(NEW YORK) -- Everyone knows how this movie ends. But watching it happen as if you're three feet away from former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is a unique experience. The man giving you that access is Greg Whiteley, director of the new Netflix documentary Mitt. He followed the Romney family from Christmas 2006 as they huddled to hash out the pros and cons of a presidential run (“no pros?” Romney jokes) to 2012 as Ann and Mitt Romney sat together after the Election Day defeat.
Whiteley, who like the Romney family is Mormon, shared some insights on the making of the intimate portrait of a former presidential candidate from Romney’s reaction to the "47 percent video" that nearly derailed his campaign, to how Romney's campaign aides felt about Whiteley's ubiquitous presence in the family, and some of the campaign's most private moments.
"Just me and a camera"
The documentary may seem like a sugarcoated portrait of the candidate, but Whiteley says he didn't approach it like one of the dozens of journalists who followed Romney around professionally in either the 2008 or 2012 campaign.
“First off there’s no news team. It was just me and a camera,” Whiteley said.
The result is access to the Romney family's private prayers, private moments of the family sledding together on a snowy day, and plenty of tears.
Whiteley sometimes, but rarely, talks directly to the people he films. And he said that after culling hundreds of hours of film, the version of the film that will be released on Friday is mostly the view of a fly on the wall.
“I really never saw myself as a traditional journalist,” he said. “Over the six years that I filmed this, I just noticed that things went better when I kept my mouth shut. I blended into the wallpaper and I just filmed.”
Looking for campaign strategy? Look elsewhere.
"The flipping Mormon," is how Romney described the public perception of his candidacy. "I’ve got to live with that, oh you flip on everything."
"In which case, I think I’m a flawed candidate," he adds.
That's about as deep into campaign strategy as the movie gets.
Whiteley says that's no accident.
"The film is very a-political. If you’re looking for a film like the War Room [a documentary about Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign], this film is not that," Whiteley notes. “My access was the opposite. I didn’t get access to people like Stuart Stevens and the campaign staff."
"But I did have access to the family, so that’s what the movie became.”
A kinder, gentler Romney?
It’s a Romney like you’ve never seen him before. But would it have helped him win?
“Tag [Romney] felt very strongly that a film like that could come out and help him,” Whiteley said, referring to one of Romney's sons.
Whiteley is not so sure.
“The footage gets viewed differently during the furor of the election,” he noted.
Plus, he hadn't filmed the end yet, which includes some of the most compelling footage in the film: watching Romney, his family and aides come to terms with loss.
What about '47 percent?'
It was the moment that rocked the Romney campaign, and some might say tipped the race in President Obama’s favor. The video, surreptitiously filmed at a closed-press fundraiser, caught Romney saying that 47 percent of the country would vote for President Obama because they are dependent on the government and don't pay income taxes. The snippet enraged many voters.
But in the film, you hear very little of Whiteley or anyone else reacting to the big moment. Whiteley explains why:
“I just simply wasn’t there when the 47 percent was uttered. When I was with him I was sort of just capturing the aftermath,” he said.
“Whatever damage control or spin mode they were in, I just didn't have access to that. The campaign was very reluctant to have me film any of that,” he added. "They were reluctant to have me film anything period."
What did Mitt Romney think?
Romney and his wife Ann attended the film's Sundance premierw last week, and Whiteley revealed that it was the first time Romney had seen the movie.
“He was very gracious to show up without having seen the film,” Whiteley said.
The two chatted backstage, but Romney didn’t dish on what he thought of how he was portrayed.
“Oddly, I didn’t ask him what he thought of the movie and he didn’t tell me,” Whiteley said. “My sense is he found it a bit uncomfortable, but you’d have to ask him.”
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