SAN FRANCISCO (SHNS) - With hyperactive talk-show hosts and headlines fueling hysteria about Arnold Schwarzenegger's "love child" and New York Rep. Anthony Weiner's "sexting" obsession, there's hardly a better time to launch a juicy Hollywood flick about politics, sex, campaigns, sex, drugs, candidates -- and sex.
That's why the stranger-than-fiction aspect of American politics makes life a bit surreal these days for San Franciscan Chris Lehane, whose reputation as a take-no-prisoners Democratic political consultant has earned him the nickname "Master of Disaster." Lehane, a Clinton White House spokesman during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, is co-writer of "Knife Fight," an independent film being shot in the San Francisco Bay Area and billed as an insider's look at American politics.
The film, set to be released in time for the fall 2012 presidential election, stars Rob Lowe of "The West Wing" as Paul Turner, a San Francisco political fixer based on Lehane who is juggling a variety of gubernatorial and Senate campaigns. Jamie Chung of "Sucker Punch" and "The Hangover Part II" co-stars as his savvy political trainee.
Lehane's outline of the plot: It "focuses on how politics is really played -- a knife fight in a telephone booth." The film examines the closed-door intrigues of American political campaigns, "where blood is spilled, low blows are common and the best candidate is not always the best person," he said. "It's a world where the noblest ends are used to justify the darkest means."
Talk about timely. As Lehane sat on the set last week to watch his fictional tale come to life, the Democratic spinmeister juggled rounds of interviews to offer analysis on Weinergate -- a true-life scandal that appears to have outdone Hollywood for shock value.
Speaking to MSNBC about the soap opera that threatens Weiner's once-formidable political career, Lehane marveled: "I used a quote that we had in the script: He's in a deep, dark, unspinnable place."
"It doesn't get any better than this," laughed "Knife Fight" director and co-writer Bill Guttentag, sitting among Klieg lights and trailers on the set with Chung and Lehane on the grounds of a stunning, 100-year-old Tudor estate that doubles as the film's "governor's mansion."
Charges that former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted a New York hotel maid, revelations of Schwarzenegger's clandestine offspring, John Edwards' indictment for allegedly using campaign funds to hide his pregnant mistress and Weiner's e-affairs show that "there's always something going on" involving politicians and sex, Guttentag said.
"That's part of the idea of the film: We can say with great confidence that the subject will not get dated," said Guttentag, who met Lehane at a class on the film industry that the director teaches at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. "There will be something when we're filming, when we're editing, while we're releasing."
His movie melds fact and fiction and concentrates on politics at the Senate and gubernatorial level -- where Lehane has had a bird's-eye view -- he helped manage Level the Playing Field 2010, an independent expenditure group that slammed billionaire GOP candidate Meg Whitman and supported efforts to elect Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.
Playing Lowe's aide-de-camp is Chung, who said she is thrilled to be involved in a timely role that allows her to learn some of the tricks of the political trade directly from the master.
The part is a long way from her recent roles in the comic "Hangover" sequel or as Amber, part of the stunning girl crew in "Sucker Punch." This time, Chung stars as Kirsten, a Korean-American political consultant from a working-class background whose immigrant parents run a fruit stand. (Her Korean immigrant parents ran an American cafe in San Francisco.)
Her portrayal of a sharp, ambitious, young -- and beautiful -- political consultant, Lehane said, is based on an amalgamation of several of the top women he has worked with in politics who have had to juggle "a sense of understanding the tension between the ends justifying the means."
Chung said Kirsten is among the "Knife Fight" characters who spend their days engaged in "a giant game of chess," trying to advance their candidates while containing damage. With Lehane's stories being spun on set, she said, "it's a real interesting dynamic to see ... the passion and drive that these characters have about their jobs."
Guttentag -- who has produced documentaries such as "Nanking" and "Soundtrack for a Revolution," about the music of the U.S. civil-rights movement -- said he first envisioned the political film as a documentary.
"But I met with a couple of presidential candidates" -- he won't say who -- "and quickly realized you could never do it as a real film," he said.
The reason: When everything hits the fan in politics, the cameras are shut out and "you can't get behind the doors you need to get behind," he said. "In our film, we take the