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Joss Whedon, Other Hollywood Figures Use Super PACs to Make Political Videos Pop

On Tuesday, Joss Whedon is unveiling the latest of his videos tied to this year’s presidential campaign. It features Chris Pine as an out-of-control, misogynistic boss who is stopped by only one thing: Voting.

The 3-minute video, “Leonard,” below, is one of a slew of video shorts that have debuted as election day approaches. Whedon, however, is among a handful of  Hollywood creatives who have taken their political efforts to another level.

Whedon set up his own super PAC, Save the Day, to direct and produce “Leonard,” as well as a series of other shorts. In his latest, “Leonard” represents Congress, and there are references to the influence of lobbyists.

Although the spots are definitely not pro-Trump, their purpose is to get people to vote, particularly among younger voters. According to the group, nearly 50,000 have registered after watching one of the videos; 61% have been 18-29, and 56% have been female. Its first video, “Important,” generated 7.6 million YouTube views.

“This [cycle] it is a much different situation,” Whedon said. “In this case we are talking about something on a whole other level, and I don’t think I need to explain what that means.”

Four years ago, in the waning days of the campaign, Whedon made a short video in which he made a mock endorsement of Mitt Romney and the “zombie apocalypse.” It generated 7.5 million views on YouTube.

Whedon says that when he watched the first day of the Democratic National Convention this year, as Bernie Sanders supporters were in open discord with backers of Hillary Clinton, “I thought, ‘we could blow this. We were handed something, and we could blow this. It is always a close race and you always have to behave like it is a close race.”

That’s when he decided to make a bigger investment. He says that he’s willing to spend $1 million on the effort — “and I am willing to go over budget on this one.” As of Oct. 19, the end of the most recent reporting period, he had contributed more than $500,000.

Among the other videos Save the Day has released is one featuring Keegan-Michael Key delivering a weather forecast of a Trump presidency. Another, called “Quiet,” features a woman working in a cubicle and hurrying to get to the polls to vote, as clips of some of Trump’s comments are heard in the background.

“Our real ethos is that it is important to vote, it is worthy and it is interesting, that it is about galvanizing the base and it is not about the other guy,” Whedon says. “In general the message is always the same — forget about the hype and remember the act (of voting) itself.”

That video and others aren’t “so much about attack [Trump], it is more about, ‘If we could just engage in the process, the process will work better,'” Whedon said.

Super PACs have been a by-product of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, and 2016 has seen an explosion of them. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 2,366 groups have registered super PACs this cycle, up from 1,360 in 2012. Of those, 311 have spent so far, compared to 238 in 2012.

But in contrast to some of the big money super PACs like the pro-Hillary Priorities USA Action, which has collected millions from donors including Haim Saban, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, groups like Save the Day and others are modest in scope.

Patriotic Artists and Creatives PAC was formed during the summer as a way of mobilizing writers, directors and other talent from the entertainment industry. The name — PAC 2 in shorthand — is a rather whimsical moniker for an organization that has had some success in skewering Trump.

According to the Federal Election Commission, the organizations raised $45,000 since its was formed in late July, with initial contributions from investor Shomik Dutta and eSalon co-founder Tamim Mourad. Director James Brooks chipped in $10,000 earlier this month.

The PAC’s debut video was The Trump Effect, and it featured a playground bully talking in the words of Trump. On the Occupy Democrats site, it racked up more than 13 million views.

Another one of their videos, “You’re So Vain,” featured outrageous clips of Trump along with the Carly Simon song. It was the first time that she has allowed her 1972 hit to be used for a political purpose — with a slight tweak to the lyrics. Instead of “Your scarf, it was apricot,” she dubbed, “Your face, it was apricot.”

“The genesis [for the PAC] was recognizing that some of the best storytellers in the world are in the entertainment business, and many of those people are Hillary supporters,” said Jon Vein, the co-founder of MarketShare, who is one of the organizers of the effort. Another principal is Fred Goldring, who produced the breakout campaign video of 2008, Will.i.am’s “Yes, We Can” to support Barack Obama.

Vein said that it was important to form a PAC as a vehicle for making the videos so they didn’t run afoul of campaign finance laws.

Another group, Humanity for Hillary, has released videos featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov; one featuring Helen Mirren warning of another “Brexit,” and another on sexual assault that featured Meryl Streep and Amy Schumer. It’s funded by the We’ve Got Your Back PAC, with donors including Kate Capshaw, Geraldine Laybourne and Herb Scannell; and Humanity for Progress, with contributors including Diane English. All told, the two super PACs have collected about $300,000 in contributions.

Still, neither Patriotic Artists or Save the Day has any plans to bankroll a big broadcast or cable ad buy. Instead, the intent is to make sure that they make enough of an impression to pop and spread on social media.

By law, they also are required to generally operate independently of the Clinton campaign, which actually has its benefits. Hollywood filmmakers in the past have offered input to campaign ad makers, only to be ignored or rejected. The political professionals have their way of doing things.

Whedon, who traces his political interest to the 1988 election, when he was a precinct captain for the 1988 campaign of Michael Dukakis, thinks that the Save the Day videos are a refreshing alternative. “You never know what is going to break through,” he said.

“Our mission is to say, not just vote, but to lighten the mood a little bit,” Whedon said. “There’s also an opportunity to laugh about something, other than think of how much you hate the other person.”

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