Emily and Sarah Kunstler found a way to save tens of thousands of dollars on their documentary: They picked their father as the subject.
But before you focus your camera on Dad to create a major work in honor of Father's Day, note that Emily and Sarah had a really compelling subject: the late civil rights lawyer William Kunstler. He was lionized for representing Martin Luther King Jr. and the Chicago Seven. He was later demonized for defending the likes of John Gotti and the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Disturbing the Universe, the Kunstlers' well-received film about their father, makes its TV premiere Tuesday, June 22, at 10 p.m. on PBS's "POV." It got there for approximately a third less than it would have cost had the filmmakers not shared the same DNA, Emily Kunstler told WalletPop. Given that the final tally was $500,000, that's $166,000 saved.
The home movies and memories were free. So was access to friends, family and colleagues.Some even contributed money to the making of the movie. Good thing Dad saved his clippings and videos, because the national news networks charged too much for theirs, Emily said. (She half-joked that since her controversial pop provided hundreds of hours of material for the news broadcasts, she thought they'd return the favor.)
A local New York City news channel, NY1, came through with significant footage, including a segment with Emily and Sarah as children interviewing their father, who died in 1995 at age 76. The relatively low-cost Vanderbilt News and Television Archive proved to be a valuable resource, too. The Attica Brothers Legal Defense Fund offered material from when Kunstler represented the prisoners during the 1971 Attica uprising in which National Guardsmen shot and killed 29 inmates and 10 hostages.
Having a famous dad generated other budget-easing perks: A private supporter donated office space. Another ponied up the sisters' legal fees. The Center for Constitutional Rights, which their father co-founded, released important documentation. Admirers who taped his speeches around the country mailed them in. "We didn't have to cast a huge net," Emily said. "That is cost-saving."
In another boost to the sisters' coffers, the Independent Television Service chipped in enough funding to secure rights to the documentary for the next four years.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Kunstlers have been shooting advocacy films for prisoners since 2000, so they're used to operating on a shoestring, Emily said. But profiling their father gave them an extra push to keep costs down so they could see their ambitious project through.
Said Emily: "We did the producing work ourselves and I edited the film, and Sarah did the writing. We wore a lot of hats. We could work for chicken feed. It was a labor of love so we were able to make sacrifices that other people can't do or aren't willing to do."