Last week Greg Barker found himself walking to the front of the Nokia Theatre in LA to collect the Outstanding Documentary Emmy for "Manhunt: The Inside Story of the Hunt for bin Laden". And when the Mill+ team heard the news there were cheers, whooping and all other kinds of celebrating! The Mill+ team led by designer and creative director Manija Emran had worked so closely with Greg to create ten minutes of fully animated content for Manhunt including the titles, and they were so proud to have played a part in telling this amazing story. Now that the dust has settled (a little!), I caught up with Greg to hear all about it.
Congratulations Greg! A huge accolade for an amazing project, can you tell me (remember) what it felt like the moment you won?
I was in total shock, as was the rest of our team. We really didn't expect to win, mostly because we had been nominated before and lost, so we knew to steele ourselves. So when they announced that we'd won I really couldn't believe it, and I remember feeling incredibly proud of our entire team and so grateful that all our hard work and dedication was being honored.
Can you talk me through how Manhunt came about?
I had the idea the night of the bin Laden raid. As I watched cheering crowds outside the White House, I just had a gut feeling that there was a darker, more morally ambiguous spy story that had led up to that moment. And so I set out to make the film almost immediately and soon found out that Peter Bergen was going to write the definitive book about the hunt for bin Laden. Together with my producers, John Battsek and Julie Goldman, I set out to option Peter's book and soon after that we were in production.
Did you come across any particular hurdles in production?
I knew one of the biggest challenges was going to be creating a visual template that drew the audience into the mindset of the intelligence operatives who were tracking bin Laden. We also had to convey what is often called the "fire hose" of intelligence information in a way that is exciting but not overwhelming. The team at The Mill did an incredible job solving this challenge, and what I love about the graphics in the film is that they feel totally organic to the world of our characters.
Did the author Peter Bergen get involved and what did he think about your documentary?
Peter was deeply involved, although a film and the book it's based upon are always distinct entities. I had to make the material my own, develop my own sources and find a way of telling this complex story in a way that works on screen rather than the page. But he was an invaluable resource, sounding board and over the course of production including trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan, we became good friends. As for what he thinks of the film, you'd have to ask him but he tells me he loves it!
Do you recall the first edit of Manhunt you shared with someone else and what the reaction was?
Documentaries are made in the cutting room, and I was privileged to collaborate on this film with Joe Bini, one of the best editors working today. We worked in our own bubble for a long time, so it's always an odd experienced to start sharing the film with others outside the production team. And it's never perfect until it's done, so I think my strongest reaction was at the Sundance Film Festival premiere, when I could sense the film was playing well and we got a standing ovation after the credits.
Did you immediately realise what an incredible film you'd created and how well received it would be?
Ha, hardly! I honestly never know how a film is going to play until I take it out into the world.
What's your creative process? Can you talk me through some of it?
I'm drawn to characters who face complex, morally ambiguous real-world situations that the rest of us would never encounter in our normal lives. I then try to figure out how to make a compelling movie around those characters and their world. I try to put an audience inside the mindset of the characters, so the audience is constantly asking themselves what they would do if confronted with the problems my characters face. Once I find a tone, a mood, and a world I want to explore, then the rest is really a question of building access and trust, and finding the right creative team to make the film a reality.
Do you have any new projects on the horizon? Anything you can tell me about?
Always lots of projects on the go. I'm very excited about a new documentary we're finishing about the promise and perils of modern revolutionaries.
Where have you put the Emmy?
My kids wanted it right in the middle of our kitchen table, so that's where it is!