Gord Wilson interviewed Kevin Miller at the Ethical Addictions Coffee House in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada on 17 October, 2008. Kevin declined a picture opportunity in the Bohemian setting because he hadn’t shaved. Instead he sent this one of him in the great outdoors, which echoes the witty motto of B.C.: “Super. Natural. British Columbia.”
G: Is your background in journalism?
K: I’ve been a professional writer for the last twelve years. I’m from Canada originally, from a place called Saskatchewan. I grew up on a farm. I started as a small time newspaper reporter here in Canada, then moved into book publishing, and recently became a freelance writer and editor. I’ve probably cowritten or written about forty books. About five years ago, I transferred into film, which was kind of the ultimate goal. My first film was a supernatural thriller, which came out in 2006, called After. At this point I’m a full-time screenwriter. That’s what I do.
G: Expelled, as I write, is the number one documentary of 2008, and was just released on DVD.
K: Actually, I think Bill Maher’s film, Religulous, is about to boot us. He had a bigger opening weekend than we did. I think he unseated us today, or he will tonight. You should see it. It’s not a bad film. It’s his diatribe against religion. I’m very encouraged to see today that we’re number 55 in DVDs on Amazon.com. I think definitely there’s some pent up demand for the film. I think we’re number twelve in terms of the most profitable documentaries of all time.
G: It seemed like it came out in theaters in Canada later than in the US.
K: It opened in the US April 16th, but didn’t start in Canada until June 27th. It stuck around in Canada three or four weeks. Definitely, the response wasn’t what we hoped for in Canada, but we opened the same weekend as Disney/ Pixar’s Wall-E. You’re into the big summer blockbuster season, so people aren’t really in the mood to see a documentary in July. Sometimes you can’t control all the factors.”
We talked about how the film may not have been given a chance, as it
K: I think the film did remarkably well for a documentary. We opened in the top ten on our opening weekend, which is a big deal. We ended up making close to eight million dollars, which makes us, I think, the thirteenth highest grossing documentary of all time. But the other thing about it is that we got hit with three lawsuits after the opening weekend: one by Yoko Ono, one by EMI Records, and one regarding the cel animation. We won all three of those lawsuits, but the damage to the film, to our ability to advertise and distribute the film, was tremendous.
G: Because it happened right then?
K: Because it happened right then. So the company ends up being distracted having to fight these lawsuits, which in the end turn out to be completely groundless.
G: It probably makes a lot more buzz about the film.
K: It did, but it also cast some negative clouds over the film and over us. Are we unethical filmmakers? Forget about innocent until proven guilty. Just accusing somebody of something in public is enough. People just assume they’re guilty, and so there was a big announcement about the accusation, and hardly any coverage of the fact that we were cleared of any wrongdoing. And by then, it’s too late.
G: What were those about?
K: The first two were over our using ten seconds from John Lennon’s song, “Imagine”, which was ruled legal under the Fair Use act. The third claimed that we plaigerized six seconds of animation from another company. That was an original creation that we financed and designed. The judge we showed it to agreed there was no plaigerism. We could have told him that at the beginning.
G: That animation’s great.
K: Yeah, it turned out nice. It’s a nice part of the film. That’s one of the things that people probably remark on the most. That, and the Richard Dawkins interview.
What was Ben Stein’s connection? What was it like working with him?
K: The initial vision came from one of the film’s producers, Walt Rulof. He got together with the two other producers of the film, and they were building a media company that was going to look at controversial topics, Premise Media, and they were thinking, who would be the ideal person to tackle this topic? Someone who can sit down with the intellectuals we’re going to interview, but then can help parlay the conversation down to street level. This really is a movie about the philosophy of science, but nobody’s going to go see a movie about that, so you have to somehow say, what does this mean to me, to the person on the street? The person that just seemed to fit everything was Ben Stein, because he has that popular Hollywood appeal, but he also is known as a commentator on vital issues.
G: He seemed to be good with it, too.
K: He was, and once they presented him with the project, he really came at it from a freedom of speech issue, and also a humanitarian issue, almost a right to life issue. He just saw social Darwinism as a threat to society, and wanted to come at it on that level. He was engaged there. I’m credited as co-writer with Ben Stein, but we didn’t actually sit down and write the film together. Ben wrote a speech that he delivers in the film, and also it’s his contribution in the interviews, the role that he plays in helping shape the overall piece by just how he navigates his way through the various encounters in the film.
G: Well, he does seem to be ad libbing, and not reading a script.
