Director James Fletcher and political consultant Anthony Scaramucci spoke to Solzy at the Movies about The Accidental President.
The Accidental President will open in theaters on October 16, 2020. A VOD release will follow on October 27, 2020.
The Accidental President is one of a number of Trump-related documentaries this fall. Was there some sort of directors meeting where everyone decided they were going to release their films so close together?
James Fletcher: Well, Danielle, let me tell you, I had fully intended to deliver this in June. COVID meant finishing this thing was an absolute nightmare because the editor was in New Jersey, the composer is in Los Angeles, the colorist was in Texas, the sound was mixed in London, and I’m in New York. Truthfully, we’d like to have been finished much earlier but I think probably—I know I can’t speak for the others—they must have been in a similar situation just up against all these logistical challenges but with the election in mind and wanting to get finished around this time, that’s what sped us up to get to this point now. But honestly, truthfully, we’re later than we’d like to have been.
Can you speak to the challenges of editing The Accidental President during a pandemic?
James Fletcher: Yeah, sure. My editor, the last time I saw him was in March, and although he’s only been probably 100 miles away from me staying in a house with a slow internet connection. At times we had to post drives on FedEx to each other. It took forever to upload in our offices that all these things would upload in minutes. It was taking us hours to upload them so when we wanted to make revisions, every major decision that if we changed our mind on anything would generally add a day or two. Plus, there’s just that thing of being in the same room chatting about things and sharing the same screen and ideas. And we just didn’t have that. It did delay us similarly with the composer who was on the other side of the country. I would talk to him fairly often but that’s not quite the same as sitting in his studio hearing ideas, which is the part I was really looking forward to and I never got to do that. So again, we had to make do with the circumstances as presented but it definitely added time. I’ll be honest—it has been very frustrating.
Anthony, you’re in both The Accidental President and Unfit. Knowing what you know now, what would you have told your younger self if you had the ability to go back in time?
Anthony Scaramucci: I know this sounds kind of odd but I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to miss this experience in my life. Being fired the way I was was quite humiliating. I was ripped up in the international press, the domestic press. The late night comedians had their tear at me, if you will. It was an incredibly enlightening experience. It was something that I think made me more psychologically minded and I think it made me more aware of what was going on around me. It was almost like an awakening, if you will. I would probably say, prepare myself better for the onslaught of what takes place in Washington but I would have still taken the job. I know that sounds odd because I’m not supporting the president now but I don’t want to go back in time and pretend that I wasn’t part of that campaign. I think that’s an unfair over-revision of what happened.
It’s fascinating to watch your interview in this film after watching Unfit because my understanding is that you appear here before you started speaking out against Trump.
Anthony Scaramucci: I’m pretty sure this was. I mean—
James Fletcher: The timeline is right on that but I think he’ll tell you himself. I don’t suspect our interview would have been much different whether I’d interviewed him two weeks ago or as he was then supporting President Trump. What I wanted to understand from Anthony is how Donald Trump won and what he gives us is very interesting insight into what the American people were fascinated by in 2016 and how Donald Trump was able to engage with that.
Anthony Scaramucci: Danielle, I think you’re making a very interesting point because I made a turn on the president. I like to think of it as an objective turn. Somebody the other day called me and never-Trumper. I laughed. I said, “How can I be a never-Trumper? I worked for the guy. You have to have me be a once-in-a-while Trumper or once-a-Trumper. You can’t call me a never-Trumper.” I think that’s what happens in our society now. We’re going like this—Boom! You’re in this box. I’m in that box. And then that’s it. We just crystallized a set concrete where I think it’s more nuanced than that. What I was really trying to capture in the interview in The Accidental President what I saw, what was appealing, and by the way, I’m a product of a blue-collar background. I was drawn to us going into those blue-collar markets, talking to those people. Rightly or wrongly, I can assess it now with hindsight but that’s the truth of the story.
James, can you talk about the initial approach to the film and whether or not it changed directions during the editing process?
James Fletcher: In a way, it did because we had planned in March of this year to go out and talk to voters and travel to parts of the country where Trump had unexpectedly beaten Democrats. We were going to go to Wisconsin. We were going to go to the rust belt. As a filmmaker said to me, you just have to start filming and see what happens. I never had a strict plan, per se. But I definitely had in mind to travel to more of the country. Of course, once the pandemic hit, we couldn’t do that. We had to improvise and adapt and take them in different directions. But in the end, we had, I think, 22 really solid interviews so we had plenty of material to go with. We plugged the gaps by finding archive footage and approaching it slightly differently. But yeah, it’s a really good question. We probably haven’t ended up where we thought we would when we started but that’s filmmaking. When you run out of money or other challenges arise—in this case, none of us expected Covid to appear. Planning a film is all well and good but the reality of what happens is always going to challenge you and you have to work around those obstacles.
