20 Things to Know from THE CAMPAIGN Set Visit

     July 25, 2012


As we gear up towards one of the most heated elections in our country’s history, people are getting a little (OK, a lot) stressed out:  political pundits are viciously attacking one another—and Batman movies—in the press, candidates are slinging mud via increasingly-aggro campaign ads, and voters on both sides of the aisle seem poised to tear one another limb from limb.  Seems like we could all use a good laugh right about now, doesn’t it?  Good news is, Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, writer Chris Henchy and director Jay Roach’s The Campaign is here to provide that much-needed dose of anger-deflating political comedy.

I visited the set of the film a few months ago, and have returned with 20 things you need to know about The Campaign before it opens next month.  Wanna know more?  Meet me after the jump.

the-campaign-poster-zach-galifianakisIt’s February in New Orleans.  Me and maybe five other internet journalist-types are standing inside a ridiculously-large soundstage.  More specifically, we’re standing outside a two-story house (the house of an effeminate, Southern politician who looks and sounds a lot like Zach Galifianakis’ “twin brother”, Seth).  We are watching a bank of video monitors.  Behind the monitors is a tarp, hanging from above and separating us from the scene being filmed.  We can’t see the actors– not in-person– but we can hear them through the tarp and see them on the monitors.

One of the actors is Will Ferrell.  He is wearing only black socks, and he is having sex with (name redacted to prevent spoilers).  Behind them, high on the wall, is a deer head.  The sex they are having is noisy, and the gathered crew of journalists can’t stop giggling at how weird all of this is.  All of a sudden, I get a text from an old friend I haven’t seen in ages.  It reads:  “Hey, whatcha doing?”

Well, I’m on the set of The Campaign.  If you’ve been anywhere near a TV lately, you’ve surely seen the ads for Jay Roach’s upcoming political comedy, and if you’re a fan of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, there’s a good chance you’ve already decided that you’re going to be there on opening night.  The premise is pretty irresistible:  Ferrell and Galifianakis are Cam Brady and Marty Huggins, two political rivals from South Carolina.  As the film opens, Cam is about to roll into his fifth-consecutive term in office.  He’s been running unopposed for as long as anyone can remember, but this time…things don’t go according to plan.

This time, Cam’s campaign is challenged by a political n00b (that’d be Marty), a guy who’s far more concerned with winning the election to impress his father than to serve the people of his home state.  Initially, Cam thinks that Marty’s going to be an easily-defeated opponent, a guy he’ll be able to destroy in the eyes of voters with a few savagely-written campaign ads.  Marty, meanwhile, thinks that Cam will be easily dealt with because…well, because Marty’s just that naïve.  These two will do anything to win this election, and—as you can see from the trailer below—“anything” really does mean “anything”:

Now, even if you’ve already purchased tickets for the film’s August 10th opening, there are still a few things about Roach’s film you might not know, and I have returned from that February set visit with much news to share.  Here’s what you oughtta know:

  • The Campaign has gone through several title changes:  throughout production, Roach’s politi-comedy underwent a number of name-changes.  During the scripting stage, it was called Southern Rivals.  During principal photography, it became known as Dog Fight.  And during our visit to the set, the film got its third—and final—name change, becoming The Campaign.
  • The Campaign will be a gleefully R-rated comedy:   while we were on-set, we watched a ridiculous sex scene being filmed (a surreal experience, to say the least).  We were also let in on a number of the underhanded things that the candidates do to one another during their attempts to win their election, and…well, let’s just say some of these things simply couldn’t be done in a PG-13-rated comedy.
  • The the-campaign-movie-posterfilm is set in Hammondtown, South Carolina:  the set we visited was located just outside of New Orleans, LA, but much of the film takes place in Hammondtown, South Carolina.  Both Brady and Huggins have strong southern accents, as do many of the other characters in the film (hence the former title of Southern Rivals).
  • Zach Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins might seem familiar to fans:  if you’re a longtime Galifianakis fan, you’re probably aware of the comedian’s alter-ego, Seth Galifianakis.  On several occasions, Zach has appeared as Seth on late-night talk shows (see below), or on Zach’s Live at The Purple Onion standup DVD (buy it, trust me).  Seth is—ostensibly—Zach’s twin brother, an effeminate, lisping-yet-heavily-Southern-accented schlub with a total lack of self-awareness.  For all intents and purposes, this is Marty Huggins:  he’s got the same taste (in bad clothes), the same accent, the same lisp.  If you’re a fan of Seth Galifianakis, you’re going to be thrilled with The Campaign.
  • The Marty Huggins/Seth Galifianakis persona, by the way, was created under unusual circumstances:  I asked Zach if he was excited to debut the Seth Galifianakis persona on film.  His immediate response was, “I couldn’t wait to do it…but we’ll see if it’s sustainable for two hours.”  When asked about where the character comes from, he had this unusual origin story to share:

