A conversation with Gerald Molen and Darrin Fletcher about The Abolitionists
On the final day of Salt Lake Comic Con’s Fan Xperience, I was invited to a panel called “The Power of a Story to Impact Social Change.” I was told “Schindler’s List” producer Gerald Molen and Tim Ballard; CEO of Operation Underground Railroad would be on the panel. Naturally, I was interested, but what really got me into that room was a quote from Gerald Molen “Imagine if we could have made ‘Schindler’s List’ in 1941 instead of 1993.” I walked into that panel room expecting some good discussion about story, and social conscience. I was not expecting to be shaken, and unable to hold back my tears. I, in no way shape or form, was ready to hear what I did. During the panel, they introduced Operation Underground Railroad to anyone, like me, who was unfamiliar. This is an organization dedicated to the rescue of child victims of human trafficking. This is a nice way of saying these kids are sold into sex slavery across the world.
Tim Ballard outlined his reasons for establishing this organization, which essentially amounted to; he had the specialized knowledge, skills, and means. O.U.R. Operation Underground Railroad was founded with the sole purpose of saving exploited children. The idea to film this arose when Gerald Molen heard about Tim’s organization. He said Tim reminded him of Oskar Schindler, a subject with which he had some familiarity. Historically problems like the Holocaust and the slave trades were able to continue because good people didn’t know or couldn’t see what was happening. That is why they decided to make The Abolitionists. After the panel I caught had a conversation with Gerald and Darrin, unfortunately, I was unable to speak with Tim, but I hope to soon.
About The Abolitionists
On December 10th, 2013 Special Agent Tim Ballard turned in his Homeland Security badge and resigned from his employment with the United States government. He had spent over a decade rescuing children from child sex tourism both domestically and overseas. Though his job was difficult, he was proud that his country was one of very few in the world who was actually doing anything about this problem. However, mired in red tape and bureaucracy, Tim left to begin saving the children that he saw falling out of the purview of the US government. These children constitute over 90% of the children lost to child sex slavery and he could do nothing to help them while in the employment of the US government.
This is a story about the lost children and the OURrescue.com jump team’s exploits as they investigate and liberate enslaved children from around the world. Visit http://theabolitionistsmovie.com/ for more information
Gerald R. Molen
Mr. Molen is the Academy Award winning producer of Schindler’s List and producer of other hit titles such as Jurassic Park and Minority Report. Mr. Molen broke into the film business in 1957 at Republic Studios then moved to Universal Studios in 1967 to work on Bound for Glory, Coming Home, Being There, Ordinary People, and Absence of Malice.
Joining the Director’s Guild of America as a Unit Production Manager he worked on The Postman Always Rings Twice, Tootsie, A Soldier’s Story, and The Color Purple. He earned Executive Producer credits on Bright Lights, Big City and Days of Thunder. He has Co- Produced several films including Rain Man and Batteries Not Included and received Producer credit on Hook, as well as on the titles first listed above.
As Head of Production at Amblin he served as Executive Producer on The Flinstones, Little Rascals, Casper, Little Giants, and Twister, among others. He has appeared in front of the camera in Rain Man, Days of Thunder, Jurassic Park, and Amistad.
Me: This is a very different project than the films you have done, how is it different to work on a project like this?
Gerald: you get to a point in your career you get to a point where you can make choices about what you work on. And I made a decision a couple years ago I didn’t want to do any more of the big Hollywood type films, because they are very stressful when you are in a position of trying to handle the money and satisfy people and take care of egos and everything else. At some point, you have to say enough is enough, but I still was interested in the process and the business and I decided I wanted to get into maybe doing my own thing, family films and things like that that might have some meaning and direction and add a bit of a plus side to humanity. I’ve worked on some documentaries now I’ve worked on some real low budget films that we’ve filmed, Johnny Lingo, and some others. Because we thought there was a purpose to it and that’s why I’m involved with this here I just see something different and a major need for these kids.
Me: The only way I can really describe what we saw in there is “emotionally eviscerating”
G: Oh it is
Me: to know what you’re doing, that you’re involved in something like that, how can you cope with knowing that there are kids that you just can’t save?
