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October 2, 2012

Host: Ted Simons

Humanitas Prize-Winning Screenwriter

  |   Video
  • ASU School of Theatre and Film Professor of Practice Greg Bernstein won a 2012 Humanitas Prize for screenwriting for his work on Robert Redford's The Conspirator. Bernstein talks about his work and the power of words and film to explore the human experience.
  • Greg Bernstein - Professor of Practice, ASU School of Theatre and Film
Category: The Arts   |   Keywords: the arts, art, artbeat, prize, winning, screenwriter, ,

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Ted Simons: Our next guest is screen writer Greg Bernstein, who was recently awarded a 2012 Humanitas Prize for his screen writing on the Robert Redford directed film "Conspirator." The award was created in 1974 to honor film and television writers whose work explores the human condition in a nuanced and meaningful way. Here to talk about it is screen writer Greg Bernstein who teaches screen writing at ASU’s school of theatre and film, part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. It's good to have you here.
Greg Bernstein: Thank you for having me.
Ted Simons: Did I get that Humanitas, is that pretty much what that award is all about?
Greg Bernstein: Exactly right. That’s right.
Ted Simons: So "The Conspirator," what's that film all about and how did that coincide with getting this award?
Greg Bernstein: "The Conspirator" is a story that everybody knows Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Most people don't know the history of the conspirators who were charged with that murder. We all know about John Wilkes Booth, but there were four other people who were charged with conspiring to kill Lincoln, all four were executed. And one of them was a woman. Which made the story immediately on some level interesting. But as it turned out, when you dig into the historical record, it turns out that the person who defended this person, this woman, Mary Surratt, was a northern army -- a man who was wounded in war farther north, Abraham Lincoln was his commander in chief, and just weeks after the assassination, this very green attorney was appointed to represent Mary Surratt It would be like someone defending Bin Laden two days after 9-11. It's something you didn't want to do. And this young man had to do this and all the prejudice that he -- you would expect him to bring, he brought. But as it turns out, he was able to overcome that and form a relationship, he became -- he respected this woman, and ended up vigorously defending her and believing in her innocence, which caused him to be among other things, ostracized from his friends who just wanted to see these people hang.
Ted Simons: That's a fascinating story. Is it a story you wanted to do or a story someone else wanted you to do?
Greg Bernstein: It's a story that I've always been a civil war buff. I've always been interested in the civil war. I did not know -- I knew very few of particulars of the story, but me and my partner Jim Solomon came upon the story on our own, right after we graduated from film school. And we started investigating the story, and we started working on it.
Ted Simons: So you've got the story, you're working on it, the creative process interests me, especially something like this, you're basically in front of a screen, a white piece of paper and you are creating a film there. What do you do when there are historical characters that do certain things? Can you let them be free? Or do they have to walk down the hall and do the things they did back then?
Greg Bernstein: Well, I would say in almost all movies, writers take creative license with history. In order hopefully they don't distort the essence of the character or the essence of the history. But sometimes you need to take a little creative license to make the film a better -- a better film, because you're trying to tell a story within a very defined time and space. On this particular project, much to the credit of the producers who funded the movie, they absolutely refused to tinker with history. They wanted history retold absolutely accurately. And that's what happened. And so yeah, it turned out in the film that the characters make for a good movie because you have this young man and this older woman, and that leads to good storytelling. But the producers were absolutely unwilling to change history in this case.
