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Full transcript: Documentary director Alex Gibney on Recode Media

Gibney’s newest film, “Zero Days,” tackles the Stuxnet virus that sabotaged Iranian nuclear facilities.

Amelia Krales for Recode

On a recent episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, documentary director Alex Gibney spoke with Peter about his newest film, "Zero Days."

You can read some of the highlights from their discussion at that link, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of the interview.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Media on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

Transcript by Maya Goldberg-Safir.


Peter Kafka: You are a famous documentarian. So you're here to talk about your newest movie called "Zero Days" — you'll be able to see it in movie theaters, you'll be able to watch it [day and date].

Alex Gibney: [Date and date] on — VOD, video on demand, and also iTunes and other electronic media — same day, it all comes out the same day, which I think is a really good idea. You can decide how you want to watch it.

This is one of the great things about consuming media in 2016, particularly if you want to consume documentaries and it turns out those two things are closely tied. Right now, there's a media boom, there's a documentary boom — this all benefits you, because you make a documentary every ... three months?

Exactly! [laughs] Well ... I don’t make 'em that fast, but I do work on a number at the same time.

But your output is astonishing, let's rattle off some of your - you rattle off some of your films so I dont get the names wrong.

"Going Clear."

The Scientology piece ...

Yep: "Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine." "Taxi to the Dark Side." "Client 9." "We Steal Secrets." "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of the God." The Sinatra special on HBO. "Mr. Dynamite" was the name of the film about James Brown ...

This is an incredible amount of stuff! This is all literally in the last few years, right? This is four or five years worth of movies — you probably are doing three or four a year?

Well not every year, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, I'd be dead. [laughter]

And then you have a production company, Jigsaw Productions, which also puts out stuff that you don’t touch, as well, right?

Yeah, we have a company, and we do a number of series. We have a series for CNN called "Death Row Stories," all about you know, horrific death-row cases. We we did a series for Amazon called "New Yorker Presents," all about the New Yorker Magazine.

Are you making this many documentaries because you can? Because there's a market for them? Both?

Both, and let's face it, there was a period where, you know, I couldn't make any documentaries, I was sitting in a small garret-like office, looking out the tiny slit-like window, wondering when the next gig was gonna come. So I had the opportunity now to make, and, you know, I have a great group of people around me who make my job a lot easier. There was a time when I had to be my own lawyer, I had to be my own accountant, and things like that

Growing up, it seems like no one knew what a documentary was, and periodically a Michael Moore would break through with something that had some sort of mainstream success. But it was really, you know, during the Oscars, and there's a documentary award, and for most people, that was their exposure to documentaries. Now there's a boom of them. I attribute it to HBO and Netflix — does that sound right to you?

I think so. I actually attribute it to the fact that they've gotten a lot better! And I think reality TV oddly helped. People got used to the idea that you could watch stuff that was starring real people, and it was interesting. But in the documentary world, I think the big difference is that slowly but surely people started watching these documentaries, and you weren't allowed to say that they were documentaries 15 years ago.

What did you call them instead?

Well you'd call them something, but everyone said, "Please don’t use the word ‘documentary’!" [laughter] "Nobody will watch them!" Now people gravitate to them, because they're great! I mean the storytelling is so terrific — you know, they're movies. Which is what the best ones always were. Back in the day, films like "Gimme Shelter" — that was a movie! And it’s a magnificent documentary, maybe one of the greatest.

Thats the Rolling Stones film ...

Yeah, thats the Rolling Stones films done by the Maysles Brothers.

It used to be, when you saw a documentary, it was disguised, it was a concert film that happened to have a documentary attached to it. And "documentary" was serious and kind of dull. Oh, and maybe it would be on PBS, as well.

That's right. It was spinach. It was a lesson. But now documentaries are really not only setting a high bar but they're kind of pushing the envelope in terms of cinematic form. And also they're getting into real- life stories that everybody wants to know about. And it turns out that it’s more interesting to look at the real Lance Armstrong than to see an actor play him.

