Editor’s Note: Former Utah resident and KSTU Fox 13 reporter Reed Cowan is the producer of 8: The Mormon Proposition, a documentary about the LDS Church’s involvement in passing the constitutional amendment that re-banned gay marriage in California. He and his documentary made international headlines in February when excerpts of his interview with anti-gay state Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, were aired on local news stations. In these interviews, Buttars famously compared gays and lesbians to extremist Muslim terrorists and said they had no morals. Cowan is also the director, producer and executive producer of The Other Side of the Lense, which chronicles the weeks in which Cowan went from reporting the news to being in the news upon the death of his young son, Wesley.
Chino Blanco: When did you decide you were going to be the one to make 8: The Mormon Proposition and what factor(s) drove your decision? What aspects of your own background or of the Prop 8 campaign brought you to this project?
Reed Cowan: Truthfully, this film started out as an exposé on the problems of gay teen homelessness in Utah’s “Zion” and an examination about WHY otherwise loving parents would kick their kids out on to the streets just because their kids are gay. But as the weeks and months unfolded in our project, I began seeing that history demanded our project be larger in scope. Slowly, but with great force, our focus shifted to what I believe is the “touchstone” of Mormon ideology regarding homosexuality … and that is exclusively Mormon efforts to get Prop 8 on the ballot in California and see its passage. It’s the case against Mormons and what I believe has been a decades-long work to damage gay people and their causes.
Prop 8 is truly the most obvious, shining example of what is at the root of Mormon belief about gay people. As to what factors drove my decision to make the film what it is today, they were personal really and deeply rooted in something that is fundamental to my character. Human suffering cuts me to the quick. And when I obtained the entire LDS call-to-action broadcast (transcripts and audio) that was heard by thousands in California, as a former Mormon myself, I knew statistically speaking, that at least ten percent of the Mormon youth who heard the call to action, were gay. I hurt over the thought of what they must have felt sitting in those pews, hearing their church leaders launch an assault against gay people. I went in the direction of the fires of their pain, and it’s my prayer this film will be a part of putting out the fire of that pain in their lives. What the Mormons did and what they continue to do against gay people needs to be a matter of record, because it is spiritually criminal. When these young people sitting in the pews grow up, I hope they can turn to my film and get the message that it’s OK to leave the organization that pulls them to its breast tenderly, while choking the spiritual life right out of them through assaults on their very civil rights.
CB: When you started, did you have any idea that the question of marriage equality generally, or Mormon involvement specifically, was headed for its current high level of national awareness?
RC: I’m continually thrilled to see this issue rise in prominence. It gives me hope in people. When I started, I knew there were literally THOUSANDS of people out there who want my partner Gregory [Abplanalp] and myself to be married … to enjoy the same civil rights as our non-gay counterparts. And I am so damned proud of the good people in the American citizenry who are becoming our allies in this fight. The scales are tipping in our favor, and it feels good.
CB: Can you give us an update on where the project stands? Distribution, release dates, Web sites, scheduled screenings, or any other news?
IT’S CRAZY MAKING A FILM!!!! So many things to update you on! The film is in edit, and in mid-May I get to see the first cut of the film. After that, adjustments will be made and we’ll be solidly headed towards the finish date of June or July.
Distribution will hinge on interest and buzz generated in film festivals. I’m really hoping Sundance screeners give our film a fair look and choose to include it in their upcoming festival. Can you imagine the press that would happen if our film were to premiere in Utah at Sundance? It would be explosive! So, Sundance is my first hope. But they are such a pristine festival, that MANY great films don’t make the cut. If we don’t, we’ll shop it around to other festivals. I have received MANY high-level inquiries about the film though, so maybe we won’t need to do festivals. I just keep thinking: ONE THING AT A TIME. First we’ll finish it, then we’ll work on the other stuff. Right now it’s all about making this the most explosive, compelling piece of documentary film-making you’ve ever seen. And as I look at the wealth of material we have obtained, I just have to say: BRACE YOURSELVES.
