Film & TV

Why I Directed Gosnell

Earl Billings as Kermit Gosnell in Gosnell (Trailer image:
An underserved audience wants to see truthful movies about serious issues.

I  have been asked, over the years since we shot Gosnell in the fall of 2015, why I chose to take on the challenge of directing such a controversial project. I usually say that I did it for the same reason that I guest-hosted the Rush Limbaugh show — I thought it would get me more work in Hollywood.

But seriously — I did have some trepidation. I knew that I could be demonized or shunned by many of my colleagues in the industry. This is a town that runs on fear. It is quite common for actors to think that every job they get could be their last. “You’ll never have lunch in this town again” hasn’t become a cliché for nothing.

But then I read Andrew Klavan’s script.

Not only was I captivated by the horrific facts of the case of Kermit Gosnell, I was stunned by the knowledge the script provided about the facts of the procedure of abortion. It is nearly impossible to find an adult person who does not have an opinion on the issue of abortion, and yet how little we all know about it — how it is done, what the laws are surrounding it, how it is regulated, legislated, and practiced. I wanted to share that knowledge.

I have always hated movies that preach at me, that try to manipulate me and tell me what to think about a story rather than just telling me the story. After a long period of developing a shooting script, the producers and I set out to make a movie that would inform and benefit people on both sides of this issue, no matter how passionate. I saw nothing to be gained from a film that preached or demonized one side or the other.

However, this is a story about a serial murderer who was allowed to operate for 27 years. Fear of the politics of abortion is what enabled him to continue, undetected, for decades. What this monster did and how and why he was allowed to get away with it for so long are equally shocking. The politics could not be ignored, but we tried to present them objectively in an honest and compelling film.

I believe that we succeeded. The film has a gritty “just the facts, ma’am” style, is well acted, with powerful, moving performances by Dean Cain, Sarah Jane Morris, and Michael Beach, among many others, and moves like a bullet train. So why has it taken three years to be released?

I realize, looking back, that I was quite naïve about how this film would be received. I truly believed that if we did it the right way, even the so-called Hollywood Left would appreciate our fairness in telling the story, see its value, and, furthermore, share our goals in getting this important story before the public.

Sadly, I was wrong. As I said, this town runs on fear — the fear not only of failure but, more insidiously, of being shunned because of your political opinions. I was gratified by the talented people in this industry, many of them who differed with me politically, who did believe in our script and were willing to come on board. But many people, some of them good friends of mine, declined to work on this film, not because of its quality but because of the fear of reprisal or even ostracism by the groupthink herd in Hollywood. More than once, I was asked questions like “Are you crazy?” or “Are you sure you want to do this?”

Three years ago, when we made this film, there wasn’t even a candidate Trump, let alone a President Trump. The climate in this town is more toxic and hateful now than it has ever been for someone right of center. Put it this way: If they think you don’t have the right to eat in a restaurant with your family if you disagree with them, why would they hesitate to exclude you from the business because you don’t vote like they do?

Fear is destructive and dangerous. Fear is what allowed Gosnell to commit multiple murders. The powers-that-be were afraid to allow inspections of his clinic, even after multiple complaints, for fear of being called racist or “anti-woman.”

Fear is now killing the movie business. This fear of allowing certain viewpoints to be presented is producing predictable, boring films with no danger in them, no truth, no tension, and no drama, and it is driving people away in droves. And that is partly why I chose to direct Gosnell. As we learned in grade school, we have to stop being afraid of bullies.

This film had to go around Hollywood to make its way to the audience. That is a long and difficult road right now — but the trail has been blazed. Movies such as the recent hit I Can Only Imagine have forged it, and found their audiences. While it might just be a rocky wagon trail now, I can see a day when it is a mighty freeway, bringing films with all viewpoints to the audiences who want to see them.

There is an underserved audience out there, an audience who wants to see truthful movies about serious issues and does not want to be told what to think by sermonizing, patronizing, or condescending filmmakers. If Hollywood is unable or unwilling to serve that audience, then a new Hollywood needs to be created, a Hollywood that is not controlled by fear. this film will become one more example of why we need to stop letting fear dictate what we, as artists, do in the film industry.


Nick Searcy, an American character actor, directed and stars in Gosnell, which premieres in theaters nationwide on October 12.

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