Writing Swing Vote

By Joshua Michael Stern and Jason Richman

We had no idea, two years ago when writing Swing Vote, how close this election would be, how unified the country would seem in their dissatisfaction with the way things were going, or how badly people would need a good laugh.

Here's what we did know; the presidential election coming down to one vote seemed like a fun idea for a movie. We all had it drummed into us in school, you know, "Every vote counts." It's an ideal we want to believe in, even as we're being lulled into the cynical feeling that no matter who you vote for, nothing will change.

That sense of disillusionment plays out through the main characters in our film. Kevin Costner's character, Bud Johnson, is a good natured but disenfranchised single father in conflict with Molly, his over-informed, idealistic 12 year old daughter. That relationship seemed to reflect our own frustration; one representing acceptance of the way things are, the other representing the way things should be. Apathy vs. hope.

We were writing with memories of the 2004 election. "Swift-Boating" and "Flip-flopping," that race seemed like white noise, where the same hot button issues were dusted off and rehashed. A candidate would make a blunder one day, and a commercial would appear the next day exploiting it. Many people weren't voting for a candidate, they were voting against one. Government, both left and right, was incomprehensibly dysfunctional and the problems seemed too immense to wrap our heads around.

Yet there was something empowering about the fantasy of our idea. To see the candidates campaigning for one vote was not only a fun way to skewer the system, it took the power away from the political war machines, the spin doctors, the PR firms, and put it in the hands of the people - or one person. Somehow, shrinking the political process magnified the absurdity. We could watch it from the outside because our votes wouldn't matter in this scenario.

In the story, the politicians are held hostage by Bud. None of their old tricks seem to work. The rules of the game fall apart under this microscope and we find pleasure in watching them pander and squirm. However, in the end, what Bud realizes, is the same thing we realized when writing this movie; that it's too easy just to blame and make fun of politicians.

The truth is, we vote for them, and not the other way around. Bud Johnson doesn't get off the hook so easy. With a little help from his daughter, he realizes he has to make an effort, and if he demands more, he'll get more.

Here we are, coming out of a dramatic primary where people showed up in record numbers. The politicians are having to talk about real issues. The way things are doesn't cut it anymore. It seems the country was feeling the same way we were two years ago when we sat down to write Swing Vote. And we had no idea.