Welcome Arun Chaudhary (White House) and Host Christina Bellantoni (PBS News Hour)

First Cameraman: Documenting the Obama Presidency in Real Time

Arun Chaudhary was the man behind the camera when Barack Obama officially made Joe Biden his vice presidential running mate, capturing something that ultimately would be shared with thousands of supporters and the online world.

That was just one moment of Chaudhary’s experience documenting on film the historic Obama campaign as a member of the new media team, and later, as the first-ever White House videographer. He outlines those experiences in First Cameraman, Documenting the Obama Presidency in Real Time, an inside look at what happens behind the scenes in the White House. When bills were signed, when the president was holding pivotal Oval Office meetings, Chaudhary was there.

He shares stories about big policy decisions, how the White House chose to do its messaging via YouTube and his own views of an increasingly polarized Washington.

In the book he outlines his thoughts on about filmmaking, how to reveal true personalities from behind the lens, and the natural tension between the traditional press and the politicians who realize they no longer need reporters to get their message out.

But First Cameraman goes way beyond videography, exploring the changing nature of political storytelling.

Chaudhary, who lives in Washington, D.C., earned a Masters in Fine Arts in filmmaking from New York University, and later was a member of the faculty there.

Join us for a chat at 5 p.m.

I spoke with Arun at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Watch that here.

 

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

171 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Arun Chaudhary, First Cameraman: Documenting the Obama Presidency in Real Time”

BevW September 30th, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Arun, Christina, Welcome to the Lake.

Christina, thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

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Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Hi everyone! Thanks for joining us today. Looking forward to chatting with Arun. We’ll be back in just a minute with my first question.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Thanks for taking time on a Sunday, CB!

dakine01 September 30th, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Good afternoon Arun and Christina and welcome to FDL this afternoon

Arun, I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you address this in there but at any time, did you talk or have you since talked with David Hume Kennerly about your experiences? It seems the two of you at least share the experience of having apparently unfettered access to the President of the day and would be able to discuss the problems and general experiences. Would be an interesting panel discussion at least

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Okay, here we go! Arun, really excited to get to chat with you.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:02 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

I was actually supposed to have lunch with Mr. Kennerly yesterday in new york with a group of other folks about a project but we haven’t spoken in conjunction with this project. The little interaction we had was at inauguration which is a HIGH concentration of former WH photographers. I would love to talk more with him.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:03 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 6

ACtually he may have been in an elevator with POTUS, Pete Souza and myself. (think it was him) and said to POTUS, how do you like your photographer meaning Pete, but POTUS was so used to me that he looked over at me and was like “Arun, he’s always been here!”

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:04 pm

By way of background, I first met Arun on the campaign trail when I was a reporter for The Washington Times. I look back at my videos from those days and it’s super embarrassing. But he was out there, documenting it all.

So let’s start with the nitty gritty. You joined the Obama campaign in 2007 and followed him basically everywhere back when, as he likes to say, he was still just a guy with a funny name. What were those early days like?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:04 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 7

The other comparison I would love to talk to him about is Ford’s relationship to his staff. From what I understand it was wonderful and suuportive, which would be a strong comparison with Barack Obama. I hear different things about LBJ!

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:06 pm

I started early in the campaign but Obama already had secret service so in a way it was very similar. But you could really feel the progression of people getting to know him. It went from curious to excited.

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Do you have a tally — how many states have you been to and how many countries?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Were you in Iowa on Jan 3rd 2008? That was the moment when curiosity sort of turned to excitement. The potential into the real. This video is from that night and I think captures it well. Shoot let me find the link

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:08 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 10

WIth POTUS: 47 states, and 37 countries!
but who is counting!

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Mr. Chaudhary, I have myself been in the position of taking photos for publication, and my husband was (!) a wedding photographer for some years in CA. He says, the biggest prob was getting the good shots before Uncle Arnie/Vinnie/Ernie got too drunk, and the second was getting the proofs OK’s and *paid for* before the divorce (he was in CA at the time).

So, what are thie biggest problems, getting *acceptable (to the client)* shots, and do you have a payment problem, like us plebes?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:09 pm

This is the video:
Caucus Eve in Akeny, Iowa
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJ_mfXHyEKM
President Barack Obama’s favorite video, highlighting the exciting night of the Iowa caucuses.

