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Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers #25: Ryan White & Ben Cotner Go Behind-the-Scenes of a Five Year Struggle in 'The Case Against 8'

By Indiewire | Indiewire January 15, 2014 at 2:00PM

Ben Cotner and Ryan White both hail from the film industry with different backgrounds. Cotner has been an acquisitions executive for the last decade; White has been a documentary filmmaker for the same time. They met at Sundance five years ago, just after Proposition 8 had passed, and partnered to make this film just a few months later when the legal challenge to Prop 8 started quietly brewing.
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Ben and Ryan

Ben Cotner and Ryan White both hail from the film industry with different backgrounds. Cotner has been an acquisitions executive for the last decade; White has been a documentary filmmaker for the same time. They met at Sundance five years ago, just after Proposition 8 had passed, and partnered to make this film just a few months later when the legal challenge to Prop 8 started quietly brewing.

What it's about: "Shot over five years, the film is a behind-the-scenes look at the unlikely team that took the first federal marriage equality lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court."

What it's really about: "It’s a film about ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances when they have to fight for their civil rights."

Biggest challenge: "Our biggest challenge was to stay embedded in a five-year long lawsuit and maintain a high level of access to the main players. The case took so many unexpected twists and turns along the way, and there were literally hundreds of people involved in the lawsuit. Our job as filmmakers was to remain as unobtrusive as possible and establish a level of trust with the characters we were filming. The more time we spent with the main players and the more we filmed the lawsuit evolving, the more comfortable they became with having us in the room." 

Any films inspire you? "'The Staircase,' 'The War Room,' and 'American Dream.'"

Cameras used: "Sony F3, Sony EX1, and Sony V1U."

Did you crowdfund? "We did not, mainly because our film had to remain confidential for so long. Because the lawsuit was extremely sensitive, we had to make the film very quietly, so crowdfunding unfortunately wasn’t an option."

Hopes for Sundance audience take-away: "Utah’s same-sex marriage ban was just recently ruled unconstitutional, so Sundance should be a really interesting place to premiere the film. What happens in Utah right now is in limbo – the case is on appeal, and same-sex marriages could be stopped at any moment. So we hope the film gets people talking – about bipartisanship, equality, and where Utah and our country are headed in relation to marriage equality." 

What's next? "We’re concentrating right now on getting this film out there to as many people as possible, and hopefully sparking a dialogue about the issue of marriage equality in all parts of the country. The issue is at a tipping point, so it’s the perfect time to capitalize on the national attention. We have new projects in development that will take the front seat once The Case Against 8 has been released, but for now we live and breathe same-sex marriage."

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2014 festival. For profiles go HERE.

This article is related to: Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers, The Case Against 8






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