And they are a way to tell a sort of genre, as well? I mean, there's a boomlet in true crime stories.

Right, yep.

You've done a few of those. People, I guess, have always liked biographies, I think part of it is just when you expose people to it, it’s not something you have to go to the theater for, it’s not something you have to watch in class, but you can watch it at home whenever you want, turns out you like it. But you don’t work with one distributor in particular, sometimes you make an HBO film, sometimes you make stuff on your own, you're not committed to anybody in particular ...

Yeah, I'm not monogamous when it comes to making documentaries.

And also part of this is that it’s relatively cheap for HBO or Netflix or ...

Yeah, it doesn't cost as much as "Game of Thrones," for example.

There were two Steve Jobs movies in the last year, and you were saying yours did better in terms of profitability -

Sure, I think that's true. There's no doubt about it.

Because you're not paying Aaron Sorkin [laughter] or Kate Winslet ...

Exactly! But you know, it did really well when it came out over Labor Day weekend, and it has made everybody money — because a lot of people went to see it. And I think they went to see it because I think it was well-made, but it was about the real Steve Jobs: Steve Jobs was, in a way, the kind of narrator of that story, the real Steve Jobs, and it was fascinating to watch him.

Let's talk about that movie. I saw it myself when you premiered it at South by Southwest. Apple folks didn’t like it. They literally walked out of the room.

Yeah, anything critical of Steve Jobs is heresy.

When it started, I think it had CNN's branding attached to it — CNN had commissioned it or paid for it.

Correct.

And it didn’t strike me that CNN was going to make a or pay for a documentary about Steve Jobs that was really quite negative about Steve Jobs. And it started off, and I thought, "Oh, this is going to be a hagiography." But it quickly turns out you're very critical of him. Did you talk to CNN about that in advance, or you'd already made the movie and they bought it?

No, no, they were in from the start.-

And you said, "I want to make a story that sort of tears down Steve Jobs?"

I didn't say it that way! I wanted to make a … critical biography, would be the way to put it. But when I say critical biography, I mean I think there's a lot of stuff that's quite admirable about Steve Jobs thats in the film — its balanced. And I think people were surprised, because people had done such a good job of creating the myth of Steve Jobs! So if you included any critical material, which I did, then, you know, people got upset.

I think it’s mostly critical, right? It says Steve Jobs has done many amazing things, and then here are some unpleasant things about Steve Jobs that mostly people don’t talk about, and that you focus the movie on them — Apple didn’t like it. You say in the movie, Apple — a shot of Apple not helping you ...

Right, they said they didn’t have the resources to help us.

[Laughing] They're a very small company! They're just scraping by! And I think you said afterward that Apple executives and Steve Jobs's wife Laurene had actively sort of campaigned against the ...

No, Laurene reached out to people to try to muscle them not to talk.

One of the most interesting things, I thought, about that movie was — I think you just mentioned it — is that it’s narrated by Steve Jobs, there's so much media from Steve Jobs. And I think if you thought about it for a second, you realize, "Oh, yeah, I've seen a lot of footage of him speaking." But you compiled it all.

We used it! We compiled it all. We also found one piece of footage that most people hadn't seen, which was a deposition that he gave to the SCC when the SCC was examining improper financial transactions at Apple. And that deposition is fascinating, because in a deposition, of course, you have to give your own life story, but it’s the arrogance and the contempt with which ...

This is about the backdating of options ...

Yes, correct.

And the transcript of that deposition didn’t come out. And it came out years after the fact, and it got a little bit of attention, people moved on. And when you see it in the movie, it’s striking because Steve Jobs is someone who can pretty much create his own reality very successfully. And here he’s in a room that he doesn’t want to be in, he's forced to by law, he has to talk to these lawyers, and the combination of contempt he has for everyone around him, or at least the people speaking to him, and then self-pity ...

Self-pity!

