Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel’s doc “New World Order” premiered at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival. The film is a behind the scenes look at the underground anti-globalist movement. This growing movement targets the annual Bilderberg conference, and the 9/11 attacks as focal points in the alleged global conspiracy. Alex Jones, a celebrity radio host, and underground cult hero, is the main character of the film. The film chronicles Alex, and four other conspiracy theorists, on their ceaseless quests to expose the ‘massive global conspiracy’ that they believe threatens the future of humanity. indieWIRE talked to the filmmakers about “New World Order,” which opens today at the Cinema Village in New York City.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career.
Luke: I came to documentary filmmaking after studying writing in college. It was a natural extension of my interest in story-telling, but the media of film and television felt at the time – and still does – like a format that more people are willing to engage with. It’s kind of sad that we don’t read more – in many ways reading is a more engaging process than watching something on a screen – but moving images are just more attractive to us. Now the challenge is just to make films that encourage thought instead of films that simply take the burden of thinking and using our imagination away from us.
Andrew: I saw ‘M’ by Fritz Lang in a Film Theory class in 1998. That’s what really got me going. It was taught by Larry Engel. He was a great teacher. The idea of discussing psychological and philosophical ideas in a visual medium was really exciting to me. I thought I was going to go into philosophy…and suddenly I found this way to combine that with my love for visual mediums.
Also my mother used to read to me out loud. She read out loud to me until I was 13…I loved hearing a good yarn. Escaping into the fantasy of intellectual investigation or narrative story telling made me feel hopeful. That too is a fiction, but one that makes me feel good sometimes. As I get older it gets harder and harder to hold on to the ephemeral excitement. When a documentary, or a screenplay, or even just a brainstorming session is going well I get to experience that sense of hope, and expansiveness, even if it’s just for a moment.
However, my interest in what I do has stayed the same. The human animal is a fascinating beast. Watching people and trying to learn how and why they do things, and to engage in the somewhat futile attempt to explain them…it’s my reason for living I guess…to ask ‘why?’. I don’t know what else to do with myself. In some strange way it’s probably an attempt to understand myself and my own relationship to the world.
Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?
Luke: Documentary filmmaking is still at the heart of what I want to do, but I’m now writing scripts as well.
Andrew: I want to make fiction films now. But I will always keep making documentaries. I’m making another one now. I’ve just finished my third script. I always thought I was going be a fiction filmmaker. My thesis film in college was fictional. But I fell into documentaries by chance really…and fell in love with them. I want go back across the great divide, and I will.
Please talk about how the initial idea for “New World Order” came about…
Luke: The idea for “New Word Order” initially came out of a series of discussions Andrew and I had while we were editing “Darkon.” We wanted to make a film that dealt with how our world view comes about primarily through mediated experiences. For example, much of the world has a visceral reaction to watching the Twin Towers come down on 9/11. However, the majority of people experienced this entirely through the mediated experience of watching TV. There’s something interesting to me about how so much of what affects our lives happens from these great distances and only gets to us through secondary (or beyond) means. After that interest as a starting point, we were drawn to the activist groups and individuals who are in the film because they are all people who have cast off the normally accepted beliefs about the world and continue to look for answers where many people wouldn’t put the effort in. Regardless, of what people who watch the film think of the beliefs expressed by the people on screen, I think that it’s extremely important to question authority and the status quo and then to tell people when you think you’ve discovered injustice in the world. Many horrible things have happened in history when this iconoclastic spirit fails.
Andrew: Luke and I were interested in Globalization and how it was affecting people. New World Order theorists were interesting subject matter for this investigation. Really the film grew out of conversations we had while we were finishing “Darkon.” I think both of us are very interested in the modern interplay between mass media and the individual. The characters we followed in this film have a very visceral connection to mediated events. Actually I think we all do. The glut of information that is spayed at us on a daily basis is an important factor in the formation of our ideologies, and it’s not even actually happening in front of us. This is a new development for us. We wanted to make a film about the power of ideas and how those ideas can get formed in the mess that is our increasingly global, mediated world.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film, including your influences (if any), as well as your overall goals for the project?
