Seeing Red

07.08.11

The Tea Party Movie Studio

Two Bachmann supporters are pushing the Tea Party agenda via TV and films set in the American Revolution. The producers talk to Marlow Stern about their film debut and influencing America’s youth.

Now that Michele Bachmann has exploded into the cultural consciousness, and conservative darling Sarah Palin has concluded her historical landmark-hopping bus tour across America, the Tea Party is ready for their closeup. Two California-based Tea Party activists, James Patrick Riley and Jonathan Wilson, have birthed Colony Bay Productions—a TV/film production company with the aim of, according to their website, “telling the adventurous, heroic and exceptional story of America in a way that both challenges and inspires the audience.”

Since GOP acolytes have long bemoaned “leftist” Hollywood’s veritable stranglehold over the entertainment industry narrative, Colony Bay’s aim is to create patriotic programming that promotes conservative values in order to wrestle a bit of the narrative back for the right. “Quite a few Americans have just unplugged from the movie/television machine because the writing is bad, and people of faith and political conservatives are routinely used as target practice,” co-founder Riley said in an interview with The Daily Beast.

Colony Bay’s first TV production, which made its premiere in late June to a packed house in Los Angeles, is Courage, New Hampshire. Set during the “Taxed Enough Already” Party’s favorite period of U.S history—the American Revolution—the hour-long film takes place in 1770 in the fictional town of Courage, New Hampshire. British sergeant Bob Weadle is arrested by a tavern owner named Silas (played by Riley) for fornication crimes after being accused of fathering a child out of wedlock with Sarah, a serene colonial barmaid. While Sarah loves him unconditionally, he refuses to acknowledge the child is his, and remains fiercely loyal to the crown. However, following a series of heart-to-hearts with Sarah, and a protracted trial, Weadle comes to his senses, renounces the crown, and runs back into Sarah’s loving arms. “Exploring the human drama is a way to show how this great nation came to be,” co-founder Wilson told The Daily Beast.

Wilson is no stranger to Hollywood. He began his career at the powerhouse talent agency ICM as a motion picture literary assistant before becoming director of development under Peter Hyams. In May 2009, he started the Tea Party’s Pasadena chapter—Pasadena Patriots. “We joke in Pasadena that every time Obama opened his mouth our phone would ring,” chuckled Wilson. While searching for speakers for a rally, Wilson crossed paths with James Patrick Riley, a Tea Party activist who, along with his wife, run Riley’s Farm—a living history farm in Southern California where children visit to learn about the American Revolution. Riley, who had garnered a reputation among the Tea Party contingent for his spot-on Patrick Henry impersonation, volunteered his services for the rally, and the two immediately bonded over their frustrations with the Republican establishment and the country’s mounting debt.

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Co-founders James P. Riley (left) and Jonathan Wilson (Brooke Spencer / Courtesy of Colony Bay Productions)

The $120,000 production budget for Courage, New Hampshire was financed entirely by Riley, who paid half out of pocket, and the other half came as an in-kind investment since the production used Riley Farms’ resources for all the costumes and locations. While the TV program doesn’t have a distributor yet, the duo have been in serious talks with Glenn Beck’s network, GBTV, and the Right Network, owned by conservative actor Kelsey Grammer.

Interest in Colony Bay’s programming got a boost from Palin’s “One Nation” bus tour, which ran from May 29 to June 22, and included Palin family visits to American Revolution-era landmarks like the Liberty Bell. “It was bizarre to us, because we’ve been trying to get in touch with Palin,” said Wilson. “The fact that her bus tour ended in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and a lot of our story happens in that area, is really ironic.”

Youth love the romance of the 18th century, Wilson says, So I guess you might say we’re tapping into the Johnny Depp audience a bit.

Conservatives, no doubt mindful of the record 66 percent of young Americans who voted for Obama in 2008, appear to be very stealthily courting the youth vote with entertainment programs (See also: A Tea Partier’s bizarre pro-life horror movie). While Riley and Wilson are adamant that Courage, New Hampshire isn’t specifically designed to target youngsters, Wilson does admit that “youth love the romance of the 18th century, so I guess you might say we’re tapping into the Johnny Depp audience a bit.” Furthermore, Colony Bay Productions’ website  offers a $49.95 Teaching With Courage package, which consists of the TV movie, and an accompanying lesson plan for the film “appropriate for grades 4-6, middle school, and high school,” according to the website.

“History is not anyone’s private franchise,” said Riley, adding, “If the market rewards our efforts, so be it. We’re capitalists after all.