One of the largest shoots I have directed took place during 2012 in Charlotte, NC. That year Charlotte was to host the Democratic National Convention. Amir Behdani, a realtor at Peters & Associates Luxury Realty contacted me about an exciting idea he had for selling an eight-million dollar mansion.
Amir said something like, “What if we had impersonators for the President and Vice President? Let’s get them visiting the mansion under some pretext and make a viral video.” I ended up writing the script with my cousin, Todd Hardy. We put in as many, now dated, 2012 jokes and references. Scott C Reynolds, a SAG equity actor, starred in “Biden Time” as The Onion’s version of Uncle Joe. We found a young UNCC student who looked enough like President Obama that it kind of worked. As with SNL, some willing suspension of disbelief is required for our little story.
The fun parts of the shoot were driving to DC to get our own clip of Marine One departing from the White House lawn. The Presidential Experience is a traveling exhibit with a replica of the Reagan era Oval Office and Air Force One. It popped up in a big empty parking lot in Charlotte a week prior to the convention. I called the exhibit and secured permission to film inside before it opened to tourists with our Obama, Julian Ireland. Having a dressed Oval Office set come to Charlotte was a very happy coincidence.
Next was the house itself. What a place! The show Banshee had been filming there in Waxhaw, NC for a few months. Down the street was the mansion where ABC had finished shooting a season of the Bachelorette. Waxhaw is a quaint little southern country town that happens to have a pocket of millionaire Charlotte bankers, race car drivers etc. An episode of Homeland was also filmed nearby.
Concord Airport granted permission to shoot on an unused runway. Silver Fox Limos provided the Secret Service detail and motorcade. I cut decals of the presidential seal, affixed double sided magnets to them and stuck them on the side of a limo. I put flags on the hood too. When we shot the motorcade scene in Charlotte, the actual President was expected in town just days later. We turned a lot of heads. At one point we stopped to regroup, review footage and discuss the next shot. Coincidentally the limo with the presidential seal happened to be parked in front of a Charlotte strip club. Some guys walking in remarked, “Oh he’ll be in trouble with Michelle! Don’t let him in!”
The city was dressed and prepped for the convention. That backdrop served the production well. A group of men who provide private security stepped in with their S.W.A.T. team gear and semi automatic weapons. These guys were ex-military, and very professional. The search of the house was the most important scene to the realty company. It was how we were going to give a home tour without giving a conventional home tour. Our special ops guys slayed it in short order. They hit their marks with perfect takes.
The pool party scene was more difficult. There were more people, a lot of staging and direction because of the dialogue. There had not been time to rehearse this section of the video in advance. Our Joe Biden’s white hair turned back to brown while he was in the pool. The MUA had already been dismissed. I ended up rotoscoping a matte to desaturate his hair in post.
This was a long, exciting multi-location shoot that I enjoyed directing and shooting alongside my friend Eric Brown. Later the next week I ended up working events during the convention supporting MSNBC’s production of Hardball with Chris Matthews and a town hall meeting hosted by Chuck Todd and then journalist, Chelsea Clinton. After each show I talked to the hosts and ended up handing out copies of “Biden Time.” Peters & Associates Luxury Realty also did their best guerrilla marketing to get the piece in front of as many eyes as possible in conjunction with the convention.
The video was moderately successful and the house eventually sold. But still today I marvel that we filmed a presidential motorcade, shot in an Oval Office and had a full S.W.A.T. team at our disposal. Five years later if I were to do this again the production quality would be much higher. We would have actual rehearsals with the actors. The story and editing would be much tighter too. But for what it is, a slapdash self-produced, almost no-budget video, I think it’s still mostly watchable.