“I Want Your Money”: An Interview with Ray Griggs

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In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden.” – Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981

“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” – Barack Obama, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009

Now are contentious times. With a recent election returning disappointing results to Conservatives and Liberals alike, with marches and rallies inundating the National Mall with Tea Partiers, anti-Tea Partiers, and the so-called “fear-mongerers” (the likes of Stephen Colbert and his followers); and with everyday Americans becoming increasingly frustrated with federal and state government officials, now seems to be the time to lift one’s voice and demand change.

Not one to miss out on changing tides, Ray Griggs added his voice to the mix the only way he knew how: through film. Originally a science-fiction/fantasy director, writer, and producer, Griggs is based in Hollywood California. He owns RG Entertainment, Ltd. Growing up the son of military parents in Germany, Griggs eventually moved to Missouri where he created his video production company, RG Entertainment. In 2005, after moderate success in commercials and corporate training video production, Griggs moved to California. In 2007, his short film “Lucifer,” which tells of the Biblical war in heaven, received a bevy of awards for superior short and animation, including the Beverley Hills Film Festival’s award for Best Animation, the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival’s Audience Choice Award for Short, the Accolade, and a Silver Telly Award. Subsequently, Griggs set to work on Supercapers, a 2009 family comedy about an ordinary person’s adventures after joining forces with superheroes.

Griggs’s film, “I Want Your Money” is his first foray into the documentary film genre. The film pits two versions of the American dream against each other: Reagan’s view that he who earns his money knows best how to spend his money, and Obama’s view that the federal government knows best. Following these ideas through the years, Griggs highlights the sources of the seemingly insurmountable $13.7 trillion debt and offers simple but commonsensical solutions, featuring media hotshots the likes of  Mike Huckabee, Star Parker, Edwin Meese III, Newt Gingrich, Steve Forbes, and John Stossel along the way.

The film, which draws its entertainment value from the insights of experts, archived footage, and MAD magazine-inspired political cartoons and animation sequences, opened in 500 theaters nationwide, generating just south of $300,000 opening weekend. Despite the smaller numbers, it has generated a lot of alternative media attention, with its trailer on Youtube reaching over 3 million hits and its director and narrator, Ray Griggs, being featured on various television talk shows.

Griggs took a few minutes to speak with Gadfly Online (Carrie Filipetti, Editorial Intern of Gadfly Online, and John W. Whitehead) about the film, his politics, and his solutions to America’s toughest economic questions.

GADFLY: What is the message of your film?

RG: Its central message is Obamanomics vs. Reaganomics. We use the unsustainable amount of debt to demonstrate why Reagan’s ideas are still better than the ideas of the current administration.

GADFLY: But you ran into some trouble with the FCC. What was that all about?

RG: It wasn’t necessarily that I had any problems with them, it’s just that in the past, films have been blocked by the FCC, so I took it upon myself to go to them beforehand to show that film is not geared toward endorsing any particular candidate or party; it’s just about the debt.

GADFLY: And what was their response?

RG:  Well that was the irony of it. We are still dealing with them.  They didn’t have a response for us.

GADFLY:  Do you think that shows a problem with censorship? Why is it dragging like this?

RG:  I don’t know if they have a particular agenda or not, but the reality is we needed a response two months ago and we never got one.  They said they were putting it on hold, but the movie already ran. As weird as it sounds, I think they want to see what comes about from the film.  But it ran.

GADFLY:  In addition to the FCC, you’ve also mentioned opposition in terms of production and marketing. What are some of the issues that you faced in making the film?

