Let me preface the tale I'm about to tell with a sincere statement. Those of you who have read my blogs know that I have a passion for this office and - though I like to have fun with the quirkier elements - I have a deep respect for the office's place in American history. If I didn't, I wouldn't be writing a blog, book and documentary about that office, nor would I use them to make the argument that this is a highly integral office. So I can be sincere, as I will be now: Walter Mondale is one of the most important Vice Presidents we've ever had, and he changed the office massively, all for the better.
For nearly the last two years, Matt and I have been endeavoring to get Vice President Mondale to agree to an interview for the documentary. Originally, his office was concerned, perhaps understandably, about the comedic bent of Vice-Precedence. Maybe he was worried about being cornered, afraid it would turn unexpectedly into a to-be comic interview a la The Daily Show. Nevertheless, we explained to Mr. Mondale that we respect the office and have been using humor simply to tell the story. At one point, almost two years ago, he was ready to go, but his availability changed when a trip to Japan got in the way. After years of serving under President Clinton as Ambassador to Japan, it's not hard to see why he might want to get away from the cold Minneapolis winter to enjoy the comfort and respect Japan (rightfully) bestows upon him during his visits.
So we waited, hoping to approach again when we thought Mondale might be available. After all, if we could make a strong argument for our film and raise the capital for me to fly out to Minneapolis (Matt's HQ for the last two years, hence the fortuitous proximity to Mondale) to co-direct and co-interview, this would be a major accomplishment. Since 2006, we've been struggling to get a sitting or former VP who never became President (of which only four are still living) to sit down for an interview to help get an insider's perspective on the office - the ultimate perspective, really. Needless to say, we saw no harm in checking back in with Walter Mondale.
So we did. And on June 21, 2010 - two years after Matt's move to Minneapolis - we got an unexpected, but welcome, surprise:
Matt's response spoke for both of us:
Well, his response as directed to me. I'm sure he was more professional in his direct reply to Mondale's secretary. Later that week, things started to get solid.
So we did, and Mondale's secretary penciled us in. Matt and I were ecstatic, to say the least. We had a date set. Though things were rough here in LA and in Minneapolis (Matt and I don't make a living blogging about the Vice Presidency), the plan was for me to fly out as soon as I could afford it. We started immediately putting out the feelers for crews, connecting with everyone we knew. Even though it took us awhile, we found ourselves a dedicated local Minneapolis crew, made up of fresh film students and two experienced instructors, all who were set to give us their time, lend us their equipment and expertise, and - for the film students - get their first taste of working on a feature documentary film.
After some further rough patches (my day job laying off 20% of its workers, me included), we quickly recovered, and were lucky enough to have our wonderful followers on Facebook donate $150, which came to exactly half of what we needed to get me out to Minneapolis at the last minute - to be exact, October 5, leaving this landmark interview less than two weeks away, on the 18th. I dug deep into my pockets and pulled out the difference, and received my confirmation happily. It wasn't easy financially, but the decision was an easy one to make - Mondale was a landmark Vice President, and the story of his Vice Presidency needed to come from his mouth.
Which brings me to the photo above. I bought the book the night before I bought my non-refundable airline ticket, at the local Barnes & Noble, a day before it was supposed to be on the shelves. I say local, when I actually had to drive a few miles down the street to find a Barnes & Noble that knew where to find their copies of "The Good Fight." The photo of a bearded yours truly, holding that book, sadly, was taken just last night. And no, I hadn't lost my original copy. This was the very same copy I purchased less than two weeks ago, excited at the prospect of interviewing my first Vice President.
Let me explain.
Yesterday - Friday - as I was prepping for my early Saturday flight to Minneapolis, I received a call from Matt. "Jason, I have horrible news," Matt said, not one to ease a person into bad news. "I just got off the phone with Vice President Mondale, and he's not happy with the comedy aspect. He's not going to do the interview." My heart sank. From the very beginning, the Vice President was aware that a film entitled "Vice-Precedence: Being Number Two in the White House" had a comedic edge to it. Now, after all of this effort, volunteered time, and donated money, he decided to change his mind - and all because of the word "comedy." Matt explained to him, on the phone, that we take the office seriously - that, in fact, we've been working on this film for almost five years, out of our own pocket the entire time, because we respect this office. It didn't change his mind.
Why? We can't be certain. Mondale recently appeared in Al Franken's film "God Spoke," which was filled with humor - but Franken respected Mondale, as we do. On November 22, Mondale will interview with A Prairie Home Companion's Garrison Keillor, who, as his audience will attest, does a humorous show, and can still show respect. He laughed with Today Show host Amy Robach, who (all due respect) knows what I can almost guarantee is next to nothing about the Vice Presidency, which Matt and I have been studying for the last five years, becoming two of the country's few Vice Presidential experts.
Whatever his reasoning, this turn of events sent me packing - or unpacking, as it were. Two non-refundable tickets, to and from Minneapolis, and one brand-new hardcover copy of a memoir that I absolutely had to read in preparation for the trip were enough to leave me wondering why I ever began this journey in the first place. Four years ago, when Matt proposed the idea to me, I was skeptical, but when the stories were revealed to me and we realized these stories had never been told on film, we knew we had something - something really good.
We're going to move forward, if much slower now, due to the resources that were lost in the shuffle, but the momentum is there. The story can still be told. Even if it takes us another five years - which it well could - we will finish this project, hopefully one day having the honor to ask Vice President Mondale personally about his life's work helping those people who "are hurtin'" (to quote Mondale from The Today Show), and how he changed the office we are so passionate about for the better. Maybe he'll even sign my deck of cards from Mondale's Air Force Two. We can only hope.
As always, thank you for your support (and in this case, your financial support as well), and good Vice-Presidenting.
- Jason C. Klamm