Back in the summer of 2001, when we started working on what we thought would be a film (just one film) about the story of how a great think tank idea becomes a law, one of the biggest challenges we faced was getting access to film in exactly those places where this would have to happen -- offices in the Senate and the House. But Hill staffers do not seek the limelight, to say the least -- and they are rarely encouraged to do so. Congressional offices have very good reasons to be notoriously camera-shy. So we had to find a way to talk about what we had in mind that made it seem like a good idea, good enough to be worth the almost insane risk to them and their bosses. Something that would soften the horror.
Our films always end up being a collaboration with the people we're filming, so we like to be very clear about what we intend to do. When it came down to describing the idea we had in mind this time, the simplest and truest phrase was this: "how democracy works now". That seemed to sum it up -- we wanted to look into that black box between elections and legislation, and understand what sorts of collaborations and pathways were actually there. We kept kicking this idea around between ourselves, trying to think of a way to say it that sounded like a film title. And in the end, we just couldn't wait to come up with the right title, so we started explaining ourselves in the plainest terms possible, using the actual idea as the provisional title: How Democracy Works Now.
How Democracy Works Now sounds laughably earnest, it's true. It's a title only an educational film could survive, and probably not one that many people would ever see. And that worked out to be terribly useful. It became something that made us, and our camera, less threatening in places where cameras rarely go. And it tapped into a vein of altruism in a lot of the people we hoped to be filming as well. Hill staff jobs, and even the elected posts of those staffers' bosses, attract a surprisingly idealistic bunch of people. Participating in the working of democracy turned out to be exactly why a lot of them were there.