RG:  You have three steps that make it really hard for a conservative filmmaker to make a film, especially in Hollywood.  First, it is really hard to find investors, particularly in Hollywood, because they tend to be liberal.  So I had to find conservatives, who weren’t as familiar with the process of funding films, and try to induce them into the industry. Second, when I set out to do this documentary, I called up regular people with whom I have worked in the past, and either they didn’t want to get on board a conservative documentary or they said they’d come on board as long as their name was not associated with the project. I found myself having to hire new people and asking them right off the bat what their views on politics were, which way they leaned politically, etc. I had to find like-minded people. Finally, in Hollywood, believe it or not, there is this taboo that if you are a conservative/Republican and you are vocal about it, you will be blacklisted. So people are just afraid to come out.

GADFLY:  How has the necessity of finding conservative participants and financiers affected the tone of the film?

RG:  It made it easier to make. Everyone was more excited because they were all on the same page. It made it better because everybody was like-minded, working collaboratively to achieve the same goal.

GADFLY:  You have a sizeable amount of experts, including Newt Gingrich, Steve Forbes, Mike Huckabee, etc. Obviously all these individuals already agree with you.  So what was the effort in terms of trying to reach out to liberals and other moderates to provide a counter perspective for the film?

RG:  They wouldn’t respond.  We sent emails and they refused to come on.  They wouldn’t return our calls.  It wasn’t from lack of trying.  We reached out to several, like Henry Waxman (D-CA), and they absolutely didn’t want anything to do with us.  It wasn’t from lack of trying. We wanted that side, but they didn’t want to come on, so I grabbed some footage to try to balance the film with their perspective.

GADFLY:  One of your arguments in the film is basically that capitalism is better than socialism. But do you see a distinction between capitalism and free enterprise? The word capitalism is used a lot in the film, but when you see government bodies today, corporations are often close behind. Even behind Obama. It’s both liberals and conservatives.

RG:  I absolutely agree with you. In the film I am not actually promoting Republicans either, because they have had their mess of problems. I blame Bush in the film. Republicans aren’t the answer because they are not coming up with anything either; however, it is about trying to get back to conservative values. In answer to your question, I absolutely agree. The capitalism that I am fighting for out there — the true capitalist, which I believe makes up 80% of America – is the donut shop down the corner that has three employees or other small businesses out there like myself. These are the capitalists.   You have corporate greed like Enron and all these others, and they definitely give capitalism a bad image. Something needs to be done about some of these companies, and I don’t mean bailouts. My opinion is that these corporations like GM should have gone bankrupt.  We should not have bailed them out.

GADFLY:  So what do you think should be done?

RG:  Basically, we need to get away from the socialism and big government.  That is not the answer.  Everything the government touches ends up going bankrupt.  It doesn’t work.  Social security is probably one of the biggest ponzi schemes.  It is not going to be around for the next generation.   It is unsustainable as it is.  The government isn’t the answer.  It is the independent free-enterprise businesses that make up this country, and to get it right, we have to get back on that track.  Lowering taxes and being very pro-small business and small government is a first step.

GADFLY:  Your film accurately portrays the way the country is going.  It is out of control spending. But a large cross section of the budget is on the military, which as we know now is losing in Afghanistan. You didn’t really address that in your film. Do you see military spending as a problem?

RG:  The things that really address some of the problems we are going to be facing in the future I agree with you, as bad as we would like to be the #1 world power, we have to realistically look at cutting our military budget first, because it is a massive expense; at the same time, however, the one thing government should be there for is safety.  We need to not ever worry about going outside our houses and being blown up like on 9-11.  We need that security.  We need that safety.  That is the #1 thing the government should be there for: to protect our borders.  But the reality is that it is a tremendous expense.  But what people really ought to be looking into, second, are entitlements.  They can’t continue.  No politicians, right or left, are going up and being honest, saying “hey you know what, we need to start cutting entitlements.”  Nobody wants to come out and say that.  But we have to address these issues.

The third is term limits. How can career politicians 30 years in the office actually know where we are coming from?  It is just too much power. They live in a fantasy world.  Then finally fourth, and this is the most important thing, which I do address in the film, the most expensive thing that is going to be coming down our pipe pretty soon is not the military, not Medicare, not health care – it is actually just interest on all this debt.  It is simply unsustainable.  People don’t even realize it.  We are about to hit 14 trillion dollars in debt.

