Is Hate A More Powerful Motivator Than Love? Behind the Scenes of “Get Me Roger Stone”
Mention the name Roger Stone in casual conversation and you are guaranteed only one of two reactions: a wry smile or a blank stare. To most Americans, he is known by face only. His vitriolic, pin-striped, ultra-conservative persona has been at the center of virtually every Republican controversy since the Watergate scandal and he has the Nixon tattoo to prove it. Most importantly, he has been stumping for Donald Trump’s political debut since 1987, long before the Donald took his own aspirations seriously.
For the past half-decade, filmmakers Dylan Bank and Daniel DiMauro embedded themselves within Roger’s inner circle for “Get Me Roger Stone”, a feature documentary that attempts to dissect Stone’s political warpath over the past 40 years. Dylan Bank sat down with the Video Consortium to discuss what it is like to make a film about a man who proudly invites the title of most hated person on Capitol Hill.
Colin Weatherby: Did you set out to make this a feature film on Roger Stone? Did that evolve organically?
Dylan Bank: We always saw Roger as a lens to tell the story of American Politics since the Nixon era, from the backroom-lobbyist and political hit-man’s perspective. What we didn’t expect, even though Roger warned us, was that the movie would focus so much on Donald Trump. Roger had been pushing and advising Trump to run for president since 1987, but to us filmmakers, Trump’s presidential aspirations were just one of Roger’s many schemes to get back on top, and not the one we took the most seriously. We started out to tell the story of a down-and-out dirty-trickster and ended with the story of possibly the most influential kingmaker in America. But his suits looked great the whole time, as Roger is happy to point out.
CW: It looks like you shot nearly half a dozen interviews with Roger. What was the timeline on this and did your strategies change as the election was approaching?
DB: We started shooting the movie six years ago, in 2011, and have interviewed Roger over 50 times: we interviewed his wife and ex-wife, mother, friends, enemies, experts, you name it. The only people I know more about than Roger Stone are my family members and closest friends. We always promised him from the beginning to be fair, and were clear that we were liberals, and would not sugarcoat anything he did, and he trusted us to follow through on that, and that trust luckily lasted for half a decade. When things began heating up with the Trump campaign, naturally, Roger was careful not to do anything to jeopardize his newfound power of being so longassociated with Donald. But one of the reasons he and Trump parted ways officially is because Roger loves being in front of the camera, ours included, and Trump wanted to be the main show all the time.
CW: Roger seems like a guy who would never shy away from a camera, but was there any subject matter that was taboo with him? What were his concerns about the film?
DB: Roger’s always been hesitant to talk about his swinger sex-scandal with his current wife, what got him kicked off the Bob Dole campaign back in their “God and Morals” run against Bill Clinton’s reelection in ’96. He’s always told us, “you want to learn more, watch a porno”. There aren’t many topics he’ll shy away from, but whether or not he’s telling the truth is another matter. He has catch phrases and one-liners to dodge almost any tough question you throw at him, that’s how he deflects, and we considered it our job to find a way around that when possible. I think Roger’s greatest fear with the film is that we’d say he was irrelevant, and didn’t do any of the things that make liberals furious.
CW: You managed to get some incredibly candid interviews with people who are often…less than straightforward. For example: how did you convince Tucker Carlson & Donald Trump that this wasn’t a liberal hit job?
DB: Trump actually did think it was a liberal hit-job, and Roger told us that immediately after the interview, Trump called him and told him to drop us. But Trump only agreed to be interviewed for the movie to begin with because Roger had asked. I think Roger would be embarrassed to have a full movie about him with no Trump interview, so he made that one happen. Luckily for us, it came together before the hurricane of the 2016 presidential campaign started — it’s a whole new world we’re living in now that Trump descended the escalator, and he’s not so ready to sit for interviews with non-Fox News types anymore. For Tucker Carlson, that’s a strange case, because he’s so different in person — thoughtful, intellectual, nuanced. He even admitted to us that TV dumbs him down, that it’s small box he needs to fit into.
CW: The “Stone’s Rules” setup throughout the film is really provocative. How far into the process did you develop this storytelling device?
DB: We’d always planned to structure the film around “Stone’s Rules”, it’s what Roger, and now Trump, structure their lives and campaigns on. The most prominent of “Stone’s Rules” are how the government is being run right now, “Attack Attack Attack, Never Defend”, “Hate Is A More Powerful Motivator Than Love”, “Better To Be Infamous Then Never Famous At All”, we see that every day in the news. And Roger lives by them, so it fit with his life-story quite well.
CW: I assume that this project germinated before the election. Did the election result change the way you edited the film?
DB: Most docs are a moving target, this one was a snowball down a mountain. My codirectors, Morgan Pehme, Dan DiMauro, and I, as well as the larger team of editors and producers, were constantly reshaping and rethinking the story, right up until the last minute. In theory, so much keeps happening, we theoretically could have never stopped filming, but we all agreed the time was right to finish it so it can be out right now, as an explanation for people who look at this current administration and the state of America and say, “how the hell did this happen?”
CW: At one point in the film Roger says, “Sometimes you confuse me with the Stephen Colbert character that I sometimes play called Roger Stone, don’t confuse him with the real Roger Stone.” The interviewer asks “what’s the difference?” and he responds, “You’ll have to find out.” Do you think he actually knows the difference?
DB: Roger’s a complex person, and he’s changed quite a bit over the years — he refers to his early days as his “Nazi-Hitler-Youth”, because he was so blindly fanatical about his conservative values. Now he’s a pot-smoking, gay-pride-marching, anti-war libertine, and a strange mix of conservative and liberal values. He’s not fully putting on an act when he goes on camera, but he is exaggerating the parts of his personality that he needs to for that moment. Certainly we all do that, but Roger’s personality is quite intense, so his exaggerations are often offensive to many people on both sides of politics. In the film, one of our pundits asks, “does Roger really believe Bill Clinton raped 27 women?”, concluding that it doesn’t matter, he believes what he needs to for the job.
CW: After watching this film, I actually feel like I have even less understanding of Roger’s long-term vision for America. Do you think he has one or is it all about winning?
DB: Roger doesn’t want a position in government, too boring. He likes the thrill of a campaign, but Trump’s in permanent campaign mode now, so it’s kind of merged. Roger does have certain issues he cares about — US staying out of foreign wars, legalized marijuana and liberal social issues — but will he turn on Trump if he goes against those promises? That remains to be seen, that goose is laying a lot of golden eggs for him.
CW: Do you think Roger Stone is concerned about his legacy?
DB: For sure, that’s why he did our movie! He wants to be known as the dirty trickster liberals lost their hair over. What liberals see as the most indicting lines in the film against Roger often come from his own mouth, but to him those are perfect answers.
CW: After all the dust settles in the Russia investigation, where do you see Roger?
DB: Using whatever happens to get more publicity for himself.
Dylan Bank is the cinematographer and co-director of “Get Me Roger Stone,” currently streaming on Netflix.
Colin Weatherby is a filmmaker and Video Consortium organizer based in Los Angeles.