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:09 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 12

Yeah I was. We were all staying in that terrible Holiday Inn along the highway. The Clinton campaign was in that awesome Marriott with the pool under a glass roof. :) We’d done that last leg in a bus from Southeast Iowa back into Des Moines, and you could tell the campaign volunteers were feeling confident, but a little terrified too.

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 2:10 pm

I first met Arun on the campaign trail when I was a reporter for The Washington Times

So interestig! When did you stop being a reporter for the WT?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:10 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 13

-

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:11 pm
In response to HotFlash @ 14

ha ha, I make the wedding videographer comparison a lot!
You know, I was always salaried so didn’t have that hustle but this particular client made one thing hard for me along these lines.
He did have a tendency to chew gum which is unflattering on camera and does mar a certain percentage of the archives. Especially on the phone

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:12 pm

A homeless man told me Obama was going to win at 7am on Jan 3rd, and I did feel some confidence based on that.
It’s an unpolled demographic.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:14 pm
In response to HotFlash @ 14

POTUS very rarely asked to see things that I had shot. An exception is that video that I posted just now, and his inauguration invitation photo. I was the official photographer in transition and snapped like 5 shots and was like “we got it” . He was slightly incredulous ‘Really let me see? Oh yeah that’s good.”

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Wow, Arun, that video is so interesting on many levels. 1 — 16,000+ people watched it. 2 — There’s Tommy Vietor, then Iowa press secretary I believe, but now handles national security press. 3 — it has a banner ad on my computer, asking for folks to join his 2012 campaign.

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:15 pm
In response to HotFlash @ 17

I was promoted to cover the White House when Obama won in 2008, stayed until September 2009. Then I was at Talking Points Memo covering the White House for about a year. Talk about polar opposites!

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 2:16 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 18

You know, I was always salaried so didn’t have that hustle

Interesting, salary paid by whom? WRT gum, doh, that is just *so * hard to photo! And I feel your pain — my job inclued shooting (opera) singers — a photo of an opera singer singing is about as charming as a pic of an open trash bin!

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:16 pm

OFA 2012 has correctly targeted all the old videos to bring you up to date.
16,000 is crazy, right? It was a real lesson for me. I rushed to post it (with Jessica Slider) and we got it up before the victory speech by (20 minutes) so millions watched that speech and no one watched this.
In retrospect I would have released it the morning of the New Hampshire primary to rekindle the excitement.

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:16 pm

So, Arun, how did your job evolve once he became president? And tell us a little bit how it works. You’re an employee in the “photography” unit, right, which is actually under Department of Defense budget?

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Indeed, fo sho, as they/we say!

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to HotFlash @ 24

first by the campaign as a part of their New Media Team and then at the WH as a part of the White House Photo Office.

I want to see the buzzfeed slide show of :Opera Singers Singing” now!

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 2:20 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 28

Umm, no. No, you don’t. It would be truly awful. You gotta catch them just *before* they open their mouths. Same with politicians?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Yes that’s right. It changed a lot from me being part of the communications effort of a campaign to actually trying to be an historian. Obviously the WH has a point of view but traditionally it does try to record that for history and the military were the folks who had the resources to do so. LBJ brought in the first official WH photographer who was a civillian (Kennedys wasn’t on the payroll I don’t think) and eventually the whole office was civillianized as technology had progressed and it was more efficient and a ton cheaper to bring in professionals from the outside world. I still worked hand in hand with the military video team in all my endeavors and am hugely indebted to them.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to HotFlash @ 29

I would advise you to google image “Michele Bachmann” and “corndog”, it can be brutal. POTUS is hard to get his eyes all the time, he is a blinker … everyone, as you know, is a something …

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 2:22 pm

So, Arun, what is your greatest “got it!” moment, and your greatest “missed it” moment? And, is there someplace we could link for pics?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Christina,
I remember on the trail your paper pushing you to start editing and shooting on your own. What were your impressions of that situation and did you wonder what we were doing/how we were doing it?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:24 pm
In response to HotFlash @ 32

There are some pics at FirstCameraman.com.
Greatest got it was walking into the Blue Room to discover POTUS punching a stuffed Easter bunny.
Greatest miss was following the Health Care bill (physically) around Washington and missing a meeting with PM Netanyahu. The American people employed me to keep an eye on the big picture not to get bogged down in the silly stuff. I regretted it.

tuezday September 30th, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Where is the link for the unofficial WH photos?

