Engage Client Creative Director Victoria Welborn was assigned an extremely important task her first week on the job: create a tribute video for outgoing U.S. House Speaker Boehner’s retirement after 25 years in Congress. Proving she was the right person for the job, she set out to make a video that spoke to his high quality of character in and outside of the Speaker’s office. We sat down with Victoria to learn more about her process in approaching this unique opportunity.
Q. When were you assigned the video project and what was your immediate reaction? What timeline and guidelines did you have?
A. I joined Conference on Monday October 19th, in the midst of Speaker Boehner’s transition and President Obama’s veto of the NDAA. On my first day in the office I was assigned three NDAA videos and heard mention of potentially making a Boehner tribute video. Because the tribute video was mentioned in passing I got right to work on the NDAA videos and followed up on the tribute video that Thursday evening. I quickly realized that the tribute video was going to be featured at the Speaker’s last Conference meeting and would be released the following Tuesday, October 27th. That Thursday I sat down with a few folks on Conference’s team and asked what they thought should be included in the video and we bounced a couple of potential directions around. Ultimately, because of the Speaker transition and all of the movement on the House floor activity, I was given a lot of creative freedom to create the project.
Q. How did you plan to approach this assignment and where did you draw inspiration?
A. I began this process by watching then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s tribute video that Conference had produced the previous year. It was an incredibly moving video, but having worked on the Hill before, I knew enough about the Speaker’s personality and legacy that I understood that I wanted to go in a very different direction.
At times it can be quite difficult for some folks to separate John Boehner the person from John Boehner, Speaker of the House. However, I believed to accurately tell the story of who he was as Speaker, I needed to make that distinction by illustrating his personal story. Speaker Boehner’s American dream story has been a motivator during his entire political career; he never forgot where he came from and always considered the people in his life, a trait that made him a great Speaker. I thought the best way to highlight this trait was by including people from the community to tell the narrative of his story.
Q. Can you give us a brief description of your process once you found your vision for the piece?
A. I originally set out to interview a variety of people that he interacts with in the community. So I started this interview series on Friday morning and I set out to Pete’s Diner. I originally planned to ask to speak to the manager, but as I arrived, the Speaker was still having breakfast. So I had a cup of coffee and waited for him and his security detail to head out. Once they left, I was introduced to Gum, manager of Pete’s Diner. I could tell this wasn’t the first time Gum had been asked to be featured in an interview about the Speaker, as she was naturally hesitant and quick to protect his privacy. However, after I clearly made my intentions known, she was happy to help and she told me to come back later that afternoon, after the lunch rush. Although I originally planned to interview multiple folks in the Speaker’s life, after interviewing Gum, I knew that I had the only interview that the video needed.
I went into the office on Sunday to cut the interview and to layout the video. My biggest struggle was capturing 25 years in a couple of minutes. After about six hours of editing, I was terrified that I didn’t have anything worth showing anybody, but then about an hour later, everything fell into place and I left the office with a rough cut.
Q. How did people on the Hill react? Was there a different reaction outside of Congress?
A. Once the video was released, I was surprised by the overwhelmingly kind and positive feedback that I received, from both Republicans and Democrats on and off the Hill. As far as reactions outside of D.C., I did as everyone advises: never read the comments!
Q. What did you learn from making the video that will carry on with you for future projects?
A. Each shoot and every edit poses new possibilities to learn something. Video interviews naturally allow for a lot of possibilities to create disingenuous messages that are not honest to the subject (think reality television, in general). My biggest takeaway was, especially after interviewing Gum, the desire I had to craft a video that accurately depicted her sentiment towards the Speaker.
Q. If you could show the video to Speaker Boehner how would you introduce it to him?
A. When I show people my videos I usually don’t like to give an introduction, I feel that it takes away from their honest and initial reaction, which is what you need to keep improving. So I wouldn’t introduce it in anyway to Speaker Boehner, but I’d love his feedback!