It's hard not to compare independent film-maker Ray Griggs to Michael Moore. The trailer for his recently released feature "I Want Your Money" sets political satire to a rock n' roll soundtrack, and tries to illicit a combination of laughter and disgust. One big difference between Griggs and Moore, howoever, is that Griggs is a hardline conservative and deficit hawk.
He describes his documentary as a "call to action for those who care about the future of the United States." It opened on Friday in 500 theaters nationwide - a premier that Griggs admits was overly ambitious as it barely averaged $500 per screen over the weekend ($10 a ticket and four showings a day, you do the math). But Griggs says he is hopeful that the film will quickly become a word-of-mouth phenomenon and attract the attention of a younger generation. HeadCount caught up with this rare "Hollywood Conservative" for an exclusive interview.
HeadCount: So what made you want to do this film?
Ray Griggs: Well basically, it was because of the current administration and the national debt. It's simply unsustainable. I'm worried about the future of my kids, and the ability and freedoms that they are going to have with high taxes, and red tape and regulations, to help pay down on this debt.
Now, Hollywood is famously liberal. What did you experience with trying to get this film funded and distributed?
That was quite the challenge, because the studios obviously wouldn't pick it up, and being of the liberal left the production crews were kind of skittish and hard to come on board, and the ones that did want to come on board - the ones that even would come on board - at least didn't want to have name credits attached to it. So you end up having to get a crew that was like-minded politically to be able to do it. And then the other issue is funding. You know, you couldn't go to some of your normal funding sources out there who are also liberal minded, so you had to go to people who are like-minded and believe in you and aren't normally film industry people. So you know, these are mom and pop organizations that are taking a risk in the film industry that they don't normally do.
Now there's a lot of money out there for groups that are funding commercials. Were you able to tap into any of those types of sources or those types of organizations?
Honestly, I didn't approach that because you find that they are either on the left or the right, and the problem with that is I didn't want to skew my film to that, because I honestly hold the current Republicans liable too. As you see in the film, I hold George W. Bush accountable for the massive amount of spending he was doing. My film, you know, focuses on conservative Republicans, which the current Republicans need to get back to. They're not. They're just as bad today as the Democrats.
So who ended up being the key backers of the film?
Well, that I'm not disclosing.
Okay. Well let's talk about the trailer a little bit. It really jumps out as very rock and roll, very contemporary. Does that mirror the style of the film?
It is. Really, I'm a science fiction filmmaker. I'm not really a documentary filmmaker. But I stepped out of that area to make this film, and I said, if I'm going to make this film, I want it to be entertaining. So, there's thirty minutes of animation, to try and attract people, and great interviews and clips and stock footage and stuff... a bit of a different style than you normally see in documentaries.
What role did music play in the film and who provided the soundtrack?
I hired a guy named Don Harper, and we composed our own music, and we came up with our own theme song, and wrote the lyrics to it and stuff. It's called "I Want Your Money." And there's actually a music video of it on ITunes, and then we also have an IPad app that you can download for free that also has the music video on it.
What age group are you targeting the film toward?
Well honestly, it's twenty to upper thirties.
So that skews a little bit younger than the base of the Republican Party, or the Tea Party. So are you trying, as one of the goals, to make young people more aware of these issues and kind of activate that voting bloc?
Absolutely. I'm trying to reach a younger audience, and I'm also trying to activate and target stuff to the independents. The people kind of like me, who aren't really on the right, and they're definitely not on the left, they're just kind of in between. You know, people who believe in the conservative values that we were all founded upon. So those are the kind of people I'm trying to be tapped into.
Young voters tend to vote more Democratic. Why do you think that is?
Well, there's a mixture of things. A lot of schools are actually liberal, so I've found, in my experience, that schools try to stay away from capitalism and conservative ideas. So you know, you have a lot kids growing into that, thinking that this is just the way it is. The other thing is, the left tend(s) to make things hip and fun, which can also attract a young audience. You know, conservative projects on the right, they tend to be stiff or tend to stereotype the Republican as a banker - a man in a suit with gray hair. And they don't realize that this is not the real capitalist. The real capitalist is the guy down the street who owns a restaurant, or the doughnut shop with two employees. And, you know, we haven't had much creative juices on the right.
What segments of the film are you proudest of and you think will best serve the purpose of getting younger audiences more connected to these issues?
Well, obviously that would be the animation, and that's been going over really big. People are really responding to the animation - it's funny, it's different, it keeps you in tune. But honestly, Ronald Reagan is the other. A lot of people of the younger generation didn't realize how great Reagan was. So it's kind of like a reawakening. When you watch this guy, people are saying, "Wow, I didn't realize how great Ronald Reagan was until listening to some of these speeches." He really had a way of captivating the audience.
Now, Reagan's actually been very much criticized at the time and historically for talking big talk about deficit while running them up. I did some quick research. It went from nine hundred billion to about three trillion while he was in office. So why Reagan as this symbol of cutting the deficit when he actually was really a deficit President?
Well, there's a lot of factors. And the total is 1.6 trillion dollars in his whole eight years. If you look at it, it is 1.6 for his entire eight years he added. And it is correct, he added debt. But there are several factors you have to consider he was doing in there. For one, there was the deconstruction of the Soviet Union, there was the arms race with the Cold War. He created twenty-eight million jobs. He took a 70% tax rate down. There was interest rates. There were all these other assets that he brought down. When unemployment was in double digits he brought that down. So there was a lot that he had to add to it, but the comparison I use is if you take that same amount of money, which Obama and his current administration have clearly spent that and more, and he hasn't done half the amount of stuff Reagan did with the same amount of money.
Now let's talk about the reaction to the film. I just read that it did $279,000 in the opening weekend on five hundred screens. How do you feel about that?
Well honestly, I do feel that it should have done better, but there are a lot of factors. One, for an independent film, going against the studio films with twenty million dollars of P&A [promotion and advertising] money and more, I probably opened up too big. That's one of the factors. Another is the theaters, there's a lot of complications going on this week. We were getting e-mails that people didn't even know the film was opening this weekend. Maybe lack of advertising, P&A money. There were some theaters that weren't displaying the poster. There's a whole bunch of factors in there. But what you can't deny is the attention that we have gotten, for an independent film, you know - we're at 3.5 million hits on YouTube. We were the number three most talked about film on Saturday at BoxOffice.com. So, there is a lot of positive. And I have a bunch of Fox things that I'm doing today - they are actually finally starting to jump on board and say "Oh, wait, that was this weekend? Well let's talk about it." So you know, we're getting a lot of e-mails apologizing, or wanting to see the film, or wanting it to open up here. So I think it is going to be something that we're going to have to scale back down and slowly build it up, because it is a word of mouth type deal. I don't think the fight is over. There is a lot of demand and a lot of people want to see this film, it's just, it's very low low budget. Most people think I was crazy to actually go in that many theaters with the amount of budget that I had.
What was the production budget and what was the marketing budget for the film?
The marketing budget I'm not disclosing. The production budget, because it is self-financed, I can disclose that, and it is under a million dollars.
And what kind of legacy do you hope the film creates?
I hope that it just makes a difference in the November 2nd election. And that it gives younger people and independents the right tools necessary to have clear debates and make wise decisions on who they're going to elect into office. And then open up the table to, you know, what are some realistic ways to make government smaller and cutting the debt down and changing this country around, because the current government is not listening to us. Whether you vote right or left, if you are going to vote right, are we going to go back to the conservative values and beliefs that Reagan once stood upon? So these are the kinds of things I'm looking to instill and help generate and do.