I started doing this character when I was high school. Back then, his name was Kenny Ballard, and he was an effeminate racist — which I always thought was funny: an effeminate guy, who probably gets made fun of, to also be racist. I don’t know, it was a weird mix. I used to do it for my dad. I used to do it for the black kids at school. They would bump me in the hallway because they knew this character would come out. They were laughing because they knew I was doing a joke about the rednecks that were racist.

  • The-Campaign-Will-FerrellWill Ferrell’s Cam Brady will also be familiar, but for different reasons:  we were told that Ferrell’s Cam Brady was modeled after a number of politicians, slick, car-salesmen types that seem a little more concerned about their personal appearance than the politics at hand.  Fans of Ferrell will see a little of the former SNL star’s George W. Bush impression in the character, as well.
  • Cam Brady’s hair is modeled after a few other famous politicians’ hair (and, yes, everyone involved saw that video):   when it was mentioned that Cam Brady was based (in part) on the infamously image-obsessed John Edwards (and—slightly less so—on Rick Perry), we were told that the wig Ferrell sports in The Campaign is directly inspired by Edwards’ hair.  When that led to a someone mentioning the several-years-old viral video wherein Edwards grooms himself in a mirror for an uncomfortably long time (see below), and we were assured that “everyone” had seen it.

  • Relative newcomer Sarah Baker plays Mitzi, Marty’s wife:   when watching The Campaign, you might get the impression that Marty Huggins is…well…in denial about a few things.   Despite indications to the contrary, Marty is presented as a heterosexual male, with a wife and two small boys (and a pug, which Zach told us Marty is “obsessed” with).  Marty’s wife, Mitzi, is played by relative newcomer Sarah Baker.  On the day we visited the set, Baker was finishing up her final day of shooting, and it was clearly an emotional day for her.
  • the-campaign-poster-will-ferrellTurns out, Mitzi and Marty’s house fits into a soundstage:  until we actually arrived on-set, all we knew about our visit was that filming was taking place inside a soundstage just outside New Orleans.  When we got there, we discovered that Roach’s team had erected Marty’s entire two-story house inside this soundstage, complete with a front porch, a backyard (with grass, a fence, and a fully-functioning…patio), and a fully-stocked kitchen.  We were allowed to walk all through the joint, and it was strangely exciting  to see that sort of set-detail in person:  cartoons cut from the newspaper were hung on the fridge, family photos adorned the walls, coupons were cut on the kitchen counter.   It probably doesn’t sound exciting, but it was damn impressive in person.
  • Dylan McDermott and Jason Sudeikis are Cam and Marty’s managers:  on the Campaign trail, both Cam Brady and Marty Huggins have campaign managers, consiglieres who help guide them on their road to political triumph.  Dylan McDermott plays Tim, while Sudeikis plays Mitch.  Interestingly enough, we discovered that Tim’s last name is “Wattley”, and when someone pointed out the fact that a somewhat-famous secondary character on Seinfeld had the same name, director Jay Roach seemed completely unaware of this coincidence.
  • Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow’s characters operate similarly to Trading Places’ Randolph and Mortimer:   Conspicuously absent from The Campaign’s marketing, uh, campaign is the inclusion of Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow, here playing Wade and Glen Motch (respectively).  Wade and Glen are two shadowy string-pullers, men of influence who may be manipulating Marty and Cam’s lives out of simple boredom…or for perhaps more nefarious reasons.  Aykroyd and Lithgow weren’t on-set when we visited (sadly), but based on what we were told about their characters, I was reminded of Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy’s Duke brothers (from 1983’s Trading Places).
  • zach-galifianakis-will-ferrell-the-campaign-imageJay Roach knows politics:  coming off the one-two punch of HBO’s Recount and Game Change , it’s obvious that politics are very much on the director mind.  Roach (whose Austin Powers films are still some of the most successful comedies ever made) told us that making those films—and Game Change, in particular—prepared him for The Campaign in a number of ways, especially the large crowd scenes and debate sequences audiences will see in his latest film.
  • Speaking of, what did Roach think of Ferrell and Galifianakis?:  Jay Roach had nothing but nice things to say about his leading men.  Calling them “driven, but cool”, he told us that both Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis have “tremendous talent”, and that they “both come with lots of ideas on the day, which is nice”.
