Political coverage is not something you’d typically find in the pages of Post, but with it being an election year, we thought the timing was right. We touched base with the NAB, VES and Post New York Alliance to find out about the issues that are of concern to their members, and how — if at all — they are working with politicians to address those concerns.
Political ads can be a boost to a post house’s business, so we also checked in with a handful of pros, who have been working on political spots and programming.
PACs & OWNERSHIP RULES
Dennis Wharton is the executive VP of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters (www.nab.org), which is based in Washington, DC. “Broadcast issues are generally not partisan,” explains Wharton. “We get support from both Democrats and Republicans because they understand that there is value in having free and local radio and television in their home districts, so typically these don’t become partisan issues. From our perspective, it’s a good thing.”
Wharton believes there are benefits in not having a partisan affiliation attached to a group such as a trade association. “We have a Political Action Committee, as most trade associations have,” he notes. “We historically have not given any PAC money, and we are not giving any PAC money this time to a candidate for The White House. But, we do give PAC money for Congressional candidates based on how much they appreciate or acknowledge what broadcasters do in the community. That doesn’t mean they are always going to vote the way we would like them to vote, but, it’s based on relationships that they have with local broadcasters back in their home state. It’s more to how they will vote on the key issues that impact the future of free and local broadcasting.”
Wharton says the NAB is perceived as a big player in the congressional arena and process. Any donations that the NAB makes are public records and can be found on Websites that track political contributions. “If we wanted to keep it secret, we couldn’t, unless you wanted to violate the law,” he explains.
Concerns for today’s broadcasters stem from rules put in place back in the 1960s, says Wharton, particularly those regarding ownership. “There is a rule in the books that says, if you are broadcaster or newspaper, you can’t buy one or the other,” he explains. “A broadcaster is barred from owning the newspaper in that city. In our view, that’s a relic from a bygone era. The notion that you can prevent a station in Peoria from buying the Peoria newspaper is a little bit antiquated. Those are the types of ownerships rules that we feel are crying out for release. It boggles the mind that you can still have a rule on the books from the I Love Lucy-era, that says you can’t have a TV station own a newspaper in the same market.
On the national scale, Wharton says it’s unclear whether a Romney administration or a second Obama term would be more apt to relax ownership rules. “Traditionally, Republicans have been interested in less regulation than more, but that’s not always the case.”
TAX INCENTIVES & GLOBAL COMPETITION
Eric Roth is the executive director of the Visual Effects Society (www.visualeffectssociety.com), a global organization headquartered in Sherman Oaks, CA. The VES represents visual effects practitioners in film, television, commercials, music videos and games. It’s membership spans 29 countries.
“While there are a number of issues that we are looking into, we don’t deal with any of the local politicians,” says Roth. “A reminder here is the VES is a global organization. We’ve got members in 29 countries, so we pretty much have not gotten involved in the political process.”
According to Roth, the VES has always supported the efforts that its members have put forth on the local level, pointing to tax incentive programs as an example. “Given that two-thirds of my members are here in California, I would like to see that some of the things that California can do are being done, so that people here can work here. They don’t have to get on an airplane and say goodbye to their families for six, 12 or 18 months. We’d like to see that, but other than encouraging that in broad ways, we haven’t taken any kind of political [position].”
The visual effects industry, says Roth, is a dynamic global marketplace. “The industry is global and this organization is global,” he notes. “I have to wear different hats simultaneously. My hat as the head of the organization is global. I have to recognize that the pressures are global. But, at the same time, I am a Californian. The major thrust and energy for the organization comes from Californians, because that’s where the most of my members are. So I personally hope California steps it up.”
Roth is thankful that a tax incentive program exists in California, and that it’s been renewed going forward, but he feels there still needs to be greater incentives. “While it’s great that something does exist, everyone knows that it’s not nearly as large as it ought to be in order to have a major impact to bring jobs back to California.”
Outside of the state, and the United States in general, Roth says the VES’s member are happy to be getting business, but are concerned about losing existing business to developing markets. Members in London, for example, see the possibility of losing work down the road to Poland and other eastern European countries, as well as to India and China. “I’ve heard people in India saying that in 10 more years, that work is going to go to Malaysia,” says Roth. “Everyone is cognizant of global competition, prices and wages, and the stresses and pressures to be competitive are never ending.”
