When directors Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman heard that former New York congressman Anthony Weiner was planning to run for mayor of New York City, they saw it as an opportunity to create a documentary with the classic theme of “redemption.” Weiner was looking to rebuild his reputation after a sex scandal had forced him to resign from Congress two years earlier.
What no one, not even Steinberg or Kriegman, would have guessed was that in the middle of this comeback story, a second sex scandal would break and that their film “Weiner” would end up documenting the collapse of Weiner’s political aspirations once again.
I spoke with Sternberg and Kriegman on their film and how they were able to get Anthony Weiner to be so candid.
Coursen: So I think the first question people are going to have once they see the film is how did you guys get Anthony Weiner to be so candid?
Kriegman: So I actually met Anthony years ago when I was working in politics. I actually was working for him when he was in Congress, I was his chief of staff for a couple of years. So he and I knew each other well. And I think as most people know Anthony was a congressman who got caught up in this sexting scandal when he accidentally tweeted an interesting photo of himself to all of his tweeter followers, and ended up resigning from congress because of it. So he and I stayed in touch and a couple of years after he resigned he decided to run for mayor of New York City in an effort to get back into politics and rehabilitate himself. And you know Elyse and I had been working together on various film projects and we were really excited to possibly get a chance to film his campaign as it unfolded and so we reached out to him and he agreed to allow us to follow him through the campaign.
Coursen: Was there ever any hesitation on him part in letting you all film a documentary about his “road to redemption”?
Kriegman: It’s interesting people don't necessarily know or remember for the first six weeks or so of the mayoral campaign he was actually doing quite well. Things were going really well for him and for the campaign and he was really defying expectations. He was not that far removed from a fairly unprecedented sexting scandal and it looked like New Yorkers might actually forgive him. He was at the top of the polls and a lot of folks were actually saying wow this guy could really come back and maybe be mayor. So things were going really well and I think at the point where the scandal resurfaced and the campaign took a different direction, I think that I had become embedded in the campaign and it felt natural to keep going and keep documenting things as it all unfolded.
Coursen: Just so I have the timeline right…you guys started making this documentary and then it was in the middle of making it that a second scandal broke, right?
Kriegman: Yeah that's right.
Kriegman: It was about six weeks or so into his campaign and about half way through the summer of 2013. The scandal resurfaced, new revelations about the scandal that had kind of led to his resignation kind of came too light and ultimately was not something that Anthony and his campaign were able to get past.
Coursen: From your guys stand point how did you all react to that? How did that creatively change the direction of this documentary? Did you all have to step back and regroup?
Steinberg: Well I think, you know as Josh was saying, when we began we thought this could be a remarkable comeback story. And as Josh was saying he was leading in the polls but then things took an unexpected turn and we became a fixture in the campaign and I think that led to us still being there and filming it as things unfolded.
Kriegman: I think that this is one of those sort of classic fairly common documentary stories were you set out to make one film, and Elyse and really had no idea what to expect. I don't think anyone really knew what was going to happen or how it was going to unfold and so we had some sense of it may be going in one direction, but you know as things changed in terms of the film making it was just a matter of staying with it and continuing to document and follow wherever the story leads.