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 2:25 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 31

Oh, jez, blinking. Thank heaven for motor droves! I still miss stuff waiting for the flash to recover. No longer professional, need *way* more $$$ for that these days. But I still walk over to the weenie with the Hassleblad and sheild his lens with my hat while he is shooting into the sun.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:25 pm
In response to tuezday @ 35

unofficial I’m not sure, but the WH puts TONS of photos on their flickr site. flickr.com/whitehouse

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:26 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 33

I didn’t mind doing it because I always had the philosophy that as a journalist we have so much access to things most of the world never gets a chance to see up close, and so I felt like by taking video (most of it raw) I could bring my readers along with me. But of course it was always a balance — do you spend the time getting the shot, or doing the reporting you can’t do from behind a camera.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:26 pm
In response to tuezday @ 35

and incidentally 5 years after Obama leaves office (2021!) ALL photos will be made public

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:27 pm

So what was your typical day like at the White House? How often were you setting your own schedule versus getting an “assignment”?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:27 pm

some smaller papers and blogs would use clips from our cameras, would you have done that or considered it to be a violation of protocol?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:29 pm

almost always setting my own schedule. Very few suggestions. THe opposite. Quite often when a west wing week would come out, someone would complain retroactively that I didn’t put something in. “Thought I saw you there, can’t imagine why the Food Security conference didn’t make it in when the girl scouts did” even got some frowny face emotocons!

BevW September 30th, 2012 at 2:29 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 34

Website – FirstCameraman.com

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:30 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 41

Oh yeah I definitely used your videos all the time. I was always fascinated by how many went out in targeted emails versus what was sent to the press, so I was constantly refreshing the Obama YouTube page. Most of the traditional press I don’t think caught on to that trend for a long time. I also was interested in how many get-out-the-vote vids celebrities were recording in local battleground state offices. Justin Timberlake in Vegas comes to mind …

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I would start around 8:30 and look at the schedule and decide what I would cover. And monday through wednesday I would finish shooting aroun 6:30 when POTUS went to dinner and then edit till about 9. On Thursday (deadline for WWW) I would edit till about 2 or 3 am.
On the road? All bets were off, just a steady diet of shooting and editing!

BevW September 30th, 2012 at 2:31 pm
In response to tuezday @ 35

White House – Photo and Video Gallery

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 2:31 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 31

Did that. Image #1 (duckduckgo) is this.

The poster, who says s/he is a liberal, complained about this image. Anyone can read/see and decide for themselves. BTW, this post does not credit photo (a common problem, and one I deplore!) so, is that your shot?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:32 pm

The metrics told us that videos were better as rewards to folks who were working for us than as calls to action or fundraising tools. We would often send them to groups as a reward for having done something.

BevW September 30th, 2012 at 2:32 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 37

White House – Flicker Site

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 2:32 pm
In response to HotFlash @ 36

Thank heaven for motor droves!

Twonk, I so cannot type! That should be DRIVES, DRIVES, not droves.

hpschd September 30th, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Hi,

I’m Mr. Hotflash, and I did many years of photography, mostly fine arts actually. Back in those days, I spent a lot of time working in the dark ;)

The most important work was publicty photos for theatre productions. I had a pretty free hand working with the director and the cast – setting up scenes (with minimal custumes and sets). Hopefully the photos would be published in the papers before openning night to get people to buy tickets.

I imagine that campaign photos serve much the same purpose.

How much input would you have at a photo call or publicity set up?

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:33 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 48

That’s super interesting. My buddy Sasha Issenberg has a really smart book out by the way looking at these kinds of tactics — The Victory Lab. FDL should host him too!

http://www.thevictorylab.com/

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 2:33 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 39

Why not now, in the ‘most transparent’ presidency?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:34 pm
In response to HotFlash @ 47

Not at all. In fact after leaving the WH right away someone asked me to make a video with this image and I said I would rather not.

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 2:34 pm
In response to BevW @ 43

Thanks for the link, Bev!

