With digital video content becoming the go-to medium for political marketing, the need for campaigns to utilize it to brand their candidate is greater than ever.
The last cycle was a breakthrough for the use of inspirational long-form videos — 2-to-4 minutes — in congressional races. Millions of small denomination donations were raised from this emerging format. The best of these films were coming from the top political media firms in the country, but the price of these story-driven videos often make them prohibitive for many candidates.
I came to political filmmaking after years of producing mostly non-fiction films and television. My brother Joe and I created the Emmy award-wining HBO series “Taxicab Confessions." We also produced social action documentaries, like HBO’s “American Winter,” which dealt with the plight of middle-class families falling into poverty following the Great Recession. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) invited three families from the film to testify at a Senate hearing.
The YouTube revolution and the subsequent introduction of smartphones with HD cameras means that the citizen filmmaker can now be a vital resource for campaigns. In my media work on behalf of campaigns, I’ve developed a way to harness these amateur videographers into video strike force teams.
Who are they? They can be film students or casual video creators for social media sites. Speaking in the visual language of the new generation is just as vital as canvassing. Production value is no longer king, authenticity is, and the new bar is emotional transparency that we’ve all been trained to expect in our online universe.
This is how YouTube’s head of Culture and Trends, Kevin Ollaka, explained it in his book Videocracy: “The ways we interact with video affect society on a more fundamental level as well. The manner in which we obtain and spread knowledge — and share our immediate experiences — has become more personal and direct, influencing the way we see the world and one another.”
That means a candidate’s videos must be more personal and direct to stand out in a crowded social media landscape.
I have spent my career attempting to authentically capture the personal sides of real people’s lives on film. The focus of my firm now is bringing this authenticity and immediacy to campaigns up and down the ballot.
Campaigns can make epic, story-driven short films that evoke a strong emotional response. Here’s the approach we take: my firm comes into a campaign to recruit, manage, and curate a volunteer video strike force team that creates consistent video content. These aspirants are combining two passions: politics and videography. Many are hoping to make a career of this, and take advantage of the opportunity to work with an experienced professional to mentor them, and likewise, create content for a candidate that can actually make a difference. It’s a win-win-win scenario.
If you have your own team telling your story from your point of view, you create the brand, and you control the message. Just as one trains canvassers to accurately portray their voice as a surrogate in their neighborhoods, you can train the amateur videographers to stay on brand on social media, but do it in creative and unexpected ways. Even down-ballot and local candidates can afford to utilize video if the creators are volunteers or interns.
For years, I have seen largely two choices for campaign video production: Hire a top political media firm, headquartered on one of the coasts. Or contract with a local video production company or ad agency that typically produces cookie-cutter ads and videos. The online video revolution now offers many other options.
Harry Gantz is a Democratic political media consultant and filmmaker living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.