How 'Mitt' was made: The story behind the new documentary about the two-time presidential candidate

Martha Raddatz, Richard Coolidge & Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

On the Radar

It all started when Mitt Romney went to see a movie in 2005.

The then-governor of Massachusetts went to a theater in Boston to see “New York Doll,” a documentary about recovering alcoholic and rock musician Arthur Kane, who is given the chance to reunite with his band The New York Dolls after 30 years. Soon after that, the film’s director, Greg Whiteley, received an e-mail.

“A guy e-mailed me saying, ‘Hey, I loved your film. I looked you up on the Web. You'd be interested to know the governor of Massachusetts was at your movie, just two rows ahead of me,’” Whiteley, the director of "Mitt," told “On the Radar” during a walking interview at last week’s Sundance movie festival, where his most recent film about the two-time Republican presidential candidate premiered.

“The movie was about this cross-dressing punk rocker in the early '70s,” he said jokingly. “And I thought, well, that's fascinating … right up his wheelhouse, I guess.”

A year and a half passed before Whiteley’s path crossed once again with Romney’s. But this time, Whiteley sought him out intentionally.

“His name started to get mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, and I just drew a connection and found out that his son, his oldest son was working at the Dodgers,” Whiteley said.

Whiteley, who like Romney is a Mormon, wanted to make a documentary on the rumored Republican presidential candidate. So, he invited Romney’s oldest son, Tagg, out to lunch to make the pitch.

“I go, ‘Look, here's my idea: If your dad runs for president, I've got this idea of making a movie,’” he recalled telling Tagg. “And I got halfway through my pitch, I had a laptop and everything, and Tagg just stopped me and said, ‘I think it's a great idea. Let's do this.’”

But when Tagg called Whiteley back a week later, he had some bad news.

“He said, ‘Hey, my dad said no, he doesn't want to do it, but my mom said yes,’” he recalled Tagg as having said.

But, as Whiteley soon learned, Ann’s approval meant that he hadn’t been exactly turned down either.

“I've learned that if you want to make a documentary about Mitt Romney, you go through Ann Romney,” he said.

On Christmas Eve 2006, Whiteley was given his first opportunity to film the Romney family. And he went on to follow Romney through his two presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

“I don't think I was quite prepared for the army of people whose dedicated job it is to cover Mitt Romney and how little access they're given,” Whiteley recalled from the campaign trail. “It is strange, isn't it, that there's this gigantic plane and two-thirds of the plane is filled with reporters whose sole job is to uncover the truth of who Mitt Romney is, and then, it seems to be that one-third of the plane is filled with people trying to prevent the reporters from finding out what the truth is.”

Despite the strict controls on the reporters who were following Romney, Whiteley was given an unprecedented level of access to the Republican presidential contender.

“That's why, part of why, I felt so strange is, what's so bad about getting to know the real Mitt Romney?” he said of the disparity in access between himself and the rest of the press corps.

To learn more about the making of “Mitt,” which is now available to stream on Netflix, check out this episode of “On the Radar.”

ABC’s Brian Hartman, Alexandra Dukakis, Tom Thornton, and RJ Hill contributed to this episode.