TRUTH Opens This Weekend My Conversation With Director/Screenwriter James Vanderbilt

TRUTH is based on Mary Mapes memoir Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power. CBS News 60 minutes II aired an investigated report, produced by Mary Mapes and reported on air by Dan Rather that purported to reveal new evidence proving that President George W. Bush dodged his duty during his time in the Air National Guard.

MD: I want to do something a little unconventional. Can you ask me a question about your film?

JV: Sure! Other than did you like the film (laughing) as a director that's what you want to know? That's always going to be the first question.

MD: What is a second question you could ask me?

JV: I know don't did you have a favorite part?

MD: The reason why I'm asking is I completely forgot about this story in 2004 until I watched your film. I don't remember what happened other than Dan Rather stepped down from CBS News and it had something to do with George W. Bush. And I'm wondering what does he think I already know about the story as the director?

JV: That's a good question.

MD: For me do people remember the details of this story? And what exactly do they remember? Sorry I guess I was setting you up but I didn't mean to.

JV: No, set me up all you want. What was interesting about the film and me is I came to it the same way you did. I didn't know all of it by any stretch of the imagination. I experienced it the same way most people did. I didn't see the 60 Minutes II story on Wednesday. I heard the next day about a huge uproar and that CBS had run these memos and the memos were fake. There was this huge firestorm about it for two weeks. And Dan Rather had apologized and the story went away. Then in January after the election Dan Rather steps down. And certain people knew that the two were connected.

MD: Mary Mapes and her team put together this story about George W. Bush. What is the story?

JV: They had been sitting on tips for years that there was the possibility that George Bush hadn't fulfilled his National Guard Service. And the way they came into the story in 2004 was a source had said that George W. Bush's former partner James Bath had possibly, Bin Laden money had been given to the campaign. It turns out that story was completely untrue so they didn't run with it but in doing that it brought up all the old stuff back in 2000. And that's when they really started looking into it. And the linchpin of it was Lt. Governor of Texas Ben Barnes had been saying previously that he was responsible for getting George Bush in the National Guard to make sure he didn't have to go to Vietnam. The second part of this is they were given copies of documents that were purportedly George W. Bush National Guard file. Now his guard file had large holes in it. And these documents they were given seem to fill in those holes.

MD: As a screenwriter you had to put a lot of information into the script. What was the first thing you did?

JV: Well the first thing I did was I had to get the rights to the book. We had approached Mary Mapes who was very reticent to do anything with it. Her thing was she had been fired by CBS, writes the book and very much a raw nerve when she wrote the book. And when you read the book you can tell there is a lot of pain in there a lot of anger. I had approached her right after that and she didn't want to do anything with it. But she was nice enough to get on the phone with me and I said would it be ok if I come down to Texas and spend some time with you and tell you why I think this could be really good and if at the end you don't want to do anything with it no muss to fuss. And so I went to Texas and I brought my wife with me who is far more interesting, intelligent and funnier than I am (laughs) I had like the closer with me (laughs) and so we went to Texas and sat in her living room and talked about everything, everything but the story. We spent two days together and in the end she said you seem like an ok person and if you want to take a run at this, I don't think a movie will come of this, but if you want to try then I guess that's fine. And that's how I got the rights to the book.

MM: What happened next?

JV: I interviewed Mary several times and then we went to New York to talk to Dan Rather. And Dan, who would have been well within his rights to tell us to keep walking, could not have been more gracious and open. There is something about hey guess what we want to make a movie about you but it's not about the forty amazing years you had with CBS. We want to make a movie about the worst thing that happened to you professionally.

MM: Watching the film I believe she believed in her story. And that it was not a bias or politically motivated. But she did make mistakes. The argument is that the memos were forgeries. They were photocopies not the actual memos too. I think they ran the story to soon they should have had more back up.

JV: They absolutely thought they had the story. There has been a long history of running stories about photocopy documents most famously The Pentagon Papers. But what's most interesting about the story is what you don't know and also the process they went through. They felt they had vetted everyone. They had four different document examiners working on it. They felt that they had confirmation from Colonel Bobby Hodges who was there and whom they believed confirmed the content of the memos when read to him over the phone. They thought they had it cold or they wouldn't have run with it. One of the things that are fascinating is watching how the wheels come off the bus. And certainly if you talk to Mary and Dan, I don't want to put words in their mouths, but I don't think there is any version where they don't feel mistakes were made in terms of putting the story together.

MD: Another interesting part of the film is the behind the scenes at 60 minutes. All the power players making the decisions about the news.

JV: I was excited to take you behind the curtain of how things are put together in a way that's not necessarily judgmental. I don't think about when I'm watching 60 Minutes that a story might be put together faster because they are running a Dr. Phil special next week. And you're not supposed to think about that but I think there is a practicality to how news is put together. I love that aspect of it and I love seeing the movie through the eyes of someone who goes on this emotional journey. My job as a filmmaker is to tell an interesting story. I found out all this interesting stuff like where Mary came from and her relationship with her father...

MD: Is that true? Her father emotionally and physically abused her?

JV: Yes and that was not a large part of her book but what I found interesting was when I was meeting with her I asked her so you were hit as a child for asking questions and you grew up to be a reporter and ask questions of powerful people? And she said you know I never really thought about it that way. And so for me that emotional story and that emotional way in and taking the audience on that journey is one of the things that excited me about making this film.

MD: This is the first film you directed. What did you like about directing?

JV: The thing I enjoyed most as a director was working with the actors. As a screenwriting you can plan and figure out the perfect line but it's really what happens on the floor that day and what goes into the can. And you just try to get a scene that is as honest and real as possible. And so being able to work with actors at this caliber for my first time out I was blessed.

TRUTH opens this weekend. Let me know what you thought about the film and do you think mistakes were made? Do you think the truth was revealed? Give me a shout out on twitter or comment here on Huffington Post. Coming soon: My interview with director Giulio Ricciarelli, LABYRINTH OF LIES.