Sunday, October 14, 2007

Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle

Bill Curry is brilliant, but he has trouble disguising it. And in the political world unvarnished intelligence is, unfortunately, a liability. It's the Adlai Stevenson effect. Our most electable politicians have the ability to disguise genius with geniality (think of Bill Clinton).

So in today's opinion piece about Al Gore's Nobel Prize, Curry laments Gore's inability to appear less pompous, cold and unfriendly on the campaign trail. Doctor heal thyself.

When Curry was running against a very crooked, very engaging politician named John Rowland, he told the truth in volumes about Rowland's faults. Faults which would eventually drive Rowland from office and into prison. But Curry couldn't get the truth to the people. Part of the problem was that he didn't have the funds. Good Democratic donors, who happened to be state vendors, were afraid to contribute to Curry's campaign due to threats by the opposition that their contracts would be terminated if they helped Curry. At the end of his campaign, when he had run through most of his election war chest, he came to my little film production company to produce some necessarily low-budget campaign spots. He had spent loads on a consulting company, and high-end commercials, to no end.

In hours of meetings, we convinced Curry and his team to make one "conceptual" spot, a pointed, anti-Rowland volley. But for the following spots, Curry insisted on speaking his mind for the entirety of the :30 second spots, on camera. I spoke to his team and suggested that Curry's style, when making even a short speech to camera, seemed professorial, intellectual, and unappealing to the great unwashed.

At the time, a couple of Cajun musician friends of mine were staying at my house. I suggested we shoot them playing fiddle and accordian on a sidewalk in Hartford. As they played Louisiana music, we'd hear a Southern-accented narrator, reciting the political malfeasance of a corrupt Governor. At the end of the spot the narrator would say: "Sounds like Louisiana, doesn't it?" At that the camera would zoom out to show the musicians were playing in front of the Connecticut State Capitol, and the narrator would say: "But it's Connecticut. Vote Curry and end the corruption in Connecticut."

Curry rejected the idea, and we went with the spots featuring his face time. He lost the election (though obviously not simply because he didn't do the Cajun music commercial), Rowland went to jail, and Curry had the last laugh, kind of.

I was gratified to hear Curry say, on several occasions after the campaign, that Connecticut politics was "like Louisiana without the swamps."

A final footnote, most Connecticut politicians, even those who talk about creating jobs in Connecticut, and including the current governor, and the mayor of Hartford, make their campaign commercials with production crews outside of their own jurisdiction.

From Creepy Joe Lieberman to Chris Murphy to the governor herself, their political consultants from New York and DC, hire non-Connecticut companies to do their bidding. Having worked on 13 Ned Lamont spots (as a vendor for a Minneapolis production company), I can honestly say, I rather live without the insanity of producing political commercials.

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