By SARAH KLEIN and TOM MASON FEB. 18, 2016, New York Times
Every election cycle, we’re asked to make monumental decisions about which
people and policies should control our country, and we have to sort through a
barrage of information to arrive at our selections. Often, we pick the candidate
who breaks through the noise with a message that resonates with us. The
politicians that prevail politicians are excellent storytellers.
Candidates running for office work hard to reduce the complexities of the
modern world into simple, soundbitefriendly stories. They invoke heroes and
villains, fear and hope. As filmmakers, we understand the power of story to
inspire, persuade and even manipulate people in ways that can be hard to
recognize. So in this particularly storyrich election cycle, we set out to make a
film that looks past the latest debate zingers and campaign-trail gaffes that
dominate political coverage and focuses on how storytelling serves as the
foundation of successful modern campaigns. The result is this OpDoc, in
which one of the most influential American political strategists in recent
history, Mark McKinnon, explains how it works.
Mr. McKinnon has had a long career working for politicians from both
parties. As the lead media strategist for George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004
campaigns as well as John McCain’s winning 2008 primary campaign, he was
instrumental in shaping the way we perceived his candidates and their
opponents. Remember the 2004 windsurfing ad that branded John Kerry a
flipflopper? That’s his work.
But Mr. McKinnon burned out on presidential campaigns, and
increasingly came to view the oversimplification and negativity at the heart of
modern campaigning as a leading contributor to the toxic political climate in
which we now live. So when we sat down with him, we asked him to turn over
his secret playbook.
In this film, he reveals the storytelling strategies used to elect Mr. Bush
with openness and candor, and in doing so lays bare the fundamental
narrative strategies that remain at the core of today’s presidential campaigns.
But Mr. McKinnon believes that the power of storytelling has a dark side that
voters should be more aware of. His new message is a warning to all citizens:
You’re being manipulated, and our democracy relies on your ability to see that.
Sarah Klein and Tom Mason are the founders of Redglass
Pictures in New York. They recently created 18 short films for the
PBS series “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies.”
OpDocs is a forum for short, opinionated documentaries,
produced with creative latitude by independent filmmakers and
artists. Learn more about OpDocs and how to submit to the