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:35 pm
In response to hpschd @ 51

almost none. If folks asked I had opinions, but I thought the more I captured the authentic life of this campaign the better it would read on film. And I think that was the right strategy still.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:36 pm
In response to hpschd @ 51

And the fact that Axe and Plouffe had such strong backgrounds in production meant the campaign was already making the right calls along those lines. (with a notable exception or two) Anyone want to name them? I’m thinking of two very specifically!

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:36 pm

So Arun, you mentioned following around the health care bill. Health care is probably what will go down as the most intense domestic policy battle in Washington in modern times, what was your role as that long fight played out and before it was finally signed?

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Justin Timberlake in Vegas comes to mind …

Wwho? Where? ;)

BevW September 30th, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Thanks – I’ll look into it. -bev

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:37 pm

by the way this book is sitting on my desk waiting to be read. Sasha is super sharp.

hpschd September 30th, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Arun, have you worked much with film? Do you ever shoot in black and white? Is there a place in your work for traditional cameras and materials?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Like all things, I was nibbling at the margins. So I wasn’t in the hard core negotiations say at the Blair House but I was around there getting people coming in and out, filming the body language, that’s where the action is, at the margins of the meetings, the ante chambers. It was a little literal of me to actually decide to follow the bill around DC, what was interesting was seeing it play out at the meetings and also filming discussions and even arguments that POTUS was having about this bill with ordinary folks on the road. THere was a lot of weird information around and occasionally someone would come up to POTUS at on OTR and say “hey my sister has a pre-existing condition” why are you going after her with this bill?” and he would have to explain that it was the opposite, talk about retail politics!

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 57

well fortunately we know you had nothing to do with that Air Force One flyover in NYC. What a crazy day that was!

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:41 pm
In response to hpschd @ 62

I’m a little older than folks thing, I’m 36 was part of the last generation of folks to learn my craft on film. Before joining OFA I had never shot video before I was a film guy, both 16 and 35. And in 2008, we shot some REALLY nice super 8 footage at rallies and in Hawaii of POTUS’ childhood places.
Great stuff I hope it all gets released sometime, it was used pretty sparingly.

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 2:41 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 57

I guess that ‘Axe’ is David Axelrod, Plouffe is pretty clear. So, who should I guess? Mr Emmanuel? Mr. O Hissownself?

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:42 pm

People always ask me about the dog. This was my video moment in the sun: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YAVP7JseLQ&feature=share&list=UUl20BPto169Y960fMXCE–Q) I’ve got to ask, did you ever get POTUS on camera smoking?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to hpschd @ 62

so yes! Bring on the film. And another thing, film lasts longer, right now the archives are trying to suss out how to store my material so it doesn’t get messed up in a sunspot or whatever.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:43 pm
In response to HotFlash @ 67

I was thinking the events!
The greek columns at the DNC, this was not so good!

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:44 pm

That’s a negative, but I can confirm the timing of when he quit is accurate as reported by The President and First Lady.

hpschd September 30th, 2012 at 2:44 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 56

I appreciate that attitude.

A photographer that is there to document should not try to influence things. But that makes the challenge all the greater. To show the moment in its emotion and true depth to those who are not there is a great art.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:45 pm

The unveiling of the dog was totally nuts, wasn’t it? So many reporters on the South Lawn!

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:46 pm
In response to hpschd @ 72

People like it a little rough around the edges also. Any kid with a laptop can pump out slick material, I think people want it more “hand-painted” and luckily that’s how I naturally like to work.

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:46 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 73

I’m pretty sure that’s how I gained at least half of my Twitter followers. (By the way … @cbellantoni @arunchaud … follow us!)

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:47 pm
In response to hpschd @ 72

I think it robs negative ads of the “art” that they used to be. There are some really amazing artistic ads from the past, even the horrible negative ones. Let me find one. Hang on

hpschd September 30th, 2012 at 2:48 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 69

Preserving images has always been a challenge. I have B&W prints from many decades age. But, I have lost thousands of images to crashed hard drives and unreadable media.

How will your images be archived?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Check this out. Modern Art. Discuss.
http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1968/the-first-civil-right
It’s like Marxist agit-prop.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:49 pm
In response to hpschd @ 77

They are sitting on harddrives and serves now and it scares the hell out of me. Let’s put it on 16mm!