Ted Simons: The screen writing process in general, not necessarily this film, what is it like, what -- when you're writing, when you're going through the whole process, do you see the scene? Do you think you see the scene? And, if you do, or even if you don't, when you finally do see the scene, is it surprising? Is it a good thing? I think that's fascinating to be doing all this work and having literally your dreams eventually come to life.
Greg Bernstein: I will tell you that one of the great moments that any writer can experience on the first film that I worked on that got made, I wrote it with my wife Sarah, and Sarah, for example, would write a joke. And four years later when the film was made you're standing in the back of the theater and people are laughing at that joke. And the scene is realized on screen as you saw it. And that is what keeps you going because it's a tremendous feeling. Yes, when you're writing you do try to envision the scene. Yes, you speak the dialogue out loud. In your mind you become the actors. And you do your best at really realizing the scene as best as you can. Does it always come out that way on film? No, of course not. Things change. But yeah, when you're writing I think you try very hard to be the audience, and roll the movie in your mind. And when it actually comes out that way --
Ted Simons: I'll bet. When did you get started? You come from a Heliae family, your father was a very composer, a conductor, talk about him and did you feel, was there pressure to follow in his footsteps in the movie footsteps? In anyone's footsteps?
Greg Bernstein: My father, as you say, was a wonderful film composer, he did many scores I'm sure people in your audience know "to kill a mocking bird" or "magnificent seven" even through "animal house," even through a lot of other different kinds of movies. So he was wildly successful. He was a very tough act to follow for his children. I was one of two. And yeah, that was a tough act to follow. When you were very young you were being told your father was a genius, and that's a high bar for any child to try and aspire to. And yeah, there was a period of time where that was difficult. But over a course of a lifetime, you learn to realize that you don't have to aspire to what he did, and you can do what you do, and do -- try and do it the best you can, and of course there were a lot of advantages growing up in that.
Ted Simons: I would imagine. You're doing something different, he was obviously more focused on music and you're more focused on screen --
Greg Bernstein: That's because I'm a terrible musician.
Ted Simons: So there was a shot at music?
Greg Bernstein: I once asked my father if I had a chance, a scintilla of hope of being a singer, and he said you have a nano-scintilla, so I had no hope.
Ted Simons: That’s what fathers to give you that kind of advice to get you going. Before we let you go, you're teaching screen writing at ASU, if there's one thing for the students, for anyone watching right now who's an aspiring screen writer, advice? Something to keep in mind as you are putting words down on a page?
Greg Bernstein: Oh, man. There's so many things one could say about screen writing and advice for screen writing. I think that every human being, there's only one of you in the world, there's only one much me in the world. We all come to ideas and storytelling with something which is unique to us in our DNA and in our experience. And I guess if I had any one piece of advice would be to search within one self for that which they want to say. Try not to repeat what other people want to say, don't be derivative of other people, but find what's unique and special about you and your perception and try and infuse that in your story telling. Congratulations on the award. That's great advice as well. It's good to meet you. Thank you so much for joining us.
Greg Bernstein: Thank you for having me.

