Special to Capitol Weekly
“Question 1” tracks the 2009 initiative campaign to overturn gay marriage in Maine — a campaign run by Frank Schubert and Schubert & Flint Public Affairs, the same team that ran the Proposition 8 campaign in California in 2008. It plays at The Crest Theatre (1013 K St.) one night only at 6:30 and 8:30 on Wednesday, Feb. 1. More information is available here.
Why did you feel it was important to tell the story of how the same team was behind both these initiatives?
It was after Prop. 8 and I was struggling with what to do as a storyteller and a documentary filmmaker. I really wanted to tackle this topic called gay marriage. There weren’t very many referendum campaigns, but there was this one coming up in Maine. Maine has a very quirky set of laws. The Legislature passed marriage for gays and lesbians, but Maine has this law called the People’s Veto, where if you don’t like the law you could collect 50,000 signatures and put the law on hold until a referendum is held.
I wanted to take a war room style look at how campaigns of this nature are run. We were able to get access to both sides, miraculously. We were in the war rooms, we were in meetings, we were out in the field. We focused the film on five characters from both sides. I happen to be gay, but I really didn’t come in with any ax to grind. I wanted to get at the heart of what drove people in this battle. I wanted to take pains to not go to the extreme of easy targets. So we arrived in Maine without any preconceptions.
Where do you live most of the time?
New York. I wasn’t in the Prop. 8 campaign. Certainly I knew about it. What ended up happening in Maine was very Prop. 8-like. As the campaign unfurled, we saw a number of startling things. We saw that Frank Schubert of Schubert & Flint was going to be in charge of a certain part of the campaign. That’s how it was explained to us, the press and the public. We gradually discovered this was not a locally run campaign at all. Everything, and I mean everything, was being run out here. They were importing the exact same campaign that ran in California, from the ads to the direct mail pieces.
In California, what has been acknowledged as really turning the tide was the messaging that if you were to vote to have gay marriage, homosexuality would be taught in schools. Your kids would be taught “gay,” I don’t know how else to say it. As a parent you would have no say. Which is not true. The advertising played a huge role in the Maine campaign.
This was a campaign run by remote control. But locally there were two co-chairs, to create the illusion this was a locally-run campaign. Was one an evangelical minister named Bob Emrich. He operated out of this little church in the Podunk. The second guy was Mark Mutty. Mark Mutty worked for the Portland Archdiocese as public affairs director. Bishop Malone, the head of the Archdiocese, when the Legislature passed gay marriage, said “I’m going to make personal vendetta for it not to happen.” He put Mark Mutty on loan to run the campaign.
What we ended up discovering is that this was a deeply conflicted, tormented man, who didn’t want to be in that position, who sharply disagreed with the tactics. Through a startling series of on-camera interviews, he basically would forget the camera was on and say “Our ads are a bunch of lies.” He wasn’t buying into the whole Schubert Flint package. Gradually, we saw the local campaign totally imploding before our eyes. There was no grassroots. On the no side there was. There were little pockets here and there. What you see in the film is local leadership that were just clueless. Decisions that they should have been a part of they weren’t informed of. We have on tape them finding about the ads and seeing them for the first time.
Why was Mark Mutty so conflicted?
I think this wasn’t really a cross he wanted to bear. He was basically the local poster child for this campaign. If the issue was homosexuality being taught in schools, it was his face and signature that went on the direct mail pieces. He did the interviews. I don’t think it (gay marriage) is a big issue to him. Politically, he worked a lot with gay groups to support other issues. He had a lot of relationships in his career. The man was also two years from retirement.
It’s the classic cop movie set up.
I think he made a pact with the devil, that he said to himself at the beginning, “I going to try to steer the ship in a way that’s tolerable and the least offensive that’s possible.” It didn’t work out that way. Schubert Flint came in and steamrolled the hell out of him. He didn’t stand a chance. The conundrum was that whatever they came up with, he had to sell. The local reporters would ask him about the ads. It was his name on a 10,000 piece direct mail drop that said basically “Gays will ruin your children.” He wasn’t an innocent either. But he’s a complicated person. You pray for people like that to be the subject of your film.