Alexander Kalsey was working as the creative director at Georgetown Post in DC when in 2020 the Biden campaign came calling with a unique offer: become our director of creative production. As it turned out, that would be just one of the jobs he did on the presidential campaign.
After the cycle wrapped and Kalsey’s fully remote team disbanded, he launched New York-based Hella.TV, a post-production shop named for the slang term that originated in San Francisco.
C&E: Tell us about your role on the Biden campaign.
Alexander Kalsey: The idea was there needed to be some kind of central role to help make sure that the creative teams were all talking to one another, collaborating and getting what they needed.
It is not a role that had existed in the past. It was based around what I had seen from the post house vendor side of things — working producing ads on previous presidential campaigns and other big campaigns where there were often issues coordinating after the core campaign staff is all stretched.
You’ve got to figure out how to actually get all of the media assets where they need to go to all the different vendors. Otherwise, you’re in a situation where in October you’re trying to cut ads using media that’s a year old, even though there’s somebody following the candidate around every day with cameras and collecting brand new, amazing footage.
C&E: Speed is such a factor in producing political creative, which tends to limit the input of the post-production team, does that hurt the quality of the ads being produced?
Kalsey: It is always a challenge in politics just because things move so fast and it’s always a struggle to keep, you know, basic information from being siloed off from different departments.
An editor is the perfect example: you’re at the end of the process and there’s all kinds of knowledge and information that has been accumulated prior to the point where a script lands on an editor’s desk, but the editor never really has that context. Why is the script worded this way?Why are these the assets that I have to work with?
And so yeah, it is always a challenge. I think good editors in the political world, first of all, learn to read between the lines a little bit and know why things are the way they are. But then also, they learn to ask the right questions. And then a good producer in the political space knows to really provide whoever’s editing the spot with context beyond just the script.
C&E: Tell us about your jump from the brand space to campaigns.
Kalsey: I had been working in advertising and entertainment in LA for 10 years or so before I made the jump to politics. I felt I had to jump in because I was realizing, yeah, this stuff I’m working on, I don’t really care about the outcome of whether this pharmaceutical company sells more cold medicine this quarter. So that motivated me to make the switch to politics. But since doing politics all the time, it’s been very helpful to go back into the commercial world where ads are planned out six months in advance and you have weeks to create a thirty-second TV spot.
It actually has worked out very well. These New York agencies that I work with are amazed at how quickly we’re able to turn things around because we’re used to these crazy political deadlines. And then taking that experience and coming back into politics, having those opportunities to spend weeks on a single spot, or shot even, allows us to do this research and development into how to create these advanced looks so that when we need to then do it again in a political spot, we can have it ready in a few minutes.
C&E: How do you apply your creativity in post production?
Kalsey: With politics specifically, the creativity is all in problem solving, and that’s where a lot of first-time people new to the political world get into trouble. They’re looking at this blank canvas full of possibilities, and maybe they get some idea in their head of some amazing thing that they wanna do before they’ve actually looked at the assets that they have to work with, which might be, you know, a few images stolen from the candidate’s Facebook page and some not-so-great stock footage of seniors or whatever you might have.
So it’s all about taking an inventory of your assets and then problem solving from there to figure out what’s the best way that I can arrange what I do have to work with to do something that still manages to be new and unique and engaging.
C&E: Do you feel like the role that you occupied on the Biden campaign can be replicated down ballot?
Kalsey: I think so. Even on the Biden campaign that role was not my only role. That was effectively my night job. And then by day I was turning around endless TV and digital spots. So I think even on [a down-ballot] campaign somebody — whether it’s the in-house editor or somebody on the digital team — should be in a position where they are given some kind of authority to take ownership of the media, how you get it, where it needs to go.
C&E: What’s holding back political ad making at the moment?
Kalsey: That’s not really a thought that I’ve had lately. If anything, things keep getting better. The crews that are doing the shoots [are better], the cameras that they’re using, everything about it. Each cycle the quality improves. I think that we need to catch up to the fact that things have gotten better. The language of political advertising, in some ways, is rooted in that past, where all you had was like that thumbnail picture off of Facebook.
And so you needed to just pile on the grit and grunge and lens flares, and flashing lights to try to distract from how horrible your footage was. And now that’s just part of the language of political advertising. You know, some people are looking at an ad and they’re like, ‘Where are the light leaks? It’s not finished yet until you get light leaks in there.’ And now the footage is good. It measures up to any other ad running adjacent to it on TV. You don’t need all that stuff. We can simplify a little bit.
C&E: Is it just better cameras that are enabling this innovation?
Kalsey: I think the big change, which has come out of COVID, is everybody being remote and then also the technology catching up. With everybody being remote comes the ability to bring in talented people from all over the country. The days of an editor needing to pack up and go live in short-term housing in DC in order to do the work are gone now. To be able to do edit sessions for clients over Zoom is a huge change that then allows me to stay in New York and sleep in my own bed. And that’s amazing.
C&E: Where did your firm’s name come from?
Kalsey: I believe that in naming a company, you need first to find a domain name and then go from there. Otherwise you’re just gonna get yourself in trouble. But Hella started as just obtaining the hella.tv domain name.
The term is just something that, as a San Franciscan, is a word that I throw into conversation, constantly. It means really anything in great quantity. So we are a company that makes hella ads and we hope they’re hella good. And that’s just kind of the way a San Franciscan discusses things.