ST. PAUL -- John McCain delivered his acceptance speech on Day 4 of the RNC while standing in front of a "big-ass plasma TV," as it is known to industry insiders. Technically speaking, the backdrop was comprised of 561 four-millimeter Chroma LED panels seamlessly mounted together to form one of the world's largest hi-definition video monitors.
What dazzling images appeared on this mighty screen? For the most part we saw innocuous scenics and billowing flags that did a decent job communicating the show's theme, "country first," in long shots. But as for close-ups...was the director asleep? For the first few minutes of the McCain speech, the candidate appeared against a bright green background that made him look like an entry in Stephen Colbert's "Make John McCain Exciting Green Screen Challenge!"
I tried to focus on McCain's opening remarks, but the green screen kept reminding me of the Colbert Show. Remember McCain as a school bus driver in Ride The Straight Talk Express...To School? McCain dancing like Elvis in Blue Suede Shoes? McCain dancing with Madonna in Gray Ambition? I swear there was an auto speedway entry that showed McCain's version of America going around and around in circles, on the brink of a fiery crash.
The Xcel Energy Center stage was built in just six weeks, atop an NHL hockey rink. Before the McCain speech, the center dais was torn down and replaced by a simple catwalk extending into the crowd, to give the candidate and his delegates a direct sense of each other. It was a nice touch.
"With the economy the way it is, we thought the stagecraft should be simple. It's not the time to be lavish, not when people are losing their homes," said executive producer David Nash. Then 200,000 balloons merrily floated down from the ceiling.
Did the Xcel Energy Center Stage work for or against McCain?
Keith Goldberg, creative vice president, George P. Johnson Experience Marketing, Auburn Hills, Mich., told OffTheBus that "ideally a set serves as a window into a candidate's life experience, enabling the audience to connect with him in a deep and meaningful manner."
In this respect, the McCain camp succeeded. The candidate recounted his days in Vietnam, including the moment his philosophy of life did a 180 turn, in as intimate a setting possible with 20,000 people. When McCain said "I fight for real Americans. I fight for you," the side-view long shots of him speaking out on the catwalk looked terrific. Standing in (not above) a sea of voters, McCain took on the persona of the un-politician.
Stagecraft fails when it goes off-brand, meaning it doesn't represent well the message being articulated. During his acceptance speech, McCain rebranded his campaign on the fly, announcing that "change is coming!" However, nothing about the event's production design suggested change. The videos were old school. The balloons were fun, but old school. The crowd was old school, too, especially in that they were Republicans, just like the eight-year White House incumbent.
When it was over, McCain and Palin left the stage to the song "Barracuda," by Heart. It would have been an inspired choice except it's rumored Ann and Nancy Wilson may not have sanctioned the use of their song. It wouldn"t be the first time the GOP "forgot" to get the rights to a popular song. The GOP just doesn't like change.