  • Cam Brady’s got an eclectic (read: an extremely whitebread) taste in music:  as is the case with most political candidates on the campaign trail, Cam Brady and Marty Huggins have their own “campaign songs”.  Going over my notes from the visit, I can’t seem to recall which song was chosen for Marty’s campaign (if we were ever told), but I do see that Cam’s campaign song is none other than Bachman-Turner-Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business”, a song rock historians consider second only to Starship’s “We Built This City” in terms of “Songs That Are Incredibly White”.  Speaking of which…
  • will-ferrell-zach-galifianakis-the-campaign-imageBachman-Turner-Overdrive will appear in the movie (kind of):  without spoiling any of the plot points surrounding the appearance, I can confirm that a BTO cameo will take place…sort of.  Look for two-thirds of the band to make an onstage appearance with Cam Brady at some point during the film, but don’t expect them to be referred to as BTO in the film.
  • Brian Cox is also in The Campaign, as if you needed another reason to check it out:  Brian Cox—character actor, legend, and all-around badass—appears in The Campaign as Marty’s father.  Apparently, Marty has always tried (and failed) to make his father proud, and his decision to run for election may have something to do with that search for approval…it just doesn’t sound like Marty’s father is too impressed.  We were told about one sequence that begins with Marty and his father on a fishing boat.  After a terse conversation, Marty is forced to swim back to shore after his dad refuses to give him a ride back to the dock.
  • the-campaign-movie-posterWill Ferrell doesn’t think the state of American politics is likely to improve any time soon:  Roach’s film has Cam and Marty doing some incredibly underhanded (if not flat-out illegal) things to one another in their quest to win the election, but virtually every one of their sleazy tactics seems to have some basis in reality (perhaps only rumored reality, but still).   When I asked Ferrell if he thought The Campaign might have the potential to shame real politicians into behaving a little more civilly to one another, he laughed and said, “No, probably not”.
  • Zach Galifianakis thinks that comedians are the new Bob Dylan:  at one point during our time with Zach, the Hangover star offered the theory that comedians—particularly any comedians that offer up political material (Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, and Stephen Colbert, for instance)—have become the new “folk singers and war commentators”, criticizing the government in a way that provides information and entertainment in equal measure.  If he’s right (and I personally think he is), that’s gotta make Stewart Bob Dylan, right?  Or is it Colbert?
  • Just how crazy will things get in The Campaign?  Will it be as absurd as the comedy in Anchorman?  Here’s what Ferrell had to say on that front:

No, it’s more grounded…You know, Jay’s brought all of this experience from the legit political movies he’s done, with Game Change and Recount and stuff.  In terms of the shot composition and everything, it has the feel of an epic, awesome political movie.  So we played out totally straight.  Yeah, we keep our feet on the ground for the most part…and then we kind of take license with political ads.  There are moments where you kind of– for the sake of comedy–say, well, I don’t know if that would happen, but we’re almost that close.

  • And, finally, Marty and Cam aren’t Republicans or Democrats:  for reasons that will surely be obvious, writer Chris Henchy told us that neither Cam nor Marty’s particular political-party affiliation will be revealed during the film.  Yes, Republicans and Democrats (and Libertarians and Tea-Partiers and whoever else), you can all laugh without fear of reprisal from anyone else:  this one’s politically non-denominational.


the-campaign-movie-posterThe day we spent on-set for The Campaign was a lot of fun, and based on what we saw during our time there I think Roach, writer Chris Henchy, and the entire cast have a strong comedy on their hands.  It’s obvious that a lot more effort was expelled in the crafting of this particular story than many of the other big-budget comedies we’ve seen in the past few years, and the subject matter is—if nothing else—timely.

As the stress of the upcoming election starts to worm its way down the food chain and into virtually every household in America, it seems like The Campaign might provide just the sort of outlet Americans need:  here are two politicians (whose political parties won’t even be mentioned) we can laugh at without guilt, going head-to-head in an election we don’t have any vested interest in, in an alternate-universe version of America where campaign ads are a little less cruel…and a lot more funny.

Here’s more from The Campaign Set Visit:


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