What do you make of Trump denying the reality of science, downplaying the virus, and now encouraging herd immunity?
James Fletcher: Well, I think people have understood that topspin, exaggeration, and hyperbole is very much part of Trump’s delivery. That’s something he’s gotten away with a lot. Someone gave us a great example: This is like a bed of nails. If a candidate professing to be purer than pure says something that’s off color or incorrect, they’re very quickly pulled up on it. Trump has done it so many times, you can literally lie on that bed of nails and you won’t feel the pain. Whereas if you sit on one nail, it is an extremely painful experience. I think a lot of us are surprised this is the approach is taken. But I think those of us that are interested in what he says and more importantly, why he says it, I’m not massively surprised that as demagogues do, they present very simple answers to extremely complex problems.
Anthony Scaramucci: Well, I think for me, it’s among many different things that I would point to objectively and say that he’s not fit to serve as president. I would also point out that I made a decision back in August 2019 that there is obviously something wrong with him. I called him Trump-nobyl. He was melting down at the core and the Republicans would have to make a choice between cleaning it up or covering it up. Of course, they chose to cover it up. I was shocked by that. I thought they would have removed him. He’s done exactly what you would predict him to do. He has lack of managerial skills, the bombast, the exaggeration, the mendacity. And so unfortunately, tens of thousands of lives have been lost in the United States as a direct result of him being a science denier, and him doing the things that he’s doing to the American people. I’m just hoping that there are enough people now that will have switched sides and enough people who are looking at him the way I see him that will vote him out of office so that we can sort of hit a reset on the Republican Party, and also get back to something more normal. I think he’s mentally unwell. I think it’s having a big impact on all of us. He’s beaming into our living rooms every single night and it’s stressful for a lot of people.
I know. I’m LGBTQ and I don’t think I can stand another four years.
Anthony Scaramucci: Yeah, well, I’m with you on that. I am doing my best. I made a mistake supporting them. I’ve owned that mistake. All I can do now is try to get him voted out of office and convince many of my moderate Republican friends, which is why I’ve teamed up with The Lincoln Project and others to just move 3-5% of the Republicans, Danielle, away from him, which will allow us to move forward as a country.
What states do you see as having being in a spot to where Democrats can realistically flip from red to blue compared to four years ago?
Anthony Scaramucci: Well, I think what’s super surprising is Georgia. If you look at Georgia, Joe Biden’s plus seven in Georgia. They seem neck and neck—they’re inside the margin of error in Texas. I think it’d be hard for Joe Biden to win Florida. Frankly, that’s just my opinion knowing what I know of the state. I think Joe Biden—remember no Republican has won Pennsylvania since 1988 other than Donald Trump. I think it reverts back to Joe Biden. He’s up slightly in North Carolina. These are positive. The Real Clear Politics average in North Carolina has Joe Biden up four. Remember, Secretary Clinton at this time was up three. She lost the state. Did she lose the state? I’m pretty sure she lost it. (She lost 49%-46%.) But anyway, we’ll have to see. It’s going to be close. That,I know. If you’re asking me a gun to my head, do I believe the polls? I think the polls are gonna be generally right but here’s a lot of quiet Trump supporters out there that don’t like admitting their support for the president in those polls.
We saw in 2016 just how wrong the polls were.
James Fletcher: That’s right. The most important thing in any election anywhere on the planet is you fight all the way to Election Day. You never let hubris sink in. You never make the lazy decisions that campaigns do when they think it’s in the bag. This impacts voters because if it’s a rainy day or they’ve had a bad day, or they just don’t fancy waiting in line, they can very easily not go and vote. We all know what happens when that is the case.
What do you hope people take away from watching The Accidental President?
James Fletcher: I’d like anybody watching this film to stress test their own opinions. So whether you’re pro-Trump, whether you’re pro-Clinton, you’re an interested on-looker. By the way, this doesn’t just relate to American politics. The UK has a prime minister, whose main skill is seeking attention. The Ukraine, this last year voted in a president who was a celebrity on television. This is happening around the world. I’d like electorates to demand more of their politicians in a campaign than pure entertainment. As Anthony says in the film, 50 or 60 years ago, people had very smart, calm debates. The presidential debates discussed really complex geopolitical ideas. I think as voters, we have to start demanding that grade of discussion and really look at candidates’ ability to govern rather than their ability to entertain, which is kind of where it’s heading right now.