The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Video shocker: Is it a Tim Pawlenty political spot or an ad for a Hollywood thriller?

March 25, 2011 | 12:08 pm

Tim_pawlenty Sometimes you get the feeling that politics has gone totally Hollywood. When former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced his run for the presidency the other day (well, he actually announced the formation of an exploratory committee, which is pol-speak for "Hey everybody, I'm going for it!"), he did it with a video that looked a heck of a lot like a Hollywood movie trailer.

It's loaded with distressed and washed-out film stock, herky-jerky camera work and off-kilter camera angles, people moving in and out of frame and, of course, the kind of stirring orchestral music that is supposed to rouse your emotions. It's only when you listen to the soundtrack, with all the usual buzz words ("limit government spending...tackle entitlements...get ahead without government getting in the way...") that you realize it's a political ad.

It was so visually striking that I would have half-guessed that Pawlenty had dug deep into his pockets and hired Pete Berg or Zach Snyder to shoot the footage. But as it turns out, Pawlenty is using a 22-year-old wunderkind named Lucas Baiano, who as Swampland's Michael Scherer informs us, got his start volunteering for Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign. After Clinton dropped out of the presidential race, Baiano volunteered for the McCain campaign and ended up making a series of highly charged "Remember November" spots for the Republican Governors Assn. He's also shot a host of videos for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

I've put up a few spots that you can watch. I found them fascinating. One of the Christie spots is so loaded with grim, grainy footage of pre-Christie run-down New Jersey that it almost looks like it was swiped from outtakes from "Blue Valentine." Baiano is very clever. He makes Pawlenty, who is famously dull, look forceful and decisive while shooting Christie the way cinematographers used to shoot Steven Seagal after he got fat. You never see Christie's ample waistline--Baiano only shows his broad shoulders and expressive face. In fact, at one point, he actually photo-shops out Christie's corpulent frame when he's standing at a podium, to give him a more slender looking frame.

I showed the clips to a studio marketing chief, asking for his assessment of Baiano's work on the Pawlenty ad. His thoughts: "This guy is a good editor with a strong bag of visual tricks. but the Pawlenty clip reminds me of movie advertising that is trying to fool the public into buying a ticket for a bad movie--quick cuts, off-centered shots, edgy without being off-putting. The best thing is that he hides Pawlenty as much as Disney hid Miley Cyrus in 'The Last Song' campaign. The frame hardly ever holds on him, and then gets off his face immediately. Sarah Palin would just look right into the camera and blow us all away. No stock footage needed for her, no siree. Still, this guy is good--he's got a career at any movie trailer company waiting for him."    

--Patrick Goldstein

Take a look at some of Baiano's spots and see what you think. Here's his Pawlenty ad:

Tim Pawlenty Exploratory Committee for President of the United States Visual Announcement from Tim Pawlenty on Vimeo.

Here's some of the spots for Governor Christie:

Photo: Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty speaking at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event earlier this month in Waukee, Iowa.

Credit: Steve Pope / Getty Images