Photo credit: Shawn Ryan
LOS ANGELES – Most Californians know of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the trial currently questioning the constitutional validity of Proposition 8. They also know that on Jan. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court put a stop to the proposed broadcasting of the associated court proceedings on YouTube.
What most people do not know, is that within a few hours of that decision, a film production team in L.A. was readying a script from court transcripts, securing a courtroom set and casting actors in an effort to bring the landmark trial to the people – by way of re-enactment.
In the seven weeks since the trial began, John Ainsworth and John Ireland, the two men behind the production, have scripted over 3,000 pages, working diligently on the massive production undertaking.
After placing several calls to their network of friends in the entertainment industry, Ainsworth and Ireland signed a media agreement with the Screen Actors Guild (actors/actresses are donating their time) on Friday, Jan. 15. On Saturday, they held auditions, and on Sunday, before the eighth day of litigation began, they were shooting.
They drafted an initial script from the courtroom dispatches of different bloggers. About a week later, when they received the official court transcripts, it was apparent that they would need to redo the first few episodes. The initial script for day one was 60 pages long, compared to the 200 pages it became once the transcripts were available.
Their goal is to provide an inside look into our judicial system with a historical and accurate re-enactment of the proceedings; and they are doing it in such a way that no one can claim they were biased or attempted to sway minds one way or another.
Behind the scenes
Close to 40 actors, including some currently working on shows like “24” and “Big Love,” have donated their time to portray the many witnesses and experts involved in the case. Even though the entire 12 days of testimony have been filmed, less than half of the episodes are currently available for viewing.
The footage was shot in high-definition. For the re-enactments to be viewable online, it takes 20 hours to compress just one hour of footage. Add to that fact, that much of the labor is donated and it is a wonder they are as far along as they are.
Through their Web site, they are accepting donations from viewers wishing to help cover the post-production cost. They are also speaking with a number of law firms about sponsoring an episode, noting that the accuracy of the re-enactments are of specific importance to the legal community.
Their monetary goal is not to make a profit, but to raise a modest $50,000 to $100,000; money that will enable them to compensate – albiet in a small way – those whose skills have made the production possible.
The men behind the production
Ainsworth and Ireland, both actors, met while filming a commercial seven years ago. They remain friends bonded by common interest and the fact that each of their relationships has suffered the consequences of California’s refusal to acknowledge marriage equality.
“We were elated and devastated at the same time,” Ireland recalls of Obama’s election and the passage of Prop. 8. Ireland had been very involved in the “No on 8” campaign and was optimistic it would not pass.
Ainsworth, on the other hand, was in New York during the Prop. 8 campaigns. He remembers feeling powerless as he watched the events unfold from afar.
Unlike so many gay and lesbians couples, however, Ireland and Ainsworth are both married to their respective partners. They are among the 18,000 couples who wed during the brief period before Prop. 8 made it illegal to do so, but it was not the first time they exchanged marriage vows with their partners.
Ireland married his partner in San Francisco in 2004, only to have that marriage license quickly annulled by the courts. Ainsworth married his partner in Mexico in 2006. California did not legally recognize either of their marriages until they exchanged vows in 2008, and although both men were ecstatic, it is now an opportunity no longer available to thousands of LGBT couples.
They both acknowledge that the fight for marriage equality is far from over, both nationwide and in California. With the Prop. 8 trial re-enactments, they hope to educate those still undecided on the issue and prove that a broad public interest for judicial transparency exists and always will.
“We have to keep pushing for the LGBT minority rights,” Ainsworth said. “We cannot continue to be discriminated against because others may religiously or philosophically disagree with our lifestyle, behavior or love.”
Aside from gaining a tremendous amount of knowledge and respect for the legal community while filming the reenactments, both men have also learned a lot about the history of discrimination against LGBT people.
“I am almost 40 years old,” Ireland said. “And there are things I never knew about my LGBT history … it truly blew my mind as a gay man.”
“We must insist on the discussion,” Ireland continued. “This is the first opportunity for us, LGBT people and our allies, to insist on the discussion. It is not about sound bytes, commercials or signs you wave. It is about leading logical arguments and having a rational, respectful discussion.
“These court proceedings have shown us not just the evidence, but that we can speak rationally and respectfully with those who disagree with us.”
The judge’s decision and sexuality
Judge Walker is reportedly a gay man. In the recent weeks since that revelation, many proponents of Prop. 8 are claiming that the judge’s ruling will not be fair and impartial; a claim that both Ainsworth and Ireland dismiss.
“Would an African-American judge presiding over a trial dealing with racial discrimination be asked to recuse himself?” Ainsworth asked. “No. Yet, I do not see how the Pro-Prop. 8 side will refrain from using that or let it go, but it is a comment that is easily said if you were not present in the trial or versed in the proceedings.”
Ireland alludes to a recent document published by CatholicOnline.org in which Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel was quoted as stating: “The revelation that Judge Walker apparently chooses to engage in homosexual conduct, if true, would explain much of his bizarre behavior throughout this trial …”
Ireland says Prop. 8 supporters seek to discredit the judge.
“Their goal is to collapse the entire dimension and depth of a gay person into sexual behavior,” Ireland said. “It is how they plan to win their case. And it is disrespectful to the judge. People should have more confidence in our judicial system.”
“It is just as disrespectful for us to be called the ‘gay producers’ and have people who have not seen the re-enactments, judge us for our sexual behavior and claim that of course we are biased.”
Judge Walker is expected to announce the date for closing arguments within a matter of days. Ainsworth and Ireland plan to have all of the episodes available for viewing before each lawyer makes one final attempt to sway the Judge’s decision.
Both Ainsworth and Ireland, after spending several weeks immersed in the case proceedings, consider themselves to be well versed on the issue and feel compelled to state that the evidence will prove it is clearly unconstitutional to prohibit same-sex marriage.
Whether or not Judge Walker will agree is a different story.
It is widely expected that regardless of his decision, there will be an appeal; meaning ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue the final ruling on this case.
Ainsworth and Ireland are already making plans to cover those proceedings as well, and dubbing them Season 2 and Season 3.
The trial is available for viewing in HD at no cost – and includes closed captioning – on their YouTube channel.
Esther Rubio-Sheffrey is a Staff Writer for SDGLN. She can be reached at (877) 727-5446, ext 711, or at [email protected]
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was corrected to reflect the misattribution of a quote by Ireland.