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:50 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 78

inauthentic but *incredibly* creative. That’s how you end up with a President Nixon.

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:51 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 78

Wow, holy crap. (I can say that on the Internet, right?) That’s some serious political advertising right there. Can you even imagine something like that now? “Vote like your world depends on it.” People would FREAK OUT.

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 2:52 pm

To the question of archiving, have you been to many presidential libraries? What’s your vision for how your work, for how these historical moments would be displayed?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:53 pm

1984 was the last time serious serious creative folks from Madison ave made political ads, the rise of consultants damped down that stuff. But LBJ and NIXON are totally the golden age of that style of political advertising. I think there is nothing in between. It has to be amazing creative like that or absolutely authentic like our Obama youtube mission. But man when they are good.
What about The Bear, let’s watch the Bear, hang on,

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:54 pm

You know, when I was working on projects I would often reach out to other Presidential libraries to get footage and it was amazing to see but a bit frustrating you had to know what you were looking for you couldn’t search. My vision for the Obama Library is a fully searchable video archive.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Of course video search is very hard which is why even YouTube is poor at it. Pare Lorentz who was FDR’s filmmaker came closest to making something searchable and if you get up to Hyde Park it is worth a look. He was amazing and one of my few role models for the job.

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 2:56 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 71

Just watched the videos about the dog (full disclosure, I am a cat person), and well, meh. Is this yours? Is it really about policy, or image, or what?

RevBev September 30th, 2012 at 2:57 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 85

Was he there for most of those years? Im guessing he had alot to report.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:58 pm
In response to HotFlash @ 87

You are about to be so proud of me! I never made a dog video. I said it was silly and didn’t want to do it. Barney Cam was fresh in our memory! Jason Djang who was also doing some video at the WH agreed and that was our pact. Until we both left and the dog movies started to come out. It’s feeding the beast, Americans LOVE that first dog and at some point you gotta give it to them, no reason to hold back except that people will think it’s cynical. Both FDR and Nixon used their dogs as political props in such a huge way that I forgive the WH an occasional dog video.

hpschd September 30th, 2012 at 2:58 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 80

Amazing

I really hated Nixon. It could have been me in those images, the times felt so desperate.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 2:59 pm
In response to RevBev @ 88

He made several award winning docs about New Deal projects but didn’t film the president much. He was around through the early 40s and then I think joined the military. But after he was the one who said let’s put all the photos and newsreels and schedules in one place so that people can compare day by day what POTUS was doing what was in the news otherwise and who was around. So cool.

RevBev September 30th, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 91

What a great story. Thank you.

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 89

I’m with Arun — sort of. I’m not kidding, it’s always the first question people ask me when they find out I covered and worked in the White House. Doggie videos are the fuel for the Internet, by the way …

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 3:02 pm

And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend some quality time with Buzz Feed’s kitten cam on Friday. http://www.buzzfeed.com/expresident/exclusive-drop-everything-and-watch-this-live-kit

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:02 pm

The River, by Pare Lorentz

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ium31et6rd8

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 3:03 pm

‘Scuse me, they are telling us this all the time always believed. To the contrary, I will submit this.

Images are very powerful, and moving images seem even more ‘real’ to our little anthropo-brains. I find that I still deny the idea of black cowboys (although many are documented in old photos) because there aren’t any in the movies and TV shows I grew up with. Can you say a word or two about the persuasiveness of a visual image, aka ‘seeing is believing’?

Oh, and this ques is for Arun, too!

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Okay, now that we’re in our second hour I’m turning the conversation to the current campaign. Arun, dying to know what your take is on the 47 percent video.

RevBev September 30th, 2012 at 3:05 pm

And, the empty chair. Nice transition.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to HotFlash @ 96

I think you can bring a lot to a photo, but video seems more real because it IS more real. I don’t know any politician that can do anything but fail to reveal their nature of screen. Watch this the whole way through. This is a good example. Barack Obama is the kind of person who cannot walk by a young girl wearing on Obama t-shirt without saying “nice shirt” is sort of like a Dad that way.

Barack Obama Walkout video
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VV7In6_Zwuw&feature=plcp
This walkout video of Obama in Austin inspired them all.

hpschd September 30th, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Arun,

Do you carry a lot of gear on a shoot, extra digital media cards, batteries, flash gear or lights?