CB: As busy as you’ve been, I was watching some footage of the crowds at the California Supreme Court’s Prop 8 hearing in San Francisco and I think I spotted you. Were you there?
RC: Indeed I was. Me and a little Mormon group called America Forever. I’ll be interested to see what the Mormon Church thinks of what their members had to say that day to the gay people on the sidewalk.
CB: What challenges, if any, did the project face in the course of filming? Any “war stories” related to technical, financial, logistical or other aspects that you’d like to share? Any experiences with your interview subjects that you’d like to recount?
RC: The greatest challenge I’ve experienced is the trauma within the families Greg and I are attached to that are Mormon. So many of our Mormon relatives, on learning of the content of the film, have begged us not to release it. It’s been excruciating to be in a position of having the material we have, having the sense of moral obligation to get it out, and yet feel sad that it will likely hurt good, moral, loving family members who still are attached to the Mormon machine.
The next greatest challenge has been the all-out assault of Mormons that came after my interview with Senator [Chris] Buttars. KSL  TV’s Web site hosts the comments of cruel, cruel people who have slandered and defamed my good name for no other reason than what they have “heard” about me. Some of those attacks have been so hurtful. So false. For example, I read on KSL’s Web site comment board recently something like, “Reed left his wife and little boy to be in the arms of his partner Gregory Abplanalp.” That couldn’t be further than the truth, and Mormon-owned KSL actually allows a falsehood that they themselves know is untrue to remain in perpetuity on their Web site for all to see. (On that note, my ex-wife left me for a doctor nearly twice her age and I didn’t have interaction with Greg until two years after my divorce). Senator Buttars, Gayle Ruzicka and all whom they are connected to have worked to tear down my character through out-and-out lies, and that has been painful. My film will have the truth about Senator Buttars and Gayle Ruzicka and the Eagle Forum and the Sutherland Group [the Sutherland Institute] and America Forever. I only wish that those who aligned themselves with the ideologies of these groups would also seek truth, rather than attacks such as they have. These have been my war stories.
As to interview subjects: I have four hard drives full of interviews. And I can tell you this: The most vitriolic and hateful interviews DO NOT come from gay people or their allies. In actuality, the gay people and gay allies I interviewed were VERY kind (for the most part) about the LDS Church and its people. I felt the spirit of God when I talked to these people. I did not feel it when I talked to Gayle Ruzicka or Senator Buttars or America Forever’s people. What does that say about all of this? Hmmmm …
It was also interesting to see certain things come up in the film in two different states … people who had never met each other … with similar stories about private visits to Mormon Prophet Spencer W. Kimball’s home that they all independently characterized as “prurient.” Some highly credible people with this information. People with name recognition.
CB: Without your interview of a certain Utah state senator, Buttarspalooza never would have happened. Any comment on the brouhaha that erupted after Senator Buttars’ remarks were made public?
RC: OY! That’s my comment! OY! It was explosive for sure. International press! And what we saw at that point is nothing compared to what will likely happen when the film is released.
CB: According to Senator Buttars, you assured him that he would be allowed to see his work and approve his part before you released it. Are you ready to apologize for your unfair treatment of The Honorable Senator from Utah?
RC: He’s a liar. And I have recorded conversations and interviews to substantiate my position that this man lied, ducked and covered when put under pressure. Senator Buttars owes me an apology. And he owes people an apology. In twenty years as a journalist I have never once cut a deal with someone to let them see something before air. It’s ridiculous. He’s ridiculous.
CB: How did ABC 4 obtain that Chris Buttars interview footage?
RC: I saw Rich Piatt with KSL and Chris Vanocur [of ABC 4] outside Buttars’ office the day of the interview. I told them why I was there. Chris Vanocur asked for the footage. I let him see it. He and his managers found it newsworthy, seeing that Buttars had said these things while Senate business was going on without him. They asked if they could air portions. I obliged. No big woop. I did not plan to release the footage before the interview, and frankly, didn’t plan in the weeks after to release it either. But Chris asked …
Chino Blanco blogs at chinoblanco.com.