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3.5. Michael Moore's Roger & Me publicity diary




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This article is from the Michael Moore FAQ, by Edward Champion edchamp@slip.net with numerous contributions by others.

3.5. Michael Moore's Roger & Me publicity diary

The following article was printed in the July 15, 1990 edition
of "The New York Times_. It is an interesting glimpse into the
life Moore led while publicizing Roger & Me.

'ROGER' AND I, OFF TO HOLLYWOOD AND HOME TO FLINT
By Michael Moore

Flint, Mich.

There were omens. I don't believe in omens, but they were
there, nonetheless.

I had made a movie called "Roger and Me," and Hollywood wanted
it. I had never been in Hollywood. On the flight out, the guy
next to me was reading Tom Clancy's latest thriller when he
suddenly began reciting what I recognized as the Latin version of
the Act of Contrition. He then keeled over into the aisle.

When I arrived in L.A., I was taken to a hotel on the Sunset
Strip and given the bungalow where John Belushi had bought the
ranch. I asked for a new room and went off to a meeting with
studio executives. Somewhere between "first look" and "net
profit," the TV screen across the room went blank: the curtains
mysteriously moved and someone shouted that a quake had hit San
Francisco.

Later, it was announced that Universal would suspend the
Earthquake ride on its studio tour. It was the only thing that
made sense all day.

All of these events seemed to point to an obvious conclusion
-- I should have stayed in Flint, Mich., my hometown and subject of
my 1989 film, "Roger and Me." But four studios wanted to
distribute my movie. One studio head's first commitment to me was
"I'm surprised G.M. hasn't had you shot!" Another exec bragged
that his studio was putting out top quality films. "C'mon," I
said. "Ninety percent of the stuff you guys make is just junk."
He responded, "I'm deeply offended by that remark. It's more like
80 percent." Eventually, after we made sure it would play with
"Tango and Cash" in at least a hundred cities, we sold "Roger and
Me" to Warner Brothers.

On the Road

In November 1, I began a 110-city tour to convince Americans
that they should go to see a documentary that was a comedy about
30,000 people losing their jobs. Much of it is a blur to me now.
I remember only St. Louis (site of the world headquarters of Tums),
Fort Lauderdale (the Swimming Pool Hall of Fame) and Birmingham,
Ala. (No. 1 in the country for hip and knee replacements) Twenty
times a day I answered the same 30 questions. To keep myself from
sinking into some catatonic state of boredom, I began to make up
new answers to the questions and change them every day. I believe
that on only three occasions I was asked something different. "How
old were you when you lost your virginity?" (People magazine), "Do
you believe in God?" (The Chicago Tribune) and "Will you sign an
autograph for my poodle?" (The New Yorker)

It seemed like I spent hours at a time discussing with
journalists whether "Roger and Me" was a "real" documentary. Many
did not want to explore the political issues raised by the movie.
But there were some journalists who livened things up a bit. For
instance, there was the time a film critic broke into a hotel room
occupied by me and two friends who had worked on the film. When we
opened the door and caught her, we asked to see if she had put
anything in her bag. She became offended, ripped off her clothes
and screamed, "Frisk me! Frisk me!" We didn't, but we gave her
two thumbs up and called hotel security.

Then there was the day Phil Donahue came in to Flint to
broadcast two shows on the hometown's reaction to the movie. Ten
minutes before we go on the air, the Flint police inform me there
may be a sniper in the audience and, uh, would I like to wear a
bulletproof vest? (Was this just their way of saying "break a leg"
before going on, or does this also happen to the cross-dressers and
infidels who regularly appear with Phil?)

The high point of the film's release was learning that "Roger
and Me" had become an answer on "Wheel of Fortune." The low point
was reading that, in announcing the opening, the New York Times had
changed my name to "Roger Moore" and the country was thrown into a
dyslexic frenzy with two out of three people now shouting "Hey,
Roger!" to me on the street.