K: He definitely wasn’t reading a script. Sometimes we wished he was reading a script, but Ben always had his own script. He was a very gracious guy and a very funny guy, and smart as a whip. Very quick mind. You can’t put anything past Ben Stein.
G: There’s some dazzling on-location shooting. Did you shove around with Ben Stein doing all those interviews? You must need a whole set up to do that.
K: I think I was there for almost every one we did. We had a small crew. You always need lighting, cameramen, sound, and then there’s always a couple people around to handle logistics. We always traveled with eight to ten people at a given time.
There’s a humorous bit in the film of Ben Stein in downtown Seattle
trying to find the Discovery Institute. What was your connection with
K: The only connection with them was interviewing Steve Myer, David Berlinski, William Dembski, Bruce Chapman, Jonathan Wells, Michael Behe, a number of their Fellows. They’re really the locus point for what is known as Intelligent Design, and we spent a lot of time talking with these guys. My take on the Discovery guys is that virtually everyone I met I feel is motivated for the right reasons. I feel that they are excited by new possibilities in science, and they’re excited to explore them. that was my sense coming away from them: they’re just really sincere people. I think these guys have really been misrepresented in the press by their opposition.
G: Time magazine did a cover story in which the writers seemed determined to misrepresent them.
K: I established a healthy mistrust for the media during this process, just watching some of the reporting. It’s something we talk about in the film, that the media is tremendously agenda driven. I look at the media, whose job is to inform the public with various sides to a debate so the public is equipped to make informed decisions. I don’t feel too many people in the media these days are worried about that. They’re more concerned with making the public think like them. They want to make the decision for people. They don’t want to trust people to make up their own minds.
G: It was great to see Richard Dawkins in the film, since I’d read his book, The God Delusion, or a good bit of it. What was the rumor about him sneaking in to an advance showing of the film? I wish someone would have said, “Ah Dawkins, old man, come around to the pub after the show”.
K: Let me set the record straight. Number one, Dawkins didn’t sneak in. P.Z. Myers brought him there, and he went through proper procedures to attend the screening. Unfortunately, whoever was running the screening was asleep at the switch and didn’t realize who Paul Zachary Myers was, or Clinton Dawkins, as he was calling himself. So they didn’t sneak in. What ended up happening, for various reasons, was that Myers didn’t get in, but Dawkins did.
The untold story of that is that after the screening, Richard was very indignant and stood up and confronted one of our associate producers who was there, and it turned into a real back and forth. Dawkins eventually sat back down, because any sort of issue he’d bring up with our associate producer was batted down again. Unfortunately, we didn’t have cameras there to capture that moment because that would have been an interesting thing to put up on You Tube or something like that.
G: So it turned into a row?
K: He was debating the issues, debating the content of the film, that sort of thing. I bear no personal ill will against Richard Dawkins at all. We intervewed him at his house in Oxford, and also at the British Museum. I find him a really interesting and fascinating individual. I bear no grudge against him whatsoever. He probably doesn’t feel the same way toward me.
G: Have you read his book? He seems to be saying that to be a true scientist, you have to be an atheist.
K: To me, something like The God Delusion is a really good challenge to think through what I believe in and why do I believe it, and ask myself the big questions. Essentially, if Dawkins is right, the very tool he used to form his argument, which is reason, we have absolutely no reason to trust the outcome of. So his argument has destroyed the tool he used to create the argument. So it’s nonsensical.
G: I would say what his argument doesn’t explain is Richard Dawkins. It doesn’t explain why he’s so passionate, why he’s so smart, why he writes so well. And if he’s right, the game’s over.
K: Why does it matter to him? I came to that question over and over. Why does he want to become an evangelist for an idea that doesn’t matter? That’s why I find C.S. Lewis’ book, Miracles, so fascinating, because he wrote that in the 1940s or something, completely prescient about people like Richard Dawkins coming in the future. In the first five chapters, Lewis destroys any argument before it ever gets voiced. Someone else featured in the film whom I thought was a real decent individual is Will Provine. He doesn’t believe in free will. He doesn’t believe in anything, and yet he is so passionate about essentially nothing. Those are some of the things I find so intriguing.
G: What projects are you working on now?
K: I have a docudrama called Hakani. It’s about infanticide among Brazil’s indigenous tribes. We filmed it in Brazil earlier this year. It was just featured on Nightline. They had crews go down and cover the story we exposed down there. You can watch the live, streaming film on the Internet at Hakani.org/en/
G: Thanks very much, Kevin.
K: Thank you, Gord.
© copyright Gord Wilson 2008.
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