Hot Docs Interview: Director Jack Bryan Discusses “Active Measures”, Russians, Donald Trump, the Aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election and the Main Idea of His Film

Source: IMDB

There was an obvious fear we could sense coming from Russia when they, and in fact nobody, knew who was to become the next President of the United States. Russians could hope though as long as it is not Hillary Clinton they might be on the safe side. The sanctions have already hit the Russian oligarchs and Putin’s inner circle, and nobody in Kremlin wanted to get more. This is why I like to think that the act of Active measures have really taken place to install Putin’s own person as the next president of the United States – Donald J. Trump. Otherwise, how else to explain people’s decision to vote for someone whose major goal is to undermine the democracy of his own country?

“Active Measures”, co-written and directed by Jack Bryan gives a scary look of what has happened and how Donald Trump ended up being Putin’s puppet. As this may or may not have happened at all, the detailed interviews, archival footages and even Donald Trump’s own words suggest otherwise. But who are we to assume when reality dictates to us its own version of events that might be told in many books later on?

However, the most striking thing is how accurate and detailed “Active Measures” was. It’s like a suspenseful thriller which gives you what it has, throws at you so many facts which we barely can handle. This is why it was extremely important to interview Jack Bryan, the director of this truly eye-opening piece of art, who I must say, was an absolute delight to talk with.

MOVIEMOVESME:  You’re quite young. Given your age, what made you get into such a complicated topic of politics and create this? What drew you into this right from the beginning?

Jack Bryan: That’s a good question. I think that the primary thing was slow, and it started off with me just sort of seeing what was happening in the 2016 election and being very concerned, and I had heard, just living in New York and having spent a lot of time in Palm Beach where he’s got a place, hearing rumors about Trump and the Russian mafia since 2008. And so, as I started seeing things that he was doing and the friend of mine started saying in June of 2016, is now my producer, she was like, this seems like a very, kind of Russian-y operation, sort of a Putin operation.

At first, I was kind of skeptical, I didn’t know, but throughout the election every single thing seemed to fall in line with that. It seemed undeniable to me. And I guess my interest started … I have a real interest in history of espionage. I love nonfiction books about the CIA and just the history of espionage. I think that I probably wouldn’t have noticed as much if it hadn’t been for that.

By April of last year, of 2017 when it was very clear what was happening, it just didn’t seem like the news was really covering it as much as it should be. I didn’t think a news article could really do it justice, it really needed to be explained in a longer format way. And so, that’s why I was like, somebody needs to make this documentary. And I thought, well nobody that is really established and is going to have to raise a lot of money, is going to do this for another two years. So, if I don’t do it, I don’t know if anybody is going to.

MOVIEMOVESME: How long did it take you to make it, because it’s pretty fast?

Jack Bryan: Yeah, it took us about a year and three weeks from the decision to do it to it being final cut, and that was about two weeks ago, three weeks ago. So, it’s certainly been finished. We knew we had to speed through it as well. I also knew that anybody that took on the subject would have to learn so much of what I had already learned just in following the election really, really closely and following this side, this story as well very closely. So, it seemed to me that we were in a position where we had a head start in terms of our ability to just start shooting interviews immediately, and in our knowledge of what had happened.

MOVIEMOVESME: I am from Azerbaijan, and for me it was fascinating to see this. For us who grew up under the Soviet regime where elections were constantly rigged, it was fascinating that you, as an American, got all the subtle details right.

Jack Bryan: Yeah, thank you.

MOVIEMOVESME: So, how did you get it chronologically right from the beginning to the end, and all this insane material you got for the film?

Jack Bryan: It was just really deep research, and there have been things that have happened that have counteracted that we found. And so, it was just a really deep dive in research, and also just being very … trusting the truth. Trusting that the closer that we got to the truth, and not to pushing a narrative that we wanted to push, that it would reveal a greater narrative than we could have found ourselves. And so, we really did weeks and weeks and weeks we just researched and researched, and we got to a certain edge of what we could research anymore. We said, “Okay, we’ve kind of done all we can do.”  We started talking to think tanks; we started talking to spies, started talking to politicians and journalists who covered this, and really just dedicated to uncovering the truth I think is what it was.

