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August 30, 2010

Interview: Ladd Ehlinger, Jr.

Ladd Ehlinger, Jr., is a filmmaker who recently directed this ad which I'm pretty sure you've seen:

...which vaulted Dale Peterson from a barely-noticeable 5% up to 28%, and knocked out the front-runner (who Peterson especially opposed).

He also just directed the Young Mattie Fein ad.

This past Tuesday I interviewed him by chat. I have made a few minor changes to the chat, such as when I am unclear about what Ladd means and prompt him to explain. Like, in that case, I delete out my prompt and just include his fuller explanation. There was also cross-talk, him answering one earlier question while I was on to another one; in these cases I've separated out the conversations and put stray sentences into the answer where they should have been. I also deleted a couple of digressions. And of course I've added some links and stuff.

Otherwise, this is pretty much how the chat went.


First off: Online political ads seem to have departed far from regular tv ads, since they're all "push," and online ads have to be sought out, or need "pull." Obviously you get that.

Exactly. No one has to watch your stupid ad online.

Tell me about that, how you think about ads now, and how it's different.

Television is brainwashing media. You're spending money to get fat lazy eyeballs. The commercial itself can be total crap, it doesn't matter. You're buying eyeballs who will watch anything. That's the point of television.

On the other hand, it's a bit of a pain to watch a video online, even today. I've seen plenty of political ads online that go nowhere because they're basically television ads.

With like 50 views. Probably all views from the same person who made the ad.

Right, soft music, empty slogans, sunsets, pickup truck. So your paradigm, the newer one, you need an affirmative decision by the viewer to watch. But that means you can't play it safe -- but there's a danger there too, right?

The danger is not as great as you might think. I wouldn't recommend someone doing what I do who has a sure shot election and twenty million dollars of brainwashing money. But for everyone else, especially the citizen candidate, it makes sense. Someone who's never run for anything before? How else will they get name recognition? Dale Peterson, for instance, had never run for anything before.... And he wouldn't take money from the sleazy special interests like Alfa Insurance.

Btw-- how did you hook up with him? Seems an odd pairing.

I interviewed him when I did a radio show. Back when I was doing one.
So anyway it was just him and Kathy, his wife, trying to campaign. And no money.

Hah, and you just liked him immediately?

Oh I knew he would be a total hit. He is genuine. So he needed to get his face out there.

He never said, "Hey, Hoss, this is too much!"?

Oh hell no. Dale's got guts. Although at one point he didn't like the line for the gun. I had written it to say "We're Republicans, we should be better than that..." At first he didn't want to say "We're Republicans, we should be better than that." Because he didn't think they COULD be better than that.

And Dale's opinion of the AL GOP is about the same as mine. Which suffers from what most of the GOP suffers from.


Can you tell me more about the GOP's incompetence? I know messaging is part of it, but I also know you sure the hell aren't talking just about messaging.

Messaging, lack of support to candidates, the nationals mucking around with primaries then abandoning the candidates after they win... Oh, they are a mess. There are some bright spots, but it's hard sometimes not to think that they are trying to lose. Some kind of fifth-column thing.

Yeah, a sort of self-loathing. internalization of liberal messaging that they are beneath. And policy? What are your top five Don'ts?

1) Stop concentrating on the sure wins.

2) Stop thinking a district is lost

3) Quit letting your campaign consultants run you.

4) It's the ideology, stupid.

5) Have a damned sense of humor. Democrats win because pop-culture meme is, they are cool and fun.

So that's just off the top of my head.

On your first and second points, the RNCC is putting money into the most likely pickups, and not so much in the next thirty seats, which is a weak strategy, a limit-our-wins strategy... You would say I guess they should stop doing much about the top 30 and just assume those are in the bank and go hard after 31-70?

Yes, they are sticking money and emotion into folks in CA like Meg Whitman, who is running because Romney wants her to run for VP, assuming he can somehow get the nomination. So this is stupid. She's got money. Why give her more? There are 63 f*&^%ckin' districts in CA for congress.

63.

And every damned one of the current dems holding those seats is a joke. And ripe for making fun of, beating the crap out of.

Surely not Jane Harman, she's like a Blue Dog level-headed national security expert or somethin'.

And it can be done. Oh man, even Harman can be beaten.

Yeah I want to hear about this-- Harman seems to be considered golden, but is she?

Harman is considered golden by some. She's not.

Same with Pelosi. She's not. Maxine.

Whoa! no way!

Waxman. They can all be taken out.

Pete Stark?

You win elections with your brain. Not your wallet. There is a threshold below which poverty makes a dent. Otherwise anything can happen. Liberal media or whatever, it doesn't matter.

And yeah, even Stark.

I have been saying that this is a wave election, and in a wave, there are going to be two or three "golden" "virtually unopposed" candidates who don't even know they're in an election who wind up Nov 3 without a job.

I think the GOP is squandering that wave right now. Especially in California.

right, not being aggressive, not seeing past the easy 30?

Do you know how someone becomes an "NRCC Young Gun?" The NRCC has this silly "Young Gun" thing where you get access to "big donors." First you have to raise $250,000 to be "spotlighted" on their website as a "big donor."