GADFLY: With all that in mind, what if the Republicans come in – which you are advocating for – and nothing actually changes?

RG:  I said this yesterday at another rally.  If the Republicans get into office and they don’t change their ways and they continue like they did when Bush was in office, then that’s it.  They are absolutely done as far as politics are concerned.  Nobody will vote for them again. What I try telling people first and foremost is that I want them to know that I am not a politician, I am not an economist; I am a science fiction film-maker. I am not even a documentary film-maker.  It’s just that I was moved as an average guy who has kids to say “hey look, I don’t know what I can do—whether going to a tea party or getting out there and volunteering or just talking to friends around the water cooler –  but I feel that everybody needs to do something because this government is getting uncontrollable, and it is your government.  So the only talent I had was I know how to make movies, so that was kind of my approach on it.

GADFLY:  Do you think the documentary made a difference in the upcoming mid-term elections?

RG:  At first I had hoped that it would, but the reality is because of Hollywood and some of the problems I ran into, a lot of people didn’t know about the film and didn’t see it. It might make a bigger difference on DVD for the 2012 election with Obama – at this point it is just about getting it to the masses.  As an independent guy I just didn’t have the resources and funding to do so.  But anyone who watches the film is really moved by it. I have four emails from people who were in the middle politically, who were thinking about voting for the Democrats. But after watching my film, they actually wrote to me and said that they were going to vote Conservative.  So there is a reward in that I did change a couple of minds out there. That was really uplifting.

GADFLY: What’s the role of the younger generation here? We saw them come out in unprecedented numbers in 2008. What’s the hope for them in 2010?

RG: Part of the reason I chose to make a documentary was to take advantage of a technique that appeals to the younger generation. I see kids today as having an entitlement ideology; they just want success handed to them.  My parents were in the military and I grew up in Germany, so I looked at America from the outside in. The beautiful thing about America is – and kids don’t realize this – that you can’t do in any other countries what you can do in this country.  You are the only one that can stop you. I was 18 when I started my company in my apartment, doing commercials and corporate videos, and I just built that up. Only in America could you do that. I don’t know what the deal is, whether it is that they are afraid to go out to work or they want the 6-figure income when they get out of college, but whatever it is, they want these entitlements. They don’t see the reality: that with some of these entitlements, like for example Welfare, once you get hooked it is like slavery – you are actually trapped.  You can’t get out.  Because they have these rules and regulations that they force you to stay in. We address that issue in the film as well.

GADFLY:  It seems like you are talking about a cycle of big government begetting entitlement ideology begetting more big government.  What do you see as the beginning of that cycle?

RG: Well I think honestly, and I address it in the film, I think it actually started when [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt was in office. His administration created the New Deal and set in motion the Democratic search for that perfect Utopia; but there is no such thing.  It is not realistic to think that way. Look at all the European countries.  They are actually trying to get out of Socialism.  China is definitely getting out of Socialism.  They have taken on a lot of Reagan philosophies by lowering taxes and adopting pro-small business practices.  There are all these different areas in which you can see these countries having problems.  Our national debt per capita was like $44,000, but when we looked at other countries, like England, we saw that theirs was something like $100,000 per person.  It is really astronomical.  These countries are also unsustainable.  The thing about America is it is globally connected to all these countries so if we fail, it is going to have an effect on the world.

GADFLY:  One of the experts in your film mentions that the biggest lie is that the New Deal worked. And it’s true that, in American collective memory, Roosevelt has iconic status. If he started this cycle, why is he remembered so fondly?

RG:  It’s timing. The World War was what honestly saved this country, and the New Deal rode its coat tails.  That, I think, is what makes people think of the New Deal as a success when it actually wasn’t.