G: I can’t go there, all I can do is everything that I can, to save as many as I can. What I need are people like you, and the other people sitting in there, hopefully each… everybody will…maybe open up their pocket book a little bit. We’re not getting rich off of this. The money basically goes to finding kids, and saving kids. Our little movie is already funded, we had a guy with enough, who wrote a check, said “here, I’ll pay for the feature” and that’s all done. So it’s not a matter of we’re a bunch of guys out looking for money, because we’re not. We’re looking for people that will help provide that, and help us.
Me: Absolutely, It almost feels wrong to ask “business” questions after that, but what are the movie, and the show, what will those be titled?
G: The Abolitionists, it will be a little feature film. The idea was strictly television at the beginning, we thought maybe what we need is a little documentary style film. And I could legitimately call it a documentary because there’s no actors in it. And the idea is to shed light, I guess would be the best way to say it, help people know what’s going on out there. Because so many people are like most of the people in that room had no idea 100,000 kids a year, out of this country are kidnapped and sold into sex slavery.
Me: Not something anybody really wants to think about.
G: No, and I’ve also got great grandkids of my own, you know. So that kind of causes me a little angst and concern, and I just want to do what I can.
Me: that is great, I absolutely love it, I mean I hate you have to do a project like this, but I greatly admire it
G: thank you
Me: and the website is OURrescue.org?
G: Yep, you can go there or you can go to OperationUndergroundRailroad.org
Me: Thank you very much.
Mr. Fletcher began his film career in high school as a layout artist for XAM Animation Studio, creating layouts for Saturday morning cartoons Spiderman and The Transformers. There he become very familiar with storyboards and telling stories through pictures. He was soon offered a job at Walt Disney Animation Studios but turned it down to follow his long-time dream of live-action filmmaking.
Since that time, Mr. Fletcher has worked as a storyboard artist on more than 65 feature films, including The World’s Fastest Indian, Sandlot, High School Musical 3 and A Life Less Ordinary. He has boarded hundreds of international commercials including the popular Foundation For A Better Life campaigns. He has also had extensive experience with large format IMAX® productions such as, Mysteries of Egypt, Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure and The Witness. Television has also been an large part of Mr. Fletcher’s career, visualizing and storyboarding dozens of various pilots and television series, including Charmed, Touched by an Angel, 7 Days, Extreme Rescue, Crossroads and Everwood.
This is Mr. Fletcher’s feature directorial debut.
Me: Hi, I’m Kyle with WatchPlayRead
Darrin Fletcher: Hi Kyle, nice to meet you, I’m Fletch.
Me: you are the… sorry, the producer or director
Fletch: Producer/Director, also with Chet Thomas, my co-producer/director.
Me: What’s it like to work on something like this?
F: Oh man, I’ve done so many movies in the past, I’ve been doing this over 20 years, and this is my first documentary I’ve always done feature films. It was a different experience to start with, when we first heard about Tim’s missions, and heard “ok this is what you can expect” kinda went out with a certain perception about what we were going to try and capture, how fast or how slow it moved, how to adapt, that sort of thing, and when we got out there all rules just went out the window. Like we were not emotionally ready for… Most of it’s fine, you go out you’re shooting people in taxi cabs from cover, we got cameras, we’re sitting on the beach we’ve got little cameras that are pointing over at our informants that are sitting with bad guys on the beach drinking beers, and you know, getting massages, and they are literally over there, 10 feet away, buying kids. I’m not kidding you. We’ve got them mic’ed, and we’re listening to the whole thing, to sit and listen to it, is sometimes even worse. to sit and listen to the conversations, and think “oh my gosh”, and I don’t even speak Spanish really well but I know what’s being said, and I don’t want to learn Spanish because if I have to sit and listen to that all the time it would just, it wears on you.
Me: Yeah, you’ve got to have that little bit of separation.
