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This female filmmaker’s free campaign ads are disrupting the November midterms

With her One Vote at a Time super PAC, Sarah Ullman offers ads—and momentum—to under-the-radar progressive candidates.

This female filmmaker’s free campaign ads are disrupting the November midterms
Through her PAC, Sarah Ullman raises the profiles of candidates who have pledged support for gun-safety laws. [Photo: Jenny Hueston]

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

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Create an entrance

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.

Make every dollar count

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, J.J. Abrams, and Joss Whedon (who contributed the original funding). 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.

Stick with states

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.

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About the author

Eillie Anzilotti is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Ideas section, covering sustainability, social good, and alternative economies. Previously, she wrote for CityLab.

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