Questions and Answers with Directors Geoff Callan
& Mike Shaw
(This interview took place in 2008)
Q: Can you tell me the genesis of this film? How did originate? With an idea that you went after or with an opportunity that you ran with?
GEOFF CALLAN: On February 8th, 2004, my wife, Hilary Newsom, and I were having brunch with a few members of our family, including San Francisco’s newly elected mayor, Gavin Newsom. I asked him what it was like being mayor. He said that it was a lot of work. I then asked him if there was anything exciting coming up, and he said. “Yeah, I’m about to ruin my political career.” I asked him what he meant, but he wouldn’t say. He just said that “it was the right thing to do.” On the evening of February 11th, Gavin called me at home and asked Mike Shaw (my co-director) and I to film the first same-sex wedding in the USA between Del Martin and Phyliss Lyon.
At first we didn’t know what to expect. The press was completely unaware, and there were only a few key members of the mayors’ staff on hand, as well as a few high powered members of the LGBT community. We had no idea that as they exchanged their vows, that this moment would ignite the most controversial civil rights topic in recent history.
MIKE SHAW: As filmmakers, we just kept the cameras rolling. Over the next 19 months, we continued on, in the streets, in the courtrooms, and found ourselves the only film crew in the actual Mayors Chambers during the most crucial of times during this monumental event. On the steps of City Hall, we witnessed, first hand, clashes between same sex couples feeling validated on the happiest day of their lives, and church groups declaring that who they are how they love, is a life of sin and shame.
GC: This was definitely an opportunity that we ran with. We had other films in pre-production, TV shows in development, but this was one of those moments in life that we felt compelled to capture. We put our other projects on the backburner and we didn’t stop filming for the next 18 months. Over the course of filming, we became great friends with many of the couples who were wed, as well as those who were denied. We actually stopped filming and completed the updated film in August of 2007!
Q: I see you’ve won the Audience Awards for Best Documentary at a number of Film Festivals, did you get much feedback about what made it such a crowd-pleaser?
MS: The real stories. Most people who followed this issue just watched the news. They didn’t see what was going on behind-the-scenes – in the chambers, in the courts. This film puts a face on discrimination.
GC: Exactly. Not only does it show how amazing Gavin Newsom is as a leader, someone who does not stand for discrimination, but also it shows him as a real person. He is passionate, determined, focused, and someone who believes that all people should be treated equally. After you see this film, and read about how well the City of San Francisco is doing under his leadership, you can just imagine that his work ethic and love for the City exceeds expectations and that he cares about all the issues, not just same-sex marriage.
MS: As for the families, it puts a face on them as well. People relate to the film because they may know someone who is gay or in a same-sex relationship, but they do not understand their struggle for equality. When people see this film, they “get it.” Whether it is their brother, sister, mom, dad, aunt, uncle, or best friend who is gay, viewers understand that there is discrimination. And this fires people up.
GC: This film will provide useful facts and information for those people who are on the “Fence”. Meaning: there are those who are for same-sex marriage and those who are against it, and then there are those who don’t understand the issue.
MS: Also, with our film, there are no “second-takes” – meaning that what you see in the film is real. Real Moments.
GC: We believe that we have created a film that will bring people together and provide a deeper understanding of civil liberties and current day discrimination.
Q: Where are you on the film festival circuit? Have you been showing the film long? Where did you premiere the film, what is your ultimate goal and how far are you from achieving that goal?
MS: Our World Premiere was at the San Francisco INT’L Film Festival in 2005. It was an amazing event. The Castro Theater seats 1400 people, and we sold it out! The line wrapped around the block and people were, unfortunately, turned away. But many were able to sneak in and stand in the aisle!
We are proud that Pursuit of Equality has gained recognition by being accepted into numerous film festivals across the world, as well as winning the Audience Award for Best Documentary at numerous festivals.
GC: Our goal with the film is to not only educate people, but to provide them with an insiders look at what really occurred during those extraordinary times. We also hope to show the film to as many people as possible in California and across the world, for that matter. The reason that we have waited to release the film, is because it was never the “right time” to best help people understand this issue.
Q: Do you see your film as a vehicle to promote the same sex marriage movement or do you see yourselves more as non-partisan journalists? What do you think about the Michael Moore style of promoting a film to promote a cause? He seems more interested in his causes than his art, although he’s obviously an excellent filmmaker.
GC: Non-Partisan filmmakers. In the film we wanted to show all sides. We tried our best to film those people and groups who were for this issue and those who were against the issue.
MS: After watching the film, one can say what they will, but we just captured the moments. Real stories and real people. Unlike other docs, like Michael Moore, there was no script and there were no second takes. We were just determined to capture as many stories and elements as possible.
GC: We had four cameras across the state at any one time, some people denied us interviews… some people welcomed us into their homes. What is also interesting is that Mike and I are both straight. I have a wife and two gorgeous little girls. Interestingly enough, I think that this helps the film. We come at it as two filmmakers with no agenda. Just a couple of guys who happened to be at the right place at the right time. That is really it….and with the determination and focus to stay on top of this issue.
MS: We wanted to make a film so that if anyone ever wanted to see what really happened in the great Shining City by the Bay during that time, they would get the truth.
GC: As for Michael Moore, he preached to the choir. This issue already has a choir, we want to speak to the undecided.
Q: What were the challenges in making the film?
GC: There were a lot of challenges for us during the filming, the first being that we didn’t know what was going to happen next. We had a very small crew: I directed, produced, and filmed; Mike directed, edited, and filmed; John Fraser filmed and associate Produced; Matt Kennedy was our Production Executive; and Paul Byrd did graphics; and Nick Booth was our other cameraman.
MS: For the first month, Feb. 11, 2004 to March 11th, we had at least four people on a camera filming the activity inside and outside of City Hall. This means we always had our fingers on the “record” button. Rain or shine. Morning or night. 24/7. This was exhausting.
Since we didn’t know what was going to happen next, we had to keep filming. It now became our obligation to capture and tell the “real story”.
GC: Of course, we continued to film for the next 24 months – keeping on top of the court dates and protests and rallies. The “net-net” is that we have created a film that tells the whole story. The other obstacle was piecing the 350 hours plus of footage that we had into a story.
The biggest challenge, though, was raising money to finance the film. We set the film up as a non-profit, which allows virtually anyone to make a tax-deductible donation to the film. The community was spectacular and we raised enough to finish the film and screen it all over the world.
The Filming took over 2 years, and about 500 hours of footage to review, and Mike and I dedicated our lives to making this film, and in doing so, have put aside all of our other directing jobs. This being said, we have gone into debt to make this film. That was a learning experience. From having to pay for the actual production and post-production, it has been very costly. But then again, the film has been the most rewarding project that we have ever been involved in, and with out a doubt, the most unselfish project that we have ever made.