F: it’s tough. For instance, our very first mission, I can’t tell you where because we’re going back next week. We went to a place and, it was beautiful, and to realize there is this seedy underbelly, this ugliness underneath that you can’t imagine. Within a day or two, we had people trying to sell us children. We’re talking 7, 8 to 12 year old kids. And they know what they are going to be used for. It’s interesting to listen to guys that are part of your team, asking for these things. “well what about this, what about that” and you think to yourself, this is awful how did I find myself involved in this project, at the same time feeling great, like this guy’s going down, he’s got two days, we just have to put up with him two more days and he’s going away forever. well in that first mission we had 12 little baby girls, all under the age of 12, in a van, full participation of the government of the country we were in, and because of one lawyer, the whole thing fell apart. About 25 minutes before we were about to rescue the kids, and so we had to let them go. We had to watch the van drive away, and pay the bad guys, because we’re going to come back, we’re coming back and we want to this party with all these kids we’re coming back so we had to pay him and say just keep these kids on hold, and watch this van drive away with these kids in it, and think to yourself we lost, we just missed 10 kids. And you watch, you’ll see it, our whole team just breaks down, it’s tough, and you’ll get to see it. And you feel it. And our informants in the government are saying “I’m ashamed for my country.” And no, we’re coming back, and we’re going back next week, so those same kids, plus like 15 more. Those two bad guys, plus two more, are all going down next week. It took us a while to get the government, it was this lady attorney, and she didn’t want to work the weekend, so she said no I’m not going to sign the paper work. You’re kidding me, that was the reason. It took us a month and a half – two months to get that whole cycle cleaned out to get her to sign that paper work, but she signed and we’re…
Me: That end result has got to be worth it.
F: It is. We went to Haiti and had a successful mission right after that, you saw, we saved 28 kids from a lady that was running and orphanage, and just selling them. We were literally there an hour and she sold us two kids. $15000 apiece. Just didn’t know what we were going to do with them, didn’t care. So we plopped down $20,000, you saw her pick up the money, $20,000 she picks up sticks it in her purse. I think it was, 20,$10,000 per kid I think it was, no it was $30, she started getting greedy, Oh it’s $15,000 per kid. and she brought her daughter, that other lady was her daughter, who right before she got in the car to go up to the hotel to go up to the do the deal, right before that Tim looks at her, right in the face and we’ve have it on camera, she looks at her in the face and says “are you sure you want to go? Are you sure, if we get caught we’re all going to prison.” Oh yeah, so I tried to give you an out but you’re going to go along with this, and they are both still in prison.
Me: wow, that’s incredible
F: And that’s just one jump. I think you’ll see three jumps, three missions in the feature film, and the television series is already financed for 10 episodes. so, and it ranges from everything where we’ve planned a big huge sex party where they are going to bring these kids and the police busts in through the doors and everyone goes to the ground. All the way from that to, next week we’re busting a child pornographer who distributes a book he wrote on how to do this, and he’s going down next week. Good-bye, Sayonara,
Me: I don’t even know how to follow this up
F: It’s crazy, yeah…
Me: Yeah…So tell me about your show…
F: *laughs* it’s a dynamic show; I’d coined it as hyper-reality TV, because “reality TV” is just actors that have been cast to do this. These aren’t actors, they are green berets, navy seals, people like Tim, they are people like informants, our main informant was 15 years in the Tijuana drug cartel laundering money, he’s the real deal, and he had road to Damascus experience and completely converted to Jesus Christ, and now he devotes his entire life to this. And he doesn’t live in the states. He has a bullet right here *pointing to his right pectoral*, this next jump… if we’re successful, he’s going to let our green beret medic cut it out of him on camera. We’re going to do surgery, cut this bullet out of him…
Me: that’s crazy; I mean that’s great TV
F: It is…
Me: The TV show that is going to be The Abolitionist as well?
F: The Abolitionists. The websites with the feature film and the TV show is TheAbolitionistsmovie.com so that’s just all about the movie, it has nothing to do with OUR, I think there is a link there but that’s about it. It takes you back to OUR’s page. OUR is the hub
Me: so you are basically just filming what O.U.R. does?
