Bill's Run

PBS Premiere: June 29, 2004Check the broadcast schedule »

Production Journal

POV: How did you approach making Bill's Run which is, in many senses, a personal film about your family?

Richard Kassebaum: Bill's Run started off as a video diary -- it was just me and the camera. I was doing sound as well, so there was a very personal, immediate connection to the subject. I filmed every day for seven weeks, constantly. I shot about sixty-five hours of footage.

I tried to strike a balance between the home movie elements and the larger issues of the story that began to unfold. I tried to gauge how much information was needed about my relationship with Bill and my family history. My objective became to let the subjects of the story tell their story and let them raise the issues; to just record that and try to get out of the way.

POV: One of the more interesting elements that plays out in the film is the dynamic between Bill, your brother, and Nancy, your mother. Can you talk about that?

Richard: I think for my mother, who is a seasoned politician -- she'd been in the U.S. Senate for eighteen years -- it was a constant battle between trying to give advice and trying to gauge her role as a mother. Trying to understand that Bill needs room to make his decisions. I think my brother was trying to stake out his territory, his independence as a son, and listen to the advice that she was giving, a lot of which was good.

POV: Does Bill see himself as the third generation of a political family?

Richard: He doesn't talk about being a part of "the legacy," if you want to use that word. Maybe for him it's just easier to not deal with it -- that's just added pressure. But he is aware and he's a real student of history. He loves history and is extremely well-read. In fact, right before he ran, my mom and I were talking one night about why Bill decided to run (it was a last minute decision) and my mom said, "Well, he just read the latest biography on Teddy Roosevelt and he's all fired up!"

POV: What was the hardest thing about making this personal film?

Richard: One of the most difficult things was trying to gauge how hard to push the story as a filmmaker, knowing I was being an imposition on my brother and his family. My brother put up with it because he's my brother, but Jennifer, his wife, is extremely camera-shy. I tried to always remain aware of that and not to impose. She was really good-natured about it and I owe her a big thanks. But the imposition created a strain, certainly, and as the campaign ground on and we got closer to election day, there was a lot of tension. A lot of days just passed in silence where we didn't talk, but that's family, and that's the one place you can do that.

The odd thing was, I think my family was cognizant of my dual roles. They let me be the filmmaker and also sit down at dinner every night and step out of that role. Or leave the camera rolling to film dinner. That took an amazing openness, to let me do this.

Quite possibly that's because I had previously made a film about another member of my family, my grandfather, when he was a hundred years old. It was extremely difficult and I came away saying I would never make another family documentary! I had great reservations about making "Bill's Run" but it turned out to be a completely opposite experience, maybe because everyone knew that the first film gave me a real tough time. They were going to try to help make this a positive experience.