Alexander Kalsey was working as a creative director at the Georgetown Post in DC when in 2020 the Biden campaign came up with a unique offer: become our director of creative production. Ultimately, that would be just one of the jobs he did during the presidential campaign.
After the cycle ended and Kalsey’s entirely remote crew disbanded, he launched New York-based Hella.TV, a post-production boutique named after the slang term that originated in San Francisco.
C&E: Tell us about your role in the Biden campaign.
alexander Kalsey: The idea was that there needed to be some sort of central role to make sure the creative teams were all talking to each other, collaborating, and getting what they needed.
This is not a role that existed in the past. It was based on what I had seen on the post provider side – working on the production of ads on previous presidential campaigns and other major campaigns where there were often coordination issues after campaign staff from base is exhausted.
You need to understand how to actually get all the media assets where they need to go across all the different vendors. Otherwise you’re in a situation where in October you’re trying to cut ads using year-old media, even though there’s someone tracking the candidate every day with cameras and collecting amazing new images.
C&E: Speed is such a factor in the production of political creatives, which tends to limit the contribution of the post-production team, does this affect the quality of the advertisements produced?
Kalsey: It’s always a challenge in politics just because things move so fast and it’s always difficult to prevent, you know, basic information from being isolated 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 before the time a script lands on an editor’s desk, but the editor never really has that context. Why is the script written this way? Why are these the elements I have to work with?
And so yes, it’s always a challenge. I think good writers in the political world, first of all, learn to read between the lines a bit and know why things are the way they are. But also, they learn to ask themselves the right questions. And then a good producer in the political space really knows how to provide whoever is editing the spot with a context beyond the script.
C&E: Tell us about your move from brand space to campaigns.
Kalsey: I had worked in advertising and entertainment in Los Angeles for about 10 years before jumping into politics. I felt like I had to step in because I realized, 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. This is what motivated me to get into politics. But since I’m in politics all the time, it’s very useful to go back to the commercial world where ads are scheduled six months in advance and you have weeks to create a thirty-second TV spot.
In fact, it worked very well. These New York agencies I work with are amazed at how quickly we are able to turn things around because we are used to these crazy political timelines. And then taking that experience and coming back into politics, having those opportunities to spend weeks on one location, or even filming, allows us to do this research and development on how to create these advanced looks so that when we need, do it again in a political spot, we can have it ready in minutes.
C&E: How do you apply your creativity in post-production?
Kalsey: With politics in particular, all the creativity is in problem solving, and that’s where a lot of newcomers to politics get into trouble. They’re looking at this blank canvas full of possibilities, and maybe they’ve got an idea in their head of something amazing they want to do before they’ve actually looked at the assets they need to work with, which might be , you know, a few pictures stolen from the contestant’s Facebook page and some not-so-good stock footage of old people or whatever you might have.
So it’s about taking an inventory of your strengths and then working from there to figure out what’s the best way to organize what I need to work with to make something that still manages to be new, unique and engaging.
C&E: Do you feel like the role you’ve had in the Biden campaign can be replicated in the ballot?
Kalsey: I think so. Even during the Biden campaign, that role wasn’t my only role. It was indeed my night job. And then, during the day, I shot endless television and digital spots. So I even think about [a down-ballot] campaign someone – whether it’s the in-house editor or someone from the digital team – should be in a position where they’re given some sort of authority to own the media, how you get it, where it have to go.
C&E: What’s currently holding back the creation of political ads?
Kalsey: That’s not really a thought I’ve had lately. If anything, things keep getting better. The crews that do the filming [are better], the cameras they use, all about it. With each cycle the quality improves. I think we have to catch up with the fact that things have improved. The language of political advertising, in some ways, is rooted in that past, where all you had was like that thumbnail image of Facebook.
And so you just had to pile on the grain and the grunge and the lens flare, and the flashing lights to try and distract from the horror of your images. And now it’s part of the language of political advertising. You know, some people look at an ad and think, “Where are the light leaks? It’s not over yet until you get light leaks in there. And now the pictures are good. It measures up to any other commercial adjacent to it on television. You don’t need all that. We can simplify a bit.
C&E: Is it just better cameras that enable this innovation?
Kalsey: I think the big change, which came out of COVID, is that everyone is remote and then also technology catches up. With everyone being remote comes the opportunity to bring in talented people from across the country. Gone are the days when an editor had to pack up and go live in short-term housing in DC to get the job done. Being able to do editing sessions for clients via Zoom is a huge change that then allows me to stay in New York and sleep in my own bed. And it’s amazing.
C&E: Where does your company name come from?
Kalsey: I believe in naming a business you first need to find a domain name and then go from there. Otherwise, you’ll just get yourself in trouble. But Hella started by simply getting the domain name hella.tv.
The term is just something that, as a San Franciscan, is a word that I constantly throw around in conversation. It really means anything in large quantities. So we are a company that does hella ads and we hope they are super good. And that’s just kind of how a San Franciscan discusses things.