March 25, 2009

Obama's Videographer Highlights Campaign

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Last night, the Cornell Cinema did not screen a new film or an old classic, but rather a compilation of clips of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign accompanied by a personal presentation by the current White House videographer, Arun Chaudhary ’97. The Cornell alumnus, who was the director of field production for Barack Obama during his campaign, spoke of his experiences filming the then-presidential candidate, the thousands of clips he recorded and how his work evolved as Obama’s campaign spread across America.
During his lecture, Chaudhary emphasized the importance of “new media” and how the recordings that he and his team created helped introduce Obama to the public.
“We brought the events to the people instead of trying to bring the people to the events by spending time capturing what was happening on film. … None of the other campaigns used videos as much as we did,” Chaudhary said.
Through his work and the hundreds of videos he and his team posted on YouTube and the website, Chaudhary was able to reach a broader audience.
“If you really put your nose to the grindstone, you can really get a lot of stuff out there … maybe the right people will watch it, even potential voters. It really helps cast a wider net,” Chaudhary said.

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Chaudhary went on to explain what he called the “workflow” that was needed to bring Obama’s message and his image to the American people. He and his team often edited and posted the footage they collected just minutes after an event took place, even while rushing to catch a flight.
“We were really running and gunning and trying to post videos on YouTube before getting on the plane. You can upload up to about 30,000 ft,” Chaudhary said.
Chaudhary gave a detailed account of one incident where his team had to scramble to manage their “workflow” in order to create a response to a popular ad made by Hillary Clinton’s campaign team. A public clip from Getty Images of a young girl was used in Clinton’s ad. Chaudhary and his team were able to find the girl, who by the time of the campaign was much older, and record a new commercial with a very different message.
“The most extreme example of managing the workflow was our response to the 3 a.m. ad Hillary’s team made … The woman from the ad was in Seattle, so we flew out there, shot the thing, edited the thing and made the thing. We had to do it really fast because no one is going to care about an ad after 48 hours,” Chaudhary said.
The ad, which Chaudhary played for the audience, showed the same young girl from Clinton’s commercial, only older and expressing her support for Obama. The ad concluded with her saying, “I’m Casey Knowles and I approve this message, not the other one.”
Chaudhary was quick to explain that this ad was about as “snarky” as any of Obama’s campaign messages got.
“We never went beyond snarky. We knew it was something the candidate would be disappointed about, so why would we want to do it?” Chaudhary said.
The videographer also devoted much of his presentation to the evolution of his work and how filming became more advanced, calculated and precise as Obama’s campaign gained momentum.
“After we realized that he was going to be one of the presidential candidates, our ‘workflow’ evolved. … We started establishing locations [beforehand] and capturing reactions from people rather than just recording the moment,” Chaudhary said.
Towards the end of his presentation, Chaudhary voiced his opinion about the outcome of Obama’s campaign, giving credit where he felt was due.
“People say that we really helped Obama win the election, but none of it’s true. What helped us win was that we had an incredible and charismatic candidate. … We just caught the heat of the moment. We were the back-up singers,” Chaudhary said.
The audience, which included many Cornell students, responded positively to Chaudhary’s experiences and his work.
“The Obama campaign was really innovative and it was interesting to see all the effort put into it and the time invested in this new media,” Beth Halayko ’12 said.
Many members of the audience attended the lecture in order to see exactly how a political message is spread throughout the public.
“I really enjoyed the program. It gave us a new perspective and showed us how a message is filmed and then put out there,” Jessica Buckingham ’12 said.
When asked how the new videographer for the White House feels about Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential election, Chaudhary conveyed his content.
“It feels good. I can’t imagine having done it for anyone else,” Chaudhary responded.