The more powerful you get, the more you feel you're somehow a victim, the more thin-skinned you get.

Yeah.

That's right, that was one of the most striking things about it: Here's the guy who sat astride the world's most valuable corporation, and you can see him kind of dissolve into "People are so mean to me!"

Do you think he believed that? He says, again, that you should watch the movie for yourself. Well, the reason that I felt bad that no one was rewarding me for the success I brought to Apple [AG laughing], and I can’t do it justice, but he says ...

[Interrupting] No, no, it’s remarkable — yeah he was pouting because he didn’t feel they were giving him enough money or credit for Apple, which is remarkable considering how much they raised him up on the pedestal. But I don’t think Steve Jobs is unique in that. One of the things I've discovered, and I've made a number of films about very powerful people, is somehow the more powerful you get, the more you feel you're somehow a victim, the more thin-skinned you get. Which I find rather extraordinary, but it seems to be part of the package.

Yeah, I find that, and I'm still mildly surprised by it. And around myself, when I see that, when I meet high-achieving people, especially executives, I'm always astonished that they are upset about a criticism they've received from someone in the press or the internet or someone, some slight. And I figure, how could you possibly achieve what you need to achieve, and spend time thinking about the story, the sentence — he didn’t like the sentence, or the cover image or whatever it was. And then you realize, whatever, if you're gonna do some amateur psychology, that whatever propels them to pull this stuff off, there's probably some insecurity there at the same time.

Yeah, Lance Armstrong at the height of his power, before he was brought down by the doping scandal, was famous for calling tiny newspapers — himself, calling. And actually Steve Jobs did that, too ...

He called big newspapers, but he would call individual bloggers ...

And you know, from the slightest criticism, he would call and rain — what’s the line from "Gladiator"? Unleash hell — he'd unleash hell on them.

I mean for Jobs, at least there was a methodology, right? You could achieve results that way. He knew that if Steve Jobs calls a certain reporter at the New York Times or whatever other outlet, that was really meaningful, and it could help shape coverage.

It could, though I wouldn’t say it always succeeded, because he was usually pretty sharp and acerbic. But I actually respected that part of it, because I thought that, you know, instead of having the PR flak call, he called himself. I give him credit for that.

It’s a really effective technique. I mean, the CEO calls, you pick up the phone, you listen — it means something. I asked you this at a thing in Austin, I'll ask you again: Do you like Steve Jobs?

I both admire and am appalled by him. I think there was some things about him that were really magnificent and some things that were just horrible, and I think they got worse, the more power he got.

Recently on Facebook, there was circulating footage of him; he'd just come back to the company, he was about to relaunch, I guess the iMac, and he's giving a sort of run-up to the new marketing campaign. And it was really striking, because in your film, you've got all this footage of him — he was this incredibly charismatic character. I think now that he's gone, you're starting to forget just that natural charisma he had, and no one has replicated that. Elon Musk is a popular character right now in mobile-dom, but he doesn't have that kind of energy.

He was a great storyteller, and he was a magnificent performer. One of the interesting things in that film is that early on we use some footage of him when he first started out selling Apple products. He was always the face of Apple. And in that footage, he kind of looks like a Tupperware salesman, he always makes these grand gestures, you know, very artificial and very sincere, try to look into the buyer's eyes. You know, all of that hokey salesman stuff. By the end, he's up on stage sitting in an armchair — look, staging — like he's invited you into his living room so he can tell you about these cool products. It was very carefully stage-managed, but the way he wrote it, the way he acted it, it’s so natural! And he has this huge auditorium of people eating out of his hand. So he was a magnificent performer.

And you'll see people trying to replicate him, you'll see them striding on the stage. And people will do product launches and releases in that style, and it’s now so baked into what people do ...

[Interrupting] Right, now it seems so phony ...

And just sort of standard, right? You realize —no, there was one guy who did this in a way that no one ever has.

Correct.

What made [Stuxnet] so remarkable is that it made the leap from the virtual to the real.

