Alumnus debuts HBO political film
While reminding the audience that the film is not a “time machine,” Jay Roach ‘79 stated following a pre-screening Tuesday night in Cemex Auditorium that his upcoming HBO film “Game Change” is all “factually accurate.”
The film — which tracks Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s decision to choose Sarah Palin, then-governor of Alaska, as his running mate during the 2008 election — has recently been under attack by Palin’s aides as “manipulating history.” McCain told a group of Republican activists Saturday that he would not watch the film.
Stanford community members, however, reacted very positively to the film at the Tuesday night screening, which marked the first public showing of the film. The screening was followed by a question and answer session with Roach, the film’s director and executive producer.
“It brought back a lot of memories,” said Austin Caldwell ‘15 of the film. “However, I also felt an emotional connection to Sarah Palin that I never would have thought was possible.”
“Game Change” is a movie adaptation of a book written by political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin about the 2008 presidential election. The book is divided into three parts: the Democratic primary race, the Republican primary race and the general election between John McCain and Barack Obama.
The title of the film is explained at the beginning of the film when McCain’s chief strategist Steve Schmidt, played by Woody Harrelson, gives one possible answer as to why Palin was chosen as the vice presidential nominee, “We desperately need a game changing pick, and none of these middle aged white guys are game changers.”
After the packed auditorium of students, alumni and guests watched the film, a much smaller crowd stayed behind for a more intimate conversation with Roach.
Roach said his fascination with Sarah Palin began when he saw the initial announcement that Palin had been chosen as McCain’s running mate. He added that he immediately wanted to get a better look into why this decision was made.
According to Roach, he first pitched the film idea to HBO during the election and was turned down. However, after HBO bought the rights to the book “Game Change,” Roach was given an opportunity to explore what he saw as a story that “electrified the country.”
Roach said he has been continually criticized for casting Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin. In response, he commented, “It would be too easy to go for the iconic Sarah Palin. I had always thought that there was probably a lot more than meets the eye.”
He said that while actresses like Tina Fey did incredible impersonations of Palin, he knew that Moore would offer an interpretation with depth.
While he is best known for movies such as “Austin Powers” and “Meet The Parents,” this is not Roach’s first political movie. He won an Emmy for Best Direction in a TV Movie in 2008 for “Recount,” about the 2000 presidential election.
Roach said that through his work on “Recount,” he created relationships with lawyers and staff at various news agencies. Due to that experience, he noted that he was given a lot of leeway to splice real campaign footage with footage of the actors.
According to Roach, scenes including the Republican National Convention could not have been possible on the movie’s budget without this cutting-and-pasting technique.
There were many questions about the accuracy of the film, but Roach adamantly defended his work.
“All of it is factually accurate,” he said. “We were super skeptical of anything that anyone told us, and we double, triple checked.”
He added, however, that there will always be aspects that are open to interpretation. While John McCain and Sarah Palin have publicly come out against the film, Roach said that most people who were present during the campaign verified the events as portrayed.
Stanford in Government and the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education hosted the pre-screening. “Game Change” premieres on HBO on Sat., Mar. 10.