Even before the reviews were in, Tad Devine had no desire to see how he’d be portrayed in “Our Brand Is Crisis,” the Hollywood remake of a documentary about a campaign the Democratic media consultant worked in Bolivia.
The film, which hit theaters Oct. 30, stars Sandra Bullock as a consultant on her last chance working for a charmless presidential candidate in Bolivia. It’s based on the 2005 behind-the-scenes documentary of the same name by Rachel Boynton, which featured consultants including Devine, James Carville and Jeremy Rosner advising Gonzalo “Goni” Sánchez de Lozada, who was elected to a second term as president of Bolivia in 2002.
In the movie, Devine and other consultants are merged into a feckless media advisor named Buckley, played by Scoot McNairy.
“It’s a fictional film,” said Devine. “They took dramatic license with the material they bought from the original documentary.”
“Crisis” features some campaign humdrum, including a focus group and a commercial shoot punctuated with the death of a llama. There’s also some old-school skulduggery by Bullock’s character, who produces a hit mail piece on her own client to get him to go negative on his rivals.
“I don’t think it’s going to have any affect on how we see ourselves or how people who employ us see us,” said Devine.
While promoting the film, Bullock has offered a dim view of international campaign consultants.
“These people can come in all because of a paycheck and a desire to win and use people like puppets and go home and punch the clock out,” she told The Guardian. “I’m fascinated by people like this. Do you not go home and drink yourself to death because you’re just, like, riddled with guilt? No, they don’t, most of them.”
From Devine’s perspective, Bullock got at least the last part of that right. “People hire political consultants, particularly American political consultants who work on foreign campaigns, because we offer them a valuable service: to win elections,” he said. “That’s what motivates them.”
International consulting continues to be a lucrative practice for American firms — something Devine has no qualms about. The Democratic media strategist, who’s advising Bernie Sanders’ campaign stateside, has worked some 20 international races.
“Most of the people I work for are president or prime minister of their country,” he said. “That’s the reason I keep getting opportunities.”
Devine got his start working international campaigns in Colombia in 1994. It was a bitter presidential contest that saw his client, Andrés Pastrana, a conservative, accuse his rival Ernesto Samper of using drug money to finance his campaign. Pastrana lost by 2 points but went on to be elected president four years later.
“Whenever I was there, I was accompanied by armed guards,” recalled Devine. “We had armored cars, things of that nature. Those security issues exist in some places.”
Security remains a concern for consultants working internationally — at least for some. In 2010, Carville, who’s also featured in the “Crisis” documentary and in character form in the movie, approached Devine about re-teaming on the campaign of Ashraf Ghani, who was running for president of Afghanistan.
“I didn’t really want to go,” said Devine. “But I said I’d go if we made it into the runoff … We didn’t make it into the runoff.”
Still, Devine made TV spots for Ghani’s campaign while Carville was on the ground in Afghanistan as an adviser.
“He’s a real cowboy,” said Devine. “More so than me I guess.”