How many cameras hanging around your neck?

I once fell off a stage into the orchestra pit with three cameras around my neck and landed on a cellist (no harm done to the cello) The camera straps nearly choked me though, until we got untangled.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:07 pm

perfect timing per our last question. I think it is hurting Romney because it is inarguably authentic. We all KNOW this is what he is like and so it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Given enough time it doesn’t take much. He likes to fire people, 10,000 bucks. We all know where it’s coming from. It’s why Biden is allowed as many as he wants, they point to an authentically *good* thing about him

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:09 pm
In response to hpschd @ 100

OUCH!
On the campaign I had still cameras and video cameras sometimes ut in general I had a prosumer video camera, As many batteries as would fit in my pockets a shot gun mic strapped on top, Fully loaded MacBookPro (with FCP) and a very decent tripod (80pnds of gear!)

tuezday September 30th, 2012 at 3:09 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 89

I like the dog video, it makes the first family look normal. The one thing I will give the Obama’s is they seem more approachable than previous First Families. Michelle and the girls, at least for day to day photo ops, wear clothes that most of us would wear. Previously they all seemed so stuffy.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:10 pm

tripod was mostly used for Direct to Camera tapings, or speeches.

hpschd September 30th, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 99

Wonderful

hpschd September 30th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I see that the digital age has not lightened your load!

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:12 pm
In response to hpschd @ 106

It’s lighter than a Satellite truck

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 3:13 pm

What was so interesting about the Romney video, and so much of how this world has evolved over the last 7-8 years, is that it’s terrible quality. I mean the audio is good, which matters, and it’s a steady shot, but not anything you’d be able to broadcast. Except it’s so powerful, it made every broadcast. I am asked all the time why politicians don’t just always ASSUME they are being recorded. Your thoughts?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:14 pm

There is NOTHING private and NOTHING local, the idea that you could speak like than and not be recorded was a throwback to the 50′s where a lot of Ryan/Romney ideas seem to spring!

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 3:15 pm

spoken like a true partisan!

So, what do you make of how the Romney campaign uses a lot of the tactics you started in 2008? Tons of behind the scenes stuff, moments they don’t show the press …

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 3:15 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 99

Very persuasive! Not only is Pres O photogenic, but he has a really nice voice. But, OTOH, we have things like this. Do these sorts of images compete with what you do, or are they irrelevant, or ???

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:16 pm

I think the Rick Perry “Strong Ad” was a throwback to when you could feed the beast of local conseratism and not get the backlash that he did.

Rick Perry Strong
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PAJNntoRgA
Rick Perry’s hated campaign video for the 2012 Republican Iowa caucus crossed the line several times.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:18 pm

THe only time I’ve seen it done effectively was in the Romney Bio pic at the RNC. That was *very* good, the best piece of media from either campaign the whole season. Not many folks watched it, but when one of the sons describes Mitt Romney fixing the kitchen stove incorrectly and all these endearing things it works. But who was missing from it? Mitt Romney wasn’t in that scene. Like LBJ and Nixon he often wants to appear in voice and not in person. He did a lot more 2008 stuff in 2008. They had something called Mitt TV but I’m not sure why it isn’t as populated this time.

tuezday September 30th, 2012 at 3:19 pm
In response to hpschd @ 106

My husband did industrial photography for 25 years, trust me, digital weighs less. Have you ever tried to get 10 cases of equipment into Mexico?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:20 pm
In response to tuezday @ 114

I got a Panavision camera into Kiev once so I know what you are talking about! At the WH I could just roll off the plane with all my things. POTUS used to say the best part of being president was not taking off your shoes at the airport … I agree!

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I also think it was so much more effective on it’s own as “news” than in the ads, the PACS and OFA made from it.

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Totally agree with you here. The lightbulb thing was most compelling moment of the RNC. Here’s that vid, if folks are wondering: http://youtu.be/ruSi4K5KCq8

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Trivia Time! Who is the first President (chronologically) who has an entry in IMDB?

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 3:24 pm

So, Arun, besides writing the book and doing cool chats like this one, what are you up to now?

hpschd September 30th, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I’m thinking of the reality of video vs. stills.

