. That’s how I felt. We should all fight internally about how we’re trying to resolve the great issues of the day. And never be in cement. Oh yes, this has to happen. We have to do this. It’s like, Man, that hasn’t gotten us very far as humanity goes. And I just…
Eric Roth [00:41:29] I love that these are the two movies that you love.
Michael Moore [00:41:30] Well, yes. And of course, not just that. But you know, in “The Insider,” as a documentary filmmaker who has tried to focus on the evils of corporate America and the number of people that they have killed…and in the case of this movie, the tobacco industry. And you show in “The Insider” what happened. So Al Pacino plays the 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman. And the whistleblower is going to blow the whistle on Big Tobacco. And I remember watching this film and thinking, Oh, geez, you know, this is such a great thing to honor this whistleblower. But also, they were out to destroy him.
Eric Roth [00:42:18] You know, I didn’t even meet him until after I wrote it. I wasn’t allowed. He was under some kind of court order not to talk about it. But I always found this fascinating. His personal integrity was a little questionable. And he really was, I think, mostly angry about the fact they wouldn’t give him his pension. And then after that, he was very brave and did the right thing. And it’s pretty incredible, man, being a true whistleblower. But yeah, at first, I mean, his wife’s family owned tobacco farms, and he was very torn.
Michael Moore [00:43:14] Yes. And you know what, but this is the case with many whistleblowers, where they were a part of the system for a while. Because the bravery of the insider in this movie that you wrote is like…I want a film like that to encourage other whistleblowers and not to just show the damage and destruction that’s done to the whistleblower by those in power. But of course, we know the end of this story and we know that, you know, people say to me all the time now, Mike, how are we ever going to get the almost 50 percent of the country that voted for Trump to get vaccinated? How? How are we going to get them to wear a mask? They think it’s a political statement. And my answer to them always is, Yeah, you know what, give it some time because there is something about peer pressure and about the ones you love going in and doing something different than you. And then you start to see the sanity of it.
Eric Roth [00:44:17] That’s right. I mean, I think you’re very smart because I’ve always felt…you know I was brought up as a red. My parents spent more hours in the rain saying Ethel Rosenberg must get out of jail.
Michael Moore [00:44:34] Eric is essentially saying that his parents were communists,
Eric Roth [00:44:39] Commies. And my father, I mean, I’m not sure he thought Stalin was so bad. Like, are you kidding dad? Anyway, pretty dyed in wool, but they were American Communists. I think they had some good ideas.
Michael Moore [00:44:53] But they still shopped at Macy’s.
Eric Roth [00:44:58] So I’ve gotten to know through various work stuff and also just this place we have in Montana and knowing a lot of red state people and folk, they all are affected the same way everybody else is if you have a brother who’s gay or your sister. Or your children who have depression. And so they’re affected like anybody else. So that’s where I think it all comes home to roost. You know, sometimes they obviously don’t vote for their own interests…
Michael Moore [00:45:31] But eventually, if something happens where they realize, Oh, wait a minute, I think I’ve been here. I think that they’re never going to become a Democrat. But as I’ve said on this podcast before, when Billy Bob finds out that his wife, Susie Bob, is making a dollar less an hour in the cashier line than the man next to her. And Billy Bob realizes his wife’s paid a dollar less because she’s not a man, that they have $40 dollars less a week coming in. That’s when the flip happens. And again, they don’t become Democrats. They don’t become liberals. But they know what’s right and wrong. They know what’s fair and the injustice of that. They then will be behind any effort to make sure that women are paid the same as men in this country.
Michael Moore [00:46:35] And you can call that a commie pinko idea. But you know what? When Susie Bob’s making 40 dollars less a week when she should be making that and Billy Bob knows that, Billy Bob and Susie Bob are now on board, calling their members of Congress, saying women vote for that bill. Women should be paid the same as men. And I think in a film like “The “Insider” where this comes down to, we have to act as the collective, as the majority rule…et cetera. But sometimes it is the single individual who blows the whistle, who refuses to give up her seat at the front of the bus. You know, it’s sometimes that one person. Yeah, and massive historical change occurs. And you captured that so well. As a red diaper baby now, getting you to write a film like that, were your parents still alive when “The Insider” came out?
Eric Roth [00:47:39] My mom was gone and my father was alive.