I mean, to be "spotlighted" on their website as a "young gun candidate." So you raise $250k on your own without any help, THEN they give you some kissy face. Sounds like it's designed by campaign consultants. Looking for some grub.

Huh... but to some extent you know isn't how politics ususally works? Like you have to collect 10,000 signatures because people want proof of baseline marginal viability.

You know what? If you're elected as the Republican nominee, then by God, the Republican party should get off its damned ass and at least assign an intern to you.

I mean, if you were shooting a movie, wouldn't the first $250,000 of financing be the toughest? After that it's like you've proven yourself to enough people it's easier to get more?

Bah. This is about ideology. I've spoken to congressional candidates that haven't even gotten a congratulations email, for chrissakes. I know there are 63 freakin' candidates, but they can't even get a reach-around email?

Right. Well, you know, there is always that sort of unseemly thing that both parties want "self-financing' challengers, which is like asking people to publish their own books through a vanity press.

Yes exactly. One extra point on the ideology thing. If the boys running the NRCC and the National GOP and the State Parties think they are personally too rich and two damned well-connected to be effected by the gulag we'll all get from Obama and the dems if they lose, they better think again. They need to understand that they are in an existential fight, and they better damned well start acting like it.

Well said.

Someone needs to say that to all of them, and damned loud.

Okay, let me get into some bio, so we can go to politics at the end, but if I dont get bio in I won't. Okay so you're a filmmaker first, I suppose?

Yes of course, filmmaker. An anti-collectivist filmmaker.

Defined? thematically, or rejecting a system of finance and distribution...?

Most artists are afraid of the infinite when tackling the subjective. Which explains why people like Sean Penn will suck up to dictators. They need to have someone to validate their work. When faced with the infinite - which is what art is - that can be terrifying.

What did you mean by "afraid of the infinite when tackling the subjective" --

I think the artist needs to face the infinite alone. There are no objective means of validating a work of art. Everything is subjective.

You mean a support system is corrupting?

What I mean is, the artist is completely alone. And should be content to be alone. When they get into collectivism - in the Randian sense I use the word - they lose their art. See [his essay on anti-collectivism in art.. No one else can make [decisions and judgments] for me. If I abrogate that responsibility, I am no longer an artist. They [filmmakers seeking others' approval] feel they must "collaborate" and "accomodate." Which is entirely different than "listen" and "consider other opinions." There is always diplomacy when making a film. But that doesn't mean rolling over.

Now how did you wind up working in the conservative movement, aka Satan's Safety School?

Well because I am anti-collectivist it seemed only natural. When I was making Flatland, I had a lot of time in front of the computer. Doing animation. So I listened to Limbaugh and all the other disembodied voices. For about two years.



Then decided to make Hive Mind, which is, basically, Limbaugh versus collectivist nude zombies. A post-apocalyptic film. From there I started doing ads for candidates I agreed with philosophically.

what was your first [commercial]?

L Oh, Les Phillip. Great candidate. GOP Congressional District 5, Alabama.

Wow, hah. You like have done them all!



He lost the election mostly because his GOP opponent made a deal with Democrats to cross-over vote for him.

Oh God.

I can't remember the exact number, but it was huge - like 30,000 dems or something voted for the other guy. A serious sleaze bag. I suspect Obama did not want a conservative black man from Alabama fighting him after 2010.

Yeah, you know, there is talk of that with Nikki Haley in SC, the threatened establishment doesn't care which of them win, which party, so long as it remains in their corrupt hands.

And now the guy with the GOP nod, whom most everyone thinks is a total asshole, is going to lose big time to the democrat anyway. Way to go, AL GOP.

Right, almost as if they wanted it that way.

Yeppers. Every woman I've talked to about Mo Brooks thinks of him as a real jerk. If you have a married couple standing there, Mo mo will ignore the woman and talk to the man.

You hit the point that culture is politics and vice versa and we lose politically if we cannot win culturally. This is you probably know the central pillar of Andrew Breitbart's very-good stump speech.

Well I do have a beef with conservatives on this point. Today conservatives in the media make their big living off complaining about big liberal hollywood. Bitching doesn't change a thing. It's okay to bitch. I'm sure it's good for hits to say "look at what Michael Moore's jockstrap did today!" But on the other hand, it's good once in a while to actually highlight what other people are doing, especially in the film world. There are plenty of conservative filmmakers, independents. Book writers. Etc.

How would you engage/infiltrate then? I mean, in your position, you have an obvious route; how would the average conservative engage? Ah okay you answered -- conservatives must support conservative(ish) media?

Damned right. Quit making your entire living off complaining about Michael Moore's jockstrap and Charlie Sheen's crazy. Both of 'em get enough air on their own. And it's not just about the documentaries... conservative documentaries have their place. But they don't really effect change... they preach to the choir.

Is there any danger you see of a ghettoization sort of effect, where conservative artists are doing expressly conservative art? And only that, and are engaged in a parallel media universe but not the main media universe?

