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‘The Case Against 8’ Directors on Making Cinema Out of Court Briefs

Five years in the making, Ben Cotner and Ryan White’s documentary The Case Against 8 chronicles the legal battles centering around Proposition 8 in California—ultimately culminating in the legalization of same-sex marriages in that state and others.

One of the initial challenges of the project was how to visualize an ongoing court case that mostly involved legal documents. “We didn’t know that it would just be the type of case that was filed on paper briefs,” White tells “So we didn’t even really know how cinematic our film would be, or if there was a film.”

Even once there were trials taking place, there were no cameras allowed in the courtroom, and therefore no footage that could be used in the film. Cotner and White got around this by having the plaintiffs read transcripts of their own testimonies.  White says, “The first time we showed the film to Sheila Nevins, our executive producer at HBO, she said, ‘That should never work’—and then she’s like, ‘It’s my favorite part of the film.”

“What comes through is that these aren’t hysterical people who are going for some sort of fringe group. These are people just trying to live their lives,” adds Cotner. “They’re not doing this for attention and they’re not doing this for a big political statement. They’re doing this because these are issues that affect them in a very real and normal way. And I think that’s why their emotions come across so clearly.”

The Case Against 8 premieres on HBO on June 23rd.

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