Alleged Campaign Finance Violations

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  • Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services explains why Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne is facing a civil enforcement action for allegedly breaking campaign finance laws.
  • Howard Fischer - Capitol Media Services
Category: Government   |   Keywords: law, fischer, campaign, finance, violations, ,

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Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," the state attorney general is accused of deliberately breaking campaign finance laws. We'll have the latest. Our vote 2012 coverage continues with a look at prop 119, which would allow Arizona to swap state trust land for other public land. And we'll meet an award-winning screen writer who talks about the power of words in film. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon." Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Arizona attorney general Tom Horne is facing a civil enforcement action for allegedly breaking campaign finance laws. The allegations follow an 11-month FBI investigation into what Maricopa County attorney Bill Montgomery describes as Horne's illegal relationship with an independent expenditure committee. Covering the story is Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. It's good to have you here, Howie. Let's start with the beginning. What is a civil enforcement action?
Howard Fischer: Well, it's something less than a civil lawsuit. It's a ‘verbiology’ only a bureaucrat could love. In essence it's the same as a hearing a real estate department with a realtor who might have violated a law. You go before an administrative law judge and each side presents their evidence. And it’s handled like a civil case, preponderance of the evidence more or likely than the less. Sort of like a 51 49 margin. The administrative law judge makes a decision, odds are whoever loses then goes to superior court, and now we're into a full-blown civil lawsuit.
Ted Simons: What are the accusations here?
Howard Fischer: In essence it comes down to the question of was there coordination between Tom Horne or Tom Horne's campaign committee, and an independent expenditure committee set up by Kathleen Winn for the general election? State law is pretty clear, you can have independent committees. The advantage of an independent committee is you're not limited to $840 on individual donations. But the law is also clear, it has to be independent. That means no coordination with the candidate, no coordinating the message, no helping each side raise money. The allegation is there was communication between Tom Horne and Kathleen Winn, who was running the independent committee, about raising money and about some of the message.
Ted Simons: Independent money is supposed to be independent of the campaign. Got that. OK. 500 some-odd thousand dollars raced. The allegations are this money was raised late in the campaign when the Horne campaign was hurting for money.
Howard Fischer: Correct. But that does not mean anything. Kathleen said in affidavits and testimony that we can find, stuff that was presented to the grand jury, said, I decided who to contact, I made the contacts. One of those contacts happened to be with Tom Horne's brother-in-law, actually with his sister and brother-in-law who live in California, who Kathleen says I met at an earlier party after the primary, and the way Tom describes it, the way Kathleen describes it, the sister said what can I do to help my baby brother? That help turned out to be a $115,000 check.
Ted Simons: Which in and of itself is not violating campaign finance laws, but if you have an email in which the candidate says I need X amount of dollars and that X amount of dollars comes from that particular independent expenditure committee, then you got a problem.
Howard Fischer: Yes. But again, A plus B doesn't equal C. That's the burden -- the burden is still on the county attorney to prove that not only was there coordination, but that there was knowing coordination. I got to admit that the one email about raising $100,000 suggests something. But this was an 11-month investigation, information went to a grand jury, and after all that, what are we stuck with? We're stuck with, well, we have some evidence here and we have a couple of emails, and therefore we want to go after Tom Horne, not criminally, because --
Ted Simons: Why not criminally?