The Post New York Alliance (www.postnewyork.org) is an association of post professionals and organizations working within film, television and interactive media, creating content and entertainment properties in New York City as well as New York State. Its goal is to foster growth and collaboration within the industry, specifically in New York, and to speak as a unified voice on issues relating to jobs, technology and public policy.
Yana Collins Lehman is the managing director of Travanna Post (www.trevanna.com), a post production accounting company that’s also a founding member of The Post New York Alliance.
Trevanna Post's Michelle Sarama and Yana Collins Lehman with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Collins Lehman emphasizes that the alliance works with government on the state level, and points to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s policies in the state. “The fact that Governor Cuomo has put a very specific mandate out to agencies that he is 100 percent about creating more jobs in the state has been hugely impactful on our industry,” she notes. “When he signed into law an incentive that we lobbied for, for three years, that had a massive impact.”
Back in 2004, a 30 percent tax incentive was put in place for productions that shoot and post in New York. “What we created and lobbied for is a carve out of that,” she says of the Alliance’s recent efforts. “It’s a standalone, post-only incentive. It’s the only one of its kind in the country, where, if you don’t shoot in New York for whatever reason, but you come and finish and complete 75 percent of the qualified spend in New York for post production, then you receive credit. It was passed in August of 2010. The Post New York Alliance came together specifically to lobby for this incentive, because we knew it would be a great way to bring more jobs to New York State, and that would impact all of our businesses.”
Collins Lehman says her first trip to Albany in August of 2010 went amazingly well, with the new bill being passed on the first try. “It gave me a very unrealistic feeling of how politics are done,” she notes. The effort resulted in a 10 percent post-only credit. Then, in July of this year, the Alliance returned to Albany to push for a more aggressive incentive — this one tripling the existing credit to 30 percent.
“Ten percent is not enough to relocate for post,” she says of the previous incentive, “which is why we wanted to triple it to 30 percent. It’s a very big number and very competitive. It competes with visual effects credits in Canada and the UK tax credits.”
And the credit is good for all post work taking place in New York, regardless of whether it’s in Manhattan or upstate. Additionally, one doesn’t have to be a member of the Alliance to take advantage of it. In fact, independent New York artists, who are not affiliated with post studios, can take advantage of the incentive too.
Portal-A (Portal-A.com), with locations in San Francisco and Los Angeles, regularly works on political projects that see distribution on the Web. Zach Blume, who is a partner in the four-year-old company, says that during the election cycle, political work represents approximately one quarter of the company’s business. They also create online videos for brands such as Google, Gap and Banana Republic.
Using the Web as a distribution outlet allows Portal-A to break free from typical broadcast time constraints. Much of their political work, for example, runs more than one or two minutes in length. Blume notes that while broadcast spots may spend a majority of their budget on distribution and less on production value, Web spots can do the opposite. In Portal-A’s case, much of the budget goes into production and post, with savings coming in the distribution model of using the Web.
The studio’s political work includes creating a music video-inspired piece for San Franciscans for Good Jobs and Government, which features local athletes and officials touting Mayor Ed Lee as “2 Legit 2 Quit.” MC Hammer makes a cameo and his music serves as the soundtrack. The video was shot using a Canon 5D DSLR camera.
Portal-A EP Nate Houghteling, CD Kai Hasson, and MD Zach Blume.
The company also created a satirical live-action video for Proposotions 29 in California with the theme “California Supports Big Tobacco.” In it, different characters tout how “great” Big Tobacco is for the State, causing billions in healthcare costs, and destroying dreams of promising young children. Portal-A used a Sony F3 to produce the spot.
Most recently, Portal-A completed work on a Prop 39 spot called The Fattest Cat in California. The video is set in a carnival freak show, where the MC introduces the fattest cat in California. The “fat cat” (really, it’s just a guy in a cat costume) gobbles up loose money that’s been made available thanks to out-of-state corporate loopholes in the tax codes. He notes that the cat has been getting fat off the state for years and doesn’t care where the money comes from. It closes with a statement that asks the viewer to “end the special interest freak show.” Blume says the studio will produce two additional videos as part of the campaign. The first was shot on Red and edited in Final Cut Pro.
“You have to create content that people actually care about,” says Blume. “You can’t just do a talking head in front of a camera, which is what most political ads are.”