F: We don’t make any plans or arrangements, they make a plane flight, and we’re right behind them, sitting right next to them on the plane. And you go with us, like as an audience member. We have about 12 hours worth of assembled footage now. When we sat down and did our rough assembly, it’s about 12 hours, watching this thing unfold before your eyes. Only 2 – 2 and a half hours of that you will ever see, so we have to cut that down. We’ve got to cut those 12 hours, down into a feature film
Me: That’s got be some hard decisions about what you keep
F: Some of it yes
Me: there has to be the obvious stuff you have to cut to keep your guys and your informants safe
F: Yeah there is that, some slight cutting around that, we blurred a lot of faces, they are more valuable to us in the field working, where they are, to the success of the films. There are some things we blurred out some things we cut around, there’s some boring times. There are some times we’re just having fun. There are some educational things in the film. For instance, we went to Columbia we went to Cartagena. Cartagena was the epicenter for American slavery, every slave ship went to Cartagena first, and then the slaves came to America. in Cartagena there is a cathedral, San Pedro, this guy San Pedro would go out to the docks every day the ships would come in, he would kept blankets and food and everything else, and he’d come rushing out there so when the slaves were coming off, he said I want to make sure that they a smiling face, and that they get a blanket and that they get something to eat. This is the American slave trade, this is as ugly as ugly gets and there was this guy out there, this catholic priest he was an Abolitionist, so we literally got the 92-year-old priest who runs this place to take us on a tour of the cathedral. He took us all the way up the bell tower, on top of the cathedral, walked on top of the cathedral, and you’ll get to see that story of San Pedro. so it’s not all doom and gloom and craziness, we do have these moments in the film where you get to take a breath and realize there are some happy stories we’ve found going through all this. There are success stories as well. She and Tim are looking out a window over the jungle and she is telling her story of how she is doing after her rehabilitation, and after the success, and she’s still struggling, it’s only been a year or two, so she is still struggling and you get to see some of that. So it’s not all undercover crazy, all guns, but there is quite a bit of that.
Me: These are hard things to follow up… is this picked up or signed with a network yet?
F: No not yet, the film got financed, and thirteen episodes… ten episodes, it was originally going to be thirteen, but we realized there’s some stuff you can’t show on TV but we could show it in a feature. So we sort of broke the first three episodes off and made a feature out of it, so that will air in the fall, we’re not sure where. We’ve already been contacted by numerous distribution companies who want to distribute it, nobody real big yet, so we’re waiting, it’s good enough but one of the majors should be anxious to pick it up
Me: I don’t imagine it would make for great family viewing on prime time, but at the same time, that’s almost where I would say it belongs.
F: It does, and the television version is toned down, like this next jump we are doing it’s busting a pornographer, a child pornographer. What they call a contact defender, they believe he is a contact defender that means he’s probably had sex with children, and Tim has warned us that it not probable, but it’s possible that he could have children locked up in his basement. One of those things, we won’t know until we kick the door down and really investigate it. But you’ll get to see these guys their faces, their habits… we’re all really anxious about this one because, there are so many facets to this, saving kids is awesome and there is no feeling like it in the world, but now I’m ready to kick down a door and take down a bad guy. Nose to nose. We’ve done that in the past, but it was a grandma and her daughter that were selling kids, something about me thinks, when I hear about a woman selling kids and I think well where is the female heart that says no I can’t do that, men do that sort of thing. That’s not the case, and it’s not uncommon to have aunts or women or madams selling kids. So I’m anxious to kick down a door and take a bad guy out.
Me: I can believe that
F: We were suppose to leave Sunday, we were taking him down Tuesday night, but that got pushed back, there was something wrong with the warrant and now it’s been pushed to later next week sometime.
Me: I hope that works out.
F: It will, we’ll go back; sooner or later we’ll get him. We have several open cases right now….there is goodness everywhere that is one of the messages we will be shouting from the rooftops. As ugly as this is, as bad as it is, there’s goodness everywhere. But it’s going to take all of us to stand up and shout it. It’s not going away because we look away.