We were just talking about one of your older films, the Steve Jobs documentary. Let's talk about the one that's coming out now, "Zero Days." It’s the story of the Stuxnet virus, is that correct?

That's right.

You tell the story in your own words, better than I can.

Well, the Stuxnet virus or worm, which is a kind of self-replicating virus, was something that was launched by the U.S. and Israel against the nuclear facilities at Natanz in Iran. And what it was designed to do, and what made it so remarkable is that it made the leap from the virtual to the real. This was computer code that, once inside Natanz — and there was an aspect to it that allowed it get inside, which is interesting — but once inside Natanz, it infected something called a programmable-logic-controller, a PLC, that controlled the centrifuges, which are the things that enrich uranium. So what happened was, it took over, and it monitored the entire operation for a number of days, and when it was ready, on its own, without any command from the outside, it then launched an attack, and it made the centrifuges spin wildly, either very fast or very slowly, until about a thousand of them blew apart. There were a number of different kinds of attacks, but that's essentially ...

So there's a way you can tell this story — one could say, this is the story of a daring attack on a real threat, a real-world threat, and this was done with sort of super-high-tech espionage and ,it worked really well! And it saved hundreds — because no one actually had to go attack the facility — maybe thousands or millions of lives. It was a great tremendous success; you know: "This is the daring and successful story of U.S. and Israeli hacker." This is not your take.

No, though I would say that there is part of me that believes that it was an incredible operation, and also a very powerful piece of software that did, or may have, prevented Israel from bombing Iran, which the United States was terrified about. And this is something I learned in the film — that was really the reason that we participated in the operation. We were terrified that Israel was going to bomb Iran, which would inevitably draw us into a war with Iran. But coming back to the Stuxnet virus, I think the really interesting thing is that, in part due to the actions of one of the actors — in this case Israel — it escaped from Natanz. It was always supposed to be secret, but it escaped and started infecting computers all over the world. And as a result of that, now the blueprint for this kind of weapon is available to everybody. And it set off a kind of cyber-weapon arms race that is extremely disquieting, because it threatens critical infrastructure all over the world and is being done in secret.

So, just to keep playing devil's advocate, you're sort of describing this as a Hiroshima and Nagasaki, right? This sort of kicks off an arms race ...

Hiroshima/Nagasaki in the sense that it’s a new kind of weapon that people haven't seen before.

People knew about various kinds of hacking attacks, cyber warfare — that wasn't a new idea. So what about this do you think is so disquieting? This stuff was happening already, it was gonna keep happening ...

Well, remember that the difference with this weapon, as opposed to some of the other weapons — yes, sure, people were hacking, they were breaking in, they were stealing computer code, they were releasing information that people didn’t want, they were spying, they were shutting down your computer. But in this case, the code is actually infecting the machines that operate the other machines, so now they're shutting down real-world devices or devices that are not computers. And that's probably the scary part. So you can imagine water-filtration plants suddenly pumping out poison instead of good water, you can imagine planes being turned into ...

But that's not happening, right? This sort of came and went. If David Sanger from the New York Times hadn't been writing about this, we wouldn't know about it at all. Everything would be sort of proceeding as normal.

And that's the scary part — suddenly you have an explosion, you'd think, well, why did that explosion happen? Did it just happen? And the pernicious aspect of these kinds of cyber weapons is that they are secret, and that United States and Israel have not taken credit for the Natanz attack. I think they want to, I think there's a part of them that wants ...

Your movie is full of Israeli and U.S. government officials, current and ex, all sort of winking and nudging ...

Winking and nodding and nudging, but always saying, "I cannot comment."

We have to begin to at least start talking about the capability of these weapons ... or we're all gonna go down.

Aha ...

Yes, aha — right.

Again, if you think that governments should have military operations, if you think they should have clandestine operations where they can't tell you what they're doing — isn't this just in line with that? Of course we're not gonna tell you where our spies are, we can't do that — that's the whole point of having spies. You have to trust, at some point, you have to. We have a system of checks and balances, but you have to allow us to do some work in secret for the interest of national security ...

