When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last Wednesday to block the broadcast of the Proposition 8 trial, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, in San Francisco, filmmakers and longtime friends John Ireland and John Ainsworth hatched a plan to tell the story on the Web in as close to real time as possible.
Based in Los Angeles, with access to a replica courtroom and professional actors, the pair plan to reenact each day’s proceedings based on material from live bloggers and bring the drama to the people via their website, MarriageTrial.com, and YouTube. The first episode is expected to debut on Wednesday.
Ireland and Ainsworth spoke with Advocate.com on Monday about their ambitious project.
Advocate.com: What inspired you to create the Prop. 8 reenactment?
Ainsworth: Everybody was excited that they were going to broadcast it, and after last week’s decision, I, like everybody else, was thrust into this weird area of “Where can I find information?” It was from the live blogs that John Ireland approached me and said we should reenact this and use the material from the live bloggers as a script. John was able to pull together a wonderful location, a replica of a federal district courtroom that is part of the University of Southern California law school, and we secured a legal adviser as well, professor David B. Cruz. Over the weekend, in the matter of three days, we were finished with all the footage of the very first day and moving into postproduction.
What can viewers expect to see in the first episode?
Ireland: We jumped right into the plaintiffs’ story. They tell firsthand why it is important for them to be married. That narrative is then propelled through the rest of the drama by the professionals — the litigators and the academics. There’s quite a drama that unfolds after the plaintiffs arrive, but really it’s about those people’s stories. The drama is in two parts. I see the human drama in episode 1, and then I see the political and legal drama unfolding as the experts debate. Of course, there is a lot of interplay with the judge [Vaughn Walker, chief judge of the U.S. district court]. He’s very fun.
Our goal is not to edit or editorialize or add any commentary to it. The idea is to put this out there as an extension of the historical record. This is a nonpartisan project.
When and where can the Prop. 8 reenactment be seen?
Ainsworth: We’re hoping to have the highlights reel of episode 1 in
24 to 48 hours. And the whole day’s reel hopefully will be posted by
Wednesday. Eventually, we plan to catch up with the trial so that the
episodes are posted nearly in real time.
Ireland: It will be embedded at our page, MarriageTrial.com, but it will be hosted on YouTube, because that was the place Judge Walker intended.
What are your source materials for the Prop. 8 reenactment?
The whole group of bloggers who are going into the courtroom every day,
many of them from FiredogLake and the Courage Campaign’s Prop. 8 Trial
Tracker. These were strangers to us a week ago, now we’ve all sort of
met in a cyber dimension. We are overlaying four of five different blog
sources. I’ve only seen their names and their work — we’ve never met
each other. There’s something very collaborative and 21st-century about
Ainsworth: In reading those transcripts coming out the
first day, I thought, “What is the defense side trying to hide here?”
because this is a great example of our legal system rising to the
occasion to decide whether this ballot initiative is constitutional. If
they’re going to block it, then we should be able to reenact it.
Have you been involved with any similar projects in the past?
About a year ago, I was involved in starting a project called Get to
Know Us First, which involved a series of commercials. My personal
story was that I was dealing with a lot of frustration. My husband and
I have a 4-year-old in preschool and all the parents were
apologizing to us after Prop. 8. After having all these straight people
apologize to us, I started to realize that the only thing standing in
our way was getting to know each other.
Ainsworth: I am an actor
and a producer. I also am a gay man married to my husband who is an
actor and a producer. We run the Young Actors’ Theatre Camp in San
Francisco, an overnight sleep away camp held twice a year for kids. It
is something that is close to my heart, the validity of my marriage and
the validity of everyone to get married. I felt betrayed when the
Supreme Court said, “No, you can’t see what’s going on in this
courtroom.” The idea that I wanted to see what was happening and that I
was denied access, it made me feel as an actor and a filmmaker and an
activist that I wanted to put it out there.
Where did you find the actors and the production staff members?
We went to the Screen Actors Guild and signed made-for-the-Web SAG
signatory contracts. Both John and I have a fairly good stable of
friends. It’s been a combination of absolute strangers and our friends.
This is almost a guerrilla filmmaker approach but with the right
ingredient because we get to use professional actors with a contract
that lets them choose to work for free.
How are you supporting this project?
This has started as a labor of love. Depending on where it goes, it may
turn into a labor of compensation. Nobody’s being paid. It’s entirely
volunteers. In the short time we’ve been asking for donations on our
page we’ve received gifts to pay for water and parking on the first
What has been the response to the project so far?
Everybody that I spoke with, from the initial posting that I put on
Craigslist just to get the word out, was immediate and it was
Ainsworth: Usually it was a laugh followed by “I
can’t believe that you’re doing that, that’s brilliant.” It seemed that
everybody wanted to be involved. One of my friends, playing one of the
plaintiffs, he left the business jacket part of his costume at home,
and his straight roommate jumped in the car and drove it to him.