marriagetrial.com
Using 3,000 pages of court transcripts as scripts and professional actors as main characters, a pair of gay filmmakers are recreating the federal trial on California's same-sex marriage ban.
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updated 2/2/2010 8:06:13 PM ET 2010-02-03T01:06:13

Where there's the Web, there's a way.

Seeking to overcome a broadcast blackout imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court, a pair of gay Los Angeles filmmakers have undertaken the task of faithfully recreating the federal trial on California's same-sex marriage ban for the Internet. All 60-plus hours of it. Every "um," "Yes, your honor" and "objection!"

John Ainsworth and John Ireland are using 3,000 pages of court transcripts as scripts and professional actors as the main characters to produce the weighty re-enactment of a case that some have described as the gay marriage movement's Brown v. Board of Education.

"This is something I believe should be a resource for Americans," Ireland said. "This is a process we as a society are going through, and there is nothing like good drama with professional actors that allows people to consider the lives of others that are different from them."

Chief U.S. Judge Vaughn Walker announced before the trial that he wanted to record the historic proceedings and transmit them to other federal courthouses and on YouTube. But a divided Supreme Court overruled Walker two days into the trial and blocked the broadcasts, saying they could subject gay marriage opponents to harassment.

Ainsworth and Ireland had been looking forward to watching the trial unfold, having both married longtime partners before California voters enacted the ban known as Proposition 8 in 2008. Undeterred by the blackout, they quickly mobilized a film crew.

They posted a casting call on Craigslist for actors to play Walker, competing lawyers and the intrepid witnesses, then mined their Hollywood contacts to find trained thespians they concluded would be better-suited to the demanding roles. The filmmakers are funding the project with their own money.

To their delight, veteran actors volunteered for many of the nonpaying parts. Actresses Tess Harper ("Tender Mercies," "Crimes of the Heart") and Adrienne Barbeau, who co-starred in the 1970s-era sitcom "Maude," were cast respectively as a co-plaintiff and an expert witness.

Other actors with lengthy television credits assumed many of the other key roles, including those of plaintiffs lawyers Theodore Olson and David Boies, the litigators best-known for representing George W. Bush and Al Gore in the disputed 2000 election. For instance, Jack Laufer, who is playing Boies, is a character actor who has had recurring roles in law-related dramas such as "CSI," "Judging Amy" and "L.A. Law."

The performances, part cinema verite and part "Judge Judy," are word-for-word reproductions of the trial. But the actors have not had the benefit of watching the people they are playing and in most cases received their "scripts" when they showed up on the set — a mock courtroom at the University of Southern California law school.

"I am having so much fun, and it is so rewarding," said Theodore Heyck, a retired prosecutor and actor who was cast as Judge Walker based on his physical resemblance and legal acumen. Although his role requires him to be in every scene, most of the time just listening, Heyck said he has gotten a sense of Walker's personality from reading how he handled evidence, uncooperative witnesses and his remarks on the broadcast issue.

Working at a breakneck production schedule, the two have filmed about two-thirds of the trial so far and posted three hour-and-a-half-long "chapters" of the first day's testimony on YouTube and their Web site, Marriagetrial.com. They hope to get the rest up as fast they can.

"We are in a spot to make this, to recreate this," said Ireland, 39. "One way or another, we know enough people, we have enough enthusiasm to fill the void on Youtube. I'm of a generation where I expect to find answers on the Internet."

Ainsworth acts and runs a youth theater camp, while Ireland has experience in filmmaking, including doing a documentary on gay adoption and a series of commercials featuring same-sex couples and their families.

Although the two men opposed Proposition 8, they said they are trying to keep their personal views out of the re-creation so viewers can judge for themselves whether the evidence for denying gays the right to wed is there. Their Web site includes commentary from a writer who was inside the courtroom and a constitutional law professor at the University of Southern California, which allowed a mock courtroom at its legal school to be used as the set.

"We are trying to present this as close to a historical document as possible," Ainsworth said. "We told the actors, 'These are real people, so we need to let them speak for themselves.'"

The trial, the first in a federal court to explore whether the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from outlawing same-sex unions, is currently on a hiatus and will resume most likely in March with closing arguments. Ainsworth and Ireland plan to wrap up that episode as soon as possible after the trial ends.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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