MOVIEMOVESME: So there’s two things I have noticed in this film – one, that you were really objective, you didn’t go back and forth, you knew what you were telling, you didn’t try to force. Two, there was emotions and anger.

Jack Bryan: Yeah, I think that as we started doing it, I think initially when we started the film we were planning on having a more cynical kind of, not cynical, but more satirical kind of like “hey, isn’t this kind of crazy”. As we got into it and really started learning more and more about it, it’s like, this isn’t funny. This is really scary, and this has been going on for a really long time, and the film took on a much more serious light at that point because it just felt disrespectful to be making light of any of this stuff.

There are funny moments in the film and there’s humor, but I think that humor comes out of a sense of exacerbation, like, “Oh my gosh, that too?” As opposed to “Isn’t this silly?” or “Isn’t it ridiculous that he’s doing this?”. It’s more, “Isn’t it terrifying, and what can you do but laugh?”.

I think that Eastern Europe and what was happening there in Georgia and also Azerbaijan. I mean the … a huge part initially was the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline as a bull work against Russian intervention in the area. That kind of came out in the film, but that area, and all those countries … the more we looked at it the more serious it became And I would say Ukraine as well became really a focal point of us where it was like, “These are people that are fighting for their freedom in a way that we aren’t.” We are to an extent and the consequences could be really bad for us. This could be the end of our democracy, but to see these people who are really fighting for just their ability to assemble peacefully was inspiration, but also felt like a real responsibility for us to represent this in a genuine way.

MOVIEMOVESME: As you’ve been observing and researching Russia’s modus operandi when it comes to politics, what is it that you have realized about politics or what is your film is going to bring out for people?

Jack Bryan: Well my hope is that people will understand what happened and that democracy is at threat worldwide. This is a struggle that, in some cases, made amazing progress, but also in the last ten years been real steps back in the fight for democracy, and to take that challenge really seriously. But before people can do that they have to understand what happened. They have to understand what’s going on, not just here, but all over the world. And if people understand that and they’re not outraged by it then that’s their business. I think most people, when they understand what is going on, will be affected by it. It was really affecting to make it, for us. That’s my hope is that people kind of get clued in.

Because I think people get very cynical about politics, and I get that, and I’ve been cynical about politics in my past. There’s a, sort of, equivalency that comes with cynicism of like, “Oh, that person is bad so everybody is equally bad.” And I think that we don’t have the luxury of thinking like that anymore. I think that we have to really look at what values we want in politicians, and what values we want to have as a country. That’s not just our struggle it’s everyone’s struggle. As opposed to making this an East versus West thing, looking at that from a distance cause listen the Russian people are also at the wrong end of this. The median income in Russia is the same as India and they have amazing natural resources. That shouldn’t be. It’s because Putin and his people have stolen from his country, and they’ve stolen from around the country. They should not be allowed to … you shouldn’t be able to become the richest man in the world by being president of a country.

MOVIEMOVESME: Nobody knows that such a thing exists, that Russians since the Soviet Union would work on undermining democracy. How did you learn about that concept? How did you learn about the term active measures?

Jack Bryan: Yeah, I mean again I’ve been researching this a lot before we even started because it really personally interests me. I think the time that was most striking to me, when I heard it, was that this former FBI agent, we actually interviewed for the film Clinton Watts, he was testifying before Congress. And they asked him about what was going on during the campaign. He’s like, “Well it was a Russian active measures campaign, and it was effective because the president was engaging in active measures throughout the campaign.” And I kind of perked up and thought, “Well that guy is seeing what I’m seeing.” And not only that but, that’s when I came up with this idea of doing this documentary cause I said, “you know, you could ask any senator, hey you know, Clinton Watts former FBI agent under congressional testimony said the President was engaging active measures. What do you think of that?” I knew I had that in. No one would be like, “get out of my office you’re a cook.” But then the day after Comey got fired was the day of our first interview, so we didn’t have to worry about that anymore. We could ask any question anyway.

MOVIEMOVESME: You have pretty impressive interviews going on in the film like Hilary Clinton and John McCain. Did they willingly agree to do the interviews, or did you need to tell them what the film is about?

