Click here to learn more about Election Day and view clips of the movie.
Q: The film was shot in one day. How did you make this happen?
A: Shooting a film in fourteen different far-flung locations across the United States was an incredible challenge. We spent several weeks coordinating various crews around the country and had to be extremely organized about our prep for the film, since we only had the one day to shoot, and if it didn’t work on that one day, then we weren’t going to have a film. Maggie Bowman and Dallas Brennan Rexer, the producers, along with Christina King, our Associate Producer, worked for weeks to match a film crew with each story and location. We made a big effort to hire cinematographers, sound people, and producers who had worked in the cinéma vérité style before so that the film would have a consistent look, despite the multiple locations and multiple shooters.
Q: How did you select these particular stories?
A: We were choosing from among dozens of recommendations for storylines and characters. We sent e-mail blasts to friends and colleagues all over the country and asked them for local characters and events that pertained to Election Day in some way—even if very peripherally. For example, one person referred us to an organic farming family in a beautiful section of rural Wisconsin who make and sell pizza to the surrounding community to take home and eat while they watch the election returns. And I thought, now that’s a great detail of American life that could add a lot visually to the film! We also specifically sought out some stories to address issues that we were particularly interested in, such as felon disenfranchisement. And we were looking for a lively variety of ideas—not just politically, but geographically, temperamentally, ethnically, dramatically, etc. We didn’t know what footage we were going to get so we had to cast a net far and wide and then just hope.
Q: What were some of the obstacles you encountered while filming?
A: One of the obstacles we faced was gaining permission to film in polling places. This was one of the most time consuming tasks we faced in preproduction. We sent dozens of faxes to various local election commissions in order to gain entry into the polls with cameras. We were frequently turned down. In the end, we were able to film in many polling places by being persistent until we got an official “yes,” as well as by obtaining press passes through Link TV, who we were sharing content with, or by just boldly entering once the crews actually arrived at the polls. From our perspective, we had every right to film there as long as we weren’t disrupting voters’ access to the polls, since the elections are a public process. So we felt strongly that we should be allowed in, even if we were told we weren’t, and that sense of entitlement helped us to gain entry into more polling places.
Q: Do you think poll watchers necessarily increase voter confidence as was suggested by a poll watcher in the film?
A: In principle, poll watchers should increase voter confidence, yes. In reality, our footage suggested that it depends on the integrity of the poll watcher. Non-partisan poll watchers like Shanta Martin, the international observer that we filmed in St. Louis, are the most likely to inspire confidence. The presence of partisan poll watchers is more problematic since their party interests may be stronger than their interest in fair elections. In those instances, I think partisan poll watchers may actually contribute to the cynicism of voters that the system is rigged—or that votes are being tampered with.
Q: What, if anything, surprised you about some of the American voters you came across in filming?
A: One of the things that struck us the most when we were reviewing the footage was the intensity of voter interest. It made me think differently about the popular conception that so-called “apathy” is the reason for low voter turnout. While surely there are some voters that actually are apathetic, what our footage revealed was the prevalence of people trying their damnedest to have their votes count—despite long lines, discouraging information, and bad experiences at the polls in the past. And the people who didn’t want to vote—a few of whom speak in the film—generally had a reasonable justification for being disgruntled with the process. So in my mind, apathy is a way of blaming the public instead of acknowledging a more insidious problem, which is that we lack a truly full enfranchisement of our citizens.