Jonathan Scott at a solar company in Nevada, with solar panel

Jonathan Scott Investigates Who Controls Our Power

November 06, 2020 by Craig Phillips in Behind the Films

In some ways Jonathan Scott should need no introduction—or so you’d think as co-host with his brother Drew of the hugely popular HGTV shows Property Brothers and Brother vs. Brother, which air in more than 160 countries, and as a best-selling author, magazine co-founder, Billboard-charting recording artist, and social media influencer. But there’s another side to Jonathan that doesn’t get as much of a spotlight, and that’s as a longtime advocate of environmental responsibility and clean, renewable energy. He even co-wrote an e-book with Al Gore about the power and impact of solar energy on our lives and economy. All these roads have led to Jonathan making a documentary about that same topic, Jonathan Scott’s Power Trip, which finds him journeying all over the U.S. to uncover why clean, renewable energy isn’t available to all.

It’s a topic that energizes him, emboldens him, and sometimes—when learning more how solar power was obstructed by fossil fuel monopolies—enrages him. But in his film he takes a wide approach, talking to advocates, energy companies, coal miners, members of the Navajo Nation who built a utility-scale solar plant, communities of color who seek better access to alternative energy, and more, all to paint a picture of the future of solar energy that is both cloudy and sunny. 

Jonathan Scott spoke to me by phone in October, from his home in Los Angeles, about how his family taught him the meaning of caretaking for the earth, about trying to convince lifetime coal miners there might be a different way, and trying to get energy companies to tell the truth. And also what he’s doing to pass the time—and escape—while in quarantine. 

You and your brother grew up in Canada, and it sounds like your family were very much stewards of the land and had that attitude. Was there interest in solar and alternative energies in your family when you were growing up? Or did that come later?  

“I remember saying to my mom as a kid, “Why don’t we power the whole house with this?”Jonathan Scott: The real focus definitely came later. But when we were young, we grew up on a ranch—we didn’t raise cattle or anything, we had horses, but my parents did pack trips up into the mountains, and at one point I think we had 30 horses. That was the thing that was important for us, was maintaining the land because we lived right on the edge of the forest. We were raised to always be conscious of how we’re treating the animals, how we’re treating the environment. Trying to do things that are not going to leave a negative imprint on either. So I think that was instilled in us.

Renewable energy itself was not a thing, I didn’t know much about it when I was younger. I also remember asking my mom why the calculator didn’t need batteries, because we had a calculator with a little photovoltaic charger piece. I think everyone’s had those. And I remember saying to my mom as a kid, “Why don’t we power the whole house with this?” And she said, “Well it’s impossible, you can’t. It’s too much power, it’s too big.” Well now, of course, you can, technology’s come a very long way since I was a kid.

But the first time I actually got interested in solar energy was my very first house. I was in my 20s in Calgary, Alberta. At the time I was married, my wife and I got this house and I heard of a company called Bullfrog Energy, they were a wind-powered energy company. Essentially you were buying credit from them. It was more expensive than regular power, but I felt it was doing something good because now I could power my home with wind energy through these credits. 

Eventually, Bullfrog Energy would sell all their power to the local utility, and then whoever’s part of the program could potentially utilize that. I was still tapped into the grid. The grid doesn’t separate clean energy from dirty energy, it’s all just energy on the grid. But that was the first time I was ever exposed to it, and thought I was doing something good. By the time I moved to the US and then found the house that I eventually renovated, that’s when I found that solar is fascinating. “I’ve known people who put solar on their roofs, I’m going to take the plunge, I’m going to do it.”

And it was the most maddening process. It was easy to deal with the company that did my install but then the utility company has all these weird rules about what we could and couldn’t do, rules they got approved by the Public Utility Commission. 

I couldn’t put as many panels on my house as I wanted. You can only put enough solar on your roof to offset 90% of your previous year’s usage. So if you took your previous year’s usage and divided up by the month, 90% of that is how much you could offset. 

