EASTON, Md. — Why would Chris Moore, producer of hit films like Good Will Hunting and American Pie, make a documentary inspired by a history textbook?
“My mom says I make too many R-rated movies,” Moore, an Easton native, said during a presentation of The People Speak at the Chesapeake Film Festival.
About a year ago, “I had just made this horror movie, I was getting tired of killing teenagers and I thought I needed to do something that feels a little better,” he said.
The seed for The People Speak was planted more than a decade ago in Good Will Hunting. In one scene, Will (Matt Damon) advises his therapist, Sean (Robin Williams), that he should read Howard Zinn’s A People's History of the United States if he wants to read a real history book.
“We actually didn’t think that scene was going to survive in the movie because it was just two guys talking about a history textbook,” Moore said.
The book, originally published in 1980, has sold more than a million copies.
“It was sort of groundbreaking because it told American history from the point of view of everyday people and people who weren’t in power and people who were alive at these great moments in history,” Moore said. “It sort of made you think, what is everyday people’s role in history?”
Moore brought with him to the festival two excerpts from the film, running about 30 minutes. The pieces feature actors, including Viggo Mortensen, David Strathairn, Kerry Washington, Marisa Tomei and Josh Brolin, and musicians such as John Legend performing dramatic readings of letters, testimony and historical documents.
“The actors did such an unbelievable job,” Moore said. “You can’t help but feel for John Brown, who’s got nine kids and just believes slavery’s wrong and he’s getting killed, and literally three years later, there’s the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln’s considered one of our greatest presidents for doing the exact same thing that he did.”
The goal, Moore said, is to encourage people to think for themselves and stand up for what they think is right.
“Our idea is to just remind people that thinking for yourself and deciding that something is wrong and it needs to be fixed is as American as anything else,” he said.
The other goal is not to make the finished piece overtly political and instead focus on history.
Moore said there will be a 90-minute film to take to film festivals, colleges and possibly theaters. The People Speak likely will air on TV next year as a miniseries, though the details are still being negotiated.
“We don’t want it to come out until after the election because it’s not really about voting,” Moore said. “It’s about sort of keeping the leaders honest and no matter who’s president, that's going to be an important role for the people.”
Making The People Speak has been a 10-year process. So why is now the time to finally see it through?
“Part of it was where I was in my head,” Moore said. “I had been doing these movies for money and I particularly made couple horror movies, and I was just sick of it.”
“I just said, ‘You know what? It’s time to do this. Let's go out and just start shooting it.’ And we did,” he said. “And now I have to go find a job for money again.”
That’s what Moore enjoys about being an independent producer.
“I find projects, I fall in love with them and I do the best I can to get them made.”
He has done exactly that with The People Speak and his passion for the project is obvious when he speaks about it.
“I was just at a place in my life where it was time to do this project.”