I think that's true to some extent, but let's make the nuclear analogy again: We don’t hand out the location of all our missiles or the codes for those launches. But we do let people know that we actually have nuclear weapons. We have an international set of agreements that limits their use so that the whole world doesn't go up in flames. We understand capability. Nuclear capability. And mind you, it took a lot of work to get the government to agree to start talking about that capability. So my takeaway from the film wouldn’t be that everything that's secret shouldn't be disclosed. It would be that we have to begin to at least start talking about the capability of these weapons. To admit that we developed them, and to begin to start forging some sort of international agreements on their use, or we're all gonna go down. And we're gonna go down in ways that we won't even know what hit us.

Let me ask about the movie itself. Traditionally, people who make movies about computers and the internet are really stymied, right? It’s software, it’s happening inside a computer. You can do the "Tron" or "Matrix" approach and create a whole new world that shows you what's happening inside the computer, or you just have lots of shots of dudes typing and looking worried. You make documentaries, so you can't even show people creating the virus — it’s people talking about it. How do you approach showing the story of a computer virus?

It’s a good question. I should say I have some experience in this, you know. Rule No 1A is never make a film about financial transactions, for example, and I did "Enron." We managed to never make a film about accounting even worse. So I'm familiar with the challenge. In this case, the main character of the film is a virus. We worked hard with a company called Framestore — they've done incredible work on films like "Harry Potter" and also "Gravity" and others — to come up with a look of the code that made you feel like you were inside it, and that it is in fact a living, breathing character. And we used the actual Stuxnet code. So that's part of it!

So you're actually showing zeros and ones and dots ...

Yeah, I'm actually showing bits and pieces of the actual code. But in addition, we frame the film as a kind of detective story.

Right. The beginning, there's a scene — it looks like it’s a Steven Soderbergh, or sort of spy, Matt Damon movie, but goes quickly into guys telling a story ...

Right. And two of our key detectives are the antivirus guys from Symantec, Liam O’Murchu and Eric Chien — they are the ones who bit-by-bit broke down the code and discovered what it was. Because everybody was afraid that it might have been a kind of malicious code that would start shutting down grids all over the world — nobody really knew until you got into it. In fact it was a very carefully targeted code. But as detectives, they're great. They were fantastic. And then inside the NSA, we found some sources, and we found a very unusual way of presenting those sources in a way ...

Right — we won't spoil that.

I dont wanna spoil it, but it’s an interesting way of rendering them and keeping their identity secret while at the same time celebrating the sort of "Matrix"-like code world.

Whenever I read about a hacking attack, inevitably they end up saying, "There's an attack, it's thought to be an attack, we think it involves this, we ask a researcher to tell us this." And as a critical consumer of these stories, you're thinking that this is probably right, but you don’t really know, and you don’t know if the people telling me this really know. And very often, people who are telling me, "This is a hacking attack," come from people who are selling anti-hacking software, right? And then, in your case, you've got like the same thing from Kaspersky. And in your movie you also have, "This is a secret, classified mission." So there's a ton of doubt —at least there was for me — like, do I really know if Alex knows what he's talking about? Is there any one version of the story. First of all, do you think that you've got this thing nailed, are you 100 percent confident?

Yeah, we're feeling pretty good about this. It’s not like we went out, talked to a couple people, and then just put it up on the screen. Our story was pretty rigorously fact-checked from sources all over the world, so we're pretty confident. And we also disclosed for the first time an operation that is much more sophisticated than Stuxnet — something called Nitro Zeus — something that the U.S. government targeted the critical infrastructure of Iran in case there was a war, and would allow us to basically shut down their grid.

And do you feel like, we're asking the reader or the viewer to take this leap of faith with me? You do some things that sort of set a little bit of doubt into sort of how you're telling the story. I guess you've got David Sanger from the Times as your sort of through line, right?