Jonathan Scott in a blue suit, for a headshotThat’s when I knew that there was something going on, and that’s when I started digging in, and that’s what led to the whole film, the whole journey. The house had been sitting vacant because I bought it in a foreclosure, so nobody had been living in it for a year. There was no energy at all. We fought, went back and forth, and finally after this long process of me living in the house, got a small system approved.

Then I added a second system a year later, but they were dragging their heels. They flick the switch and approve me to start generating the energy because they wanted to keep getting my energy bill. Finally, after months and months of me calling up and yelling and saying it’s outrageous, they finally said, “Okay, we approve it. You can use it.” 

They flicked the switch, and then only a matter of weeks later is when the Public Utility Commission ended that metering, and killed all solar in Nevada. Anyone who already had a system could keep [it] but all the companies shut down, they couldn’t operate anymore, no new customers. And I was like, “What the f— just happened?”

The very first thing I discovered was that Arizona was even worse off than we were. People were getting charged, I think it was $50 a month as a penalty if you’re a solar customer. In Nevada, I pay I think $15 as a solar customer. They say it’s because you’re not paying your fair share of the utility, and that makes no sense. 

I already pay a solar fee, I’m just not paying for the usage. I don’t have the usage that other people have. It’s the equivalent of saying, “If you burn wood in your fireplace, the gas company can then fine you because you’re no longer using their services.” It’s ridiculous.

That was when I rolled up my sleeves and dropped the gauntlet—I’m like, “Bring it.” Before I even had a film, I hired a researcher to work with me to dig in and to find out all these stories. It was just maddening.

So how did you get to the point of this actually becoming a documentary?

First, I wrote out what I wanted it to be. I created a little pitch book. I knew that I wanted to do a documentary, but I’d never made one before. So I put together a book. And it was super slick, with graphics. I was like, “I know I’m going to do this, I don’t know yet exactly how I’m going to do it.”

“They said if I continue with the film, they’ll pull all their advertising from the network.”But I hadn’t told anybody about the documentary yet. I hadn’t done any press about it, I hadn’t talked externally about it. I kept it very close to the chest. I received a phone call about five months after I started working on it, from an executive at the network, who said, “We have a problem.” I won’t say what network, but they basically said one of their major advertisers is the local utility, and the local utility called and threatened and said they heard that I’m working on a film that does not shed a very kind light on the utility market. They said if I continue with the film, they’ll pull all their advertising from the network. And from our show.

It was concerning that somebody would make a threat like that, not even knowing what the film is about. My film is not frivolously targeting utilities, my film actually gave the utility a chance to speak and talk about their policies and why they’re doing that. But that was scary. How the hell did they know I was working on this film? Because I had not told anybody externally. I was really unnerved by that, but it didn’t stop me. I told them they can pull the advertising and let’s figure it out. The network was a little nervous about that. 

But then all of our networks got behind us, got behind the film, and support the fact that I believe that people should have the right to know how their energy is being produced, how these lobbyists are changing policy in order to benefit some of these larger organizations. I think people have the right to know all that stuff.

And you wanted to approach it in a way you reached people who aren’t as familiar or on board with alternative energy?

I was a debater in college and the number one thing for me is there’s no point in trying to sell what’s already sold to a certain audience, or preach to the choir. If you’re going to do something, particularly when it’s a hot button topic like this, you have to do it in a way that’s not going to immediately have someone throw their guard up if they’re not familiar with it, or particularly if it’s something that they don’t agree with. 

And so I intentionally made sure that we had points of view represented from both sides of the political aisle, from all different walks of life, all different areas of the country. I wanted to make sure that it was a film I don’t need to sell to people who already believe in real energy. I need to show that people who’ve been misinformed that they should be mad because this is something that benefits them as well.

Jonathan Scott tours Navajo Nation's solar farm or plant
Jonathan Scott tours Navajo Nation’s solar farm

I know some may also wonder why there’s not more directly about climate change in the film? I assumed that was part of this strategy as well. 

The thing is, climate change is its own rabbit hole. Climate change is obviously real, the science supports it, but it’s a very complex thing and it’s been politicized in a very frustrating way that clouds what the issue is. But it was an intentional decision for me to take climate change out of this conversation, because I want people to understand energy and what’s happening in energy. 

