Exclusive clip: “Bernie Blackout” director Pat McGee talks access, COVID-19

Vice TV strand ‘Vice Versa’ will premiere director and executive producer Patrick McGee‘s 90-minute documentary Bernie Blackout tonight (May 13), a film that unpacks the role of mainstream media in Vermont Senator ...
May 13, 2020

Vice TV strand ‘Vice Versa’ will premiere director and executive producer Patrick McGee‘s 90-minute documentary Bernie Blackout tonight (May 13), a film that unpacks the role of mainstream media in Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president.

“As a political enthusiast I was drawn to filming Bernie Sanders because of his movement’s politics and because of the historic nature of this election,” McGee tells Realscreen. “In my opinion, I had observed what some independent journalists were calling a ‘Bernie Blackout.’ Could it be true that the mainstream media has a bias when it comes to reporting Bernie Sanders’ campaign?”

The director — whose outfit Pat McGee Pictures produced Viceland’s American Relapse and has sold documentary projects to National Geographic and A&E Networks — says Bernie Blackout “found the perfect home” at ‘Vice Versa.’

“I wanted to make this film, I needed to make this film,” McGee says. “In the past, I’ve had success in self-financing projects I believed in. Pat McGee Pictures independently produced and financed the feature documentary American Relapse, which landed distribution and was spun-off to a 10-part series with Vice. At the end of the day, I figured we were going to capture history, and worst-case scenario — if I didn’t land a deal – I would own it outright.”

Bernie Blackout – Vice TV’s second release as part of ‘Vice Versa’ – is produced by Pat McGee Pictures. Adam Linkenhelt and Terry Hahin are co-executive producers. Tara Nadolny is executive producer for Vice. The film airs at 8 p.m. ET/PT tonight (May 13).

Realscreen caught up with McGee (pictured below) to talk about the film ahead of its premiere.

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This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

How did you gain access to Bernie Sanders and his political team?

I had reached out through several contacts to push for as much access to the campaign as I could. I thought my pleas had fallen on deaf ears when, to my surprise, just prior to the Iowa Caucus (the first election) I was granted press credentials. From there,  I would run into members of Bernie’s political team like Senator Nina Turner National Co-Chair or Senior Adviser Chuck Rocha and they were willing to share their insights. More importantly, getting real access to Bernie’s supporters was critical to the success of this documentary. Many of the Sanders’ supporters were weary of anyone with a press credential and that was telling in its own right.

Did COVID-19 interrupt the process of making the film, and how did you deal with any pandemic-related road bumps?

I left Realscreen Summit in New Orleans to start filming in Iowa. On my flight there, a woman sitting next to me asked if she could wipe down my seat and screen to make sure it was disinfected. That was the beginning of shooting and it ended with the Governor of Ohio shutting down Bernie’s scheduled election night party in Cleveland. On the campaign trail, it was nonstop rallies and events with upwards of 15,000 people, approximately 25 flights, too many interviews to count… but somehow we managed. On March 10, we arrived at the location for the election night party where we were greeted by distraught Sanders supporters learning the event was canceled. We were capturing not just a critical part of the election, but an enormous far-reaching moment in history.

Were there any other challenges in making this film, whether they were in production, in development, or logistically?

The schedule was fluid. As the story was unfolding we needed to track and adjust the story we were chasing. There’s no outline, no set ups, everything was day-to-day producing. You had to wake up and go get it. Posting Bernie Blackout is a whole other story. We had four weeks to deliver a locked cut, and we were hit with the news Los Angeles was shutting down just two days into our edit. We worked with our awesome post house Revolution Post and devised a plan on how to work remotely, but sometimes you have to be lucky too. My long-time producing partners Adam Linkenhelt and Terry Hahin (American Relapse) both jumped on board in post, fully committed to deliver. We had planned to spend a week interviewing independent journalists mostly in New York and D.C. but circumstances didn’t allow for it. We moved to Skyping our experts and upped our graphics package to aid in covering them up as much as possible. Your story is only as good as the people telling it. Our whole team worked tirelessly and selflessly while our nation’s well-being was in total question.

You interview campaign staff, pundits, journalists, so could you talk about your process in selecting interview subjects?

Interviews in the field were all on the fly – everyone from campaign staff to Trump supporters. We also brought on D.C.-based producer Matt Orfalea who had his finger on the pulse of the media players intimately involved and proved to be an important piece of the puzzle. Returning from the campaign trail we identified a number of journalists and pundits who were important pieces in bringing the whole film together. The film is really told from their point of view. For months I had tried to land David Sirota, Head Speech Writer and Senior Advisor to Bernie Sanders. Just after Bernie dropped out of the race, David agreed to be on camera. We were a couple days away from turning in our fine cut but we managed to get the interview. David’s insight is invaluable as an insider who speaks candidly about what really went down between the mainstream media and their coverage of Bernie.

What documentary storytelling devices (whether it be archive footage, news clips and so on) did you leverage to illustrate the role of corporate media bias in Sanders’ campaign?

Our film utilizes a number of storytelling elements. We juxtapose the emotive, visceral experience of the Sanders campaign rallies against news clips of mainstream media. After shooting all day and night, Greg Taylor (DP) and I would watch cable news and it felt like we were in a parallel universe. We wanted to make sure we replicated that experience in the film. We used expert journalists that added a critical commentary to the story and especially the news clips. Finally, we had Terry Hahin and Egan Kolb create an amazing graphics package that explained a lot of pertinent information that is vital in understanding the, Bernie Blackout.

Watch an exclusive clip of Bernie Blackout:

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