A Day in the Life

If I were to pick one day that typified my experience in
Hollywood with "Roger and Me," it would have to be Jan. 16 of this
year. Here's how my journal read that day:

6:50 A.M. -- I hear a noise at my hotel room door. Someone
has slipped a note under it. Oh, no. It's those guys from William
Morris again. There are 12 separate agents from Morris trying to
sign me up. I tell them repeatedly I don't want an agent, but
that's like saying no to the LaRouchites at O'Hare. It only
encourages them. Would I like to do lunch, brunch, nails, swim and
gym or how 'bout in a spin in my Miata? Their names all begin with
"B" -- Bret, Brad, Brent, Bika -- and they are all very nice-nice
to me. But I want to sleep and keep the 10 percent.

9 A.M. -- TV interview. It's one of those entertainment news
shows. The reporter has brought notes. She begins. "Michael,"
she says, and then pauses to look at her notes, "tell
me....about....yourself," I hate this attention to detail.

10 A.M. -- Magazine interview. The reporter wants to know if
the proceeds from my next film will go to the P.L.O. I ask him if
the rumors that he's dating Qadaffi's daughter are true. He
doesn't laugh. He's not the first to ask this weird question. I
think it all started back at the New York Film Festival, when an
audience member asked me what my next film would be, and the first
thing that came to mind was "a comedy western about the Middle East
called 'West Bank Story.'" Some people got a little crazy about
this...which has made me think maybe it's not such a bad idea.

Noon -- L.A. Film Critics Lunch, Beverly Hills. "Roger and
Me" is being presented with the award for best documentary. This
is the only Warner Brothers film to pick up any of the New York or
Los Angeles critics' awards this year, and the winners public
relations people I'm sitting with don't seem to mind. Spike Lee's
film "Do the Right Thing" has been chosen as the best film of 1989,
and I agree.

Spike, though he doesn't know it, has been a real inspiration
to me. The week after I saw "She's Gotta Have It" in October 1988
I decided to get started on "Roger and Me." I've read his books,
hired his lawyer and producer's rep, used the lab he used -- and
spent $10,000 less! Last week, Gene Siskel said on his show that
20 years from now, when they look back at the Reagan era, two films
will stand out as the statement of our times -- "Do the Right
Thing" and "Roger and Me." To be mentioned with Spike in that
way...well, it was undeserved, I thought, but what a great feeling.

After the lunch, Spike came up to me and suggested we get
together and talk. The Warners public relations rep overheard this
and went ballistic. "You can't do that," she interrupted. "You
have a full afternoon of interviews, and there is no time for
anything else." She had edged herself between Spike and me and was
motioning to the door. Spike looked over the top of his glasses at
me, and then at her and then back to me with a grin that said,
"Just who's in charge here, Mike?" "Well," he said, "give me a
call sometime when you're in New York" and left. I thought about
this for the rest of the afternoon.

5 P.M. -- I am now at the NBC studios in Burbank, where I'm to
be a guest on the "Tonight" show, with Jay Leno as the host. Jay
comes into my dressing room 10 minutes before the show and tells me
of the pressure G.M. has been putting on NBC regarding my
appearance. He shows me a "Truth Packet" that G.M. had sent over
for him to read. It includes a story from Film Comment and a
review by Pauline Kael. G.M. has been very busy making copies of
these and sending them to journalists around the country.

Film Comment is a publication of the Film Society of Lincoln
Center. Lincoln Center had received a $5 million gift from G.M.
just prior to its publishing of the piece trashing "Roger and Me."
Coincidence? Or just five big ones well spent?

(Later, I would learn that G.M. had sent a directive to their
advertising agencies to pull all G.M. ads from "The Donahue Show"
on which I appeared, and The New York Times reported G.M.
threatening to yank their commercials from any show that has me on
as a guest.)

Jay Leno expresses his displeasure with receiving such
literature and encourages me to let them have it on the show.

