Richard Linklater Directed 31 Ads to Unseat Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
It's that time of year, when pumpkin spice wafts through the air and political advertising assaults eyeballs left and right. Many of these messages are strident, overly dramatic or easily ignored.
In Texas, however, the PAC known as Mothers Against Greg Abbott (MAGA) is seeking to boost Democrat Beto O'Rourke's chances against incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott with a novel appeal. The push features interviews with diverse Texans conducted by production house The Bear and Houston-born director Richard Linklater (of Slacker, Dazed and Confused and School of Rock fame).
Working with creative agency Preacher, the team made 31 videos, presented in the style of a month-long advent calendar. But instead of counting down the days to Christmas, these short films—ranging from roughly 30 to 90 seconds—take Abbott to task and encourage voters to back O'Rourke on Election Day, Nov. 8.
This trailer provides a taste, with subjects filmed in stark black-and-white speaking directly to camera in simple, passionate terms that, for the most part, sidestep the stale lingua franca of partisan politics:
"These are real Texans with real stories to tell," Elizabeth Spiva, executive producer at The Bear, tells Muse. "Some had acting experience, but many didn't. The one thing they all had in common was they showed up to a casting call with personal stories to share. We got responses from lawyers, small-business owners, service industry employees, moms, grandmas—you name it."
One of the most powerful clips features Stacy, a wheelchair user and lawyer, like Abbott, who calls out the governor's insensitivity to folks with disabilities:
Florinda brings a Black woman's perspective to the table. She accuses Abbott of "pretending to care" about people while quashing reproductive rights and doing the gun lobby's bidding at every turn:
"These were real points of view and stories that people brought and wrote down," Spiva says. "Richard conducted one or two rehearsals with each person to help dial in their 'script' and make sure their own words were shining through, but each of the talents came to the table with their own ideas of what they wanted to say. Richard simply fine-tuned them."
Ricky, a gay Latinx man, mourns the passing of a "live and let live" Texas, replaced by "surveillance, conformity and exclusion" during the Abbott administration:
And Angie, a registered Republican, lambasts her party for veering hard to the right while disregarding the greater will of the people:
There's an urgency and freshness to these takes that's hard to ignore. The earnest no-frills approach—sans music and boasting minimal graphics—plays almost like the stuff of heartfelt healthcare PSAs. MAGA—who past efforts include an abortion story that went viral—casts Abbott's policies as a disease, empowering viewers to restore health and sanity to the Lone Star State.
Linklater backed O'Rouke in 2018, creating ads in Beto's failed bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz. Here, his advent calendar approach feels on point, and cleverly subversive, using a Christian framework to make progressive points in a state where religion frequently gets co-opted by archconservatives.
"Richard has always enjoyed playing with the concept of time in his work, so he wanted to create a month's worth of films that you could watch one day at a time or all at once," says Preacher CEO Krystle Loyland. "We realized that's sort of how an advent calendar works. While a traditional advent calendar is meant to welcome Christmas, our version of Christmas will be getting to finally vote Greg Abbott out. So, we wanted to release this calendar exactly 31 days in advance of Nov. 8."
Director: Richard Linklater
Director of Photography: Shane Kelly
Production Company: The Bear
Berndt Mader, Ben Steinbauer, Elizabeth Spiva, Alan Metni, Sean Haynes
Producer: Katie Jewett
Casting: Vicky Boone
1st AD: George Sledge
2nd Camera Operator: Alonso Lujan 1st AC: Mark Roethke
Gaffer: Charlie Seligman
Grip BJ Lewallen
HMU: Daisy Maldonado
Creative Agency: Preacher
Chief Creative Officer: Rob Baird
Chief Executive Officer: Krystle Loyland Chief Strategy Officer: Seth Gaffney
Art Direction: Will McLeod
Copywriting: Sydney Solis
Digital Agency: Simply Good Work Owner: Garrett Winder
Director of Strategy: Ariel Kidwell Developer: Jeff Irwin
Audio Mixer: Brian Ramos
Editors: Mike Saenz and Gavin Tatro
Finishing and Mix: Stuck On On
Executive Producer: Allison Turrell Colorist: Parke Gregg
Sound Mixer: Lyman Hardy, III
Assistant to Richard Linklater: Catherine Gonzales
PAs: Juan Selvera, Andrew Wortico, Ryan Schwenn
Special Thanks: Sen. Sarah Eckhardt