GADFLY: Your film features a lot of things that are unique for a documentary, and if there is any comparison to be made that is one between you and Michael Moore. Do you think it is a fair one to call you a Conservative Michael Moore, or the poor man’s Michael Moore?

RG:  The poor man’s Michael Moore is better.  Honestly– and I know this sounds crazy to a degree— I find it both honoring and flattering that they would compare me that way because Michael Moore is a genius.  I have to give him credit for that.  He was able to pull millions into the box office.  Now, although I don’t agree with his philosophy or his method, he has an ability to pull people into the box office.  He has made millions off it.  So you can’t discredit him from being a good documentary film-maker.  I just don’t agree with his messages. Again, being a science fiction film-maker, I took a different approach. Instead of having a camera behind a bush waiting to accost people like Henry Waxman who refused to participate in the film, I took the approach of using animation to tell the story. I created clips and everything else, which is why it is a little different from a typical documentary.

GADFLY:  Was that approach to appeal to a younger audience?

RG:   Sure, because like you said, I know a lot of younger people who don’t really know what Socialism is– they think it is one group of people hanging out with their buddies. To them, Capitalism is corporate greed, with companies like Ferrari screwing everybody out of their jobs. So they have a warped idea of economics, policies, and politics, so I wanted to appeal to them and give them another voice. The other part of it is they don’t really know Reagan.  Those who watched this film realize how great Reagan was, and those who did know Reagan have their memory of “wow, I just forgot how great this man was” reawakened. Even though there was not a lot of people that saw this film, of those who did see it, no one commented on it being bad. People loved this film. The only ones you will see tearing apart this film and trashing it are the ones that are on the far far left. You can even find some critics online that criticized the film without actually having seen it, which is obvious by their comments.

GADFLY:   As we sum up here, let me ask you: If you woke up tomorrow and you were President of the United States, what would be your five point plan to make things more free in America, better job-wise, better economically, and more like the Founding Fathers wanted this country to be?

RG:  Well, first off, I would shrink the size of government.  That is the first and foremost goal. Then, I would really promote the American spirit.  That involves a whole list of things including increasing the number of small businesses, lowering taxes, and creating jobs. That would be number two: creating jobs through small businesses to find that American spirit.  Number three is that I would take a broom and I would clean house of politics.  Let’s just leave it at that.  I would take a broom and clean house of the politicians that are currently running in office. Four is I would actually create something against lobbyists.  I think there is something that could be said for that.   Just the amount of power they have as politicians and everything else like that.  Something needs to be done there.  And then the fifth one is I would really educate America about the Founding Fathers and fix the educational school system.  I would educate the younger generation and make sure that their education is balanced.  We have politicians going in and taking classes on the constitution.  That should not be.  This stuff should be imbedded in us. There is something to say about our society when a football player is paid $20,000,000 to play a game of football for a season and yet teachers are only making $35,000 a year.  There has to be something there, whether it is taking the entire school system and just making it private to create better schools by competition or something else.  That might be a way of doing it, but getting out of the socialized system that it is currently in place is key, because it is just not working and the kids are just not getting a good education.

GADFLY:   Last question – as you look at today, are you more of an optimist or a pessimist and why?

RG:  Honestly, I am an optimist because this country has done amazing things and I really believe it is going to get to a point where the American people will turn around and say enough is enough. I am hoping that this Tuesday will be a deciding factor, because I think we have reached that limit now. The tea party movement, for example — that has never really happened before. Just the way the Republicans and Conservatives have gathered together to say “I am worried about my future” is a new and inspiring thing.  I really am optimistic that this country can change, because I still believe—and I will tell anybody in the world when I travel—that America still is the greatest country in the entire world and I would rather live no other place.  This is the place to be.  We just need to stick to the values and continue to make it great by fighting for the freedoms and liberties that our forefathers fought for.

One thought on ““I Want Your Money”: An Interview with Ray Griggs

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