Jack Bryan: There’s a lot of things. One, we’d done the McCain interview first before we did Hilary. We had a good interview with Hilary. But for each of them it was, “We want to know what this film is.” We were very upfront with this is mainly going to be, it’s a lot of Russia stuff, there’s going to be Trump stuff, there’s 2016. But a lot of it’s going to be Ukraine, lots will be Georgia. We did 30 minutes of interview with John McCain before we even mentioned Trump. So there’s a couple of things, there’s one is they want before they come in they want to know that you know the rough narrative. They want to know that you’re not just gonna go down some wild goose chase, or some crazy conspiracy, that you really actually have the facts on your side.

I think when they saw that and then as you start asking questions, and it’s like, “oh this person actually is really interested in this entire story arc, not just like taking hot shots at Trump.” They start opening up more, and so they give a little bit more than they probably would have at the beginning. So it was a combination of a lot of factors. One of the things, for example, we did was our first approach was to go after … to interview people who worked at think tanks because they were easier to get than the big politicians, but the big politicians respect them more than they respect anybody else’s opinion. And so McCain, for example, saw that we’d interviewed a guy who he really respected on Eurasian affairs, and had written policy for McCain as well. I think that was one of the moments where he was like, “Okay, well these guys are really serious. They know who to ask. They know who to talk to. They’re going to get the story right.”

MOVIEMOVESME: Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States said, “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” Since I don’t believe in coincidence, don’t you find it strange how all of a sudden North Korea became so friendly after Trump became President?

Jack Bryan: No, I think that was a really great question. I really do because we actually, we put an image of Putin and Kim Jong … well Il at the time shaking hands. And the reason we did that is because there are these international partnerships. And I had the same thing, the minute when Trump became president, and Kim Jong Un was like, “oh, we’re going to meet…” I was like this feels a little fishy. Feels a little fishy.


Jack Bryan: Yeah, too fishy, cause listen, Obama could have got a meeting with Kim Jong Un. He didn’t because of human rights issues. And human rights issues are no longer … America doesn’t seem to care about those. So I think that there’s that, but there’s also, I mean that’s a big one, but Assad as well. I mean, Europe thinks it has a Syrian refugee problem. They don’t they have a Putin problem because those Syrian refugees would not be leaving if Putin were not keeping Assad up in the same way that Kim Jong Un would not be able to be doing those missile tests if he didn’t have Russian technology.

MOVIEMOVESME: Do you feel or maybe hope that maybe this documentary will be the one that might take Donald Trump down?

Jack Bryan: I hope so. Yeah, I hope so. I hope that it is a documentary that opens people’s eyes to what’s going on. And if the response to that is that Donald Trump goes down I think that’s appropriate. I’d be very happy if that was the end result. Cause I think he should go down. I think though, it’s not gonna be enough. I mean there were institutional problems that led to this being able to be done, and if we don’t deal with those as well it’s gonna happen again, or it’s gonna happen from a different group. And so I think that, yes, that has to happen, but also we really have to take a very clear-eyed look at our institutions and how to protect against this. Some of the stuff we’re not going to be able to do anything about. We’re not going to be able to police what people say on Twitter. We’re just not going to be able to do that. Twitter can work on it and that’s great, but we also don’t want the government doing that problem. And so, I think that a large part of what we can do is to understand when we’re receiving messages, and what the purpose of, what the real purpose of a message we might be receiving is, and to recognize that. And that’s the thing that I think we can really be effective in addressing I hope.

MOVIEMOVESME: Another thing is, what really amazed me because all of a sudden there’s this Facebook stuff that came in with Cambridge Analytics that have obtain records on 50 million Facebook users.  Do you believe that 50 million people actually solve the brainwash so they could change their own mind?