And there’s a lot of folks that as soon as you say “climate change” they immediately turn off or get defensive. And I don’t want that to detract from if climate change is a very serious issue, and it is inclined in renewable energy. However, I wanted to make sure people understand this is a separate issue as well, and just as serious.

There’s been a lot of environmental and climate change documentaries in recent years. Many of them good, but often kind of heavy and dry. So when making this film, you were consciously trying to do something different in the way you approached it? 

Absolutely. When I originally sat down with my friend Neil Berkeley, who is the co-executive producer, and with Edward, my co-director and co-writer, I had already laid out what I wanted the film to be. I’d been thrust into the whole world of solar unintentionally by putting solar on my home, and then all the struggles… I said to them, “If we’re going to do this, it has to be an enjoyable film to watch. It can’t be all data, or people are going to tune out. It can’t be super dry and depressing.” 

I’ve known Al Gore for a long, long time. I co-authored an e-book with him, I presented at Climate Realities Conferences, I hosted their “24 Hours of Reality” twice in a row. And he said to me [that] they learned from his very first film, that as depressing as some of this stuff is that happens, there’s also a lot of very exciting things happening. They learned there was a little too much doom and gloom where people just throw their hands up and say, “Well then what’s the point?” 

[Gore] said to me, “If you’re going to make a film about something as important as renewable energy and the environment, you have to show the hope. What’s the hope? What’s the path? What’s the call to action?” That was poignant.

And in fact, a little inside information, the very first cut we did of the film was really dry. As we sat down and watched, I’m like, “The information is fascinating, but only an environmental scholar would sit through all of this and understand.” That was just the first cut of the first act. We really pivoted as we were making the film, made sure that we were finding interesting, insightful people to talk to that would really showcase what I think a lot of people are asking out there.

Well that’s what first cuts are for, right? Then you get that perspective on what you need to keep working on to make it as compelling as it turned out to be.

Unfortunately they couldn’t do anything with me. [laughs] I’m just me. But they could fix the way they cut it altogether.

It helps people to have someone who is approachable leading them through this story, rather than a voice of God narrator or something. 

“I can’t stand bullies and people who intentionally manipulate the public, and that’s exactly what’s been going on.” Yeah. I can’t compare with Daniel Jones or Attenborough or Morgan Freeman, but what I can offer is—and this is always the way it’s been, I think the audience of our shows know I’m a no-B.S. person. I don’t have an agenda, or come in with a preconceived bias about what I think works. I was learning alongside the audience. There’s stuff that blew my mind. I had no idea this was happening. Once I started finding out all the facts and seeing the evidence, it all started to come together. 

You see random stories in the news about hiking energy costs and how low-income communities are being adversely affected by the way taxes are propagated. Then when you see in the back end what’s actually happening, it’s totally all fixed. It’s maddening.  

I can’t stand bullies and people who intentionally manipulate the public, and that’s exactly what’s been going on. It’s becoming more and more prevalent and blatant. It really pissed me off. I’m that guy that if you piss me off, I will go to the ends of the Earth to prove what you did and prove it was wrong.

I went to the ends of the country, I was all over before COVID. I’ve been filming this documentary for over three years, while filming 45 episodes of our show full-time. I would have maybe a week off a month, and used that time to film.

What were the myths about solar you tried to bust?

That solar is just for “tree-hugging liberals,” and it doesn’t follow a conservative agenda. If you think about it, the ideals that are thought to be important to a conservative are things like not having the government involved in telling you how to operate something, not having someone tell you on your land what you can and can’t do, having your choice to do the things that are important. 

When you look at solar. we’re talking about energy freedom. If you want to generate your own power you should be allowed to generate your own power. If you want to erect solar panels on the roof of your garage or your house, who’s to come on your property and tell you you can or can’t do that?