Yeah. But at the end of the day, let’s be honest and say the only way that people have of knowing that you're telling the truth, is to trust you, and that comes usually both in terms of what you disclose in terms of your own methods. And we do disclose them in the film. But also a record over time — I think my record over time has been pretty good.

Yeah, if this was your first movie, it would be a different thing than maybe in three years.

Yeah, that's right.

What was the reaction from the government?

The reaction from the government was — we let the government know, or I should say, via David Sanger, the New York Times. Sometimes it’s hard for me to get the government on the phone — they don't respond to me as quickly as they do to the New York Times. Via the New York Times, we were able to let the government know in advance that we were going to disclose some things that had never been disclosed before. And the government wasn't happy, but they weren't willing to enlighten us to ask us not to publish.

So there was no pressure on you to not go forward. They were cooperative, but ...

They were cooperative, but yes, they didn’t — when we were close to release, they did not pressure us to abandon.

Let's talk about the Church of Scientology for a second. We were talking before we started taping that if you Google you — which is how I do my primary research, because I'm very thorough — you get a bunch of results that are sponsored by the Church of Scientology, whether they're actually ads or they're, you know, attacks on you. You made "Going Clear" just a couple years ago ,right?

Yeah, it was out I think just over a year ago on HBO.

So do you feel like you and the Church of Scientology are going to sort of be in conflict in perpetuity?

Yes.

They're not gonna let go of it?

Baked into the Church of Scientology is a doctrine called Fair Game, and that is that it’s fair game to do anything — to go after critics of the Church of Scientology. That was something invented early on by L. Ron Hubbard.

And you knew that going in when you made the movie?

Yep.

And now you've made the movie, and they're still after you, at least in this ...

I have somebody who shows up, whenever I go to Los Angeles. I have somebody who shows up and positions himself very close to the front row of the audience so I can see him, so he can bore his eyes into my brain, as if, you know, he was one of the Children of the Damned or something. And that's supposed to disquiet me. He's making a documentary about me. I look forward to see it sometime in the near future. But I always make a point of introducing him. I said, "Everybody should know …"

I'm afraid that if I do a film about a puppy, something bad might happen to the puppy.

Here's my guy.

"Here's my guy — he's here from the Church of Scientology and he's making a documentary. Please stand up and take a bow," and that's usually fairly disarming. I should say, though, that for all the kind of ham-fisted attempts that they've made to discredit me — you know, they took out a full-page ad in the New York Times and the LA Times — they've done some things to people who were in the film, which is really quite malicious and pernicious. They hire private investigators, for example, and they intimidate, particularly the women who are in the film. And that's been reported to me by them — they're walking down the street at night, big hulking guys are following them. And recently it was reported, by the Los Angeles Times, I believe, that somebody was picked up by the police, he was carrying a number of weapons and about 2,000 rounds of ammunition, and he was surveilling Ron Miscavige, who was the father of David Miscavige, the head of the church. But when you're carrying 2,000 rounds of ammunition surveilling somebody, it takes on a different vibe ...

Does that influence your choice of films going forward?

Ha! Well, I don’t know. I mean ...

"Maybe I should do something on bunny rabbits or …"

Yeah, my wife is often very encouraging about that type of subject. Puppies.

People like puppies.

They do like puppies. I'm afraid that if I do a film about a puppy, something bad might happen to the puppy.

As someone who makes movies about powerful people who you accuse of wrongdoing — who often are doing wrongdoing — have you thought at all about the Peter Thiel/Gawker case and what it means to go after someone who has astonishing resources and the ability to chase you down over many, many years?

I have thought about that, and in fact it was very much the playbook of the Church of Scientology. I give tremendous credit to HBO because they backed us up legally, not only in-house, but hired First Amendment counsel to field the avalanche of legal paper that we got threatening us. And that's very much the M.O., to drown you in expenses. And an M.O. of powerful organizations and individuals, and it’s something I'm very concerned about. I'm actually working with a number of First Amendment legal societies to come up with strategies to make sure that powerful people don’t just use their pocketbooks to shut people up ...

