Mister Rogers, Fred, Joann Rogers discussed on All Of It
I'm so glad you're here. I have so many questions about the filmmaking process and about the subjects with both of these films coming out this year. What did you make these? You don't always get to control these things. The Orson Welles home was percolating for years. I thought that film was going to happen. I and mister Rogers second and it ended up flipping around interesting because part of it is I get my hands on the Orson Welles footage because of his locked away in a vault in Paris for for decades. Okay. That's a conversation. Yeah. That's a whole rabbit hole to go down. But the Mr. Rogers film was just a film that. It came to me. Really because somebody sent me, you know, those viral videos ag- around of mister Rogers in the Senate and somebody there was one of him giving a speech, and I watched it in bed one night. And it just struck me like where is this voice in our culture? And I ended up going down this rabbit hole of mister Rogers commencement addresses. And watching them till like two AM. And I basically by the end of that just felt like I have to make a documentary about him. Like, I didn't realize how radical he was you played that clip. I mean, the the working title of the film was the radical mister Rogers, and he was radical in so many different ways. I mean, it's so I mean, I grew up loving the show like a lot of people to grow up with him. We didn't realize what was really happening in the show what he was really doing. We just internalized at all. So. When I really understood what would the depth that was going on in the messages, he was delivering. But also the the kind of message in today's day and age where somebody's advocating for. I mean, kindness and civility these things sound almost kind of. Too cutesy. But I think we we defy defending kindness around peril. You know, that we there's no kindness lobby in Washington DC that there should be. There's nobody advocating for the neighborhood for how we treat each other. And in fact, so much of our culture has been built up. Now, our politics economics are media oftentimes around dividing us and making us fear one another and that's the exact opposite message. What Fred is doing. What makes you realize when you think about kindness kindness is different than nicest kind is active. It is. I mean, you have to really be doing something to be kind. And sometimes it can be something that firing someone could be the kindest thing you do for them. Absolutely. And one of my favorite. Fred Rogers quotes is love is an active now like struggle. You have to work towards it. And I think that's so true. I mean, kindness and love are not passive, bland ideas. I mean, they are things you have to work at and you have to invest in. And the the thing that kind of the greatest kind of revelation to be about Fred Rogers as a person was culturally. He's seen as this kind of milk toast guy in a cardigan who's Quin sensually two-dimensional. And in fact, he was like an iron will. And he worked so hard. I mean, he was such a tough person in that way because he was fighting for love and kindness. And I don't think anybody ever understood how much will and effort went into what he did had someone attempted to make a documentary about him before there's never really been a documentary about him. So interesting that someone hadn't well. And I think the estate had always kind of kept it at arm's length and sat about protecting. Yeah. Protecting legacy. Yeah. And just. Yeah. And basically when I then went to go pitch, JoAnn Rogers, the widow and the company and everybody else. My pitch was I wanna make about ideas. And if you trust me to do this you have to trust me completely because you can't control anything. And they thought about it. And they came back to me and said, yes. We trust you, and we'll do it. And in fact, JoAnn Rogers heard her parting words of wisdom to me when I went off to make the film were don't make Fred into a Saint. And I thought that was that was music to my ears because I think for JoAnne to make Fred Rogers into Saint, and he's somebody who's very easy to turn into a Saint. But to make him into a Saint keeps them to dimensional. You know, it doesn't aknowledge the human struggle. He put into actually doing all these good works. And it doesn't make us have to measure up to him because he would exist on the saintly plane. You know, so I think to understand that it was hard work to do his things it seemed simple. But oftentimes the simplest things are the hardest to do and to make them seem simple. And so with that advice. You know, we just went off and made the film, and I know when we were done with the film. I went back and showed it to JoAnne and. Yeah. I mean, her her two comments to me, which I thought were were funny were. Well, the first one she said was that was so wonderful. I didn't even cry once and since it's a movie that's known for making people cry. I thought she was the one person for whom I think that was actually a review because it actually. Gave this joy to both kind of see Fred and see that we got Fred. And the other thing she said was that that Fred would've loved this film because I think it understood the complexity of what he was trying to do and the message we're talking to Morgan Nepalese, a director of won't you be my neighbor about mister Rogers. I wanna follow up on the idea that you didn't present him as a Saint because one of the reviews, which I think was I love a o Scott at the New York Times right in he said, it had intellectual rigor the film. Yes. When it could just been a whole sentimental walk down sentimental lane. So what were some of the decisions you made in the filmmaking and in the editing. Sure. I mean, it's up to that. It's a film that begs for nostalgia. And I fought against that. I mean, I'm not a fan of nostalgia. Because it's it's like the fast food of emotions like, it doesn't ask anything of you to be nostalgic. Yeah. It's it. It's it's you know, nostalgia. Is. It means going home. I mean, it's it's a reactive regressive idea. And I wanted this to be a progressive film. I wanted it to be about ideas that were relevant to today. It's not about going back. And you know, there's no if you watched shows a kid, no doubt, you feel a wave of nostalgia. Just from seeing the characters and the puppets. And for me making it things coming back to me. I hadn't thought about in a long time. But. You know, deciding to include scenes like the the protests at his funeral. I mean that is the the anti nostalgia seen, you know, that that that says scene, for instance, that would never been a normal biography of Fred Rogers, but was really about the war of ideas that he was engaged in the real tension in