How an Oscar-winning documentary-maker helped create the Elizabeth Holmes myth

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The image of Holmes that he created in the adverts features the same stylistic choices as his Switch work. Using a device of his own invention, the Interrotron, which uses a screen to enable the subject to simultaneously look at the interviewer and straight into the camera, he created a very specific kind of effect. The person being filmed appears to be speaking directly to the viewer – it feels intimate. Like someone you can trust. Owing to the footage’s power and its rarity, the Elizabeth Holmes it presented – that surprisingly deep voice, that earnestness, those enormous blue eyes – has become her abiding public image. 

Morris remains unapologetic about his role in the campaign. “I wanted to do a movie about Elizabeth Holmes right after the commercial. And I wanted to, even after she got into terrible trouble. Let me try to be clear about this, because I think it’s a danger area: it’s not that I wanted to become an apologist for Elizabeth Holmes, or was riddled with guilt for having done these commercials. No, it’s because I became interested. Who is this woman?”

He was also unsparing in his assessment of Gibney’s film. “I haven’t seen the Alex Gibney film, nor do I want to see it. I was asked to participate in it; I refused repeatedly. The stories that are told about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos now have taken a predictable pattern. If the job of making these kinds of films is demonizing the subject, because everybody has decided that they should be demonized, then are you doing your job? Are you piling on? Are you pandering? What exactly are you doing?”

But other comments he has made privately indicate that his motivations for not taking part in the film are more complicated than dislike of its viewpoint and suggest that his feelings about his role in the Theranos scandal are rather more ambivalent than the New Yorker interview would suggest. According to an Engadget piece, when Gibney approached Morris about appearing in the documentary, or even speaking to him off the record, he said, by way of a refusal, “For God, there is no off the record, and he can be a very unforgiving person.”

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