Whitney: We Had to Embrace Thomas' Past
Whitney explains the idea behind Thomas' controversial political ad and reveals why he remained so calm when confronted by Kathryn.
Bravotv.com: How did you come up with the idea of the "Raise the Roof" political ad?
Whitney Sudler-Smith: We shot three ads, the first one fairly absurd (“Raise The Roof”) with each successive one getting more serious.The idea behind the ad campaign was to create as much noise as possible without spending any money. Although $20,000 is a lot of money, it is very little for a political ad, much less three. My friends who helped me on the ads, and who are experienced filmmakers, worked for basically nothing as a favor to me.
We were confronted with a dilemma: We had a reality star running for the Senate with a checkered past. How should one approach this? Having grown up in DC, and knowing a lot of people working in politics, I consulted a senator, a political fundraiser (who’s raised over a billion dollars for both parties), and numerous political pundits. The consensus was we had to embrace his past and create a media buzz. The political models were Jesse Ventura, an ex-WWE wrestler who became governor of Minnesota, and Cicciolina (“Little Fleshy one”), the Italian porn star who was voted into parliament.They got elected by tapping into voter dissatisfaction with the status quo, with the voters sending a message to the establishment by electing an “unconventional" candidate. That was the only chance we had in winning, and it appealed to all parties alike. Who wouldn’t want Thomas Ravenel in the Senate making a mockery of the political process? The Manchurian Candidate idea appealed to me, and that’s why I agreed to participate, however far-fetched.
The notion of raising the roof, which is corny and dated, and tying it with a political message, was conceived of by Jon Hill, one of the producers (and who did not know Kathryn, countering her assertion that it was aimed at her). The punch line was so silly that it had to work. The idea was you would watch this ad, cannot believe what you’re watching, then suddenly be hooked in by a political pitch. There was a method to the madness.
Thomas eventually fired the political consultant I brought in and hired a former political blogger as his campaign manager. Their new strategy was to run him as a serious, conventional candidate, which I believed to be a mistake. Of the three ads, they briefly ran the third and most serious ad of the series, “Do They Know?” Even though it was the weakest of the bunch, it ended up making news all over the world, was analyzed by The Washington Post, and made CNN’s craziest political ads feature. I can only imagine the controversy and uproar had Thomas chosen to run “Raising the Roof.” He ended up shooting a serious ad, where he’s holding his daughter on his lap on a porch, and it garnered little notice.
Thomas told me the other night he wished he had run the ad and that his mom loved it. Oh well. It’s out there now.
Bravotv.com: You seemed pretty calm when she confronted you at the party. What was going through your mind at the time?
WSS: When confronted with a red-headed Courtney Love, it’s best not to make any sudden movements.