Some of these places, like Georgetown, Texas. It’s incredible. They’re using 100% renewable energy. They’ve offset their energy mix. The unfortunate thing is a lot of these early adopters of the technology got into bad energy plans trying to be [at] the forefront and make sure it’s working. So somewhere like Georgetown, unfortunately, some of the actual service agreements and utility agreements they signed into are not that equitable now that the cost of solar has dropped even more. But it is now good for business.

Over 20 cities in the country have already achieved their renewable energy goals, and it’s just going to continue to increase. 

The things that are important for me, and especially when I embarked on this whole journey—what’s good for people? Job creations, the human health effect by reducing fossil fuel, environmental effects, and the ability to lower your monthly expenses. The other thing that’s important to me? What’s good for the environment. We can’t be pumping greenhouse gases into our atmosphere like it’s a sewage dump.

There are two types of solar energy we focused on in the film. One is utility-scale solar. A lot of utilities are embracing solar. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper to build a solar facility for the same amount of power output. Coal is probably the most expensive, maybe nuclear. Natural gas is less, but solar is still cheaper. Wind is the cheapest. So a lot of these utilities are now embracing it and using it to offset their energy mix. 

"Power Trip director Jonathan Scott inspects the wall of a former coal mine in Lynch, Kentucky."
Jonathan Scott inspects the wall of a former coal mine in Lynch, Kentucky.

Problem is, the utilities want to continue to own the power, they don’t want to let people generate their own power. So that’s why they’re mainly fighting rooftop solar. And they don’t want people to have the ability and they want to eliminate that metering.

The other type of solar, rooftop solar, [is] good for the individual. Because you start to offset your bills and lower your costs, you’re in control of how you power your home and power your life. So for me, it’s got to be a mix of both. Utility-scale solar is important because it’s better for the environment on a large scale, but it doesn’t help the individual with their expenses, it doesn’t help the individual make those choices. 

It’s a matter of embracing the technology. But like anything else in the world, these big corporations, for the longest time said, “Solar is bad for business, it doesn’t make sense.” Well, that myth has been busted and it shows that it is good for business, in fact it’s cheaper to produce than those other forms of fossil fuel energy, all of a sudden they want to own it. And they’re gonna find a way that they can manipulate the system so that they’re the ones who benefit from it. That’s what we’re fighting right now, to make sure people are embracing the technology, but we want to make sure they don’t control it.

I don’t know if you saw the news this week about Exxon’s leaked documents? They were projecting higher carbon emissions right when everybody’s at least publicly talking about not, and it shows we’ve got a long way to go if the biggest fuel company in the world is still planning to stay the course on fossil fuels.

That’s the challenge, too. With the current administration, they don’t need to loosen up the guidelines for reducing pollution and reducing greenhouse emissions, they’re doing it because they want to give the economy a boost. And so I understand why they’re doing it, but the problem is there’s already a new green economy. There are more jobs being created in renewable energy than all of the fossil fuel industry combined. And those are healthy, good-paying jobs. And no side effects. “There’s already a new green economy.”

The problem is if you give some of these industries an inch, they’ll take a mile. And looking at a company like Exxon who now is like, “We’re gonna take advantage of these loosened restrictions while we can.” They already see the writing on the wall, they know that in 20 years they’re not going to be able to do what they’re doing. They’re trying to get it all out now, maximize their profits before they transition.

It is expensive to transition. That’s why when you see people who say, “This is outrageous, and we need to flip the switch right now and only use renewable energy, and all fossil fuels are dead.” It would never happen. It would crash the economy. Oil is going to be around for another 100 years. Do we need to burn it and use it to power our homes? No. We have better technology and better solutions. But there is a transition. And we can be more aggressive than what we were looking at without it adversely affecting the economy the way people are fearful of. 

The thing for me is, what is a path in the right direction, and make sure we’re transitioning at a healthy pace. But, with the way we are right now with the current administration with the rollbacks allowing to pollute the air, pollute the rivers, it’s just so counterproductive.