Howard Fischer: Well, the official reason or the unofficial reason? The official reason is technically speaking, campaign finance violations are all handled under title 16, the election law. And the election law says you have violations, you can be fined for three times the offending amount, and there is no specific criminal sanctions. Now, could you also if you had enough evidence charge conspiracy, fraud, something you could probably stretch the law, and Bill Montgomery, the county attorney, said he wasn't going to do it. Unofficially I don't think they have enough. The criminal standard is beyond a reasonable doubt. I don't know that you'd ever get a jury to say beyond a reasonable doubt there was coordination between Tom Horne and Kathleen Winn over this specific committee.
Ted Simons: With that in mind, you mentioned three times the amount as far as a fine is concerned? What's he looking at, a million, million five? Or is he looking at it or can he raise it by way of a committee and a campaign?
Howard Fischer: Well now, it got a little muddy in Andy Thomas's press conference to the point where he sent out a clarification. This involves $513,000 spent on a TV ad attacking Felicia Rotellini, his Democratic foe. Theoretically the campaign committee, if it's money illegally gathered, the remedy is you give it back and that's the end of it. If it's money illegally spent, the penalty is three times the amount. The money clearly was spent. Who's liable? Is it Horne? Could he raise it if he wanted to? Probably. Campaign finance laws are such in this state you can spend it for any legitimate purpose. If Tom Horne somehow would’ve been found ultimately accountable, I don’t know if guilty is the word in a civil case. Could he try to get some money? Sure. Could it come out of his pocket? Possibly.
Ted Simons: OK. What kind of response are we getting from Tom Horne?
Howard Fischer: Both from Tom Horne and Kathleen say there was no coordination. The argument over this particular piece of email was that it was something perhaps quote unquote inadvertently said that the issue of the notes that were written on somebody's email were that I was on the phone with Horne, well, she wasn't on the phone with Horne at that specific moment. Again, we're depending on a paper trail. There are no audio recordings, nobody did a phone tap to the extent we can determine. This isn't like where there’s a hidden camera and bags of money passing hands.
Ted Simons: There are phone records though, aren't there? But not the actual audio.
Howard Fischer: Yes, the phone records show people call. Well look, the fact is, is it a crime or even a violation of election law for Tom Horne to call Kathleen Winn? No. They could have been talking about the weather. That becomes the problem in terms of proving the intent.
Ted Simons: Response from others regarding this situation. We'll start with Republicans. Anyone calling for Horne to step down?
Howard Fischer: No. No. There is -- the question is, is there anything there? Obviously the Republicans have been pretty quiet since you have a Republican county attorney who has brought these charges. To be fair to Bill Montgomery, he has said very clearly, I'm not running for attorney's job in 2014. If somehow he were to be forced out I don't want his job now, so this isn't about my own ego. The Democrats, predictably, the Democratic party, Frank Camacho, you know, oh, my god, there’s horrible things, now they're trying to tie to it Vernon Parker, because he worked for Lincoln Strategies which is the consulting group that Kathleen hired. The Dems are trying to have a field day.
Ted Simons: And Felicia Rotellini had a response as well.
Howard Fischer: She had a response. It was very muted response. She could have said the election was stolen. Remember, this was the closest statewide race. Most other Republican candidates in this state won by double digits. This was about a three to four-point difference.
Ted Simons: Last question, what's next here? What are we looking at here?
Howard Fischer: Well, 20 days that Tom Horne and Kathleen have to respond. I think we know what the response will be. At that point well we'll have a hearing, presumably public. We'll all go to the hearing, we'll hear days of testimony, probably nothing we didn't know since I just had 290 pages of stuff dumped on me including everything you want to know how Tom Horne backed into a white Range Rover.
Ted Simons: Yes, and that's a story for another day.
Howard Fischer: And that's it. That's -- like I say, very curious situation.
Ted Simons: Curiouser and curiouser. Howie, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Vote 2012: Prop 119 (State Trust Lands)

