Caucuses Inspire the Movie “Courting Des Moines”

Apr 9, 2015

The Iowa Caucuses are less than a year away and politicians with presidential aspirations are visiting often.  California politician Samantha Clemons is visiting Iowa’s Capitol to seek inspiration. After gazing the artwork in the large reverberant rotunda, she pulls out her phone and makes a job offer to someone to run her Iowa campaign for president.

Because Iowa is the first state in the nation to hold presidential caucuses, hopeful candidates are known to most Iowans. But a presidential bid from Clemons is one you haven’t heard about, because she isn’t real.  Samantha Clemons is a character in a new movie being filmed here titled “Courting Des Moines” written and directed by Brent Roske. He’s a television and movie producer who relocated to Des Moines last year from Los Angeles to make stories about politics.

Roske says he wants this movie to be a living document of the Iowa Caucuses “I’ve always been curious about it.  What is the Iowa Caucus?  You hear about it, if you don’t quite know, if you’ve not been, you should watch Courting Des Moines.”


Director of photography Ric Griffith frames actress Melissa Fitzgerald as Brent Roske directs a scene in Iowa’s Capitol for the movie “Courting Des Moines.”
Credit Photo by John Pemble

The movie is a sequel to Roske’s 2012 “Chasing the Hill”, a fictional web series about a California Congressional campaign. “Courting Des Moines” features many of the same characters who now want to seek higher office, including Samantha Clemons, played by Melissa Fitzgerald.  Fitzgerald says she likes playing a politician because she  admires people who go into public service. Because I, I... one of those corny people who actually believes the government can be a force for good in people’s lives, and that it should be a force for good in people’s lives, and that when, people are particularly in trouble and in a crisis moment in their lives government can and should be there for them.”

Fitzgerald’s credits include playing a White House staffer on the television show “The West Wing.”  She is one of ten actors director Brent Roske is bringing in from the east and west coasts.  Roske is also using Iowa actors but not in the major roles.  “Not because there’s not a great local talent pool,” says Roske. “But the fact of the matter is if I put a couple somewhat recognizable faces in there, it helps the business side of the motion picture which look... movies cost money, they’re not cheap, and you need a lot of help to do it,” says Roske.

The small movie crew is traveling to many Des Moines locations, including Machinist’s Hall where real candidates will court Iowa voters with speeches that sound like this one from Fitzgerald's character. “I speak out of a deep sense of urgency, about the anguish and anxiety that those all across our country are experiencing.”  The crowd of extras applaud her rallying words.

Behind a crowd of extras, director Brent Roske captures speeches by fictional presidential candidates with a small film crew at Machinists Hall for his film “Courting Des Moines.”
Credit Photo by John Pemble

Roske says filming in Iowa is much cheaper than California, especially for a story that uses locations requiring little to no change.  Right now, more than half of the movie is shot, but before he’s done he wants to include a scene at the biggest event in the state. “We are talking about, right now trying if we can do a day at the State Fair.  Because how do you do Iowa Politics without the state fair,” says Roske.

“Courting Des Moines” will be finished later this year and will play in a Los Angeles theater for one week to be eligible for Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. Then in January 2016, when the real Iowa Caucuses are happening it will be available as a video on demand, through the Internet.