Cap­i­tal Gains

How a non­profit that of­fers free cam­paign ads to can­di­dates is chang­ing the elec­toral land­scape

Fast Company - - Contents -

Film­maker Sarah Ull­man is bring­ing to­gether fe­male film­mak­ers to help pro­gres­sive can­di­dates win elec­tions, one ad at a time.

Af­ter Or­lando’s Pulse night­club shoot­ing left 49 peo­ple dead in June 2016, Los An­ge­les film-

maker Sarah Ull­man sat on her couch, shaken. A few days later, she came to a ca­reer-chang­ing re­al­iza­tion. “I wanted more peo­ple in [po­lit­i­cal] of­fice who would do some­thing about this is­sue,” she says. By the end of the year, she had launched One Vote at a Time, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that brings to­gether fe­male film­mak­ers to cre­ate free cam­paign ads for pro­gres­sive can­di­dates in lo­cal and state elec­tions. In 2017, Ull­man worked with 19 can­di­dates in the Vir­ginia state elec­tions. This year, she’s pro­duc­ing films for 250 can­di­dates in 10 states ahead of the Novem­ber midterms. “I didn’t ex­pect to dis­rupt po­lit­i­cal me­dia or cam­paign con­sult­ing, but that’s what’s hap­pen­ing,” Ull­man says. Here’s how she’s do­ing it.


There’s an un­prece­dented num­ber of first-time can­di­dates run­ning for of­fice this year. Many lack both fund­ing and name recog­ni­tion. Ull­man’s videos offer a level of pol­ish that draws dol­lars—and mo­men­tum. One Vote at a Time helped El­iz­a­beth Guz­man be­come one of the first His­panic women to win a seat in Vir­ginia’s House of Del­e­gates last year, on a plat­form of im­mi­gra­tion re­form and women’s rights; Ull­man also cre­ated ads for Dan­ica Roem, Vir­ginia’s first trans­gen­der leg­is­la­tor.


A sin­gle cam­paign ad can cost up to $45,000. One Vote at a Time, which is reg­is­tered as a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee (PAC), gets scrappy with pro­duc­tion and cov­ers staffing and film­ing costs through crowd­fund­ing and dona­tions from high-pro­file back­ers, in­clud­ing Jef­frey Katzen­berg, Joss Whe­don, and J.J. Abrams. For the Vir­ginia elec­tions, the or­ga­ni­za­tion raised $36,000 to make 19 videos, turn­ing a vol­un­teer’s kitchen into a film and pro­duc­tion hub. This year, Ull­man’s PAC has raised $460,000 to pro­duce some 250 videos—all out of makeshift stu­dios.


Ull­man has fo­cused her ef­forts on the state level for a sim­ple rea­son: Cru­cial is­sues like gun safety get lost amid fed­eral dys­func­tion, but lo­cal can­di­dates can ef­fect change—even if, ac­cord­ing to Ull­man, they have “no shot in hell” of win­ning: When they speak out, other pro­gres­sives feel less alone and more in­spired to get in­volved. Vo­cal cam­paigns also force the op­po­si­tion to mount a de­fense—and spend money—that might have been used else­where. “[Our ads] make it more dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to slide by on in­cum­bency and com­pla­cency,” Ull­man says.

By Eil­lie Anzilotti SARAH ULL­MAN Founder, One Vote at a Time Pho­to­graph by Jenny Hue­ston

Through her PAC, Ull­man raises the pro­files of can­di­dates who have pledged sup­port for gun-safety laws.

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