the film and the real tension in his life was I do these good works. I spread these good ideas in the world. But is the world listening does the world care and throughout his life. It seems like the world just gets worse and worse, even though he tries harder and harder. And I feel like that's the legacy and the moment were still living in now with this. Great discrepancy between good ideas, and and a world that doesn't necessarily listen were you concerned at all in terms of the world, not listening that were too cynical of the audience out. There might be too cynical to take in a Fred Rogers. Yes. In fact, when I told people I was making a Fred Rogers documentary, there were a few people that had that kind of like, really, Mr. Rogers, can you romper room next? You know, kind of. But yeah, like, can you do as is is their intellectual rigor is their depth there. And I came to understand that. The non-aligned was their great depth. But that that Fred Rogers superpower was sincerity. I'm he was unbelievably sincere and we live in such cynical times. The question I didn't know is does that sincerity cut through to an audience today. And the thing is it does mean that Fred. He was so sincere, and so direct that he's gonna find your emotional bullseye. No matter how many layers of cynicism. You have around you. And in a way. That's what kids do. I mean kids. He spoke like a child in the best possible way. They go right for kids will tell you what they're thinking. They'll tell you what they're afraid of they'll ask what they want to know. And as we get older, we mask our intentions. We hide our emotions Fred never did that Fred was always as direct as a child, and you come to understand the strength of that. You see him? Do it in the Senate testimony? You see him? Do it on talk shows. You see him melt people just by being as direct and sincere as possible. And there's also this really moving to this point in this in the film when they discuss Bobby, Bobby Kennedy's assassination. Tiger rag that asks Daniel tiger lady, ever Lynn. Tiger rag is my sister's toys. Daniel tiger. That's funny family flip Daniel tiger asks what's an assassination? I mean that clip was kind of the key for me in the beginning. Because I'd read about this episode. He had done about the Kennedy's assassination. And in fact, what did happen was Kennedy was killed on a Wednesday night. And he he was his funeral was televised on Saturday nationally, Saturday day. And Fred said, I have to put something on television because every child in America is going to be home and watching this, and they're not going to understand what happened and I need to help explain it. So he quickly through this together. And it aired Friday night the night before the televised funeral at one time. It was never seen again. So when I began my research, and I went to Pittsburgh, the first thing I wanted to see was this special. This actually even before I decided to make the film. It's when I was thinking about making the film, and when I watched that special. I didn't know exactly what it was going to be. But any doubt I had that there was a film and that there was tension, and there is dimension. And their everything I wanted in a film with somehow in that episode, you know, and I knew I could find a film just by watching that episode because it was remarkable, you know, and that was the first year he had done a show and he's nervous. But you see him understanding his role in the culture and his role for children to in a way that nobody else is looking for children. Talk to Morgan Neville about his film won't you be my neighbor about Fred Rogers. It was interesting to watch it because we're the same vintage. So we grew up on on. Fred Rogers hard to think of life before fray Rogers as a kid. But there was an interesting that he saw he says, I see this thing called television. And I sense its power. Yes. I founder interesting. But he realized it was power. I never thought of what Mr. Rogers and power necessarily the same sentence. Well, yeah. I mean, another thing he said was I went into television because I hated it. So I mean, he understood that this was a huge tool that was going to change society, and he actually came along. I mean, the timing of his life. Also was perfect in terms of coming of age, right? When television came of age, and you know, he was going to go directly into the ministry, and when he discovered television, he altered his entire life. You know, we don't talk about it in the film, but he actually moved to New York for a couple of years and worked originally kind of as a stagehand at NBC at Rockefeller Center. TV to learn interesting, and he worked on shows like your shop shows and Gabby Hayes and keep Smith our and learned the mechanics of television. And then went back to Pittsburgh and help. To be one of the first employs at the first public television station in the country, which was WKBD in Pittsburgh her. Yeah. And. So he understood what it can do before most people did. And in fact, he understood particularly in terms of how it would affect children that there will be generations of kids being raised by this box in our living rooms, and what that would mean, nobody was thinking about those things all people thought about then and to some extent now in terms of children's television was how to sell chagrin toys. He understood that as a somebody of faith and somebody who understood the the power of of what happens in ones childhood that that that was going to be crucial. It's interesting also the texture of seeing his wife and his kids. Got that deep voice. And it's just it's interesting. It made me I mean as an adult, I know fed Rogers had a family, but as a kid is like, no he doesn't he lives in that room with a train. Tell me a little bit about the family, and you know, how they feel about Fred Rogers and how they feel about Mr. Rogers. The sons had never done an interview before. And I felt like I mean, my sense was that they had shared their father with the world their entire life. So for example, you know, Fred always spoke directly to a child on the other side of that lens. And he wanted kids to believe that they had a real relationship with him. You know, he got more letters than anybody in America. Because kids sure relieved that you know, he was their friend. So whenever he was in public any child that saw him, of course, would go up to him. And Fred, of course, but acknowledged that relationship is a real pre existing relationship. That's gotta be really hard. If that's your dad that you're really literally sharing your father in every moment. And Fred was very good about kind of having family time. He had dinner at home every night and their kids loved their dad. They loved Fred..