So you think that that is a real concern? Beause a lot of people say,"Oh, listen, Gawker got what they got coming to them, no one else is gonna deal with this, this is a one-off thing …"

It’s not a one-off thing, and you know, Mother Jones had to defend itself against a very powerful individual not very long ago — cost them I believe over two million dollars. For Mother Jones, that's real money. There's Sheldon Adelson, I believe, went after some folks in the media. So it’s becoming something of an ugly trend. And particularly as income inequality grows ever more vast, I think the concern is troubling. Jane Mayer, who's a New Yorker writer, has just written a book about the Koch Brothers, and she describes in the book some dirty tricks mounted against her, paid for by powerful organizations. And I should say this is not just for the press but it often happens with politicians. I did a film called "Client 9" about Eliot Spitzer, and one of the things that was interesting to me in doing that film was a hidden story about his very powerful enemies, and how they used their resources to hire private detectives to effectively bring him down.

You are making a film that is not about bunnies, but it is unlikely to get a lawsuit, right? It is fiction. It’s a narrative feature film. What’s that gonna be?

It’s called "The Action." Or at least that's the title for the moment. We haven't shot it ...

But this is your first feature, right?

This will be my first scripted feature.

Why do that now?

Because the story's good.

What’s the story?

The story is a wonderful story — it’s kind of an origin story of surveillance. It’s about a small group of citizens who back in 1971 had the vibe that the FBI was doing something untoward in terms of spying on and discrediting people. So they broke into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, the night of the Ali-Frazier fight in Madison Square Garden. That gave them wonderful coverage — everyone was watching that fight! And it was very politically charged, that fight. And they stole all the documents in the office. What they discovered in those documents was reference to an operation called Cointelpro, which was the J. Edgar Hoover dirty-tricks operation to not only spy on people but also to discredit them. And it had a huge impact. So it’s a wonderful story about everyday people kinda striking back. And it’s a heist film, so it’s fun.

And then you move into an era in the '70s where, because of that and also Watergate and a whole bunch of other stuff that comes to light, you have enormous distrust of the government, and then the government sort of pulls back on what it can do in terms of surveillance or what it says its gonna do in terms of surveillance. And then we cycle back to 2001, and people saying, "Oh, we should be much more aggressive about the way we do this sort of policing and interrogating and spying." Do you think we're gonna cycle back away from that again now?

Well, I think you know in the wake of WikiLeaks and the Snowden revelations, people have developed, I think, a healthy distrust of the government, particularly when the government lies to us. When James Clapper lied to the Senate, that was a disquieting moment ...

And it seems like there are two trends. One is a distrust of the government ...

Right. And then, protect us, protect us, protect us!

Protect us. "Why didn’t you guys pick up this guy in Orlando, why is he allowed to buy a gun, he should be on a no-fly list, he should be on a no-gun-buying list …"

Exactly! And I think it is a tension. And we do want to be protected, and we should be protected. I'm involved in another story — I did a short piece about it for the New Yorker Presents — about a moment when the CIA didn’t pass on information that it had which led to 9/11. And so there is a real tension between security and freedom. But it’s a tension that I think we have to embrace on both sides. You know, we want security, but we also want our freedom. And, frankly, when it comes to terror, the goal, I would say, of terrorists very often is to provoke us to run away from our core values so that they can use that hypocrisy as a recruiting tool. And that I think is something that we should resist.

We could keep talking about this for hours, but you've got movies to promote. [Laughter] People should watch your movie — do you care if they see it in the theater, do you want them to watch it at home, do you want them to … You want them to watch it, period.

I want them to watch it, period, and watch it on a good screen, because we spent a lot of time making it a pretty powerful cinematic experience, I think. So whether you've got a good screen at home, good speakers, fine. If you wanna go out to the theater with a few friends, good.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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