Nicholas Bruckman on Not Going Quietly


In our latest anatomy of a scene interview, we spoke with Nick Bruckman, director of Not Going Quietlythe documentary that follows father and disability rights activist Ady Barkan. The film received 3 IDA nominations recently, as well as a nomination for the Critics Choice Documentary Awards.

Nicholas is also the founder and CEO of People’s Television, a New York-based creative studio that aims to enact change on a national scale.

PH: There is a big focus on organizing for social change in Not Going Quietly, however, do you feel like there is a specific scene that had the largest impact on demonstrating social change? 

Nick Bruckman: For me, one of the most powerful moments both in production and watching the film as an audience member is the scene where Ady Barkan testifies before Congress on “Medicare for All” in the House of Representatives’ Rules Committee Hearing Room. It’s such a testament to the power of organizing we see in the film, and I think the moment really demonstrates Margaret Meade’s classic quote – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Ady’s voice reverberated in that room where he spoke to powerful members of Congress without even a voice to use – and all of the people in the room, including members of Congress, were moved to tears.

This was the first time the government had taken up the “Medicare for All” bill, which would provide Americans with the universal healthcare that most other developed nations in the world benefit from. The hearing only happened in the first place due to the organizing efforts of Ady and other activists to help the Democrats win back the House of Representatives through the birddogging and organizing tactics that you see throughout the journey of the movie. 

PH: Describe this scene and the significance it has to the rest of the film.

Nick Bruckman: We used this scene to bookend the film – it’s important because in it, Ady tells his own story to members of Congress with all of America watching online and at home, and so we use that as an introduction to Ady at the top of the film before coming back to it at the film’s climax. He shared how his personal tragedy of having ALS is rare, but not unique – millions of Americans live with serious illness and yet lack the proper healthcare coverage and care that allow them to be at home with family or to live with dignity. 

PH: Working in a documentary format requires a ton of storyboarding. How did you piece together the story so that this scene’s setup would have the impact it did on demonstrating social change?  

Nick Bruckman: We worked with our editor Kent Bassett to structure two different versions of the scene to place at the beginning and near the end of the film. We rewind after placing it at the beginning in order to show Ady’s entire journey to the halls of power in Washington D.C. as a man without a voice. It’s emblematic of the most important message of the film, which is the power our stories have to affect others and shape the society we want to live in. 

PH: What tools, plugins, or instruments did you use in your production of this scene?

Nick Bruckman: We shot this scene with a RED and Canon C300 camera. We had Lavalier microphones on Ady’s computer text-to-speech machine and zoom lenses because we had to be absolutely silent during the hearing. Fortunately, we were given full access by the committee chair, so we were able to crawl under the desks and behind members of Congress in order to capture dynamic close-ups of the faces of everyone in the room, which was important to showing the emotional impact Ady’s testimony had on the people watching, the government representatives, and the country.

PH: What technical challenges did you encounter while working on this scene?

Nick Bruckman: The biggest challenge was securing access to the hearing room, which had to be navigated carefully with Ady’s team and the committee, and explaining the historic significance it would have if we were allowed to document it. There could only be two of us in there at a time, so we had to be loaded up with all of our batteries and media, and be very nimble as we moved around a very formal hearing room. 

PH: Was there another direction you initially wanted it to go? 

Nick Bruckman: With the entire documentary process, there’s a constant reconfiguring and rewriting of what your story will be based on how it unfolds in real life. Thinking about how each moment you capture can fit into that story while also being authentic and objective to the journey that your characters are on is essential – in this moment, we knew we would have very little control over what unfolded in that room. But what did happen ended up being really central to the emotional arc and thesis of the story. 

PH: What was the dialogue like between you and the rest of the crew regarding this scene?

Nick Bruckman: I was inside the room with our Cinematographer, Ryder Haske, and we were not able to communicate at all being in this austere, closed-door televised hearing room inside the Capitol. We were also in touch with our Producer, Amanda Roddy, and other members of the team outside the room through text message. There was a lot of security inside the Capitol and our dialogue was really around getting the kind of coverage we knew we would need to have this scene be a pivotal moment in the film. For me as the Director, I wanted to make this scene not about Ady’s face, but rather the reactions of the audience in the room and close-ups of the Members of Congress being confronted with the realities of the impact of their policies.

So the mission was to ensure that we could capture in close-up all of the protagonists and activists in the room, and all the Representatives with Ady foregrounded in his Mr. Smith-goes-to-Washington moment. We wanted the audience to see what happens when you eliminate the distance between the government and the people, the representatives and the represented – and I think creatively we were successful in achieving that. 


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