by John Farrell
In 2016, the two major party candidates have historically low approval ratings, yet third party candidates are still fighting for media attention. Why is an election like 1992 with Ross Perot the rarity, and not the norm? We interview experts and follow candidates to learn why.
About The Project
The 2016 presidential election has been nothing if not historic. Outsider candidates Sanders and Trump spurned massive primary turnouts with promises of walls and revolutions. All the while glass ceilings were shattered as Hillary Clinton became the first female nominee of a major party.
Yet, statistics show a story of discontent. Never before have voters been more skeptical of the primary election system and dissatisfied with the two major party nominees. Anger and frustration resonate amongst the electorate. However, in that frustration, some have found opportunity.
In the docuseries, Third Candidates, we start with a simple question. When over 40% of American’s identify as Indepedents, why is it considered rare, not the norm, to see a third candidate at the debate podium? From there we open up the examination to include additonal hurdles for non-major party candidates. We speak with experts and follow third party and independent candidates as they navigate our election system.
We plan to produce this series in four 20-25 minute episodes. The first two look at obstacles faced by candidates not named Trump or Clinton:
The Commision on Presidential Debates is a private non-profit organization that has sponsored our presidential debates since 1988. The goal of the CPD is to educate voters through an evolving process designed to best serve that mission. However, this isn’t done without some controversy. The biggest issue raised by many critics is the criteria stating that candidates must be polling at 15% to be invited to the debates. Many experts attest that this threshold is impossible for third party and independent candidates to reach and designed this way on purpose. Defenders of this criteria insist the 15% threshold ensures only candidates with a realistic chance of winning participate in the debates and is therefore best way to educate voters. To shed light on this controversy, we’ll be speaking with CPD members, presidential candidates, and activist groups.
In order to be voted into the Oval Office, a candidate must first have their name on the ballots come election day. Signature requirements to gain ballot access are complex and vary from state to state. For most candidates this process is notorious for draining precious time, energy, and money. Major parties need not worry, as they are grandfathered onto ballots and also wield the ability to challenge the submissions of smaller campaigns, further discouraging competition. We are going to speak with signature drivers, ballot access chairs, and lawyers who have dealt with these challenges by major parties. Finally, even if a non major party candidate successfully makes it on enough ballots, they still have to battle the stigma of being a ‘throw away vote.’ Reforms are underway to fight this psychological fact, and by visiting areas looking to incorporate new voting systems, we will have a first hand look at the future of how we may be punching our ballot cards.
A behind the scenes look to see how a few candidates handle these challenges in 2016. We will follow Gary Johnson, the Libertarian party candidate who is currently positioned to possibly make the debates and shake up a system that hasn’t seem a third candidate in 24 years. We will also speak with independent candidate Lynn Khan as she maneuvers a maze of policy to get on state ballots without the support of a party. We are in talks with other campaigns, hoping to add more to this list.
Election day has come and gone. We will take this time to step back and see what we have learned over the past three months as well as look forward at current movements to improve the election system.
There are three primary reasons we’re doing this fundraise. First, to do this project real time like this, it’s a full time job. We’re researching, producing, writing, editing..everything. Second, to follow a campaign is both unpredictable and expensive. We just need to ensure we have a budget to cover that travel. Third, due to our unpredictable schedule, we can’t rely on borrowing equipment from friends, so we just had to buy it. Contributions help us recoup our expenses, have a budget to work with, and enable us to stay focused on the project through the election rather than taking side jobs to pay off those bills.
Fees are just part of the platform. S&S has to make money as well. Many contributors cover the additional 5% out of the kindness of their heart. We added a little buffer for bigger donors who may not, and we also have some set aside for potential festival submissions as per S&S’s reccomendation.
Equipment – Cameras, lenses, microphones, lights, tripods, memory cards, storage drives, editing software, the list goes on and on and damn it adds up fast. Unfortunately, since the scheduling of this production wan’t entirely predictable going in, we couldn’t borrow, so we bought.
Crew Costs – Falls into three main buckets. Support (campaign, social, web graphics), Post (motion graphics, audio, & music help), and Spot Help (extra camera, & assistant editing)
Travel – We needed to budget for flying and staying in hotels/airbnbs for portions of each month (esp September and October). Why? Because we can’t predict if campaign events are going to be in easy driving distance from DC. This ensures we can be there for key moments on the trail if need be.
Food & CoL – We may not be taking any money for ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to worry about food and a couple other bills to pay. We used a $25 per diem for Jake and John to come up with the bulk of this number. Parts of the schedule we know we’ll be at home for a good bulk of it, we just did estimated groceries.
We’re excited to be working with Purple.io to do some AMA style conversations on their new platform while we are in production. Get on their early invite list and be on the lookout for us periodically as the election season lumbers forward!
Shout out to Fairvote.org for helping us navigate production in Maine.
Also, major props to our help on the communication side of things. Leah and Anna are organizing, writing, scheduling, and otherwise making it possible for us to communicate with all of you and still be out in the field and behind our editing machines. They are the typically unrecognized work behind the work.
There’s a phrase called ‘parachute journalism’ which means someone with no prior experience in a subject begins covering it. Well. That’s fitting here. What that means is we are 1) building our contacts and networks as we go, and 2) learning the majority of the subject matter as we go. Fortunately, 1) for the most part, people are excited to be discussing what we are discussing because these are important things for a new generation of voters to understand, and 2) that’s why we think we’re an interesting duo to tell the story. You get to learn with us.
Time is our biggest enemy. Because we want to release these while the election is in progress, we don’t get the luxury of weeks of dedicated post-produciton and script refinement. This would be an aggresive goal for a seasoned political team, with us, it’s VERY aggressive. Fortunately, we think we’re up to the task, and if go beyond our initial goals we can afford to find a little bit of spot help around assitant editing (subclipping, organizing, etc) as that’s our biggest time sucks outside of researching and arranging interviews (which is tougher to delegate).
The story may change! This stuff is unpredicible and hard to schedule. It’s entirely possible that a campaign shoots up out of nowhere, or drops down from heights. Events may happen that change a story angle at the last second. Or we burn 600-1000 bucks flying to a location and all of a sudden the campaign has to go and respond to an emergency somewhere else and miss those days of shooting.
Basically, there’s a way to put most of this together with spit and dreams at 35K. At 40K we feel good that we can pay our support team and finish up a fourth episode. At 45K we can keep things at the quality level we want and get some help with extra motion, sound, and music work. 50K allows us to bring in some extra camera help from time to time. That way we can cover more than one candidate on key election days. We esitmate that for about 1,500 we can hire out some help to do littel shorts. We have SO MUCH more footage than what fits nicely into our features. This helps get some of it out there faster.