YOU'VE TALKED BEFORE ABOUT HOW HARD IT WAS/IS TO MARKET YOUR FILM. DO YOU STILL FEEL THAT WAY, OR DO YOU THINK THE FILM'S SUCCESS SO FAR HAS HELPED TO MUTE THAT PROBLEM? The recognition helps, but it is still a really hard sell. Every festival we go to the first screening will be less attended than the second. Members of the audience promise to tell their friends they have to see the film, and then the second screening will be filled with people that will tell us they heard so many amazing things about the movie they just had to come see it. When we hear stuff like that, it convinces us that we need to just figure out how to duplicate that on a national level.
IT'S FAIR TO CALL TWWGB A PATRIOTIC FILM, BUT WAS IT ALWAYS INTENDED TO BE? HOW DID YOUR IDEA OF WHAT THE FILM WOULD BE "ABOUT" CHANGE AS FILMING CARRIED ON? I agree that [it] is a patriotic film, but we definitely didn't set out thinking "let's go make a patriotic film." ... I think our first thought was just that what the Maine Troop Greeters are doing is a genuine act of kindness, and there aren't many purely good things like that happening out there. It just seemed like a story worth telling. [O]ur initial plan was to try to look past the politics and make a film that was just about supporting the troops.
[E]verything changed as soon as we went home with our three subjects. The moment we saw what their lives were like outside the airport the focus shifted, and we knew that the film was really about aging in America. What do we all go through, as we grow older? And how much does having a purpose in your life affect everything else? But even as we were walking into the edit room with all of our footage we still weren't sure what the film was "about" because we weren't quite sure what we had. We knew we had a lot of emotional moments and the three subjects had all gone through a lot while we were following them, but could we craft it into a story? The three months last summer editing the film and finding that story was the hardest part of the entire process for me.
WAS IT HARD NOT TO GET INVOLVED WITH AND HELP THE SUBJECTS IN THE FILM? (WHENEVER I SEE THE SCENE OF BILL MOVING, I FEEL AWFUL FOR HIM AND THEN WONDER IF THE CREW JUST HELPED HIM OUT AFTER...) Many people have asked us about that scene and whether or not we helped Bill or thought about helping him. We did not help him and I can't speak for Gita (Pullapilly, the film's producer) or Dan (Ferrigan, the co-director of photography) but I didn't really think of putting down the camera and helping him. One thing about Bill — I've never met a man with a stronger will or internal drive to just keep pushing ahead. So even on his darkest days, and that was certainly one of them, I just had tremendous respect for him and knew he didn't need our help. He would get through it. He would keep pushing, and if I put the camera down to help when he didn't need it, then in a way I would be letting him down because then I wouldn't be capturing his story for others to see.
Early on we made the decision that we would never keep any distance between our subjects and us. We would become friends with them, and we would let them become a part of our lives just as much as we became a part of theirs, and we would not desert them when the film was done. But we also made a decision early on that we wouldn't cut them any slack or give them any breaks. ... Even my mom would never get special treatment. It just felt like that was the only way to tell their story. We never wanted to be condescending to them and their struggles.
IF I REMEMBER CORRECTLY, YOU SPENT A FEW YEARS JUST SHOOTING THE FILM, COMMUTING FROM MICHIGAN. HOW DID YOU COORDINATE THE SHOOTS, AND HOW DID YOU KNOW WHEN THE FILM WAS DONE? We shot from December 2004 to January 2008, so just over three years. We were living in Michigan and working full-time jobs in television news for about the first year of production. We would basically save up our money for a trip to Maine, and then we would drive to Chicago, fly to Boston, and then drive to Bangor. Or if we couldn't afford the flight we would drive 19 hours from Michigan to Maine. That was not fun, and it was times like that when we would question what we were doing, but we would get to Bangor and we would spend a few days with Bill or Jerry or my mom and something powerful would happen and it was always just enough to make us feel like we had to keep going. They weren't quitting on the troops, so we couldn't quit on them.