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  • Proposition 119 would amend the constitution to allow Arizona to trade state trust land, with various limitations, for other public land. Learn more about this measure, which faces no organized opposition.
Category: Vote 2012   |   Keywords: vote, 2012, vote 2012, prop 119, state trust lands, ,

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"Arizona Horizon" vote 2012 coverage continues with a look at proposition 119, which calls for changing Arizona's constitution to allow for the trading of state trust land for other public lands. It's not the first time it's been put before the voters but this attempt addresses concerns that there's no organized opposition. Earlier I spoke with commissioner Maria Baier about proposition 119. Thanks for joining us on "Arizona Horizon."
Maria Baier: Thank you.
Ted Simons: What exactly does this proposition call for?
Maria Baier: This proposition would authorize the state land department to enter into exchanges with other public land management agencies, mostly the BLM for the purposes of better land management practices, most notably to provide buffer zones around military bases so we keep our military bases intact in Arizona.
Ted Simons: So the land that's around a military base, would this be private land? Would this be the state saying, we'll give you developer some trust land, provided you let us get this buffer zone going? How does that work?
Maria Baier: What we would do is we would give control of state trust land that is in the hands of the state right now. We would trade that land that's in or near military bases, and put that into federal hands, and then in exchange, we would take land from the federal inventory of lands into the state land trust. And so the feds would end up with land around military bases to protect their missions, for example, takeoffs and landings for air missions down in Fort Huachuca, the sanctity of the electronic range, the silence in that area, and then in exchange, we get federal lands where into the state trust land inventory so we can make money off those lands, which is our mission.
Ted Simons: And if it means making money off those lands, selling to a developer or some such, that happens, but that's way down the line.
Maria Baier: That's typically way down the line. And most of the time I think land in the area that we're talking about would probably be put into the trust for the purposes of grazing. Also, the exchange authority would allow us to engage in conservation management, and so there are areas where right now there are conservation designations over state trust land. Those are better managed by the feds. And again, we could take land out of their inventory and put those lands that are revenue producing lands into the hands of the state. So it would be great not only for saving military base, but also for conservation areas.
Ted Simons: I was going to say, the focus is on military but there are other aspects.
Maria Baier: Absolutely. It's just really good land management practice to have consolidated areas in one -- and one ownership. In the case of the military, you'd want it in federal ownership, and in the case of conservation areas, you might want it in federal management, in the case of revenue producing properties, that should be in the state trust land inventory.
Ted Simons: The idea of swapping state trust land under the general umbrella here, I think failed like seven times. Why is this different than previous attempts?
Maria Baier: Well, this ballot prop mirrors the one that was on the ballot a couple of years ago fairly closely because the purpose was for conservation, the purpose was for military base preservation, it was limited to government-to-government exchanges and had a public process like this one and appraisals. And so that one failed by less than a percentage point. And so we resurrected that, we're going to ask the voters to take a second look at it. We think we'll pass this time. The truth is, we have no time and no money for a campaign last time around, but this time we're trying to do a better job educating voters. And we think it's going to save 96,000 jobs in the state of Arizona. That's what the military has. And also about $9 billion economic impact. So saving those military bases in Arizona is very important. And then getting revenue producing land into the hands of the state trust is also important because what we do is make money for public schools.
Ted Simons: And as far as the opposition is concerned, there doesn't seem to be any organized opposition. Am I missing something out there?
Maria Baier: There is no organized opposition. We're not aware of any opponents at this point. We have the conservation community, the military support groups are behind us, we have the schools, we have a wide array of supporters. No detractors, and I think it's just a matter of people understanding what the impact of this might be. And the impact is substantial on the state of Arizona.
Ted Simons: Can you talk about the collaboration between environmental groups, Sierra Club and such, and the military? How did you get those folks together and talk about that dynamic?
Maria Baier: A lot of the credit goes to Senator John Nelson who ran this measure through the legislature to get it onto the ballot. And he was -- he just realized the conservation community was going to be key to get public approval. And so he brought them in, and the negotiations, some of the provisions that you see is what brought everybody to the table. The military knew that they -- they know they need these buffers, and so they were very good participants from the get-go government public to public exchanges, we care very much about there being a conservation component. We care very much about the transparency of the process and so thus the public meetings that are required. And that all of this is based on appraisals. So no side gets taken to the cleaners. So all these safeguards are in place for these exchanges. And it's a huge benefit.
Ted Simons: I was going to say the public oversight, you have to have hearings, you have to have legislative approvals, you have to have the voter OK. That's a lot of hoops and hurdles to get through.
Maria Baier: It's a lot of hoops and hurdles, but it's transparent, and it really is a safeguard to anything that might be inappropriate because at the end of the day, you rely on the Democratic process for approval. So it goes to a vote of the public and if they take a look and say it's the right thing, then the exchange is complete.
Ted Simons: How much in the way of land are we talking about? We looked at a map, maybe we can get that back up. The blue area was state trust land and the pink area was military facility. What are we looking at in terms of numbers?
Maria Baier: Well, let me say that almost all of the military installation, in are dozens across the state of Arizona, at the end of the day, there's a few identified on the map. But in the area of most of these military installations, there are state trust lands that could be used to help preserve the mission. The inventory of state lands across the state is 9.3 million acers. And so we cover 13% of the surface area of Arizona. So in many in or near many of those bases there are state trust lands that can help preserve the mission. The inventory of lands that we would likely get to trade from would be BLM. They manage about 13 million acres of land across the state. So you can see that we both have very attractive inventories of land that we could find ways to exchange for the betterment of Arizona.
Ted Simons: If let's say a land -- near a military base or environmentally sensitive area, and we had to get the hearings and the legislative approval and the voter OK, and the whole nine yards, what kind of time frame are we looking at here for a deal? A swap, if you will?
Maria Baier: You know, it's hard to say. As with any land transaction, but I would say by the time that the lands are identified, probably a year to two years, I would say the first one might take longer because you have to work out the process that after that, you know, we just have to make sure we could get it to the ballot. General election. So that's every other year.
Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Good information. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
Maria Baier: Thank you, Ted. Oh, can I say one thing?
Ted Simons: Sure.
Maria Baier: The website is Hopefully people can visit it.
Ted Simons: Thank you.
Maria Baier: Thank you.