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While politicians serve some of the most important positions in society, determining the rules by which we govern ourselves, they are also caught up in one of the most ridiculous systems on Earth. Every year, but particularly during election years, we hear about a new senator or congressman or, god forbid, president who gets caught up in some kind of bizarre scandal. Because these men and women are in such extreme positions of power, it’s often rather tragic and horrible when these scandals occur, but as they say “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” And it’s in the reflection on political disgraces of years past that Jay Roach has formulated the new comedy The Campaign.
This past winter I hopped on a flight down to New Orleans, Louisiana and in between delicious meals of beignets and blackened redfish, I had the chance to spend time along with a group of other journalists on the set of the upcoming political comedy, starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. During the day behind the scenes we got to watch the actors perform multiple hilarious scenes filled with foot-rubbing, sex tapes and megachurch sermons, as well as talk to the cast and filmmakers about the movie.
While the production was held in Louisiana, The Campaign tells the story of two politicians who go to all-out war for a congressional seat in a small district of North Carolina. Cam Brady (Ferrell) is the incumbent and lifelong politician who has never actually had to run against anybody before, but he soon finds that he has met his match in Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), a strange, effeminate newcomer who is coached to become a Washington politician.
One element that makes the project interesting is that while Roach has more than made his mark in comedy, directing hits like Austin Powers and Meet The Parents, he has also dabbled in political drama on more than one occasion, directing the HBO films Recount and Game Change (which was released just this year). So it’s more than just comedy that drives the film, but also a sincere interest in the field.
“I was very interested in politics in college and was heading to be a lawyer,” Roach said as we all ate lunch during a crew break. “I don't know. I always had a respect and an admiration for people who got into politics. I certainly have always been interested in law and political science and I’ve been an amateur student, you know just a dilettante really in connection to politics my whole life. I’ve always read a lot about it and always been interested in it.”
As serious as that approach sounds, however, the idea of the film is to both make a comment about the current political atmosphere, but more importantly make people laugh. The trouble, however, was that while they were making the movie they were also following the GOP primary race and finding that some of the reality was funnier than what they had on the page.
“When we initially sat down and kind of constructed this idea, we just thought, ‘Boy, this would be a great opportunity to kind of comment on everything's that happening,’” Ferrell told us while in full costume. “Little did we know that we'd be in the midst of the craziest political season we probably ever had on record. So if anything we just hope Zach lives up to his end of the deal and is funny, because I know I'll be funny.”
And there’s definitely promise of that. Because we were on the set almost from sunup to sundown, we had the chance to watch the crew film multiple scenes. Without divulging too much information about the movie and ruining the funny, the first two sequences we saw involved Cam purposely filming his own sex tape on an iPhone as an act of revenge against Marty. It addition to being absolutely ridiculous – because of multiple takes we listened to Will Ferrell make grunting sex noises for about 15 minutes – the filming had an interesting slant to it because of the rig they used. In addition to mounting a real iPhone on to the camera, they also had a camera that had an interface that made it look like it was shooting from a smartphone. The scene even plays with the low-tech approach, occasionally racking focus between the humping couple and a deer head that’s mounted on the wall behind them.
The next scene featured Marty and his wife Mitzi (played by Sarah Baker) lying down on opposite ends of the couch giving each other foot massages. What made it so fascinating was that the actors were able to bring a completely new approach to every take and come up with the craziest one-liners (“I got a dishonorable discharge. Speaking of which, have you been to the gynecologist?”) and small mannerisms (such as Galifianakis dabbing a tiny bit of lotion on to each of Baker’s toes). Roach would even direct the scene differently from take-to-take, having Galifianakis be in absolute ecstasy from the foot rub in one take and not enjoying it in the next. Each time, however, both actors brought their A-game.
“Sometimes, if you do a lot of takes, and you work long hours — for me, at least — there’s a delirium that starts kicking in on the fifteenth hour,” Galifianakis said prior to the scene. “And that can help the movie. The thirteenth hour is where I have concern, because everybody is so tired. But everybody – the crew, especially – steps up to the plate. We’re here to make a movie, and tell a story”
Lastly we got to watch Galifianakis shoot a part of a montage that will feature Marty and Cam going head-to-head in a “holy war,” trying to appeal to all of the different religions. In the shot we saw Marty is being videotaped at a megachurch and being introduced by a minister. Like the massage scene, each take was a bit different. After the minister would say, “There is nothing you can’t do with Jesus in your life. Am I right?” Marty would appear behind him and say something along the lines of, “Absolutely, because in life there are no dress rehearsals!” or “Amen! Because life is a mess, but it doesn’t have to be!”
In between set ups we were also allowed to do a tour of Marty Huggins’ house, which was built right in the giant soundstage. The set decorators and production designers did a great job filling the home with funny little knickknacks and props, such as a family portrait of Marty’s family wearing Christmas sweaters and reindeer antlers (with Marty also holding a pug under each arm) and a sign over a gun reading “We don’t dial 911.”
But that’s not all from my trip to the set of The Campaign. Stay tuned later today and later this week to read more about the film and interviews with the cast and director. In the meantime to see trailers, stills, posters and more from the movie, head over to our Blend Film Database. Also be sure to check out our gallery of images below!
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