The New Mail email domain said gorby.ru. We had been waiting almost ten months to get an interview with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. I knew as soon as I saw the email from his assistant Pavel Palazchenko that the wait was over.
The email said my wife and I were welcome to book a trip to Moscow. Mr. Gorbachev was ready to answer my questions about George Shultz. We met in his comfortable suite of offices. The former leader of the communist world was welcoming, talkative and effusive in his praise of George Shultz. As I had discovered, it was an opinion shared by many distinguished people.
Filming Reagan actor signing document
I had already been working for over a year on a three-hour television series for Free To Choose Media about former Secretary of State, Secretary of Labor and Secretary of the Treasury George Shultz. I had, of course, known who Mr. Shultz was. But soon after I began the project, I discovered the high esteem in which he was held by public figures of all political stripes around the world. Liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican—all saw George Shultz as a remarkable American public servant who had made enormous contributions to American life. Interview subjects already included Former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, the late Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator Richard Lugar and journalists such as Don Oberdorfer of the Washington Post and historians such as Reagan biographer, Richard Reeves.
Filming in Moscow, Kremlin in background
Shultz had been a distinguished free market economist, an academic, a successful businessman and a four time cabinet appointee. In the history of presidential cabinets, only Elliot Richardson held as many cabinet posts. However, my primary interest for purposes of the television series was his tenure as Secretary of State. I wished to look at the role Shultz played in the rapprochement of the 1980’s between America and the Soviet Union that eventually led to the end of cold war relations between the former bitter enemies. Shultz had helped to lead Ronald Reagan to historic summit meetings in Geneva and Reykjavik that made enormous cuts in nuclear arms.
I also wanted to tell this story to the public using a technique beyond the usual interviews and archival period news footage. To do this I created a series of dramatizations using actors, sets and dramatic lighting to make several historic moments come to life for the audience. We discovered a movie set of the Oval Office in Petersburg, Virginia.
A beautiful home in the Boston Navy Yard became the cabinet room and a mansion in Saratoga Springs, New York doubled as Gorbachev’s office. We never see the famous faces. But Ronald Reagan writing a letter to Gorbachev, meeting with his cabinet, making a television speech, Gorbachev meeting with Shultz and others events all became moments that the audience will re-live in a dramatic way.
Bechtel re-enactment, Director David
deVries standing by
After forty years of making documentaries, the story of George Shultz ranks as one of the most fascinating projects I have been asked to create. Mikhail Gorbachev told me in Moscow, “The dialogue was not working. And so he was the one who said, ‘We need to change that.’ And we started a different kind of dialogue and within that dialogue trust emerged. My opinion of George Shultz is very high.”
My opinion of George Shultz is also very high. After some twenty two months of filming in six countries on three continents, the three hour series will at last air some time during 2010. I will hope the viewing public will gain a new appreciation and respect for this remarkable American.