Today's hottest Republican online filmmaker got his start by backing Hillary Clinton. The 22-year-old has only around 20 political videos under his belt, but the "features," as he calls them, include iconic elements indicative of a style that's already well-established despite his nascent career: explosions, rapidly moving images, oversaturated hues, and pulse-quickening musical backdrops.
Call him the Banksy of political video. Most recently producing striking work for Tim Pawlenty's exploratory committee, the filmmaker has until lately lingered in the shadows, letting videos like "Courage to Stand" and Pawlenty's most recent exploratory committee announcement video do the talking.
His name is Lucas Baiano and his goal is to "help reestablish and help reintroduce the Republican Party and brand." He thinks his high-impact features can help do that. "I want to help in assisting the party in leveling that playing field" with the left online, he told ClickZ News.
Pawlenty opens his speaking engagements with Baiano's Courage to Stand video, which has been viewed on YouTube over 168,000 times since its late January launch. Reminiscent more of an action flick trailer than the standard candidate talking head fare, the video features footage of U.S. sailors returning home from war, The Statue of Liberty, military fighter jets, The Capitol Building, and the New York City skyline, interspersed with closely-cropped shots of gritty American workers, glum-looking children, and Pawlenty himself.
Baiano's latest, a hyped-up video promoting Pawlenty's exploratory committee announcement, was originally available only to people who liked his Facebook page. It employs campaign rhetoric that's been heard in another recent video from the would-be candidate: "This is our country. Our founding fathers created it. Americans embraced it. Ronald Reagan personified it, and Lincoln stood courageously to protect it," declares Pawlenty, as images of the Lincoln Memorial, American flags, and 1950s-era children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance whip by. The video has nearly 67,000 views since it launched March 21.
"It all comes down to showcasing and harnessing what the average American wants... and presenting it to them in a way that is entertaining," said Baiano, who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada. "Many mainstream political videos can be very boring or cookie cutter-esque," said Baiano. "I like to bring that non-traditional tone to political features.... In order to really communicate well, you need to up the branding."
Though he now resides in Washington, D.C., it was while going to film school in Toronto in 2007 that his career in U.S. politics got its start. Working on a student film tracking his day-to-day experiences, the then 19-year-old decided to put his skills to work for Clinton's primary campaign. Baiano's mother was a "pretty big Hillary advocate," he states in the student film, which became a visual journal of his quest to produce a video ad for the Clinton campaign and possibly work for her. Entitled "Lucky Strike," the documentary traces the journey, including the time he gave Clinton staffers his campaign video during a fundraiser at Lucky Strike Bowling in Miami Beach. The movie was seen at Filmfest DC and will be available online soon.
When Clinton dropped out of the race, Baiano dropped his support for Democrats all together, deciding he couldn't switch his allegiance to Barack Obama. He became a John McCain backer, and did a bit of work with his campaign - though none video related. "I wouldn't have made it with the McCain campaign if it wasn't for Hillary," said Baiano.
He went on to create web films for Republican Will Morefield's 2009 campaign for Virginia's House of Delegates, where he currently represents the state's 3rd District.
More recently, his work on a series of videos for the Remember November 2010 election campaign from The Republican Governors Association, where he served as director of visual media and film, helped garner the organization a 2011 Pollie award for web video from the American Association of Political Consultants. At the RGA, Baiano became familiar with Pawlenty, Minnesota's two-term governor, replaced this year by Democrat Mark Dayton.
When asked whether his mother approves of his work with Republicans, he answered, "Yes, of course. She like myself is a Republican."
Nowadays, Baiano can be seen traveling with the Pawlenty team to get footage and speak with campaign event audience members. One of his recent works for Pawlenty, affectionately known as "T-Paw" by supporters, compiles footage from the candidate's speaking engagements in the early primary stomping grounds of New Hampshire.
"T-Paw in New Hampshire" is indicative of Baiano's signature style, which employs quick movement from one shot to the next, close-ups that leap in and out of focus, and often places footage of the candidate on an angle.
Though he isn't on the campaign staff, he believes the Pawlenty team is supportive of his work and see value in it. "They allow me to explore my creative vision... The key thing is that they're supportive in the message and how to really work with this unique element of marketing and communications."
People ask him about the shaky camera and other effects prominent in his web films. "How I produce is all about authenticity," he said. "In a society of reality TV and YouTube... I feel that in order to connect, it has to be real," he said.
Yet, in Baiano's creations, reality is often translated into heavily-produced imagery set to passionate - even manipulative - soundscapes. "I feel that the music is the most critical component of any production," he said. "In order to communicate and pull the heartstrings of people...you have to [do] what cinema does. I call it the 'EQ' as opposed to the IQ - the Emotional Quotient."
A fan of Ron Howard and James Cameron, Baiano also is influenced by lesser-known directors including Paul Haggis, director of "Crash," and Sean Ellis, who directed "Cashback" and "The Broken." But commercials are also an inspiration. For instance, one of Baiano's favorite current TV spots is "Adidas Is All In," a fast-paced collection of athletes and their fans in action.
The next video? Baiano wouldn't hint at the subject matter, but he was willing to say he plans to stay in politics, despite the fact that "Everybody asks, 'When are you going to move to Hollywood?'"
More recent web features from Baiano:
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
March 19, 2014