Tuesday, June 29, 2010

PLEASE REMOVE YOUR SHOES: straight-to-video debut offers unvarnished look at today's air travel safety (and lack of it); Q&A w/ two smart DIY filmmakers

Why is an extremely important documen-
tary about air travel safety in the age of Jihad going the straight-to-video route? We'll have one possible answer at the end of this post, when we briefly Q&A the film's director, co-writer, producer and editor Rob DelGaudio (with one question answered by executive producer Frederick Gevalt). Meanwhile, here's why you should check out, as soon as possible,
PLEASE REMOVE YOUR SHOES -- which makes its DVDebut this Thursday, July 1.

Mr. DelGaudio (shown below) weaves together quite an assortment of history, events and talking heads (full bodies, too) concerning the old FAA, its newer counterpart the TSA, the people who lead it and those who labor under them.  The picture isn't pretty and the news isn't good.  I do wish that the movie lifted off a bit sooner than it does; there are a few too many shots of aircraft, airports, comings and goings in the beginning, when all we want to do is be immersed in the movie's content.  Hold out five minutes, however, and things really get interesting.

From the Pan-AM Locherbie explosion 22 years ago (about which we learn that U.S. Embassies had plenty of warning but, like many of the various people and agencies involved in the events of 9/11, they didn't bother to share, circulate or pay proper attention to the information) to the rather too-close relationship between the FAA and the airline industry and all the bogus "testing" for safety that the airlines and government have engaged in since the demise of the World Trade Center, DelGaudio and his writer Rocco Giuliano amass enough evidence of stupidity and out-and-out wrong-doing to shock an audience into anger and action.

The filmmakers nail that peculiar attitude of officials that seems to say: "The more I know (and the less you know) makes me more powerful."   They also show us how, when testing for better safety showed worse results, the answer was to simply terminate the testing.  The movie is a lesson in how government works (or doesn't).  More important, the film does not come across as an invitation for "tea partiers" to scream "down with government" -- but rather as an intelligent plea to fix these problems while we still have the chance.

Consequently DelGaudio and Giuliano have corralled a group of ex-Federal Air Marshals, agents, and whistle-blowers (like Franklin Puello, above, a former TSA screener training supervisor and retired NYPD undercover detective) to explain what has -- and still is -- going on regarding air travel and safety.  One of these fellows, Bogdan Dzakovic, presented the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (the government agency created in part to protect whistle-blowers) with a 40-page indictment plus 500 pages of evidence of wrong-doing which resulted in -- yes -- his being demoted, after a couple of decades of faithful work, to doing entry-level tasks that a kid out of high school might be assigned.  "The TSA," notes retired FAA security agent Steve Elson, "always focuses on the 'threat du jour'," while terrorists, of course, move on to creating new threats. We also learn about the Federal Air Marshal dress code, a brilliant means of unmasking our air marshals to the terrorists.

The Steven Bierfeldt incident -- carrying money in that metal box for Ron Paul -- has its time in the sun again.  We also learn how the FAA tipped off it employees to upcoming Red Alerts so that they could look better at their security jobs.  And what happens when newly-recruited Air Marshals are unable to pass to TPC test?  No problem: Just get rid of the test!  Brian Sullivan (shown below), the retired FAA special agent who narrates the film, tells us that what air passengers receive now is nothing more than “an elaborate façade of security.” Or, in the words of Air Marshal P. Jeffrey Black, "a kind of security theater: bells and whistles to make you feel safe. But you're not."

And yet this important and worthwhile movie will leave you less frightened, I think, than angered once again at the failure of our elected officials and government agencies to even remotely get the job done right.  The film ends with a pointed quote from, of all people, James Thurber.


Although Please Remove Your Shoes will be available on DVD beginning July 1, it is as of now for sale only, rather than rental.  That's one of the questions TrustMovies takes up in his Q&A with director Rob DelGaudio below.  TrustMovies' questions appear in boldface and DelGaudio's answers in standard type.

First off: I am wondering why a film this good and important does not have a theatrical release?

The feedback we have received from prospective distributors is that they felt the film was, and I do quote here, “too scary.” We’ve also been told the film is too critical of government, which I find particularly odd and scary in its own right. Frankly I’m mystified, as is Fred Gevalt, the executive producer and driving force behind the film’s existence (he personally funded it) and the rest of our team. Two million people a day get on commercial airplanes in the US. They all pass through TSA checkpoints, they all have witnessed or experienced the travesties, and as we have seen in various comments, postings, and blogs, the anger and disdain for the agency is pretty much universal. Our feeling is that this makes for quite a large audience base, and our hope is that at some point a distributor who understands the degree of public anger about the topic will realize the film’s potential.

I sure hope so. What was the genesis of the film – how the idea for it began, and with whom?

The film was conceived of and initiated by Executive Producer Fred Gevalt, a retired publishing executive and pilot with three decades of flying experience: a typical entrepreneur, whose idea of “retiring” really means “what’s next.” As an aviator and a concerned citizen, he was angered by the methods and attitudes of the TSA, and the erosion of individual rights in the nation’s pursuit of “security.” As a Vietnam vet, and like most people who have served in a combat zone, he understands the principles of duty and felt compelled to act. He also felt, given his means, a documentary to be the best tool to reach the widest audience and, ideally, to initiate a re-assessment of the TSA; a debate which in turn he hoped would also lead to a renewed examination of the nation’s willingness to accept far-reaching government “anti-terror security measures” at the expense of individual rights.

Once I and co-writer Rocco Giuliano became involved, we pushed to keep the film grounded in the classical documentary form of non-partisanship and to simply present the facts and let the audience decide.

How long did it take you to make the movie – start to finish – including getting the idea(s) in order and the script?

Fred began the documentary in the summer of 2008, crisscrossing the country with his daughter Emelie, then added co-producer Lorraine Pouliot in the fall, to conduct about 25 hours worth of background interviews on HDV. Rocco and I were brought on board at the start of 2009 and we began by working from transcripts of those preliminary interviews to craft a shooting script. We narrowed the story down to the perspectives of our main cast of six aviation security agents and a passenger on flight 327, then designed visuals around their comments and transition narration. We had a fully realized draft of the script by the end of February, which is essentially, in terms of structure and flow, the same as what we ended up with in the final cut of the film.

We re-shot all the interviews, breaking them down into segments and filming them at various locations appropriate for the subjects - in Las Vegas, LA, Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. We also did additional interviews with five new people to round out the content in LA and Washington.

We had 32 days of principal photography from May through July and six days of pick-ups in the late fall of 2009. The film was shot by Joe Figucia, and assisted by Jesse Hubbell on audio, both of whom I believe did a tremendous job. We were a small crew with minimal equipment (like most docs) but neither of them ever let up in terms of working to get the best looking (and sounding) shots possible in the (always) short time we had. The film was shot on DVCproHD with a Panasonic HDX900.

How much time did it take to edit everything you had gathered down and into what we now see on film? And was this the most difficult part (I think it would be for me)?

The edit came together over the course of four and a half months, between September ’09 through mid January ’10, and in a very straight-forward manner, with great give-and-take throughout the process. Though I have not done a feature-length film before I have been doing short format work for a long time, as has Rocco, so we just had at it like we would any project – tell the best story from the material you have in hand.

Rocco and I worked from new transcripts to create a rough paper edit as the footage was being input to my Avid system. He and I worked closely throughout the edit to constantly shape and refine the content, then share it with Fred to get his input. And Fred, even though he was new to the process, proved to be very astute at recognizing when we started to drift off message and at making broad brush suggestions that would often lead to new and better solutions - a true Executive Producer. The composer, Thomas DeRenzo (whom Fred had actually selected and retained in the fall of 2008), began feeding us tracks early on, so I could develop the right interplay and pacing of all the elements. As we progressed, I asked a small number of associates whose insights I greatly valued to view cuts and be brutally honest with us, which they were, and as result the film was strengthened.

February and March 2010 was spent doing visual effects and sound design. The final color-correction was done in April.

What was its total cost (if you are comfortable with telling me)?

Like all films money was an object, and in our case it was real money spent from the savings of one man’s nest egg which was built up through thirty years of hard work. So I felt an extra burden to spend it wisely and make sure it would show up on screen (and through the speakers). Fred is the keeper of the finally tally, so please feel free to contact him.  (Editor's note: I did, and below is Fred's answer.)

Hi James: I'm perfectly comfortable "telling" you, but less than enthusiastic having the number published. Everybody in this business wants to find out this number -- before production, during production, the underwriters, press, subcontractors, etc. Essentially I wouldn't care, except that if anyone wants to second guess the number before a buy, I don't want to remove all the mystery.

I hope you understand....sorry, I'm not just doing this because I'm trying to be coy. I do know that I got great value from Rob DelGaudio and his crew, and that from other documentary producers I've talked with, we were about at their expense level, but got a much better technical product. The other relevant thing, which Rob told you, is that the project has taken me two and a half years to date, with almost a full year of filmed interviews on my part before I met Rob. So if it helps, I guess I spent about a third of the project so far on that first year.

This seems like a labor of love for most of you concerned with the film, including many of the people you interview, particularly the whistle-blowers. Are all (any?) of them managing to work and earn a decent living again, I hope?

While the big picture goal of the film is to truly help bring about change in our aviation security system, and in the way that government creates and oversees bureaucracy, I think all on our team would agree with this sentiment: that we feel honored and humbled to have had the opportunity to help tell the stories of these six men. None of them are the type not to get on with it, regardless of the obstacle, which was the big mistake of their various superiors – I don’t think they had any idea at all of the caliber of these guys who toiled beneath them. So yes, they all have carried on, though Bogdan Dzakovic probably has suffered the most from the system; he is the only one of them still actively working in aviation security full-time. The way he was, and still is, marginalized by TSA management is beyond shameful, and all the proof we need to demonstrate that while nothing has changed, something desperately needs to be changed.

Is there anything else that you yourself would like to say, and that we writers/journalists always fail to ask you? If so, here’s your chance to soapbox and say it.

First and foremost, thank you for taking an interest in the film and writing about it. Its exciting to see something which we have toiled on for so long find the audience we instinctively knew existed. We hope the film will prompt people to think, talk, and make their voices heard to their elected officials. If you measure national security as a function of confidence and economics, the TSA efforts actually reduce our security as a country. Jeopardizing our civil rights is a poor tradeoff for an expensive answer to aviation security that really doesn’t even work in its own right.

I am a filmmaker, not a security expert, but I have been fortunate to spend many hours speaking with a number of very informed people who are. They all say the same thing: Abolish the TSA. Let’s fix aviation security in a moment of relative peace and quiet, not after the next terrorist attack.

I just went on Netflix and typed in the title and it appears that Netflix does not have it. What about Blockbuster? I think you MUST get it out there for rent somehow. A lot of people, particularly these days, can’t afford to buy DVDs, but they will rent. Can you tell me if this is possible? And from where? And also, can they buy the DVD via Amazon -- or only from your site?

We are in negotiations now with a couple of distributors for DVD, digitial, and VOD, but until then, copies can be ordered from www.pleaseremoveyourshoesmovie.com

(All photos come courtesy of the film-making team.)

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