Fred Davis Performs Convention Triage After Hurricane

Trades Some of the Excess and Glitz for Gravitas and Concern

By Published on .

ST. PAUL, Minn. ( -- Fred Davis' creative staff isn't just putting the finishing touches on videos for the Republican National Convention this week. Because of a convention turned upside down by Hurricane Gustav hitting the Gulf Coast, Mr. Davis and staff are tearing out pages from its playbook and shuffling and editing on the fly. Directly behind the stage at Xcel Energy Center, they're working feverishly in an 8-by-10-foot room that boasts a cow skull over the door, a deer head on the wall, an oriental rug and a poster of Barack Obama smoking a cigarette (there are plans to add big photos of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears).

As Republicans cope with the impact of Hurricane Gustav, Mr. Davis, whose Hollywood shop Strategic Perception now does most of the ads for Republican John McCain's campaign (including one recent ad featuring pictures of Ms. Hilton and Ms. Spears), is the convention's creative director.

In that role, the veteran GOP admaker known for producing political ads with a lighter twist is restaging the convention and producing convention videos and re-editing them again and again as Hurricane Gustav prompts party leaders to rewrite convention plans.

On Monday, he was planning an interview of VP candidate Gov. Sarah Palin. He was also working on a voice-over by actor Jon Voight for a film to introduce Ms. Palin's Wednesday night acceptance speech. This even as plans for her speech and Mr. McCain's speech remain unsettled.

Some of the re-editing is simply a matter of finishing touches or slightly larger tweaks as some videos were moved from their originally planned time slots. Of course, the more important edits arise from the need to reflect the problems stemming from the hurricane.

And Mr. Davis and his crew are doing it all in a small editing room directly behind the stage.

"We are right behind the stage, where everybody wears suits and ties," he said Monday. "Needless to say, nobody in my group wears suits and ties."

He said the wall hangings were intended "to make it look a little more creative," while the oriental rug was to give the room a touch of elegance.

"It's tiny, but classy," he said.

Mr. Davis, who's previously worked for the George W. Bush campaign, said Hurricane Gustav has brought "dramatic" changes in convention plans.

"We've got these live remotes that were heavily produced. They've gone bye-bye," he said. "We had HD satellite trucks all over the country. They were of no use."

"Everything has changed so much. I still can't tell you where John McCain will be when he gives his convention speech. He might be right here or he might be in Texas. He might be in Louisiana. We just don't know yet."

The hurricane-related changes come on top of the fact that Mr. Davis landed the convention duties just 60 days ago.

Mr. Davis said his aim of the convention is to make sure viewers know that Mr. McCain understands the nation is in trouble "and we have a convention that reflects the times -- that doesn't spend $10 million or whatever it is on a Britney Spears set and have 85,000 people in an auditorium lured there by musical acts."

Mr. Davis, who's still playing the celebrity card, continued: "It's low-key and serious, just like John McCain is. Like what this country needs. Do you want a flashy celebrity dude president or do you want somebody low-key who gets the job done and who's tough and understands what things are like?"
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