The All-Seeing Trump's Creators Will Show You America's Future
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Plenty of WNW Members have found really creative ways to get involved in tomorrow's election, putting in the hours on their own time with money out of their own pockets. No project better sums up this socially and politically charged artistry and workmanship than The All-Seeing Trump. With a nostalgic nod to the 1988 film Big, in which a wish-making machine named Zoltar morphs a kid into Tom Hanks, the All-Seeing Trump machine comedically looks into the future and offers 30 terrifying misfortunes scheduled for when he's elected into the White House. The concept is inarguably genius, matched only by its execution.
Below we talk to WNW Members Jon Barco, Andy Dao, Bryan Denman and Nathaniel Lawlor, who together created the All-Seeing Trump. They tell us how the idea was born and why the attention to detail was essential for the intended effect: "From the tiny hands (with one making Trump’s signature 'OK' sign), to the evil glowing eyes, to the 'receive your misfortune' plaque around the ticket outlet, every tiny detail was critical...They’re what separates good execution from great execution, in any medium." The creators also go into the process of balancing humor and discomfort, and how the latter can be an especially effective tool. "It was a lot of trial and error to find the sweet spot where we can entertain and make people laugh, but also stick them with a really dark insight that makes them a little uncomfortable."
You can expect to see the All-Seeing Trump tomorrow outside of Trump Towers, and possibly appearing on NowThis’s Election Day Livestream. After that, the machine will travel to the Joshua Liner Gallery for the final week of their Trump-themed show, which concludes on November 12.
Oh yeah, GO VOTE!
When did you first realize the equally comedic and terrifying potential of a Donald Trump and Zoltar union?
Independently, we had started thinking of what we could do to speak out against Trump, how to put our specific skills to use, and we had a few different creative ideas. But this one rose to the top, because it seemed the most conceptual and potentially viral, because of the nostalgic connection to the film Big. And honestly, there were some misgivings in the early stages of concepting. Was the idea clever enough? Did it make its point clearly? But that's common with creative ideas; you have to work them a bit, and spend quality time pressure testing them.
Can you give us a little insight into the process from there? Who built this highly-detailed machine? What were some of the specifics that you were adamant about seeing?
The machine was fabricated by Characters Unlimited, the company that makes Zoltar and other fortune-teller machines you see at places like Coney Island and Fisherman’s Wharf. We initially spoke to some other production companies, but for authenticity, which was highly important to us, we decided it would be best to start with the people who already make these. Why fake it when you can have the real deal? We see this a lot in our industry, like when directors will use a Red camera and then affect the footage in post to make it look like a VHS camcorder from the 80s. And it never does! We're much more of a fan of just using an actual camcorder from the 80s. So we used Characters Unlimited, and we may have been the most particular customers they’ve ever had. From the tiny hands (with one making Trump’s signature “OK” sign), to the evil glowing eyes, to the “receive your misfortune” plaque around the ticket outlet, every tiny detail was critical. We hired our own sculptor to sculpt the head, and lots of other specialists and friends for all the other details: the custom human hair wig, the SFX paintjob on the face, the handmade curtains and tiny MAGA hat, the hand-painted lettering on the cabinet. We could go on and on about the details. Details are so important, they’re what separates good execution from great execution, in any medium.
How many pre-recorded answers are housed inside of the All-Seeing Trump? Was it fun coming up with them? Any surprises or challenges?
There are 30 “misfortunes” in total and the set-list can be customized depending on the location we’re in. For example in front of Planned Parenthood we played a lot of misfortunes having to do with women’s issues and Supreme Court nominations and “disgusting dogs.” Writing them took quite a while, with many drafts and rounds of revisions, just like writing anything else. We watched WAY too much Trump footage in order to learn his cadence, his rambling manner of speaking, and his (very limited) vocabulary. It was a lot of trial and error to find the sweet spot where we can entertain and make people laugh, but also stick them with a really dark insight that makes them a little uncomfortable. Everyone laughs when Trump says, “I build the best deportation trains, I really do.” But then they wince when he follows it up with, “My trains are so much better than the ones the Germans used.” Making people uncomfortable was always part of the goal. It’s a really powerful tool that we can almost never use in the commercial world.
Obviously this was a great idea with equally impressive execution. But did you expect the amount of media coverage that the All-Seeing Trump ultimately received?
We spent so much time and put so much love into the idea, our ultimate fear was that we’d put it out into the world, and then… nothing. It would just fizzle out. But in reality we expected at least something would happen. And we got lucky. A journalist was walking to get coffee past our very first location, and she immediately wrote up the story for Gothamist. From there, it escalated, and by the next morning, we were getting press requests from tons of outlets, big and small. So the makeshift PR plan we had in place actually got usurped organically, which was great. We didn’t have to do much PR work in the end.
Any surprising reactions? Any angry reactions? Did you worry that someone might try to assault the machine?
We definitely worried about angry people trying to assault the machine, especially when we took it to a Trump rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We actually hired two bodyguards to stand next to the machine, dressed as Secret Service. But ultimately even the Trump fans got a kick out of it. Most of our time has been spent in friendly territory, and if we learned one thing, it’s that Manhattan really hates Trump. What a bizarro world when rural America gets behind a rich city slicker, and the city he’s from can’t stand him.
What are the most important messages that you want to send with this project?
The All-Seeing Trump pretty much speaks for itself—a future with a President Trump is a bleak future. Initially, the little fortune tickets that pop out were going to act like an end card on a TV spot, reading “There’s No Future In Trump. Vote, Volunteer, Spread the word.” But then we realized that was our advertising training getting in the way. We asked ourselves, what would Banksy do? And the answer was obvious: Keep the experience dark all the way through. Don’t talk down to your audience. People will draw their own conclusions. That’s how we landed on putting “misfortunes” on the tickets, too. From that point on, the whole idea really gelled.
Have you ever dabbled in guerrilla art or politically-charged work before?
Will the All-Seeing Trump be making any appearances on Election Day?
Yes, we’ll be out, probably at Trump Towers, and possibly appearing on NowThis’s Election Day Livestream. After that it’ll go to the Joshua Liner Gallery for the final week of their Trump-themed show, which ends on November 12.
What’s next for you all?
All four of us are back freelancing, with no immediate plans for the next idea. This project was a ton of work, but it was really fun and it definitely made us want to work more on our own projects, so we’ll see what happens. Let’s just get through this god-awful election first.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We’re lucky to work in an industry with so many smart, talented people all around us. We called in many favors and so many people stepped up to help us. Heard City, Cosmo Street Editing, and Future Perfect Music each volunteered their resources, rallying behind the idea and the cause. And so many others, from producers to business affairs to PR. The project really made us think, if we spent half the effort we spend selling soda and cellphones and cars on our own creative endeavors, we could make a lot of really cool stuff.