GAGHAN SHOOTS FROM THE HIP,
HITS GEORGE W. BUSH BETWEEN THE EYES
February 2, 2001
from the Associate Press
With a Golden Globe under his belt and Oscar prospects for his
B>Traffic running hot, film and TV writer B>Stephen Gaghan
(Rules of Engagement, The Practice, NYPD Blue) has waded into
the awards season with verbal guns blazing. He talks -- boldly
-- with Inside about the drug war, Orrin Hatch, Roe v. Wade,
George W.'s missing year and what makes TV stupid.
Did you meet studio resistance to Traffic's content?
Gaghan: Traffic had a very unusual provenance, in that we
really didn't know which studio was going to pay for the movie
until a few weeks before we started shooting. At that point,
there was very little time to interfere with the content of
the script. Prior to that, the script had gone around to all
the studios, and most of them said the same thing. ''This
is interesting, nobody wants to see a movie about drugs, and
nobody wants to see a movie about the war on drugs. Nice try.
Noble effort. It will look good in your drawer.''
What sort of support did you receive from Washington?
If you are even a semi-legitimate filmmaker, almost anybody
will talk to you. My feeling is, you could call up Bill Clinton
two days out of office and just say ''Hey, I'm thinking about
making a movie about an ex-President,'' and he would say,
''Hey, come on over.''
to the National Office of Drug Control Policy, the DEA, the
Council of Mayors, the Council of Police Chiefs, I was in
think tanks, you name it. Everybody wanted to see something
about the subject. Unique to this movie is the reaction. Almost
everyone who has seen the movie has seen it as taking their
point of view, and I talked to people from widely disparate
points of view. Way out on the right and way out on the left,
and everywhere in between.
What was it like working with politicians in a film?
Charlton Heston is darn lucky that Orrin Hatch never became
an actor, because he would have completely replaced him. He
is pretty amazing off the cuff. I found that most of the people
had serious viewpoints on the subject of drug interdiction
and drug policy in this country and they wanted to be able
to say it. And we let them say it. ... We had stuff scripted,
(so) if Orrin Hatch wasn't as good as he was, we had stuff
we could go back to with actors, but it turned out to be unnecessary.
Do you think your film will have an impact on the drug war?
Absolutely not! No, I don't know. ... I had limited goals
for the movie in that respect. I hoped that people would see
(it) and they would imbibe some of the despair that I felt
all the people who are involved in the war on drugs are feeling.
I just hoped that anybody seeing the movie would come out
scratching their head, feeling like, ''Why? What? How? Huh?
I don't get it.''
like a reasonable goal, and maybe one that Traffic could achieve.
had a Presidential election where neither candidate talked
about the war on drugs. Both of them have used drugs in the
past, and yet they are content to lock up casual users, when
they, themselves, have been casual users. Do I think Traffic
is going to change that? George Bush is going to watch Traffic
and go, ''Oh, the year and a half that I was AWOL from the
Army Reserve, and nobody knows where I was. Maybe I should
suddenly dredge up some compassion for people just like me.''
think George Bush would watch Traffic and go, ''Fuck those
scumbags, let's lock 'em all up!'' Forgetting that he was
himself one of those scumbags. I think that's unfortunate,
but it's the way it is.
Do you think four years of a Bush administration will affect
It will be the best thing to happen to Hollywood in 50 years.
It is going to be the death of conservative leadership, but
I think we are going to go down four years into such a hole,
and I think that those four years are going to be the best
time for arts in America in a long, long time.
happened with the savings and loans. ''Let's deregulate them,
we'll just transfer all the money right out of the saving
and loans into the hands of a few really rich Republicans,
and then we'll bail it out with government money.'' How about
that? That's a plan!
now they are going to do the same thing with Social Security.
They are going to do the same thing with the natural resources
in the Interior, they are going to stack the Supreme Court,
they are going to overturn Roe v. Wade. You are going to lose
the right to have an abortion in this country, which is an
absolute war on poor people. Rich people have always been
able to get abortions and they always will. I think what is
going to happen is this continual war on the actual voting
people. ... I am thrilled. It pisses me off so much that a
whole movie has evolved in my head that I am working on.
What about TV? Does it do a good job of representing people's
Absolutely not! Mostly, they are asleep at the wheel. I think
there has been a steady erosion of viewership because the
whole system got so complacent.
them eat cake'' is a political theory at work in a lot of
different quadrants of our country; and we give them bread
and circuses, and they like it. Look at Survivor ... or How
to be a Millionaire, or whatever it is called. Let's put that
on 40 hours a week and we'll all just watch some insipid game
show with insipid people struggling to answer insipid questions.
It's just pathetic! Catering to the lowest common denominator
is a fucking disaster for everybody!
how the Nielsen system works. I've been called to be a Nielsen
Family twice and they ask me what I do for a living and I
say I write movies, and they go, ''I'm sorry, you're disqualified,
you can't do it.'' I ask why can't I do it, they say because
I work in the media industry. OK, take 10 million college-educated
people right out of the pool for Nielsen families. ... It's
pathetic. Why are we disqualified? They don't think that we
buy Tide, and eat Wheaties? I mean, we're good little consumers.
Some of us are superb consumers. Oh yeah, let's disqualify
smart people from being in the pool of television viewers.
the middle of the country, and I've sat in a lot of rooms
where people were discussing what that average viewer was
like. Mostly those are people that grew up in either New York
City or Los Angeles, went to Ivy League colleges, and they've
never even been to the center of the country except for their
one scenic drive after college to get out West or get back
East. They've spent exactly two days in the middle of the
country, and they spend the rest of their lives trying to
imagine what the rest of country wants. It's ridiculous.