The Man Behind 'Mitt' Talks Making the Romney Netflix Documentary

The director of a new documentary about Mitt Romney's failed presidential campaigns discusses the film.

"Mitt" director Greg Whiteley on the Romney campaign trail.
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A new documentary film sheds new light on one of the most meticulously covered campaigns in history: Mitt Romney's failed presidential race.

"Mitt," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week and will be released on Netflix Friday, captures candid moments between Romney and his family during his 2008 and 2012 runs, watching as they pray in hotel rooms, prep for debates, scarf down takeout and, ultimately, help Romney write his 2012 concession speech.

Director Greg Whiteley had access to Romney, his wife, their five sons and their families beginning in 2006, when they drew out a pros-and-cons list for his presidential ambitions over a Christmas vacation. Whiteley talked to U.S. News about convincing the Romneys to let him make the film, the candor he got from them and why he didn't spend much time on the "47 percent" video:

[READ: Can 'Mitt' Be the Next 'The War Room'?]

I read that to film the campaign you had to agree to not release the documentary until after the campaign, or after Mitt Romney concluded his presidency if he had won. Any other stipulations?

Tacitly, I had to agree not to film the campaign staff unless they came in on me filming the family. The campaign staff had no interest in being filmed. In fact, they had no interest in me making the movie, period. I spent probably the first three or so months filming quite a few strategy meetings and the staff made the argument to Mitt that, "We can't speak candidly to you when we know this is being filmed and we don't know what this person is going to do with this film," and I think that was persuasive to Mitt. As frustrating as I found that, I - with distance – completely understand. I think their points were very valid.

I also think it was a blessing in disguise, because it forced me to focus my cameras on the family and as a result I could have very easily had that not happen and simply remade "The War Room" [about Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign], which is a great movie where you have tons of campaign staff and no candidate and family. And as a result of the campaign's decision not to want me to film, I have a much different movie. It's almost the inverse of that. It's all candidate and family.

You bring up "The War Room." Those filmmakers told me they ended up with the Clinton campaign because it was the only campaign that would grant them any access. What drew you to Romney as a presidential candidate?

My initial attraction to Mitt was his Mormonism. I'm Mormon and I remember my dad telling me the story of George Romney when I was a little kid. I remember being very surprised to learn that there was an actual presidential candidate — and not just any presidential candidate, but someone that was actually a legitimate contender, a front-runner, and my dad told me the story of him saying the word "brainwashed" and I don't think I quite appreciated why that would resonate in such a negative way. But I just remember from my understanding, it was a slip of the tongue and it got an unusual amount of traction.

For whatever reason, the story stuck with me. And I remember reading a little blurb in the newspaper that the governor of Massachusetts, who of course I knew was the son of George Romney, I heard that he was thinking of running for president and that his family would be gathering over the Christmas holidays to discuss whether or not he should run. When I read that, I thought immediately that that sounds like the beginning to a good movie.

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How did you convince them to participate?

[A producer friend] happened to know someone who knows Tagg [Romney], and he arranged a lunch and I pitched my movie to Tagg, and he took it to his dad and Mitt promptly said no. But Ann Romney said yes and through some conversations Tagg said, "Well, if you happened to show up to our home on Christmas Eve, I bet you wouldn't get thrown out." And so I did. Christmas Eve I showed up at their door, Mitt answered the door and sort of rolled his eyes and let me in, and I was allowed to film that night and I just kept filming for the next six years.