I don’t know how many people I’ve spoken to who say to me, “On paper, you see the cost to build a solar power plant versus the cost to build something like coal—coal is way cheaper.” No, it’s not always cheaper; when you look at the cost to build that facility and the output, on its own it is nominally cheaper, but when you actually look at the cost of the cleanup, the coal accidents… Duke Energy got whacked in North Carolina because, as you see in the film, coal is poisoning the communities around it. 

They now have to clean up, and they’re claiming they don’t have the money to clean it up now, so they’re gonna do it over the next 30 years, at a cost of X billion dollars. And that cost they’re allowed to put onto the ratepayer. 

So now, not only did they poison the ratepayers, but they’re making the ratepayers pay to clean it up. These are all the subsequent costs of that energy that people aren’t calculating. They’re just saying on the surface, “Here’s the dollar per watt that it costs.” But they’re not thinking of all the health effects after.

Jonathan Scott while interviewing a former coal miner in Kentucky
Jonathan Scott interviewing a former coal miner in Kentucky

You had a touching conversation in the film with an elderly coal miner with lung disease. He represents that generation of people who just lived economically off coal mines. Did you find any hope from that conversation?  

That was actually one of the most heartbreaking parts of this whole film. I went to Kentucky and I met with these coal miners, and I met with dozens and dozens of people there and the story was the same. All of these families have witnessed hundreds of their friends and family die. Which is not normal. It’s not normal for people who are in their 40s and 50s to already have experienced hundreds of deaths in their community.“That was the very first time he had ever acknowledged the fact that there could be another way.”

And so when talking to the gentleman you’re talking about, he was sort of fighting it. I remember I said to him, “So if you had the ability right now to invest or push for employment in the coal mine versus something like renewable energy, what would you do?” 

He said, “I would open a mine.” I said I don’t understand that. My grandfather was a coal miner and he died of cancer and black lung.  I’m not trying to vilify these miners, I’m honestly trying to understand. But there’s been so much misinformation from their governments, from the companies they work for, that they feel like coal is the only thing that will keep those communities alive.

When I was going around these communities, they’re dying, their industry is dying, the people are desperate, they just want to work. They’re hardworking people who want to do good by their employer, by providing for their family. So when he said, “I would open a mine,” I said, “So you’d have your kids go and work in a mine, knowing that they’re going to get the same disease that you have, the same disease that your father had, versus something in a clean industry.” 

This light bulb went on in his head, and he caught himself. That was the very first time he had ever acknowledged the fact that there could be another way. Which was exciting for me. I talked with him for hours. The sad thing is, two weeks after my interview with him, he died, [from] black lung disease.

It was heartbreaking because I had made it through to somebody who had never ever seen the potential. When you look at a lot of these coal companies, and even on the campaign trail for the current administration, they kept telling them “the coal industry is coming back.” It’s not coming back. 

It isn’t even the EPA restrictions and all these other things that are going on looking for renewable energy, or even the move to natural gas. Coal’s been on the decline as soon as they automated a lot of these mines. If you think about it from a business perspective, why would you spend all that money for thousands of workers to operate these mines when now there are machines, you can operate an entire mine with less than 20 people. That was what started to kill the industry and jobs. 

When you look at the fact that coal is more expensive to produce than pretty much any other form of energy, and it’s got all these potential health problems, it just doesn’t make good business sense anymore. The coal industry is not coming back, and it’s been on the decline for 50 years.

Are there any plans to, aside from the PBS broadcast, to have targeted screenings, even virtual, of your film in Kentucky and places that are still coal industry states, to have exactly these discussions with them?  

We have, but I love the fact that Independent Lens has Pop-Up events all over the country. And we’ve even had offers to do Pop-Up screening events and whatnot on the Hill [in D.C.], so that we can get more people, more politicians. 

I think I did four trips to DC during this film to interview politicians—senators, Congresspersons, you name it. Local governments. And it’s the most maddening thing sometimes to talk to politicians, but I wanted the politicians to see the truth and how it doesn’t have to be our way or your way. We don’t have to let a lot of these companies confuse the issue.“Within 15 minutes, we received calls from every other Republican senator, and every single one of them canceled their interviews.”

