A filmic campaign


The Ides of March

Starring Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti; directed by George Clooney

Politi-Flix recently received a copy of the below strategy memorandum written by consultants for the campaign of the film The Ides of March. Although it contains some sensitive and confidential information about the inside workings of this campaign, Politi-Flix feels that disclosure of this memorandum is in the public interest. However, Politi-Flix will not reveal the source of this leaked material. Ultimately, it is up to the viewing public as to whether this information affects their decision to see this film or not.

CONFIDENTIAL MEMO

To: The Ides of March Filmic Campaign
From: CMC, Inc. (Critical Media Consultants, Inc.)
Date: October 7, 2011
Re: Developing a Winning Box Office Film

George Clooney in The Ides of March.
Photo by Saeed Adyani – © SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC.

You have asked us to provide an analysis of your Candidate’s chances of box office and critical success with film voters. The Candidate, The Ides of March (hereinafter referred to as the “Candidate”), is about a presidential primary campaign by a Democratic Governor, played by George Clooney, and his campaign staff and operatives who work to help him win Ohio delegates. It is competing with other candidates for the attention of movie patron votes at the box office. As the competition for such votes is fierce and the financial stakes high, we are providing this frank assessment of how the Candidate comes across to potential filmic voters.

Overall

After watching a performance of the Candidate and assessing its appeal, the Candidate stands a good chance of winning some acclaim due to its acting, star power and basic theme of political cynicism — especially in the current climate of generally negative views of politics and elected officials. However, there are a number of concerns associated with the Candidate’s message and delivery that may result in negative opinions and impressions that could keep potential viewers away and hurt its standing at the box office.

Strengths

The Candidate possesses the following strengths:

• Star Power. The Candidate has the benefit of a number of strong actors in lead and supporting roles that can appeal to many filmgoers. These include:

o George Clooney, who has the looks and gravitas of a believable presidential candidate, and projects the ego and ruthlessness to survive threats to his character’s integrity and viability;

o Philip Seymour Hoffman as an intimidating campaign manager who insists on loyalty above all else; and

o Paul Giamatti, who projects sinister intelligence as the opponent campaign manager.

[The other major player, Ryan Gosling, exudes a cocky idealism, but seems too remote and unbelievable at critical moments (see Liabilities section below)].

• Dialogue. The Candidate has some great speechwriters when it comes to dialogue. There are scenes where characters deliver impassioned, intelligent speeches. There is also some intense back-and-forth repartee regarding political damage control on issues and dilemmas that arise during the campaign in the film, and also when clashes occur between the characters on a more personal and moralistic vein. However, this is not with case with other plot elements (see Liabilities section below).

Messaging

The Candidate articulates a number of campaign messages that can be converted into bumper stickers or screaming advertising poster sound bites. The trouble is some of these are quite obvious and clichéd (but some jaded film voters may tolerate them up as they appeal to their preconceived negative notions of politics as ineffective, dysfunctional, and corrupt). These include:

• “Politics is a contact sport” (as with other similar candidates, like Primary Colors, campaigns are depicted as a rough and tumble business; in other words, if you are not willing to do what it takes to win (mudslinging, negative ads, dirty tricks), you are in the wrong line of work)

• “When in Rome...” (if you take a hit, fight back like the best of them)

• “Turnabout is Fair Play” (if you feel that you have been wronged in a political campaign (used as a fall guy, demoted, etc.) when liabilities are uncovered, it is legitimate to use the same techniques on others to get yourself back in the game)

• “Politicians Are People Too” (don’t get too enamored with those seeking elected office as they will no doubt exhibit the same foibles as all the rest of us average human beings)

Liabilities

There are a number of troubling aspects with this Candidate that may leave some cold, which might cause filmic voters to defect to other candidates vying for their attention at the box office. Here is a list of the more prominent:

Clooney’s Liberal Politics. Actor/Director George Clooney is a prominent liberal. Even though the Candidate stands for the proposition that the nefarious campaign machinations depicted by it are nonpartisan and thus prevalent in all campaigns, Clooney’s presence may scare off some potential movie voters with different political sensibilities. Not much we can recommend here as potential movie voters either like this actor or they don’t.

The Ryan Gosling Character. Gosling plays a wunderkind press secretary for Clooney’s candidate. However, we never really get a sense of the basis for this reputation other than his good looks and charisma. Perhaps that is enough, but to those of us who have worked on campaigns, it’s not credible. Furthermore, the Gosling character possesses an acute idealism when it comes to Clooney’s candidate — an idealism that borders on naiveté. If he is such a wiz at his job, it stretches credulity that he would be so blindly starry-eyed. And when that idealism is challenged by reality (Clooney is a human being after all) and he becomes disillusioned, that transition becomes arch, strained and clunky — especially when he takes some drastic, farfetched and uncharacteristic actions later in the film based on that disillusionment. Unfortunately, his acting does not provide enough depth and nuance to get a good feel for this transformation.

The Ryan Gosling Conflict. To capture film voters’ attention, the Candidate creates a dramatic conflict for Gosling’s press secretary involving the campaign manager for Clooney’s primary opponent (Giamatti). This is designed to set in motion later conflicts and drama that drive the story. To those who have worked on real campaigns, this initial conflict is overplayed and would not present the sorts of tension and dilemma that the Candidate suggests. Although we find fault with this, it may be too “inside baseball” so that the average film going voter’s opinion would not be influenced by this shortcoming.

Love Story. As mentioned above, some dialogue is intriguing, but other dialogue is goofy. That principally involves the banter that the Gosling character has with a lovely young campaign intern. It’s puppy-dog-ish and not up to the standards of a grizzled political parable.

Demographics. The Candidate gives off the aura of a dangerous thriller, so one expects that there may be some violence and mayhem. That these expectations are unrealized (there are no car chases, explosions, gun battles, zombies, vampires, aliens, robots or comic book superheroes) may result in turning away some movie voters who find these elements essential in their candidates. Instead, the Candidate displays some obvious statements about politicians, the lengths they will take to win and the gamesmanship of their operatives. Thus, it ultimately is too banal to spark some real insight or excitement as we have been exposed to these political realities everyday on the news about real candidates and politicians.

Attacks

The Candidate may want to distract filmic voters from these deficits by suggesting that other film candidates are unworthy of people’s time and attention. It can do so by pointing out that other choices are just plain silly and if they choose one of them, they are adhering to the status quo and resistant to change and diversity in their movie options. Another attack would be to simply say, “Beware the ides of March if you don’t go see The Ides of March.”

Although The Colorado Statesman rarely allows sources to remain anonymous, especially regarding the reporting of controversial issues such as the above, we do support Politi-Flix’s Doug Young’s decision to reveal the contents of this memo. We are in concurrence with Politi-Flix that the disclosure of the sensitive and confidential nature of this memorandum is indeed in the public interest and represents an appropriate quest for the truth and betterment of society. The newspaper also has determined that release of this information meets the standards of the American Newspaper Association Libel And Sunshine Statement (ANALASS). The Colorado Statesman neither affirms nor denies knowledge of the identity of the specific individual(s) who may have disseminated this information. We encourage our readers and others in the political arena to take this information into account when formulating their decisions as to which film(s) to see.