7:30 P.M. -- The "Tonight" show went well. I've escaped from
the public relations department and the driver and gone over to see
a friend from Flint. I'm eating a hamburger when I get a call that
The New York Times is looking for me. I call the reporter and he
tells me that Ralph Nader's office is speaking out against the
movie and both Nader and the United Auto Workers Union have sent
him some of the same materials opposing the film that G.M. sends
out.

All of a sudden, I feel like I'm in that "Star Trek" episode
and I'm on this planet where everything is the exact opposite of th
way it is on Earth. Well-off liberals seem to really be disturbed
by the movie, as if it tells some dirty little secret of the yuppie
era. Where was the U.A.W. leadership when thousands of jobs were
being eliminated? Where was Ralph Nader? We need the union and we
need Ralph Nader, so why don't they get on with their work and not
G.M.'s?

10:30 PM -- I've just finished "The Larry King Show" (he drank
two cans of Lipton's sugared ice tea while we talked) and stopped
by a newsstand to pick up tomorrow's Los Angeles Times. This
headline ran across the top of the Calendar section: "Will
Controversy Cost 'Roger' an Oscar?"

What was the "controversy?" Hold onto your seats: Their
investigations had revealed these four points: (a) The wealthy
homes in the movie were shot on a different street than stated; (b)
the rats in the film were actually imported from Detroit and thus
were not Flint born; (c) that the chronology was wrong, because the
tourism projects to save the town were built before the factory
closings (absolutely not true); and (d) the pizza parlor cash
register was stolen just before Reagan's lunch with the unemployed
not during it (an important distinction).

The L.A. Times quoted an unnamed member of the Academy
committee who said that "Roger and Me" didn't stand a chance of
even being nominated because they were easily "five better films"
that the committee has seen. This was the same quote given last
year by a committee member, Mitchell Block, when he explained why
"The Thin Blue Line" was not nominated. Mr. Block has a financial
interest in who gets nominated; he owns a documentary distribution
company and, in the last 10 years, nearly one quarter of all films
that have won the Academy Award for best documentary have been
Mitchell Block films.

The Academy votes tomorrow. The L.A. Times has held this
story to the last minute, so we have no chance to respond to it
before the vote. A reporter at the paper phones me the next day to
say that publishing this article seemed like an obvious attempt to
influence the Academy's vote and violated The Time's ethics. The
vote is taken, and "Roger and Me" is not nominated. The five films
that get the nod -- three are distributed by Mitchell Block -- are
all out of chronological order, but no articles appear in The L.A.
Times pointing this out.

Home Again

I'm back in Flint now. On Father's Day, a plane flies over
the city with a banner that reads, "NEED CASH FOR FATHER'S DAY?
CALL JULIE'S PAWN." Things haven't changed much here. In fact,
they've gotten worse. The day my video is released, a local video
store asked me to stop by and sign some autographs. Hundreds
showed up, most to tell me their own stories of being laid off, to
ask me for help, for money, for something.

It's all pretty depressing until a process server stops by to
issue me a summons. Deputy Fred, the sheriff in the film who
evicts families from their homes, has sued me because he believes
his "performance" in the film should be compensated. I explain to
the media, which have tagged along that I do not pay police for
evicting families. Instead, for the next week, anyone who is
thrown out of their house by this man, give me a call, and I'll pay
your deposit so you can get a new house immediately.

I am told that I am prohibited from appearing on certain radio
and television stations in Flint. I was also supposed to speak to
a group of Soviet teachers visiting Flint, but the school system
was afraid of a backlash from G.M. A local teacher quietly
approaches me at the video store and asks if I can slip him a
bootleg copy of "Roger and Me" so that he can secretly show it to
the Russians in a private hotel room in Flint. Maybe they can also
sneak me in to talk to them also. In Flint. In America. In 1996.

The irony was too much. It should have been in the movie.

 

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