I’ve seen a film of the flag raising on Imo Jima on Mt Suribachi.

It is nothing compared the to the image.

I was watching the newsfeed as Lee Harvey Oswald was shot, but the still image is what persists in my memory.

Life goes by very quickly. A great image stops time – we can reflect and consider.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Did PBS run it or was it only CSPAN? I watched it admiringly and then laughed when I learned that the nets were waiting for Clint.

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Hadn’t seen that one before, oh yuck. But I have many, many relatives, all who say they vote, with whom that message resonates. I know, b/c they told me so in countless emails, Facebooks, phone calls and conversations over the Thanksgiving turkey. Which is one reason why I don’t do holidays with my rellies anymore. So, is there a messaging problem? Or what?

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I work at a company called Revolution Messaging, we are a political communications start-up that does strategy, both on and off line for progressive groups and campaigns. I make movies for them, getting involved with more traditional aspects of political filmmaking (30 seconds ads etc)

tuezday September 30th, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Ha. I actually met my husband when I was working for FedEx and he was shipping his equipment ahead of a shot.

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Yes, PBS carried more of the convention than anyone! :)

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:27 pm
In response to HotFlash @ 122

The ad was panned as a failure as people piled on Perry for being a bigot. In 1996 this ad would have run locally and never been seen by an “angry liberal establishment” no backlash. Or so I think.

dakine01 September 30th, 2012 at 3:27 pm

My WAG is Hoover

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:28 pm

That’s why I love you guys. I want to see EVERYTHING.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:28 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 127

OLDER!

BevW September 30th, 2012 at 3:29 pm
hpschd September 30th, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Absolutely true.

The end of privacy has terrible consequences for all. Perhaps especialy the elite.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:29 pm

I think that American’s really do like business people, and it makes Romney inability to connect more pronounced. This Ross Perot ad from my youth shows an authentic business like performance.

Ross Perot Ad (1992)
http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1992/best-person-independent
I love this ad.

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 3:30 pm

So as a fiction film guy at the beginning of your career, what’s your dream project along those lines?

dakine01 September 30th, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Then will say TR

BevW September 30th, 2012 at 3:30 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 134

Wilson – tv? Meant Truman – first tv appearance

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:31 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 127

It’s actually Grover Cleveland if you can believe it.

Grover Cleveland’s IMDB page
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0166479/

hpschd September 30th, 2012 at 3:32 pm

You do thousands of images and frames.

There has to be a review process. Do you participate actively in that process?

RevBev September 30th, 2012 at 3:32 pm

No comments about the chair? Visuals? Effectiveness? I think the commentary has been fascinating.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Before joining the campaign I was actually working on a story about a Senator who was running for Pres as a “frontporch” candidate in the future. It’s nothing like Obama or anything like that but all the details I know about the process have informed what I hope will be a pretty cool script someday. TOTALLY fiction.

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 3:32 pm
In response to Arun Chaudhary @ 89

Arun, thank you for not doing the dog! Warning, go here at your peril!

Told ya.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:33 pm
In response to RevBev @ 138

One person in Press Shop and one in Comms shop. That was the entire review process. It was very light. I just made a movie for the State Department and it was *not* the same situation. So I think I was very lucky in having so much trust from the WH.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:34 pm
In response to RevBev @ 138

Oh whoops that was wrong question.
The chair disturbed me. I woke up my wife because the whole performance made me uncomfortable but I did enjoy all the chair memes. I agree with Romney Advisors who said it was silly to look at Clint through a political lens. Totally agree. Of course you invited him so ….

dakine01 September 30th, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Must be some seriously grainy film involved there

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 143

He signed a bill in a fiction short (playing himself!) So move over Reagan.

RevBev September 30th, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I guess “silly” is the strongest word they could use. The confusion and paradox just kept it alive.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:38 pm

My other favorite movie from this cycle:
Jon Huntsman’s Riding Video
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qH4ibOfS9lw
Jon Huntsman, our devishly handsome stuntman, rides off into the sunset.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to RevBev @ 145

I’m glad the whole thing hasn’t hurt Mr. Eastwood. That would have been an unfair casualty of an election year.

