Back to IndieWire

Trump Stoppers: How Filmmakers Are Making a Difference in Swing States

Top documentary filmmakers are capturing the unscripted concerns of reverends, truck drivers and Republicans in ads that air in the communities where they live.

Filmmaker Heidi Ewing interviews decorated WWII veteran Edward Seiber

Local Voices

The idea behind the Local Voices neighbor-to-neighbor campaign is simple: use a documentary approach to capture the concerns every day Americans have about Donald Trump in unscripted, personal commentaries and then air them as one-minute ads in the same swing state communities where they were filmed.

Filmmaker Lee Hirsch (“Bully”), who started the Local Voices Democratic Super PAC in 2008, has spent the last three election cycles studying and experimenting with how best to engage and motivate voters.

READ MORE: The Presidential Debate ‘Late Night’ Helped Prove That Seth Meyers is the Host Network TV Needs

“I’ve seen the same thing over and over again,” Hirsch wrote IndieWire, “election season is intense, and perceived community norms lead to an almost palpable intimidation that suppresses an honest public dialogue about the presidential candidates, and has the deepest affect on those who might be leaning towards the democratic ticket.”

See More Local Voices Videos After The Break

Breaking Through

What Hirsch discovered is that the best way to break through and open up the dialogue in these communities is to give a loudspeaker to a well regarded member of the community.

“The people we feature carry weight in their own communities,” wrote Hirsch. “This year, the roster includes a decorated veteran, a reverend, and former school board member, among others. Standing up and being a voice of dissent requires bravery. All of our ad subjects are doing something powerful: standing in front of their homes and businesses, stating their names, and declaring how they are voting. When the spots launch, they are all willing to engage in the community conversations that follow, which are often fierce.”

In picking the towns where this year’s ads would play, Local Voices was looking for counties and towns in swing states that were large enough to matter (vote-wise), but small enough that residents have a sense of connection with their community. “We want to be playing in towns where people know each other’s names,” said Hirsh.

Essential Authenticity

The key ingredient to make the ads work is for them to feel authentic, so they are not dismissed as manufactured political messages. To accomplish this, Hirsch has turned to fellow documentary filmmakers and for the 2016 campaign has recruited some of the top filmmakers working in nonfiction, including Amir Bar-Lev (“Happy Valley, “The Tillman Story”), Amy Berg (“West of Memphis”), Marshall Curry (“Street Fight,” “Point and Shoot”), Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (“Jesus Camp”), Liz Garbus (“What Happened, Miss Simone?”) and Kristi Jacobson (“Solitary”).

READ MORE: Zach Galifianakis Says Donald Trump Won’t Be on ‘Between Two Ferns’ Because He’s ‘Mentally Challenged’

“As documentary filmmakers we seek authenticity; the best of us love our subjects and that comes through in the work,” wrote Hirsch. “I think that sets us apart and is a critical component of why our ads work. We don’t script, and we let people articulate their truths, even if they aren’t politically correct. We don’t focus group our messages. And in this cycle in particular, we have seen how powerful the appeal towards ‘outsiders’ has been – these spots are much closer to that spirit than traditional political ads.”

The Independent Spirit

Local Voices is not one of these extremely well-founded Super PACs, with billionaires feeding their coffers. In 2012, Local Voices spent $1.4 million on its ad campaign, reaching more than 20 million people through 29 ads. In the 2016 election cycle, Local Voices’ target raise of $5 million will create more than 50 ads to be broadcast locally and distributed nationally on social media.

READ MORE: Presidential Debate 2016 – Hollywood Reacts to Trump and Hillary

Saving most of their money for ad buys, Local Voices depends on nonfiction filmmakers ability to shoot vérité and work with little money — each spot is filmed in one day and costs less than $10,000, including post-production. Final Frame donates post-production finishing services, while filmmakers volunteer their time.  Many filmmakers though have been extremely thankful for the outlet to get involved in this year’s election.

“It feels satisfying to lend my visual and storytelling skills to a worthy cause like stopping a maniac from becoming commander in chief,” said Ewing.

You can watch four of the one-minute ads after the break, along with discussion by the filmmakers of their experience and approach to making their ad.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Toolkit and tagged , , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox