‘Boys State; directors talk casting, funding, Sundance bidding war

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Steven Garza, one of the subjects of the documentary “Boys State,” with filmmaker Jesse Moss. Photo courtesy of Apple TV+.

In their new Apple TV+ film “Boys State,” filmmakers Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss plunge the viewer into an annual event of the same name that’s sponsored by the American Legion.

Participants are divided into fictional parties, the Federalists and the Nationalists. They work together — or against each other — to come up with a party platform and hold mock elections. Cory Booker, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, and Rush Limbaugh are among the program’s past participants. There’s also a Girls State, which McBaine and Moss are already eyeing for their next project. 

Moss and McBaine became interested in the subject when they read an article about the 2017 Texas Boys State stirring controversy by voting to secede from the union. Before they could pitch the movie to funders, they had to win the trust of the Texas Boys State organizers. But as McBaine and Moss describe, the more they heard about the program, the more they wanted to make a film about it.

After filming wrapped, Moss and McBaine spent a year intensely editing their footage. The film was financed by Concordia, the studio backed by Laurene Powell Jobs. But they ended up showing the film at Sundance this year without a distributor.

Even though selling a film at Sundance is becoming rarer, it worked for Moss and McBaine. After a bidding war that reportedly included Netflix and Hulu, the film sold to Apple TV+ and A24 for a reported $12 million, a record for a Sundance documentary.

Credits

Guests:
Jesse Moss - director and producer, Amanda McBaine - director and producer

Host:
Kim Masters

Producer:
Kevin Tidmarsh