Minn. Senate candidate Kurt Bills stars in short film

Kurt BIlls
Kurt Bills stands outside his campaign bus near Rosemount High School as he is about to embark on a campaign swing through southern Minnesota.
MPR photo/ Mark Zdechlik

Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — You are about to enter another dimension. One where an underdog U.S. Senate candidate from Minnesota commissions an unusual short film in which he plays a "Twilight Zone"-like narrator and draws widespread scorn from his fellow Republicans.

The film, "Staring at the Future," features Kurt Bills, the endorsed GOP candidate against Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. It was scheduled to debut Wednesday night as an entry an international competition for short filmmakers, and a 20-second trailer for the film popped up online Wednesday.

In the black-and-white clip, a withered, gruesome old man tells an apparently younger version of himself, "You're going to die alone in a broken world." Bills, dressed in a black suit, delivers an ominous narration that recalls Rod Serling's introductions to the classic 1960s TV show "The Twilight Zone."

"The right choices will lead to growth and family. The wrong choice, despair," Bills intones in the clip, available for viewing on YouTube.

Mike Osskopp, Bills' campaign manager, said the time-travel story is a metaphor for his candidate's message that the U.S. is running out of time to do something about its national debt.

The trailer drew immediate scorn and ridicule from Minnesota Republicans on Twitter. Jennifer DeJournett, a conservative activist, tweeted that she "thought it was a SNL skit." GOP consultant Michael Brodkorb compared it to the infamous, widely ridiculed decision by 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis to stage a photo op driving a tank.

The idea came from Vaughn Juares, a filmmaker and media consultant whose firm produced the campaign's website, and a previous winner of the "48 Hour Film Project" competition. Osskopp said Juares suggested it could be a novel way to build buzz for a campaign badly outmatched by the name recognition and fundraising strength of the incumbent.

Bridget Cronin Sutton, a strategist at Juares' Minneapolis-based consulting firm PoliDemic, said the film "was not intended for political insiders." She said Bills has to find unique ways to introduce himself to people who don't closely follow politics.

"With a challenger candidate like Kurt, you need to take bigger risks," Sutton said. "This gave him a chance to introduce himself to a nontraditional audience that wouldn't be open to a traditional political ad."

Osskopp said that with 20 years of experience working on campaigns, he was "the biggest doubter" about doing such a film. "But some younger folks on the staff thought this could reach a different audience, a younger group of people who might not normally listen to our message," Osskopp said.

The full short film was set to debut along with other competition entries at a screening Wednesday night at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis.