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Turning Down Political Ads: Noble or Stupid?


I won’t muddy the waters by going into my personal politics but, needless to say, there are things I support and things I oppose. People fall on various sides of the issues I feel strongly about. When it comes to my videography business, though, things might be getting tricky. Am I a-political? Do I have a duty as a media producer? When I heard from an agency looking to film political ads in my city I had to start thinking about all that.

I’m not the first photographer or videographer to go through this, I’m sure. The news has been full of people in other industries turning down income because it doesn’t jive with their beliefs, sometimes causing controversial and historic court cases. I used to work for a small ad agency, and we had political clients. It was my job to handle their accounts professionally and thoroughly – fine. But this feels different. I’m the boss now, so I found myself pumping the breaks after eagerly pressing “reply” on the email.

If I take on a project, I want to do it justice. I’m a firm believer that everyone has something to say, and part of why I love my job is I get to amplify voices and stories. Simply making a dime and phoning in the work isn’t an option for me. Could that mean I end up painting someone in the best light even if I don’t see them that way? What if it’s a voice I can’t justify shouting from the rooftops? If I turn down one party to “stay out of politics,” does that mean I’d turn down my side, too?

Certainly I’m not stifling political discourse or imposing my own brand of censorship. Campaigns have the cash to hire any number of people and I guarantee there’s a cinematographer across town who is currently writing his proposal, not pontificating on morals. I don’t have that much power, but I think I’d be more willing if I did. The bigger reason in the Pro column is, if I’m being honest, simply money.

It goes beyond this particular job. The request comes from someone I respect, an old boss who I worked closely with for years. We’ve been in the trenches together and I wouldn’t want to disappoint them or seem melodramatic.

Beyond that, they need this estimate along with others. I need to establish a good relationship with their agency to help secure future work. Is it possible to have a net positive influence, like some sort of cinematic karma? Do I shoot this one, then in the future produce a video that reflects my ballot? Maybe I never do another political ad in my career, but I get my foot in the door for lucrative opportunities? If I turn it down, will I get turned down later? Is that even the important thing here?

Everyone needs to do their part, or things will never change. We also need to be willing to work together, or things will change for the worse. I need my business to grow. I need to pay my mortgage and plan for my future. My principles are important to me, but this shoot is going to happen whether I send the invoice or not. Every new thought seems like an excuse one way or the other because there’s always another side.

I may turn down this political ad, and that might be stupid. I wrote an email, attached an estimate and asked to see the script. One thing is for sure: I won’t participate in creating an overly negative or personal attack ad. Maybe I need them to cross a line before I say no. Maybe I need to look at my checking account one more time. Either way, the email is sitting in my drafts and I can’t bring myself to hit send… yet.

About the author: Mark Roberts is a freelance videographer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Image credits: Header illustration based on image by DonkeyHotey licensed under CC BY 2.0 and small camera icon by Shea Walsh licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0