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Talking With Michael Moore
Page 1Page 2Page 3    by Gary Johnson -- page 3 of 3

Michael Moore jams with Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen.
(©1998 Miramax. All rights reserved.)

Some of the people you talk to, some of the interviews are so spontaneous. Are they really as spontaneous as they appear?

I worry that people will not believe that when we showed up in Milwaukee that that was the day Johnson Controls announced they were going to Mexico. Or that we just went and found out where Rick Nielsen [of Cheap Trick] lived. Or that Hershey was taken over an hour before we arrived, and we didn't even know it. I must have a really good guardian angel helping me out. This is all as you see it happening. Phil Knight [the CEO of Nike] calls me. I had already sent the crew back to New York. There's an 800 number you can call--called Crew Connections, where you can get a camera crew in an hour anywhere in America. I had to call them, get a camera crew, we barrel up to Beaverton, 15 miles up out of Portland. I'm passing by a travel agency and a light bulb goes off [in my head]--"Hey! Ooh!"--and I run in and buy two round trip tickets to Indonesia. (Note: Michael Moore used the tickets to urge Phil Knight to accompany him on a trip to the Nike shoe factories in Indonesia. Mr. Knight turned down the invitation.) This all happens just as you saw it. Just on the fly!

Tell us about Dog Eat Dog Productions. Is it a letterhead on a piece of stationery, a tag on a door, a staff? What is it exactly? Or is it like "Acme" in a Chuck Jones' Road Runner cartoon -- sort of a front for whatever you want to do?

[We have] a staff of four people. My wife and I are from Flint and so we did Roger & Me. And then a number of people who worked on Roger & Me came to New York with us and we did "TV Nation." They've all now gone on to get better jobs, for the most part--although I still call them up, like I did with The Big One. I was already out on the road in the middle of this book tour and I called up some friends who worked on "TV Nation" and said, "Can you drop what you're doing in the next 24 hours and go with me on the road for 3 weeks?" It's a small group of us, a core group of about five of us from Flint. And then a slightly larger group of about maybe 10 people that we've met over the years.

You're suggesting that outside the core group there is a bit of a network out there?

There is. I believe that there are people like this in every city. Look, you gotta look at this as being very strange that I'm even sitting here talking now. This is not what was in the cards for me. I mean, I might sound like I know what I'm talking about, but I . . . . Look--I have a high school education. I'm supposed to be building Buicks. And through some fluke, because I got pissed off and made Roger & Me, you know, I now get to make this other stuff and now you can sit here and hold court while I eat pizza. It's all kind of strange if you kinda sit back from it. What gives me the right to sit here and talk to you?

About the lack of Oscar nominations for Roger & Me--

It's a honor. They put us in with Shoah, Hoop Dreams, Thin Blue Line, Brother's Keeper, all good documentaries. So it's an honor. And it's interesting that this year's Oscar nominations in terms of Best Picture, 4 of the 5 have one basic theme throughout them and that is working class versus the upper class.

What tricks did your cameraman learn while making Roger & Me and The Big One?

Never turn the camera off. He only turned it off that one time when he saw the handcuffs come out.

What sources of information do you recommend for keeping track of the "tax-cheating, job-exporting, environment-destroying corporations"?

Read any of Ralph Nader's publications, all the stuff that comes out of Ralph Nader's office, Multi-National Monitor, Corporate Crime Reporter, The Nation is a good source, and I tell you, the Internet is a great source of information.

When will we see more "TV Nation"?

End of this year, beginning of next year you'll see more "TV Nation."

What was your publisher's reaction when they found out you were turning their PR tour into a movie (A) and (B) taking on Borders bookstores?

The first part of your question: they didn't care about the movie because I was the only bestseller that Crown had all last year in the non-fiction list. I made them a lot of money. The book cost $21. The book sold a quarter of a million copies. Add it up. So what are they going to say? But they were very upset at taking on Borders. When I refused to cross the picket line in Philadelphia, then three days later they took the microphone away from me at the World Trade Center in New York at Borders. They warned me not to say anything publicly about this, this would be disastrous. Borders is the second largest book chain in the country. One out of every two books in the country is bought at a Borders or a Barnes & Noble-owned bookstore. Because Borders has bought out Walden, Brentanos and Barnes and Nobles has bought B. Dalton and other book chains. So they essentially control--two companies!--essentially control half the books sold. Now publishers are sending the manuscripts before they publish the books to the bookstore executives, to get their input on how to alter chapters, titles, book covers, or even should they publish the books at all. In a democracy, I tell you, it's not healthy.

Did you try to sell your book to one of the small publishers?

No. Why would I do that? Why would I want to go to a small publisher that has a hard time getting the book in stores and won't be read by as many people? Why would I do that?

Because it does send a message. If we're talking about helping the smaller individual, how do you combat the big corporation?

I don't feel like that's sending a message. I feel like that's posing. It would be like I'm a liberal poser. "I'm gonna go to the groovy left-wing publishing house and publish my book." I want to see change in my lifetime. I'm out to reach as many millions of Americans with this message as possible and I will use whatever vehicle I can. I will use whatever institute of theirs I can to get that [message] out there. And I do not want this message marginalized. I don't want to just preach to the converted. So if I can get on NBC, all the better. The question you should ask, in having my movie distributed by a company owned by Disney or a book by Random House, have I pulled my punch? Have I softened my message? Have I somehow pulled back because now I am part of the loop? If I have done that then you should kick my ass. But if you feel like I've gone even further than Roger & Me, that in the progression from Roger & Me to "TV Nation" to Downsize This! to this film, that I'm even more angry now and more upset and more outraged at what I see and more in their face about it--then you should say that. We live in the real world. I don't go around seeing if people are wearing Nikes. I'm not into that. It's just like poser stuff. You know? I'm drinking a Coca Cola. You know what they've done?

Companies seem very angry when you try to meet with them. Have you ever got a violent reaction from them?

Yes. Well, not violence toward me. Fortunately, I'm like 6'2" 260. That works in my favor, I think, for my own protection. I'm always nervous going into those places. I don't really enjoy it. I'm always thinking "Can't somebody else do this?" Why doesn't the mainstream press go in and ask the question? Why is it a schlump in a ball cap asking this question: "Why are you laying people off at a time of record profit?" Simple question. It shouldn't have to be me. When you see me doing it, it represents a failure of our media--not doing the job they should do.

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