Boing Boing has spotlighted "How's Your News" in years past, and I'm delighted to see the team reassembled to cover the 2012 presidential elections. The project features a team of reporters with various developmental disabilities roaming the halls at the Republican and Democratic national conventions, interviewing big TV news personalities and politicians: Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Diane Sawyer, Karl Rove, Sen. Rob Portman, Herman Cain, Anne Coulter, Jesse Jackson, Rep. Michelle Bachman, Olivia Wilde, Sen. Barbra Boxer, Stephen Baldwin, Piers Morgan, Jared Leto, Sen. Pat Leahy, Rep Barney Frank, and many more.
Download the hour-long documentary for $5. I watched it last night, and I strongly recommend. It's not "political," in the sense that it's not advocating a particular party or candidate; it's more about the culture of news and the surreality of what it's like to be at a convention. I've been inside that beast, and this is the most accurate capture of that weird world I've seen. Also, if you work in TV news? There are some scenes in this film that will prove to you, without any doubt, that politicians tend to spew prepared talking points as answers to questions, even when the questions are unintelligible non-word vocalizations.
Matt Stone and Trey Parker have been involved with Arthur Bradford and "How's Your News" for 15 years. Matt tells Boing Boing, "It is a great relationship and a totally cool thing." Arthur also directed "The Making of South Park: 6 Days to Air," and received an Emmy nomination for that documentary.
Boing Boing/XJ: Matt, I know you're a big news junkie, what do you get out of watching this that you don't out of, say, reading the New York Times or watching CNN's coverage of the political conventions?
Matt Stone: Even to a news junkie like me, the current incarnation of the political conventions are pretty absurd. The regular news dutifully tries to distill the psychodrama and bullshit into a horserace of political power. How's Your News always puts a smile on my face because they so effortlessly resist that narrative. I need more How's Your News in my life. I am a huge fan.
Boing Boing/XJ: Arthur, my question to you, why are you doing this project?
Arthur Bradford: I've been making these How's Your News films for over fifteen years now. It really just just started as a lark at this summer camp I was working at. We wanted to make videos which we could show after dinner at the camp and have people laugh. When Matt and Trey got in touch way back in 1996, before they became famous, I thought it was both great and weird that people I didn't know enjoyed these videos. Over time we became friends and if it weren't for their encouragement, and later, financial help, this whole project would not exist. I like making these films because I think they are pure – we have the same motivations we did back at the summer camp, just wanting to make people smile and surprise them. I know of no less pretentious people than the reporters from How's Your News? I have learned so much from watching them approach and converse with the various public figures they meet. I honestly believe you can learn quite a lot about a person by watching the way he or she interacts with a person with a disability. In that sense I have found that the conversations which take place before our cameras are often more revealing than the supposedly hard hitting interviews we see on major networks. What I particularly like about this latest film is the chance to watch the way political figures, and the many handlers surrounding them, work so hard to manipulate the way they are portrayed in the media. Often the most interesting part of the interview for us is not the actual interview at all. It's the slightly uncomfortable negotiation which takes place beforehand as we ask them if they will speak with us. I liked being able to include those discussions in this new film. In the past we didn't have the freedom, or good sense, to do that.
Arthur Bradford: Over the years we have endeavored to produce How's Your News in many different ways, as a film festival entry, a DVD, an HBO documentary, and even an MTV series. This latest version, a completely independent, pay-per-view online stream/download, is truly the best form of distribution yet. For those of you who feel frustrated by commercial news media, I really urge you to support this kind of thing. Not to get on a high horse, but hey, this is It's the future of independent media. It's a very good thing.
Boing Boing/XJ: What's it like working with the correspondents?
Arthur Bradford: I've known all of them for so long now, they are some of my oldest friendships. And I do mean friendships. I first met Jeremy when he was just a kid, seven or eight years old. He was a crazy little ball of energy and we all wondered what he was going to be like when he grew up. Would people still think he was cute and charming? He's grown up now and, well, you can decide. Sue calls me up at least once a week, usually more. She is relentless when she's got something on her mind. This latest "How's Your News?" project came about in part because of her prodding. She was leaving messages on my phone saying, "Is this How's Your News horse dead or what? Come on!" Bobby is like an uncle to me. He was an usher at my wedding and plays with my children. I honestly don't know of anyone who can so easily mix and mingle with such a wide array of people. You could take him to a Hell's Angles rally in the morning and he'd have everyone hugging him and then attend a formal White House luncheon an hour later and he'd be cozying up the the Secretary of State. He'd know just how to behave immediately. It's a skill few of us have.
I hold our reporters to a high standard. I often feel like I'm the coach and they are my team. I have to assess who is feeling good and who will interact in the most interesting way with a given interviewee. I sometimes get frustrated with the reporters if they ask banal questions or act shy. I let them know it when I think they can do better. But I never feed them questions. That doesn't come off well. The questions need to come from them. If they are not having a good time and showing genuine curiosity then it's not enjoyable to watch. I find directing How's Your News to be exhausting and draining and usually after each one is done I swear I'll never do it again. But then Sue and Jeremy starting calling me up and we end up hitting the road. And in the end I'm glad we do it.
(All images courtesy Arthur Bradford)