Michael Moore [00:47:45] Yeah, I would think they would be so proud of you. You had already won your Oscar. You had already written “Forrest Gump.” You’d already done all.
Eric Roth [00:47:54] They weren’t wild about “Forrest Gump.”
Michael Moore [00:47:57] They weren’t wild about it. Why?
Eric Roth [00:48:02] I think liberals sometimes don’t have a sense of humor about, you know, themselves. For instance…
Michael Moore [00:48:11] I know exactly what you mean. But I like the way that you wrote those scenes and the protest scenes of Vietnam. And all this, because I am bored by a movie, where if I can see five minutes ahead of time where Eric Roth is going with this, because Eric Roth is a good liberal, so he’s going to treat this in good liberal fashion, ow I may agree with you, but I’m bored to death. And I didn’t come to the movies to get an education about being a liberal. I am there to be entertained, to think, to laugh my ass off, to get angry at the human condition, whatever it is. That’s why I’m at the movies and no I’m sorry that you took that kind of heat.
Eric Roth [00:49:00] It wasn’t heat. They were very generous people. But I know in their heart of hearts, you know, they were thrilled that I won the Oscar. They were. I actually had a funny faux pas that when I got the Oscar, I kind of lost my geography a little bit, and I pointed up to the balcony and everybody assumed they’re dead, you know? Everybody called to say, I know your parents died…
Michael Moore [00:49:28] Oh, that’s hilarious, because they always do that when you have your deceased parents and you win something. And you look up…
Eric Roth [00:49:34] Yeah, yeah.
Michael Moore [00:49:53] It’s not like you’re in the Kodak Theater where…
Eric Roth [00:49:58] I think I pointed, though.
Michael Moore [00:50:00] That’s the point.
Eric Roth [00:50:03] Oh yeah.
Michael Moore [00:50:05] Oh my god. Well, OK, I mean, I think that the various antagonists that you choose in these films, you approach it with a lot of nuance and a lot of complexity and a lot of layeredness, which makes it a great movie. Maybe you can explain this? Maybe you can explain this better than the way I just did, because if you’re teaching writing to students the importance of this and when it comes to politics and whenever they let me speak to students, I tell them that when it comes to making a documentary film, especially one like mine, the art is more important than the politics. By art, I mean, the cinema of it.
Michael Moore [00:51:00] The cinema of it, because you may get across your politics by making your point. There’s the pointy finger. But if you haven’t made a good movie, if you didn’t set out to make a great movie, then the politics are going to be lost. Some people are going to hate the politics. You’ve worked against yourself because you didn’t put the movie first. You put your political statement first. And I always encourage against that and tell people, if you make a great movie, the politics that you want to convey will be massive. Oh, it’ll be so great. But it’s because you focus on making a good movie first.
Eric Roth [00:51:40] I mean, that’s a perfect jump for me, for this blessing that I got to be able to write that which you played such a nice introduction to: “Killers of the Flower Moon.” I got a text saying, we start like in a day. Wow. And it’s like how did I get this? I mean, it’s like a story I knew nothing about. Just to give a brief synopsis. 1921, Osage Nation. Horrible land in Oklahoma City. Trail of Tears. And they’re probably the poorest people as a group in America. And they discover oil and they become one of the richest groups in the world and they behave as people do when they get money. They get McMansions and white servants and enjoy their lives immensely and all the good fruits that come with the money.
Eric Roth [00:52:35] And into that comes every creep, killer, con man. 184 of them are killed for their money, and it’s a very complicated story about one particular family. And into that comes a Texas ranger, who is in the first class of the FBI to try to see if he could find some justice. And there is a modicum of justice. But as I say in the script, which I think somebody said that: they found 12 white jurors to convict a white man of killing a Native American. You have a better chance of convicting him of kicking his dog.
Michael Moore [00:53:14] Mm hmm.
Eric Roth [00:53:14] And that was true to that point. And then we actually know what happens. But it’s quite a piece, and I think it’s a Western of a kind. Like it has all the feelings of a Western. Something for the ages. I really do. I mean, I think Marty is about to make a movie like this for the last time. I don’t think they’re going to make big dramas that way. I mean, they’ll make Marvel movies, and all these kinds of exciting things that people like to see. But this one, yeah, this kind of grand storytelling with the social content. Underneath that, which you brought up, it comes along with it. I mean, I’ll give you a movie I always love, but if you go watch it again, it’s really kind of clunky. “Giant.” But it has some wonderful things in it. James Dean And then of course, we’re playing the yellow rose of Texas, of Rock Hudson, in a fight with somebody to protect his Hispanic ranch. But anyway, those kinds of movies they did make. This cast is predominantly Native American. When you look at a street scene, you’ll see 80 percent Native Americans.
Michael Moore [00:54:44] So De Niro, as I said, gave me the book. This is over a year ago now. And I read it right away and then to hear that you’re writing the screenplay and Scorsese is directing it. Oh my God. You think those days are over?
Eric Roth [00:55:05] I don’t know how they’re going to get money to make huge movies like this. I think this will certainly attract people. I think Marty got a great deal somehow where they’re going to have it released by Paramount for X amount of time and I don’t how long. And then it’ll go on Apple streaming. They’re the ones who are paying for most or almost all of it. And it’ll be great on Apple streaming, I’m sure it’ll bring in subscribers.
Michael Moore [00:55:42] OK, we have to talk about this, because you just made my heart skip a beat. The movies post-pandemic…where are we going to be? You must have thought about this.
Eric Roth [00:55:55] I still feel partially responsible about it, but something else would have done it. But Fincher and I began House of Cards, and I wasn’t really smart enough. David kind of felt it. That the eyeballs were going to go to a certain place and streaming it wouldn’t have been my choice. Not that I don’t want many people to watch something, but that I love going to movies from the time I was eight years old. Going with my grandfather, who was Russian and spoke Yiddish. He took me and we sat in the Brooklyn Paramount with the stars on the ceiling, in the balcony, watching the first “War of the World.” I would go all the time. I would go two – three times a week. And movies are bigger than life and television is smaller. I’m not sure that’s true anymore. I think some of the great things we’ve seen have been with short story writing and all that.
Eric Roth [00:56:54] But we just lost the Cinerama Dome. I’ll tell you a story out of school and I’m not advocating anybody do this. And if you feel you should cut this out, you can cut it out. I remembered, this was one of my memorable movie experiences, going to see “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968 I think it was, and my wife and I both took acid and we sat through the first three showings of it. And then 50 years later, I went and sat in the same seat with the friend, who I won’t mention. We did acid again and sat through it a couple of times. But there’ll be no more Cinerama Domes. That’s gone. Yeah, so I don’t know if we’ll have that communal experience. I miss it so much.
Michael Moore [00:57:49] So what can people like you and I do to make sure that we’re able to keep making these movies? Maybe we have to think differently.
Eric Roth [00:57:57] Well, I think you’re in a great place. I think documentaries are a whole other world, where now maybe documentaries are actually the best movies. I mean, I’d recommend that people go see this movie “Time.” Have you seen this?
Michael Moore [00:58:13] Oh, it’s one of the best…
Eric Roth [00:58:19] Or “My octopus teacher.”
Michael Moore [00:58:21] Unbelievable.
Eric Roth [00:58:26] Because you mentioned “Ali,” I remember saying to Michael Mann, the director, We can’t make a better movie. So we will try, but we can’t top it. And I’m not sure we did. I mean, in other words, that movie had something that was, some kind of alchemy about that man that captured it. And I think we did something else that was pretty extraordinary and I was going to approach the, you
Michael Moore [01:02:34] Can I tell a tale out of school here? Can I just reveal something that I really haven’t spoken much about? During this year, where I’ve been pretty much contained here in my home, instead of climbing the walls, I decided to do a number of things. First of all, I just started this podcast. So I got to do this two or three times a week, which has been exhilarating to me. But I also decided that it was time to write fiction, to write some feature films. And so I started on two screenplays. Maybe, I don’t know, eight or nine months ago. And I have to tell you, I forget if it was Picasso or some great artist, who said that fiction is a lie, but that in telling the lie, you sometimes tell greater truths than if you were watching or reading nonfiction. And that has been the case with me and writing, which I’m in the process of doing.
Eric Roth [01:03:35] Send them to me and I’ll tear you apart. I’m kidding.
Michael Moore [01:03:40] No, no. I will take you up on that.
Eric Roth [01:03:45] We have a note back here.
Michael Moore [01:03:50] You don’t know this, but I was raised by nuns. I mean, I went to Catholic schools and at a very early age became well equipped to deal with all sorts of criticism. But do you know what I’m trying to describe?
Eric Roth [01:04:10] Essentially, I mean, you asked me about writing. I mean, that’s what motivates me every morning. I mean, I can sit and I can go take a journey to a place I’ve never been or seen. Meet people I’ve never met, you know?
Michael Moore [01:04:23] That’s what it feels like to me, and I feel released by it in some ways.
Eric Roth [01:04:28] I think it’s wonderful.
Michael Moore [01:04:32] When I’m ready, I will send these to you.
Eric Roth [01:04:35] To tell you a truth about me, which I’ve said before, I think I’m a frustrated novelist. I’ve never written a novel, you know, so what do I get? Where am I waiting for? What am I afraid of?
Michael Moore [01:04:48] What are you afraid of?
Eric Roth [01:04:49] I’m 76 and I’ve always enjoyed…
Michael Moore [01:04:52] That’s young. People have heart attacks at 56.
Eric Roth [01:05:05] You know what I’m saying.
Michael Moore [01:05:06] But seriously, I did read that you were making a joke where somebody was talking to you and saying what a wonderful wonderful writer you are. And you said, I’m not a writer. And in the end, the interviewer said, What do you mean by that? Well, you said I write screenplays. And the page is not filled up…
Eric Roth [01:05:32] I think it’s a bastardized form, and I think you can be great at it, be an artist at it even, but I’m not sure, as I said earlier, whether it’s a great art, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a great craft and it’s such a combination of things. And what value is it once you print it out if they don’t put it on the screen?
Michael Moore [01:05:53] Can you understand me? And I’m, you know, 10 years younger than you. But there is this thing in me that I want to write my “Forrest Gump.” I want to write, you know, “Extremely Loud.”
Eric Roth [01:06:10] I’m sure you will. Look at, I mean, look at the vision you had with “Bowling for Columbine.” I thought you captured something about that. Put aside all the Second Amendment stuff. You captured something about the quality and reality of that. That was never going to go away. And I don’t even know what the sociopathy of the whole thing is that these kids seemed almost kind of in a normal life.
Michael Moore [01:06:42] Part of that is because I’m just always thinking the story we’re being told is not the whole story.
Eric Roth [01:06:53] You will repeat things and you will start revealing who you are. And it’s great, but you may not even recognize it. So there was a critic named Elvis Mitchell, who used to write for the New York Times. Very smart, and he does a podcast like you for, I think, NPR on the movies. And he said to me, Your movies are about loneliness. I said, Really? And I thought about it and I think he’s right. I think that every one of my movies is about loneliness. And so I’m obviously coping with that in some way, which I wasn’t even aware of. So I have no problem with that, and I’ll just try to be more poetic about it or something. I mean, I guess it keeps moving me to try to sort of find a home or something.
Michael Moore [01:07:35] The Columbine killers when they started the shooting, they were skipping their fourth hour AP French philosophy. Right, that’s who they were. The man on the top floor of the Las Vegas hotel spraying machine gun bullets on the festival crowd below a few years ago was a multi-millionaire. This is what always fascinates me. This part of the story, and this is what I was explaining at the end of “Munich” that you and Spielberg, you had these complicated characters that told me many more truths and forced me to ask questions that I never would have asked. That’s the kind of, you know, writing I want to do. And so when I’ve started this fiction writing, I’ve actually, I feel like I’m released in a way because I can tell these truths by painting a picture. It’s my picture. But I’m not necessarily telling my truths, I’m telling these other truths that are there that sometimes we as the public don’t want to see.
Eric Roth [01:08:51] I had an opportunity through oddball circumstances to become very close with, I think, one of the great American writers, Denis Johnson, who wrote Angels in America. And of course, most people don’t know who he is, but he was one of our real poets. And he was so dogged about the fact that the characters broke him. And once he figured out who they were, then he was on their journey. And to be able to do that is really hard.
Eric Roth [01:09:23] And would somebody else I know Michael Cimino, the kind of interesting director who did “Deer Hunter” and among others, and he did a rewrite for him on a movie called “The Year of the Dragon” with Mickey Rourke. But I saw that he had prepared and he prepared for Mickey Rourke a wallet that had all the appropriate things in it for this particular character’s draft card. Pictures of him. His ex-wife. Whatever it was. Fortune cookie. And Mickey Rourke never looked at it, but he had it in his back pocket and knew this was his person. So I always say to writers, screenwriters: everybody’s got to have a distinctive voice of their own psychology and that they all be individuals, and that’s the way they’ll become real people. And so I hope you’re doing that with your scripts.
Michael Moore [01:10:26] I am. I’m probably doing too much of it. You know, one thing I try to do, and when I’ve taught various camera people, I’ll say: the most important thing that’s happening in a nonfiction film is not what’s directly in the lens, but in your peripheral vision. So try to keep your one eye in the lens, but try to keep the other eye open.
Eric Roth [01:10:48] The same thing holds true with fiction writing, even if it’s an adaptation. That the best writing is subtext. And it’s the hardest. And the writers can do it. So they write about what’s happening without writing about what’s happened. You know, the sort of more clunky, obvious writers are doing sort of like telling you what’s going on when you can see what’s going on. But somebody’s talking about, let’s say, loneliness and they’re talking about a chicken they had met.
Michael Moore [01:11:25] Well, let me say just before we end here, first of all, your ” A Star Is Born” is the latest one here that won various awards and an Oscar for that song. This is the best one. They’ve made this film since the 1930s. And you nailed it.
Eric Roth [01:11:43] And it was kind of a revelation in this sense, because I hadn’t had a movie made in two or three years. And I started to feel maybe age had caught up with me. Bradley offered me this: I wasn’t as keen about the first version they had put together. And I said, I really need to kind of go off and you and if Lady Gaga is willing, you know, let’s see what we can revise here. But it also brought me back to a longer story about the years I spent with many musicians, like Jim Morrison and Jerry Garcia and stuff. And I love music, and it sort of, I think, rekindled my passion for what was that all about? All that stuff. So it was a joy to be able to be part of something modern and new and to have this, you know, the background being music and even though you’re still stuck with the same story…
Michael Moore [01:12:39] Yeah, but I’m telling you, it was genius. It didn’t pull its punch and and when they sang that song at the Oscars, I know it’s a live show, but were they going to have sex on that piano?
Eric Roth [01:13:54] I was there, so I never saw anything.
Michael Moore [01:13:59] And then listen, just as we leave, give us a piece of hope post-pandemic. It’s called “Dune.” You’ve written the new “Dune.”
Eric Roth [01:14:08] I’m one of the writers. I mean, I wrote my big sort of hallucinogenic version. The director who I adore, I did some rewriting on his. In his other science fiction movie that’s where we became friends. And he said, Go take a crack at it and see what you want to do. And I had said, I’m going to just go for broke and I did.
Eric Roth [01:14:36] I started the movie with like and God created Earth…and we have this whole genesis, but then there’s weird animals and everything. And then he said to me, It’s magnificent, but now we have to pay for the rest of the movie. So I think I gave them a great, soulful and very far sort of thinking version, and I think you needed to cut it down, which he did. And they brought in a nice writer named John Spade, who did some work on it too, and made it sort of stand on its own two feet. And I think what I’ve seen, I think it’s pretty special. I think they had to get there for a while. They had some work to do. But they now have something that I don’t want to say “Lord of the Rings,” but maybe…
Michael Moore [01:15:21] So it’s done now?
Eric Roth [01:15:23] It’s done and it’s coming out in October. And it’s really so beautiful.
Michael Moore [01:15:35] I would think you’d have to see this at the movies.
Eric Roth [01:15:36] I think they can. And they can also catch it on HBO Max.
Michael Moore [01:15:41] Wow. So, Eric, thank you. Oscar winning screenwriter Eric Roth and nominated for the Oscars this April right now as producer of “Mank.” Great film. Go see it. Thank you for being part of this. And don’t be afraid to send me the right notes.
Eric Roth [01:16:02] Out of the blue, Frank Ocean, who I think is a pretty talented guy. He’s writing kind of a visual album and he said, Would you give me notes on this thing I’m writing? I said, I’ll be glad to, but I’m going to be honest with you. I’m not gonna hurt your feelings, but I’ll tell you what I think works for me anyway. And he was great. I mean, he took it like a grownup.
Michael Moore [01:16:37] Eric, thank you so much. Thank you. This is Michael Moore. And this, my friends, is Rumble. Thanks to our executive producer Basel Hamdan and our editor, Nick Kwas. We’ll see you next night. Bye bye.