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New Media Company Spurs Political Involvement

31 Jul , 2009  

Written by Larissa Milashenko | Posted by:

Wellesley, MA native Nick Godfrey, of Crossborders, discusses the grind of getting a foot in the new media production door and the impact viral video can have on young people’s political behavior.

At first glance, the last thing Nick Godfrey appears to be is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. But Godfrey is no aspiring actor. He is a producer, documentarian, and the COO of Crossborders, a new media content creation company based in New York City.

At age 25, this Wellesley, MA native joined up with his friend and fellow Syracuse alumnus Brian Edelman to create Crossborders, which produces video programming for all media platforms. Their clients range from the Miami Dolphins to the Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom. In addition, Crossborders has co-produced and co-directed several documentaries.

Nick’s latest project was 18 in ‘08, a nonpartisan, political documentary he produced with Edelman to encourage American youth to vote and stay politically engaged. This 30-minute film features interviews with leading political figures, student activists (six students from Boston-area colleges), and celebrities. It has been screened at over 400 colleges and high schools nationwide. The film explores the use of new media as a vehicle to impact youth voting and to engage Generation Y in the political process. sat down with Godfrey to discuss the making of 18 in ‘08, the power of new media, and his documentary-in-progress.

Larissa Milashenko: What was your first experience in video production?

Nick Godfrey: I was a junior at Wellesley High School when I quit the soccer team to produce, direct, and be an anchor in a local sports weekly news show called the Raider Wrap-up. It was the equivalent of ESPN’s Sportscenter for my high school and aired on a local access cable channel. In this business you have to pay your dues and production is a grind. I became acquainted with this fact as a teenager. I was lucky, unlike most teenagers I knew that going forward with this was going to be the direction of my career.

LM: What did you do before becoming a partner at Crossborders?

Godfrey: Like I said, entry level in production is a grind. I spent time at MTV where someone would give me a tape and I had to transcribe it. Literally, write verbatim what the person was saying. I did this for six months and then I held a boom microphone every day for another six months. Eventually, I became a producer on ESPN’s Cold Pizza and Sportscenter. To be honest, I wouldn’t hire someone who hasn’t done the bottom of the barrel jobs in production.

LM: Crossborders specializes in content creation using new media. This is a broad term that didn’t exist five years ago. Can you please define new media and how Crossborders uses it?

Godfrey: We take content, a form of intellectual property, and reconstruct it, twist it, basically mess with it and build on it. Anything can be considered content: a website, video blog, iPhone application, anything that a consumer can engage with and interact with. New media is all about digital delivery. You want to get across as much information as possible, as quickly as possible and be able to remain captivating.

LM: You and your business partner produced a political documentary 18 in ‘08 last year. Why did you want to be a part of this film? You could have covered a number of relevant topics, why youth voting?

Godfrey: Because we looked at the political landscape and David (the 18-year-old, first-time director of 18 in ’08) came to us with 200 hours of footage of film. He traveled around the country, interviewed political leaders, celebrities, students, etc. We could have started a website or done a number of things, but a documentary has a strong voice. I felt compelled to produce this film because I share the same concern for the apathy and cynicism that American youth [expresses toward] our political system.

LM: What do you think makes or a breaks a documentary? What factors play a role in terms of wide outreach, distribution and impact?

Godfrey: Timing. It is all about timing, which I think is partly why this film had success. The 2008 election was revolutionary and we predicted (and hoped) that would happen. Opportunity exists because of landscape. You need a hook, you have to see it before everyone wants it. We started production in 2005 to be relevant for 2008. In the end, production business is all about execution. You can sit around with brilliant people and brainstorm great ideas, but it’s meaningless if you don’t bring these ideas to life.

LM: Back to new media for a second. In the film, both student activists and leading political leaders express the belief that new media has the power to influence young people to vote and to be involved in the political process. How did you use new media to create buzz around the film and subsequently encourage youth voting?

Godfrey: 18 in ‘08 is essentially a film made by the young people for the young people. It started as just a documentary but evolved into a movement. We created the 18 in ’08 Organization to register and engage young voters for the 2008 election and for future political elections. We created an account for 18 in ’08 on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace and monitored them. All of this was in conjunction with the 18 in ‘08 website that we built. The film has screened nationwide and has registered over 21,000 young voters since then.

LM: After producing 18 in’ 08, did you continue using new media to engage young people into the political process?

Godfrey: Certainly. We made a series of three videos for the U.S. State Department, an attempt to repair America’s image. We also worked with and advised Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin [Newsom], who now has the second largest following on Twitter of any political figure (after President Obama). We turned a S.F. written blog called Pet Peeves, where residents express their complaints, into a video blog and filmed the mayor on the job. He would go all over the city and ask people what can be changed to make San Francisco a better city.

LM: I understand that you are in pre-production for a new documentary. Can you tell me a little about it?

Godfrey: It’s called Panic of ’08, a working title. Glen Hutchins, world-renowned venture capitalist, developed a presentation and has been sharing it with business leaders. It focuses on his opinion about the current global economic collapse with a focus on the US. He has a unique and accurate perspective, and has data to back it up. We are working with Edelman PR, who represents Hutchins, who wants us to take the presentation and make it creative and interactive. Originally it was a PowerPoint presentation full of extensive data. We used a technology called Flash, which has better graphics and animation to jazz it up. We are going to film him giving the presentation and then direct and produce a documentary and fill in the holes and tell a story. Ironically, we were working on this idea before Hutchins approached us but didn’t have the angle or a hook. Now we do.

LM: Do you have any advice for all the young documentarians and filmmakers out there?

Godfrey: When I was in college, the concept of new media didn’t exist. Today, the barriers of entry are small and cameras are cheaper. It doesn’t have to be a massive, lengthy production. Utilize new media. YouTube is a perfect example. If it’s compelling, it will become viral, and you will have a chance to get distribution. Shoot a lot of tape. Shoot everything. Get as much content as possible and sift through it later. 18 in ’08 had about 200 hours of footage that was cut down to 30 minutes. Self-distribution is a revolutionary change in the film world and it is the best vehicle a young filmmaker has. It puts everyone in the game.

18 in ‘08:

Related Media: Trailer: 18 in '08

Crossborders: 18 in ‘08: