"I told them it was a terrible idea," the St. Louis-born Guggenheim says in a telephone interview from his Venice Beach, California, production studio. "I must have spent two hours trying to talk them out of this. You can't make a movie out of a slide show. Plus, I thought Gore was a bad choice to deliver the message, being a politician with lots of baggage. And I'm not even an environmentalist. All this stuff about global warming was never on my mind."
Guggenheim decided to attend some of the 1,000-plus multimedia tutorials Gore has presented since George W. Bush took office. "I was just blown away about how convincing his argument was," says the 42-year-old director. "It all comes from his core values."
Beginning in the summer of 2005, Guggenheim spent six months on the $1 million documentary, traveling throughout the nation to find the most suitable backdrops to chronicle the specter of drought, famine and catastrophic storms. And drowning polar bears? "Well, no, that was simulated."
Above all, stresses Guggenheim, "I wanted to take all the politics out of it. I didn't want to make another Fahrenheit 9/11. And from the very beginning, too, there was an unspoken agreement between us that this was to be shared ownership. My domain was to capture the personal side of Gore, and he was to make sure the science was handled correctly."
Asked what it was like to have spent so much time with the former vice president, Guggenheim says, "He's really funny and incredibly likeable. He's very soulful, and after only a few days with him, you can't help but be infected by his mission. He really is obsessed on this issue."
Critics, mainly from the right, have suggested An Inconvenient Truth is nothing more than a political vehicle calibrated to position Gore for another run at the White House all of which makes Guggenheim bristle.
"All that speculation is completely missing the point," he says. "The singular message about this movie is to get people to realize the threats we face from global warming. As Gore says at the beginning of the film, ‘I've been trying to tell this story for a long time, and I feel as if I've failed to get the message across."'
Guggenheim dismisses some reviews that have called the documentary a "horror" film. "But there are some parts that are terrifying," he concedes, "like the sequences showing major cities in New York and Florida being covered by the ocean."
Guggenheim, whose directing credits include episodes of The Shield, Alias and 24, as well as producing and directing episodes of Deadwood, says he's overwhelmed by the reception the documentary has received.
"It's been getting standing ovations," he enthuses. "For me, it's all been a labor of love. I'm not taking any money from it."