I don’t know if writer-director Scott Ryan’s documentary, We Want The Airwaves, will be inspirational or triggering. Still, if you’re someone who has ever had a great idea for a television show, a movie, or even a business opportunity and almost died or burnt out trying to bring it to life, Ryan’s story is one you need to hear.
It’s 2005, and prior to the phenomenon known as YouTube, three activist creators, Scott Ryan, Charmel Green, and Cory B. Clay, dreamed up an inspirational documentary series they called Manifesto! The idea was simple — rather than moan and complain about the problems of the world (e.g., hunger, climate change, or voting rights), why not spend time spotlighting people around the world who are actually making a change? The pilot episode would feature Scott Harrison, the founder and CEO of Charity Water.
Great idea, right? Now you’ve got the sell the idea to a network, and We Want The Airwaves documents the ten-year journey that Ryan, Green, and Clay took to get their show on the air… maybe. What’s clear from the start is that the trio was incredibly passionate about their show’s mission statement and believed with their whole hearts that the national television audience desperately wanted a show like this and that Manifesto! would change the world.
Whether it’s a film, business venture, or even buying a home, if you’ve ever had a dream and needed other people’s money to invest in that dream, the documentary is going to feel PAINFULLY familiar. From the start, the creative trio had to switch to the role of pitchman. Green was the designated cold caller, and she had the most underappreciated job of picking up that phone and annoying anyone and everyone to simply look at their proposal. Finally, the job became so excruciating that therapists had to get involved.
“…why not spend time spotlighting people around the world who are actually making a change?”
Then in the second act, we sadly learn how the Hollywood sausage is made. Investors would finally come in with the promise of money, specific talent, or TV airtime. Then, when it came time to shoot a sizzle reel, these investors would back out at the last minute and disappear. Or others put off making a decision until a pilot was shot and gave no money for them to do it. Now that money that wasn’t there was being spent, invoices would go unpaid, and Ryan and Green found themselves financially destitute. Of course, this led to friction between the trio.
The image that continually gets repeated over and over again is the dangling carrot. We’ve all been there, that opportunity that will drastically change our lives is just out of reach, and when you lunge for it, the consequences set you back several steps. We Want The Airwaves is a sobering take on the Hollywood dream and how it’s so easy to find hope and excitement for a project and feel disappointed when there was never anything behind empty promises.
What is impressive to me about the film as a documentary is the amount of footage they had of the three during the 10-year sojourn. Though, it shouldn’t surprise me that documentarians were documenting every step of their “greatest idea ever.” Ryan’s vulnerability in sharing his thoughts and feelings at that time is quite admirable. The team wanted to do good so badly, yet the universe was actively working against them. On a side note, their animated recreations of network meetings are hilarious.
We Want The Airwaves forces you to question the adage, “follow your dreams.” Of course, nothing in life ever gets done with having a dream, but dreams of success are rarely given away so easily. Instead, our dreams are fulfilled in ways we never expected.
For screening information, visit the We Are The Airwaves official website.
"…forces you to question the adage, 'follow your dreams.'"