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Interesting. Seems that the pre

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 3:40 pm

My take on the chair … I watched most of the convention from the PBS control room (a truck in the parking lot outside the convention center in Tampa) and so often I wasn’t actually looking at the screen as people were speaking. So when I heard him start the rant my first question (I”m sure many in America had the same response) was “Who the hell is he talking to?”

And then of course I listened to what he was saying and then I figured it out. But it was just so confusing. And an overlooked element I always tell people — Clint is pretty old news. We had staffers on my team who didn’t know Dirty Harry. Even if he was great, that just wasn’t going to move voters. And, as we know, he wasn’t great.

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Arun, were you still there for OBL killing? And what do you think of the Zero Dark Thirty film?

http://youtu.be/EYFhFYoDAo4

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Exactly. Celebrities NEVER move voters. Politicians need to learn to stop looking for magic outside of themselves. Whatever your story is, it has to come from within. Will.I.Am did not win the election for POTUS in 2008, Clint was not going to in 2012. Warren Beatty didn’t help McGovern much etc etc etc

RevBev September 30th, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Nice and I think you’re right, though at first I wasn’t sure. Then he made some comments himself that were pretty amusing. Strange episode.

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Interesting. Seems that the prez was named Stephen G. Harding but called Grover. OK. My mom told me that it was not proper to make fun of people’s names, as they could not help it. Biting tongue.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

I was surprised when they sent me to Pakistan to kill OBL personally … J kidding! I was at the WH that night, and I did my thing. Nibbling at the edges. Shooting those little things people would miss later. National Security staff in their jogging suits. the VP calling congressional leaders. It was all pretty interesting. I knew about 2 hours before the rest of the world not too much before.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

And we did release footage of that night, that night, for broadcasters to use.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:45 pm

It’s the kind of stuff you shoot with video. A video tape of the gang watching the mission on the screen would not have felt as intense as pete’s picture.

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 3:48 pm

I think will.i.am DID win Obama some votes, but that only worked because it authentically came from him.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:49 pm

right , a spontaneous fan offering rather than a roll out.
That’s very true, absolutely a good point.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:50 pm

What about this then, along those lines?
The spontaneous outpouring for Santorum in OK.

“Game On:” Santorum song
http://youtu.be/U7pv7sO5Gng
The social conservative answer to Will.I.Am.

BevW September 30th, 2012 at 3:54 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

Arun, Thank you for stopping by the Lake, and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and your experiences as the first White House videographer.

Christina, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Arun’s website and book (First Cameraman), (Revolution Messaging)

Christina’s website (Christina Bellatoni)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:54 pm

I see this one may have snapped everyone’s mind!

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Thanks so much to everyone! Especially Christina and Bev.

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 3:55 pm

In all, it seems that images will determine our understanding of the world. Which images, I wonder? Here are three from the last few days:


The River

Four Days (Omar Kadhir)

Wake the fuck up!

I would appreciate your thoughts, Arun, Christina, and anyone, as visual artists, communicators and the rest of us (communicatees?).

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Thanks so much — this was great. I learned a lot, hope everyone else did, too.

And go buy the book, people!

Christina Bellantoni September 30th, 2012 at 3:57 pm

LOL indeed

RevBev September 30th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Thanks for being here…good discussion.

Arun Chaudhary September 30th, 2012 at 3:59 pm
In response to HotFlash @ 163

Of this group I think probably Four Days, but I think none of them are “iconic” it’s funny how you never know exactly what will be but when something authentically hits the zeitgeist at the right angle it takes on a life of it’s own. No accident that the recession game of choice is angry birds, right?

tuezday September 30th, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Thanks for being here Arun and Christina. Great Salon, as usual Bev.

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Well, you know, maybe they do. I submit Ronald Reagan and Jesse Ventura.

HotFlash September 30th, 2012 at 4:08 pm

OMFG! My mind, it is totally snapped. I can only suppose that those females are paid. Although, I have to admit, there is a 200lb+ lady who swims at our local pool who thinks that Rick Santorum is brilliant (her word). Jeez, what? Justin Bieber too old for her?

bigchin September 30th, 2012 at 8:09 pm

It’s encouraging to see that so many FDL regulars chose to skip this book salon. I was dismayed to see 170 comments but a quick glance at the participants reveals 4 or 5 responders…

and absolutely nothing of importance from any of them.

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post