Coffee with John

I recently had the opportunity to make a series of web videos for one of my very favorite politicians in the whole wide world, John Kefalas (Colorado House District 52 Representative). Here’s the flagship video, a five-minute conversation titled Coffee with John:

Head over to the John Kefalas YouTube channel to watch the other videos, which are shorter and organized by topic.

Since this is a blog about filmmaking, I’ll get into how these were made. But the important thing here is that John Kefalas is a remarkably dedicated, forward-thinking, effective legislator, and if you live in Fort Collins you should vote for him.

On to the nitty-gritty: I’ve toyed in the past with the idea of doing campaign spots. I wouldn’t want it to be my life’s work, but there’s a lot of room for improvement over the norm. Turn on the TV any time between now and November 2nd and you’ll see what I mean: not only do most political ads lower the discourse by oversimplifying complex issues (and just plain lying), they’re also poorly produced.

I volunteered my services to the Kefalas campaign for some video work back in August, and I began shooting almost immediately. I spent a day following John around the city as he went knocking on doors and got some great footage, but it was apparent that I didn’t really have a concept yet. Then I got called away to Minneapolis and wound up spending a month there ACing on Last Breath, which threw a spanner in the works for this project.

Still, when I got back to Colorado, I redoubled my efforts, met with the campaign’s media director to flesh out the message of the spots, and got a time frame set in place. My plan of attack was based on this simple fact: these would be internet videos, not TV spots, and so our audience would be people who had actually chosen to watch them. That meant that we didn’t have to be so rushed in our presentation, and could instead give John room to speak to the real issues of the campaign.

As such things tend to do, it wasn’t until we were in the middle of shooting the thing that all our planning went out the window. Some people dread this moment, but I have embraced the principles of chaos and pandemonium in my life, and so I relish the opportunity to reinvent a project in the middle of production. In order to avoid another day of shooting (a real problem with John’s busy schedule), we opted to reinvent our ad and instead of featuring multiple locations, including John sitting by the Poudre River and talking into the camera about the work he has done, we sat him down in a coffee shop across the table from my grandmother and just let them talk for a couple hours. This was a major improvement over our original plan in that it allowed John to speak extemporaneously, and more importantly, allowed him to interact with another person instead of staring into a camera. The final spots I was able to cut from the wealth of source material were intimate, spontaneous, and unlike any political ad I’ve seen (although I’d be lying if I denied being influenced by the coffee table ads in Tanner ’88). Simplicity wins again.

This was the first serious project for which I’ve used my Canon T2i. In advance of this shoot (and to round out my kit), I went on a bit of a buying spree and purchased a cheap Chinese knock-off battery grip (to double my battery life and reduce overheating) and some really nice, old Nikon glass. I relied primarily on my Nikkor 50mm/1:1.4, but I also got a chance to play with my new favorite lens, a Nikon 35mm/1:2.8 AIS. For the exteriors I used a 135mm Takumar that my parents bought decades ago.

I recorded sound from two different sources: the stereo microphones on my Zoom H4n, and the world’s cheapest Audio Technica lav mic, clipped to John’s shirt and running to a Zoom H1 in his pocket. It was a fairly simple job to sync everything in post, thanks to the T2i’s continuous-run timecode. I was really impressed with how well this worked out, and how good it sounded in the noisy little coffee shop compared to booming from overhead, even with a fancy Sennheiser.

So the ads turned out real nice. Now I’ve got a taste for political spots. I want to do more. This may be a real problem.

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