There’s a nonprofit organization in Kentucky whose sole goal is to train former coal miners into renewable energy jobs. We had reached out to companies like that that I think would be great partners, in order to showcase the film and get that conversation happening. 

An interesting thing happened when I was going to DC the first time. We set up a lot of interviews with a lot of very well-known Senators and Congressmen from both sides of the aisle—all set up about a month and a half in advance—but the day I arrived in DC, I all of a sudden got a phone call from the office of one of these politicians. Their assistant said they’re no longer going to be available to do the interview.

And so, my team was like, “Well, that’s unfortunate because I’ve just flown all the way to do this, and we’d really like to have that perspective.” And that was a Republican senator. And within 15 minutes, we received calls from every other Republican senator, and every single one of them canceled their interviews. All within 15 minutes. 

That was maddening because I was wanting the opportunity to hear—and some of these were politicians that we already knew were in the pocket of oil and fossil fuel utilities, but we still wanted them to be able to explain. We did get to interview companies like Duke Energy, NV Energy. We did interview a lot of those folks. But it is unfortunate. 

There definitely is a territorial atmosphere surrounding stuff like this, and it makes it very, very difficult for the truth to come out when they’re only willing to put out their misinformation campaigns, but they’re not willing to actually have a dialogue.

Aside from Nevada, did you find the same power, as it were, from utility companies over state legislatures?

There are definitely certain states where it’s a lot worse, and the manipulation’s a bit bad, I think. There are some states where the utilities are getting desperate because they see the writing on the wall. They know they can’t do what they’ve been doing for decades, and trying to scramble to make as much money and just prolong the change of legislation as long as they can, to make those profits. Even NV Energy is now interested in solar. They want to own it and control it, and prevent you from being able to embrace solar. The grid itself is pretty archaic. How an entire city can blackout because a tree fell on a line somewhere or lightning struck one substation, it’s archaic.

There’s smarter ways that we can have smaller plants, and then integrate from our grid. Then if something goes down in one area, you can get power from somewhere else. Or you can share community solar. Things like that. I think that’s what they need to embrace. But some of these tactics with some of the larger utilities… In Florida, for example, the film touched on the fact that what they’ll do is create these companies, these nonprofits that sound pro-solar—and this is the same in every industry. Pharma does it, tobacco did it, they all have the same playbook. They’ll create what sounds like a pro-solar entity, something like “Americans for Solar,” or “Solar One,” or the “Green Difference,” or whatever. These are actually funded by fossil fuel utilities, and their goal is to get people to vote on a prop that sounds pro-solar, but in reality there is going to be one line in the fine print that will actually take away all the rights of the solar customer.

They got caught in Florida. This should be a lot more transparent, we should not have these companies that are making these kinds of contributions.“They’re creating a lifelong funding funnel for [these politicians].”

And that part of the Abramoff interview was so fascinating. He said you have to understand most of these companies are not actually breaking the law. The system is set up. They’re allowed to schmooze politicians, they’re allowed to buy gifts for politicians, they’re allowed on these politician campaigns. They’re not finding politicians and saying, “Here’s a bag of money, do this for us.” The companies are starting with some politician who’s young in their career, maybe even just the assistant to another politician or something early in their career, they find like-minded people, and they start funding their careers from the very beginning. They’re creating a lifelong funding funnel for them. So by the time they do get into a larger position of power, not only did they have the financial backing to win those elections, but they also are like-minded already and will do the things these fossil fuel utilities want.

Jack said at the end of the one interview with me, really, if you think about it, the majority of people in America agree renewable energy is a good thing. Every single survey has supported that. Then why is renewable energy still losing? The reason is we’re not playing the game right. The fossil fuel industry [has] decades and decades of experience and huge, deep pockets to fund these misinformation campaigns. They know how to manipulate, they know how to lobby.

The fossil fuel utility industry spent something along the lines of $100 billion lobbying over the last number of years. The renewable energy market spent one million. And so we’re not even on the same playing field or even on the same planet when it comes to the money that’s being spent on lobbying for oil and gas, versus the money spent on lobbying… And even utilities have more money. 