Luke: We wanted to make “New World Order” in such a way that the audience felt like they had been there with the people on screen through out everything that happens in the film. What this means is that the film doesn’t necessarily portray them as sympathetic, but it also doesn’t pass judgment on them either. Those emotional responses are reserved for the audience to make as they watch the film. Our primary approach to do this was through verite documentary footage. We included interviews and archival footage of historical events throughout the film as well because it was important to us that the philosophies and world views of the people in the film come across solidly.
Andrew: Our goal was to describe as objectively as possible the world of conspiracy culture through a limited set of characters. We wanted to present a sort of gestalt of the people who inhabit this world and understand why they believe what they believe.
Another important goal was to totally avoid evaluating the ‘truth factor’ of what anyone was saying. We didn’t want the film to get into any of the specifics of the theories because we wanted to maintain a relentless focus on the individuals we were profiling.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution?
Andrew: The standard documentary problems list: access, trust, narrative, etc.
How did the financing and/or casting for the film come together?
Andrew: IFC TV financed the film from development through completion. It came together pretty smoothly with the help of Cactus 3 and an enthusiastic group of producers at IFC TV.
What are some of the creative influences that have had the biggest impact on you??
Luke: The biggest influences on this film come from the tradition of verite documentary (the Maysles, Weissman, etc. and more recently American Movie and Kabul Transit), and the vast sea of motion picture media that humanity has been rapidly adding to for the last century and that permeates our daily lives.
Andrew: Bergman. Herzog. Alice Neel. Early Maysles work. Errol Morris. Michel Auder. Star Wars (the old ones). Cervantes. Sarte. The Confederacy of Dunces…lots of post modern theorists…agreeing and disagreeing…lots more.
What is your next project?
Luke: I’ve begun work on a documentary about History, looking into the ways we seek out a balance between wanting to know the “truth” about the past and the need for mythological stories to inspire us.
Andrew: I am really excited about a screenplay I wrote with Mike Roberts called The Salvation of Janet about an evangelical high school principal in Denver.
What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed at all since you first started working?
Luke: “Independent film” is a phrase that has been used and mis-used so many times that it has worn out whatever meaning it had.
Andrew: Yes. I think there are two ways of understanding the term:
1. There is a straight-forward definition for ‘Independent Filmmaking’. The term references a group of films that are financed by money that comes from outside the studio system. In a literal sense that is what it means.
Here is what I think about definition #1:
Some of the most vital and interesting stuff out there today is being made by a very, very small group of people who make film with non-studio money. I’m glad that in a country where there is essentially no government funding for films or the arts that some sort of community or system has come about that supports this work.
2. The second way the term is often used (and the more insidious way) is to imply some sort of integrity, originality, or ‘outside the box’ creativity.
I don’t think it means anything anymore. The term has been co-opted by the mainstream like ‘Hot Topic’ co-opted punk style. I think many people who call themselves ‘independent filmmakers’ are looking be dependent. They badly mimic the time-tested language that the Hollywood system has created while at the same time claiming some sort of aesthetic high-ground. It breeds hypocrisy.
I don’t call myself an ‘independent filmmaker’. Either a concept works within a studio system or it doesn’t. If it does then you should try to get a studio budget so that you can use all of the tools they have to get what you want. If it doesn’t then you look elsewhere, or make it yourself
What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?
Luke: Start shooting.
Andrew: Pick up a camera and start shooting. You need to wade in in order to figure out how to move forward and do something concrete. Despite my vitriol about the term ‘indie’ in the above question I firmly believe that a lot dynamic and revolutionary work in this field flows from those who summon all of their personal energy and just go out and make something.
Will you please share with us an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of?
Andrew: I am proud of the fact that I have been able to continue making films. I’m 31 and I’ve made 4 feature documentaries. I’m proud of that.