Documenting a Legend

Leanne Robinson-Maine

Environmental leadership documentary So Right So Smart is airing on Public Broadcasting Stations (PBS) in the US during 2015. Interface asked the makers of the film to tell us a little bit about the film’s origin.

“How and why did you decide to embark upon this filmmaking venture?”

MagicWig’s Leanne Robinson-Maine responds:

In simple terms, the answer to that question is a question: “How could we be in the video and filmmaking industry and NOT find a way to document and share with the world the inspiring story unfolding before our eyes?”

MagicWig Productions, Inc. has had a longstanding relationship with Interface as a client. Our founders have been producing meetings and videos for Interface, Inc. since 1995, right after Ray Anderson’s “Spear in the Chest” epiphany. We got to see first hand the changes that the company went through under Ray’s leadership: the initial reactions that “Ray had gone around the bend,” the growing pains involved in changing the culture, the steady embedding of sustainability into Interface’s DNA, and the emergence of a restorative mission for the company. And we have it all on tape. So, we were in a perfect position to use all of that archival footage to share Interface’s inspiring story of transformation with the world.

SRSS Filming Ray Anderson on his porch.

The crew (Justin Maine, Leanne Robinson-Maine and Christopher Haines) interviewing Ray Anderson in 2007 at his North Carolina home. Photo credit: Stephen Ross

At MagicWig we have been cheering for Interface from the sidelines all this time.  We watched in awe as Ray steered his “well oiled” carpet tile manufacturing giant, his third child, toward a completely new and revolutionary goal—one with environmental ethics that really resonated with us. In fact, Guy Noerr, one of the co-founders of our company, has always referred to Ray as “his personal Mickey Mantle”—a legend in his time and Guy’s true hero. And it was Guy who originally proposed to the MagicWig partners that we embark on this “passion project”, producing a full length feature documentary about Ray.

Co-founder Justin Maine, who heads up our video department, responded with the thought that although Ray’s story should be the central character arc of the film, we should explore a wider scope. Ray was a pioneer in his industry—a visionary. But even more interesting was how, with his almost evangelical outreach, Ray held up Interface as an experimental model to inspire other organizations. And the story of Interface’s eco-industrial leadership would be even more powerful when shown in the context of the greater environmental sustainability movement.

The MagicWig team agreed and decided Justin should direct the film. Soon afterward, they brought me on as a writer/producer on the project, and pre-production began. After a period of extensive research, we developed a list of the key parties we were interested in interviewing, from environmental advocates like Paul Hawken and David Suzuki to leaders of a host of other businesses at various stages in sustainability journeys. We wanted to put our finger on the pulse of the corporate sustainability movement from as many perspectives as possible. The list grew as we learned more in each interview and had new questions.

SRSS Story Cards

“The Board” was our visual reference for arranging scenes and topics throughout the editing process.

After two years of traveling around the country during the production phase, we had collected more than 60 interviews and over 350 hours of footage. Trying to decide what went into the film (when there was so much incredible content) was a big challenge and a long process of integrating multiple creative viewpoints (which is how we ultimately ended up with four directors!). Along the way we scripted narration to provide a through-line for all of the different topics covered in the film. Serendipity led us to Daryl Hannah, who turned out to be a huge fan of Ray Anderson. The rest is history. From pre- to post-production, the film took about four years to complete.

So Right So Smart had its world premiere at the Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival in January 2009 where it won Best in Festival.  It had its international debut at Reel Earth New Zealand where it won Best Feature. The film has played at over 30 festivals across the globe, has had a limited theatrical release in several US cities, and is currently being broadcast on PBS stations across the country throughout 2015.

SRSS Directors and Star

The four Directors (Leanne Robinson-Maine, Guy Noerr, Justin Maine and Michael Swantek) with Ray Anderson at the Atlanta Film Festival.

We hear so many wonderful responses to the film. Most of them include the sentiment that Ray Anderson, sharing his story the way only Ray could, was critical to their experience of the film and their receptiveness to its message. We like to think that So Right So Smart is continuing the outreach that Ray saw as his mission: using his amazingly magnetic, charismatic personality to engage people and then showing them a living example of change and hope for a more restorative future. We are honored to be able to take a supporting role in sharing the story that we have been so lucky to witness first hand.

To watch the film in your city, visit the film’s website to find the broadcast date for your local PBS channel.

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