On your shows, do you ever feel compelled to… Obviously you don’t pressure people on certain things, but is there a conversation with homeowners about renewable energy and encouraging that or you don’t want to pressure them?

Yeah. Well the challenge is on our show Forever Home or on Property Brothers, usually the budgets are so tight and so small, that they don’t have… They need the stuff that will functionally make the home work better for them, and they don’t have the additional funds at that time to do something like purchase solar or other, larger green investments. The nice thing is, there are companies out there who will lease solar systems. You just have to decide what’s most important for you.

With solar, one is the responsibility to the environment, the other is owning that energy and reducing your overall cost once you pay the system off. Well if people can’t afford to pay up front for a system, they can lease a system and they don’t pay anything. All they basically do is they’ll guarantee service with this energy provider for the next 20 years. And you’re doing something good for the environment, but the difference is you’re not personally benefiting more than maybe a 10% discount on your energy costs. But at least you don’t have that upfront cost.

We’ll present all of those things to these folks. We do a lot of tankless hot water systems and stuff like that, because the cost is about the same for us but marginally different than if we were doing a tank system that uses more energy. But places like California, which is great anytime we’re doing a major renovation or new build, we prep the homes for solar, so that all they have to do when they’re ready, they just have to put the panels on the roof and we’ve already prepped everything else for the conduit to run it. That’s something where California’s a little further ahead, because every new build is required to be solar-ready. 

So yeah, we give the option to folks. On Brother vs Brother, we put solar on the house for the last several seasons even though it wasn’t a part of the show. Yeah, some of the bigger shows like that we do it because we control the budget, but when it’s the individual homeowners, sometimes they just don’t have enough [money].

So a last fluffier question: what is something that you’re watching these days, given how stressful and anxious it is out there, to just relax? What’s your comfort food viewing? Or what else are you doing at home for comfort?

We don’t watch a lot of TV, but we have gone back and are watching The West Wing from the beginning. And we’re also watching HBO’s The Vow, which is about the NXIVM cult and whatnot.  

You, uh, find The Vow relaxing? 

I’ve always been fascinated with psychology and the human mind and the human process of what gets people from point A to point B, it just fascinates me. And so a lot of the documentaries I watch usually surround something like that, that’s quite extreme. The only other thing that’s sort of like our go-to, and maybe this makes me a crazy person, to fall asleep to, is Forensic Files. I can’t get enough of Forensic Files. There are certain people who the pistons aren’t firing the same way as you and me. So in trying to reason with that person, or to try and explain your side is very difficult, because you’re not actually existing from the same ethereal plane.

Wouldn’t you be disappointed if I said something like Jersey Shore?

No! (Mostly.) I think we all need kind of low-brow stuff right now, so there’s no wrong answer. It’s whatever you can escape with. So I wouldn’t judge.

We really don’t watch much TV. It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to go an entire week without turning the TV on, but we love playing escape games. Because we can’t necessarily go in person to do them right now, we found a company out of the UK that has these escape rooms in a box.  There’s also, in LA, a company that converted theirs into Zoom escape games. They’re actual escape rooms, but because people can’t go in person, actors act it out and then walk you through. It’s quite clever. Our team just did one that was really great. I like seeing that they can keep some people employed, their actors who are working these rooms.

We did the same thing during COVID. Most people don’t realize, we have a very large company between our production company, we produce a lot of other shows that were not in with our Scott Living line and our marketplace as well as our Reveal Magazine, we have about 150 employees. And our goal was not to let anyone go. And not to furlough anyone. So we’ve been successful in keeping our employees and not letting COVID affect it. It’s exciting, we try to support business where we can, but hopefully this is all a thing of the past.

But right now, and back to this film, the timing is perfect because this is an election year and people need to realize if they want real change, meaningful change, they got to use their voice and band together.

Craig Phillips

Craig is the digital content producer for Independent Lens, based in San Francisco. He is a film nerd, cartoonist, classic film poster collector, wannabe screenwriter, and owner of/owned by cats.