I don't think the main media universe has much longer to live. So it doesn't matter. Everything is fracturing and falling apart. The smart money realizes that and is doing what it can now to build a brand before it's impossible to do so any longer.

I've read a lot that tv's model is unsustainable but there aren't many good alternatives. you mean like that? magazines and newspapers first, then tv, then Hollywood?

It'll devolve into national tribes. Online tribes. Like your website. And then no one will make any money anymore.

to some extent I think that's sort of the case now but one tribe -- the one that dominates the media -- won't concede it's tribal even after it consistently goes out of the way to insult the other tribes. You ever watch a movie with no political content at all, just about a human story, and then, pow, out of nowhere, some [conservative-baiting] insult? it's like -- what was doing there? Did they WANT 30% of the audience to walk out badmouthing it?

Well, it's a case of the cool kids in high school... they eventually get fat, turn into drunks, and get DUI's when they get older. That is their collective media career destinies.

right-- so you think the whole media, all of it, is coming down... in what timeframe? 10 years?

Naw, more like five or six. The smarter ones will morph into what you guys do. Already have. They'll keep the tv channels going, but will just get cheaper and cheaper. And less powerful.

Okay let me turn to the Mattie Fein ad, which was very funny, and got its message across damn well. First of all, I thought there was an actress playing her role, but that's her, right?

Yes, that's her.

so she did a good combination of Teri Garr and Madelien Kahn.

She's a bit like both, yes.

What put you in that mind, to do that particular spoof?

Jane Harman looks like Cloris Leachman. It was a natural.

I wondered, yeah. I see her more as Cloris Leachman in High Anxiety but that's my own cross to bear.

Yes, we also considered High Anxiety, but fewer know that one than Young Frankenstein. Also, there is the ryhming quality with her name, "Mattie Fein" and "Frankenstein."

One can imagine sequels.

Yes, but always try to do the unexpected. The difference between a political ad and a movie is... You have an opponent.

Ah good segueway So there are two audiences for these ads: First are the gatekeepers, sort of, online writers and stuff, and they are a determinedly geeky bunch and are looking for anything funny or different to link. But the second audience, the broader one, is not that geeky, and maybe not that on board with internet memes and movie references? Is there a balancing act?

Remember that we are now dealing with tribes of interest on the Internet, not zombies to brainwash. Anyone who hasn't seen Young Frankenstein or a John Wayne movie or whatever, they're not going to get the video and just move on. Bt those who do, will get it to the others that do, and so on.

So it's now not a question of trying to please all of the zombies... but attract the right tribes.

I wanted to know your FIRST impression of Demonsheep, right out of the gate, not what you thought in an hour. (like, I personally thought it would be a disaster for Fiorina at first, and only an hour later did I think "This is brilliant.")

I thought it was way too slow and poorly made. It went viral because it was making a political point that struck a nerve with conservatives who wanted someone to say it. Went viral despite it being, basically, bad filmmaking.

hah, really? I thought you would like it... you cannot fault it for the WTF factor.

All of that was great, don't get me wrong. I just think it could've been about half the length and make the same political point. I like fast editing. But maybe that's just me.

right on editing, you are the Goddard of conservative political advertisements.... It was long. You know how it worked on me? It was so long I clicked off it but the audio was still playing in background, half-listened to, but by the end I was like "Tom Campbell is an utterly unnacceptable candidate."

Yes, exactly. I kind of zoned out on it too. I don't remember the exact numbers, but it didn't get near the number of views my stuff gets It's important to be grounded in filmmaking. Know your medium. Most political campaign ads look like they were made by Aunt Bea on valium. All these video dudes who are used to doing weddings get in with candidates and make these video postcards from hell. And candidates pay through the nose for that crap.

You've seen the Republican Governor Association's ads right?

Hmm... if it's been recent probably not. Been totally busy making ads for candidates.

Ah... you should check them out. They look like the trailers for a Tom Clancy movie about berserkerdemons.

Well that sounds cool, I will.

Let me just ask for a little prognostication: What is the turnover in House and Senate this year? And if it's different -- what could it be if the GOP weren't too busy stepping on its own dick?

If the GOP would lay off its own dick, it would have a veto-proof majority.

you think this year 50 House seats, 10 Senate, or you don't want to guess?

Not quite sure what the final result will be. Depends upon how many commercials I can do.

Hah!

I'd like to see a veto-proof majority.... It's the only way to stop all the crap they've already voted in.

You've been generous with your time -- is there any last word you have for conservative/libertarians generally or conservative artists specifically, about taking back the culture?

Being a conservative, a libertarian, anti-collectivist, or whatever, doesn't mean you can't support your own. The progressives and collectivists do it all the time. Obviously one should have a meritocracy... you don't want to work with someone or give them a nod in the media if you don't like their work.

But don't sit on your ass and ignore it altogether without even taking a look. That's a crime to the culture you supposedly want to save.

Well that's a good final answer. Thanks so much for your time, Ladd. And nice to meet you.

Don't make your entire living off Michael Moore's Jockstrap!

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posted by Ace at 04:00 PM

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