Jack Bryan: Ask McDonald’s. Ask Coca-Cola. They spend … there’s a reason they spend money on advertising I don’t think it’s brainwashing. I don’t think it’s brainwashing, what it is, I think it’s advertising. And advertising works. It’s not so much as, “I’m going to change who you are as a person.” It’s, “I’m going to use who you are as a person, and just push your buttons. And I’m trying to identify which buttons I can push on you that are going to have this kind of effect.” And so they’re not changing the person. They’re trying to effect the person that’s already there the same way that McDonald’s will put, the reason that they have red and yellow is that red and yellow are the colors that make you hungry. It’s not that they’re trying to change who a person is. They’re trying to say, “Okay, this is what we have. How do we address that? How do we effect that person?” And millions and millions of dollars in advertising helps. Especially in an election where it was won by 70 thousand votes. If millions and millions of dollars in advertising can’t effect 70 thousand votes then people should stop advertising.

MOVIEMOVESME: So how do you think the voting system got rigged? Any ideas?

Jack Bryan: I think what’s more likely, if they did. I don’t know that they effected the vote count specifically. What I think is more likely that they did, because this is how they do it in Africa, and Paul Manafort had been working in Africa and votes and rigging them for a very long time. What they do is the voter roles, so when they hacked into the voter rolls all they would have to do is change one little thing in a name, and they show up, and the person can’t vote, or they send to the wrong thing. You don’t have to do that to everybody. You do that to one percent, or specific counties you can really change the vote. And so, I think that that’s a real concern. I think it’s also a concern that they might’ve been hacking the voting machines themselves. There is a lot of suggestion that that’s pretty easy to do actually. People push back on that. I understand that there’s reasons why that might be more difficult and whatnot. But I think that these issues are really concerning. And I think they definitely need to be looked in to because even if it was just to mess with America and be like, “See we can get in.” I don’t think that’s the case. I think that what’s more likely is that at the very least they were using that data to target people.

MOVIEMOVESME: The soundtrack on the film was just a mirror reflection of the what was going on in the United States. So the music was incredible. It was aligned, not with the film again, but with everything that was happening outside. So can you talk about how many versions of the score you perhaps had, and how you ended up choosing this?

Jack Bryan: Yeah, so originally we had an entire temp score, where I just pulled tracks that I liked. I used a lot of John Carpenter music. And I wanted the beginning of the film to have a sort of 80s, almost Miami Vice feel to it because that was sort of the crime side of it. Then I wanted the second, third to have sort of an industrial feel because that was sort of the espionage side of it. I mean, very loosely, but we kind of thought of these being sectional. And the third was sort of a little bit more classical and a little bit more horror-y because that was the election and the Americans, sort of the political side. And so we kind of broke it up. We wanted to have these themes. These musical themes running through. Let’s interpret them differently depending on where we were in the film. And so, I think that having that outlined being like, “this is how we want to see this,” is really helpful. And knowing that we wanted to repeat certain tracks, but in different forms throughout the film also to help guide the audience in terms of like, “Okay, remember we’re over here now. This is this kind of thing. And then we’re over here and this is this kind of music we play here.” And so, it was to keep the momentum going, but it was also to try to…

Also we wanted to reintroduce the audience to Donald Trump. I mean he’s the most famous man in the world, and everybody knows him, but we very intentionally never showed him on the TV show. We didn’t show him doing his Donald Trump-ian thing because we wanted to realize the person that people think they know is a construct of television, and there’s a real guy who is made very human mistakes in his life. As a result of it is done quite a horrible job by the country.

MOVIEMOVESME: What do the New Yorkers think about Donald Trump?

Jack Bryan: Donald Trump didn’t win the primary in Manhattan. New Yorkers have known Donald Trump for 30 years. He was a guy that would just put on a show, and try to get in the tabloids. I mean, if you asked, before The Apprentice, if you asked people in New York who Donald Trump was they’d be like, “He’s the guy whose wife fights with his mistress in public, and he calls up tabloids and tries to get them to write about it. Or he’ll call tabloids and say he had sex with this famous person, but he didn’t.” So he was just kind of a clown. He was just kind of a New York, like just a local idiot. That was kind of harmless, and kind of funny, but kind of just a local joke. And so I don’t think anybody really saw it coming. And I think that when they did they were just like, “Well no. That’s not going to be a thing.” But yeah, I mean he certainly worked out for him for now. I think in the long run he will have wished he never ran.


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