I mean this very literally. In fact, three weeks before we were to show our cut of Waiting for "Superman" to the Sundance Film Festival, I had two movies that were in two different rooms on two different editing machines...completely separate movies. One captured five kids' stories in a movie that might be called Other People's Children, since it focuses on the plight of these kids who I hoped the audience would grow to care about as much as their own and who have to rely on the luck of the bouncing ball to determine whether or not they are going to be able to attend a decent school. The other film was the story of why our educational system has stopped working...the bureaucracy, the dysfunctional incentives, the entrenched power of the unions, and so on. For tone purpose, I labeled this film with the working title The Folly of the Adults.
I worked for a year and a half filming those two separate movies and editing them so they would work in isolation...beginning, middle, and end. And then finally, three weeks before submitting to Sundance, we cut them together.
During much of this process, many of my most trusted friends and advisors were saying, "You're out of your mind." Even Lesley Chilcott, my producer and business partner, who understood exactly what I was trying to do, was getting nervous as the months passed, saying, "It's time to cut the movies together." But I kept saying, "They're not ready yet. They have to work in isolation, each as its own story, before we cut them together," and I refused to think about combining until that first stage of the process was really completed.
Understand, I even refused to consider how and where we might combine the two separate pictures. Sometimes one of the editors would say, "Well, don't you think you should cut from this scene about one of the kids to this scene from the other film? Wouldn't that make a great juxtaposition?" I would always reply, "I don't even want to think about where the two pictures will meet. I just want to make them work as separate movies."