GOP's Paul Ryan Goes Hollywood to Sell Federal Budget

To explain the complexities of his plan, the House budget chairman and his filmmakers found inspiration in a BBC documentary by a Swedish global health professor. For real.

Budget season in Washington usually means the arrival of big, heavy books and endless press conferences. But yesterday, something else drifted into the capital scene: A polished, "Morning in America"-type video on YouTube in which Rep. Paul Ryan argues that the Republicans’ 10-year budget plan is the only viable path toward financial health for the country.

Politicians using YouTube is nothing new. But this is probably the first time a Congressional politician used the medium to galvanize support for that most dreary of Washington topics, the budget.

"It’s often a challenge to effectively communiciate complicated budget issues in a compelling way," House Budget Committee spokesman Conor Sweeney tells Fast Company. "This video did a really good job of making the complicated simple."

There was something else about the video, titled "The Path to Prosperity: America’s two futures, visualized," that merits mention—and we’re not just talking about the fact that, by last night, it already had nearly 50,000 views. That’s nothing compared to how quickly those babbling toddler twins went viral, of course, but this is, after all, a three-minute video of a Congressman talking about the budget.

No, what merits mention is the video’s stylistic approach. There’s no suit sitting behind a oak desk with graphs hovering over his right shoulder and the American flag on his left. There aren’t even any faux-homey images of a checked-shirt-clad, "regular-guy" politician meeting "regular people" at the corner diner or off in some corn field.

Instead the video includes gorgeous, impressionistic images shot in Capitol Hill buildings—in Ryan’s office and in the House Budget Committee hearing room. And then when it comes to data—the meat of the argument—Ryan doesn't reference a bunch of Power Points. Instead, he seems to paint graphics out of the air in front of him. (Watch it below.) 

The filmmakers, Dan Hayes and Clay Broga, of Washington, D.C.-based Freethink Media, say the video, which was shot in the Capitol on Sunday using DSLRs, took its inspiration from a BBC documentary by Swedish global health professor—and stats nerd—Hans Rosling. "The Joy of Stats" uses the same kind of drawing-charts-out-of-thin-air technique to make complicated bits of data accessible, as in the clip posted below the Ryan vid.

"When people are talking about budgets, the audience has a tendency to doze off," Hayes tells Fast Company. "We wanted to make the visuals compelling."

"Most people are not going to read his ‘Path to Prosperity’ [the 72-page Republican budget proposal], and they’re certainly not going to dive into Excel spreadsheets of data," Hayes says. "They want a comprehensive summary of what he’s arguing, and why, and what the stakes are."

And YouTube, he says, combined with some imaginative filmmaking, provides just that.

 

 

E.B. Boyd is FastCompany.com's Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter. Email.