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Greg Whitely, the Documentary Filmmaker Who Made “Mitt” Judges Mitt’s Speech at the Trial of Donald Trump to be the Authentic Mitt

Summary:
I’ve been doing a lot of interviews lately about the Netflix documentary series “Cheer,” which I directed. I’m often asked how we, as a film crew, are able to capture people authentically on camera. Truth is, our raw footage is riddled with inauthentic moments—people trying to say and do what they think the camera wants them to. We’ve learned simply to wait those moments out. After about 15 minutes, people drop affectation, and who they truly are starts to emerge. After years of doing this, I’ve become adept at discerning between authentic moments and affected ones. I first learned this about 13 years ago, when I began filming Mitt Romney as he prepared to run for

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I’ve been doing a lot of interviews lately about the Netflix documentary series “Cheer,” which I directed. I’m often asked how we, as a film crew, are able to capture people authentically on camera. Truth is, our raw footage is riddled with inauthentic moments—people trying to say and do what they think the camera wants them to. We’ve learned simply to wait those moments out. After about 15 minutes, people drop affectation, and who they truly are starts to emerge. After years of doing this, I’ve become adept at discerning between authentic moments and affected ones.

I first learned this about 13 years ago, when I began filming Mitt Romney as he prepared to run for president in 2008 and then again in 2012. I was a complete stranger to him at the start of the project. Understandably, his campaign staff was reluctant to be filmed. But somehow, Romney and his family decided to grant me unique access. I consequently spent six years observing him in almost every imaginable situation.

Romney was frequently criticized during his campaigns for being stiff, unrelatable, out of touch and willing to alter his views out of political convenience. For example, his conversion from a pro-abortion rights governor of Massachusetts to an anti-abortion Republican presidential candidate made him, in the eyes of many, someone who lacked true convictions. More recently, after Senator Romney voted this week to convict President Donald Trump on one article of impeachment, the president accused him of being a “Democrat secret asset” and seemed to imply that Romney was the type of person who uses “their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.”

But I spent years filming Romney and discerning between genuine moments and those that were too self-aware and conscious of the camera. And I feel certain that what we saw on the Senate floor this week was the real person: free of affectation, careful and studied, nervous but resolved, emotional, but slightly embarrassed of any role those emotions would play in inhibiting his ability to do his job.

Like with everyone else I’ve filmed, I certainly witnessed moments of inauthenticity while filming Romney: a nervous tic, a laugh at a joke that isn’t funny, being overly polite or formal. But I also noticed how frequently, and quickly, his facade melted around his family. He would get into an intense debate with his son over which airline terminal at JFK had the best food. I saw him get frustrated over someone ordering milk via room service rather than the much cheaper 7-Eleven across the street. I saw him get extremely animated in discussions about the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou.”

The most emotional I ever saw him get was during a family gathering at a golf course in Iowa. Many of his extended family (and Romney has a considerable extended family) had gathered to help canvass the state ahead of the 2008 Iowa caucuses. Over lunch, he stood to thank them for making the trip, when he suddenly stopped and struggled to maintain his composure. It took what seemed like a full minute to get out the phrase: “I promise … I won’t do anything … to … embarrass this family.”

I’ve seen Romney give more speeches than I can count. He can be eloquent and inspiring on stage, but that’s not what I saw in the Senate on Wednesday. The way he carefully turned the pages of his written remarks, sometimes repeating a word, presumably from the previous page—ensuring each word was being spoken accurately, even if that accuracy came at the expense of a more polished delivery—was an indication to me that he was concerned with something more important than simply coming across well. I know many people will take issue with how he voted or disagree with his reasoning—but accusations that he acted for any reasons other than those he gave simply don’t jibe with the honesty I witnessed.

I recently read a sequence from William Shakespeare’s Henry V. In Act 4, Scene 1, when a soldier asserts, “our obedience to the king wipes the crime of it out of us,” a disguised King Henry quickly responds: “Every subject’s duty is the king’s; but every subject’s soul is his own.” After spending years filming Romney, and hundreds of additional hours examining that footage, it’s my opinion that his speech this week was a man simply telling the truth and preserving the integrity of his own soul.

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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