Writer Danny Strong on How YouTube Changed the Game
So what kind of research did a script like this involve?
I interviewed essentially every character in the script, except for maybe three or four. Several people that aren't in the script I interviewed as well — members of the McCain team, the Palin team, people that were on the Palin bus. Then there were a ton of other books and magazine articles that I read, so there was quite a bit of sourcing on this particular event. Because if you don't get it right, you're failing the story.
Did having a book [Game Change by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann] as source material help?
Heilemann and Halperin were key contributors in the process of writing this script. They were available to me to answer questions, and they gave notes on every single draft of the script to make sure that it was as accurate as it could be —but their notes ended up going beyond that. They just had great ideas. I must have spent 40 hours with those guys, draft after draft. I feel so fortunate to have gotten to adapt such an amazing and landmark book.
Can you remind of us where things stood when Palin entered the spotlight?
Barack Obama was sucking all the oxygen out of the media room for John McCain, and the McCain campaign really believed that they needed to shake up the race, that they needed to find a vice presidential candidate who could be a "game changer." The most obvious candidates — Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Crist — they were more of the same. Sarah Palin fit the bill for everything John McCain needed: She was dynamic, she would be historic, she was a true conservative.
So if Palin wasn't in the race, would it have been so very different from years past?
One thing the campaign had to deal with that no other campaign in the history of presidential politics ever had to deal with before was YouTube. And YouTube ended up being a great detriment to the McCain campaign, because of Tina Fey and the Katie Couric interview. The number of hits that those two clips have — they're in the millions — became known as an 'infinite loop' playing on the web. It's unbelievable how many times those videos have been watched. So in its own way, YouTube was a game changer for the 2008 campaign.
What do you think viewers will take away from the film?
Essentially everything this movie is about is the modern candidate. How much does the modern candidate needs to know, versus how charismatic and photogenic and telegenic does the modern candidate need to be? Sarah Palin and Barack Obama are dynamic, charismatic personalities. They're celebrities.
When your presidential election is a reality show, and not a true exploration of the substance of individuals, then all of a sudden you end up with candidates that aren't necessarily qualified to be President. I think Democrats would argue that was the case with Sarah Palin, and Republicans would argue that was the case with Barack Obama.