He also sees Web distribution as a paradigm shift that more clients are receptive to. “It’s much more cost effective,” he says of the distribution model. “It’s taking time for people to realize you can distribute video on the Web just as effectively as you can on TV, if not more so.”
The Web puts much of the power into the viewers’ hands, allowing them to take content and share it through email or posting to Facebook or Twitter, he adds.
“We want to make content that is unique. If you look at the normal political ad, it kind of interrupts your TV viewing. It’s very message heavy, and not much value is placed on production. [Our] ultimate goal is to create stuff that people are going to share.”
Robert Feist of Venice, CA’s Ravenswork (www.ravenswork.com) recently completed audio post on a campaign spot for President Barack Obama. The :60 spot was edited at LA’s Lost Planet (www.lostplanet.com) by Jay Rabinowitz and Hank Corwin.
The political spot begins with different Americans reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. As the spot progresses, different voices are brought forward and the viewer hears key phrases that are a concern to the American voter. Only as the spot develops does the viewer realize it’s a campaign spot for the incumbent president.
Feist worked out of Lost Planet’s Pro Tools suite, creating a 5.1 mix for the project. He says one of the biggest challenges was making sure the soundtrack had clarity and that the viewer wouldn’t get confused by all of the different voices represented. The specific lines needed to hold the viewer’s attention, he adds.
Some of the voices were panned left and right, but only the music made its way into the surround channels. The sound design is pretty straight forward, though Feist did add some ambiences. The project features a custom recording of a patriotic musical piece.
Feist worked on the spot over the course of several days, mixing and then making adjustments based on feedback from the agency SSK and the Obama campaign. The piece aired in late October leading up to the November 6 election.
WAR OF THE WORDS
Boulder, CO’s Coupe Studios Music & Sound Design (www.coupestudios.com) is a full-service audio post facility that handles voice casting, setting up remote studios, production, music supervision, sound design, original music and mixing. According to producer Eric Singer, the company has been in business for 30 years, and with Colorado being a swing state, they see a lot of politically-themed work coming through its doors.
In additional to television and radio advertising for a candidate or political action committee, Coupe is also seeing a lot of audio business for network promos and shows that follow a political theme.
“It’s amazing,” says Singer, “in the rise of popularity of what I call ‘political entertainment.’ It’s not what you would see on CSPAN. We’ve been around for 30 years, and not much in the political ad business has changed in that time. But now we are seeing so much more attention [paid to these spots], and the difference is the types of shows and entertainment culture.”
Recently, Coupe Studios completed audio post on the show open, as well as promos for the DISH Network program, The War of the Words. The show stars conservative host Glenn Beck and progressive democrat Eliot Spitzer, who spar over debt, the economy and other issues facing voters. The show open introduces the hosts in a style reminiscent of a heavy-weight bout, with Beck in the “right” corner and Spitzer in the “left” corner. Singer says the piece relied heavily on sound design, with the announcer, ringside bell and camera flash bulbs all helping to replicate a boxing experience. The open drew on library music that was then sweetened in-house by Coupe’s own talent. The facility also handled mixing for the project.
Coupe Studios is home to five Avid Pro Tools|HD suites, each running V.10 software. Mixing is accomplished via an SSL console. The studio had one day to create the soundtrack and mix for approval, and then finalized it with a few tweaks.
DIDN'T VOTE? DON'T COMPLAIN
Chicago-based Ad/marketing specialists Third Street Advertising (www.takethirdstreet.com) conceived the idea of launching a national, multimedia campaign (www.realcomplainersvote.com) designed to encourage young registered voters to embrace their rights — to vote, and to complain.
The agency teamed up with Foundation Content (www.foundationcontent.com) on the project, which uses the tagline: “In America, only voters can complain. And real complainers, vote! The campaign includes a two-minute-long online video that features the voice talent of TJ Miller, along with the style of street artist Ray Noland. Real Complainers Vote takes a humorous look at why Americans should vote on November 6 and how doing so furthers their right to complain.
Foundation Content incorporated visuals that coincide with grass roots, DIY movements. The company explored making elements out of paper and cardboard, as well as using a stop-motion style for some of the animation. Kyle Shoup was creative director/motion designer for Foundation Content. Noland spent two weeks in the Chicago studio creating imagery to be incorporated into the video. Steve Morrison edited the project; Dave Kresl mixed it.
Elements were shot using a Canon 5D camera. Graphics tools included Maxon Cinema4D and Adobe’s After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator.