| Reel Chronicles |

Avi Schnall Political Campaign

Wow. We’d never done a political campaign before, and I was intrigued

Client: Avi Schnall Political Campaign
Objective: Create ten promotional campaign videos
Film Locations: Lakewood, New Jersey, and Brooklyn, New York
Project Deadline: November 2023


The Proposal

Chayale Kaufman of Consult Write Media called our office in late September.

“I’m sure you’ve heard that Avi Schnall will be running for State Assembly this November,” she began, referring to the director of the New Jersey office of Agudath Israel. “My company was hired to create content and manage the dissemination of promotional material, we want you to create all the videos for the campaign.”

Wow. We’d never done a political campaign before, and I was intrigued.

“Tell me a little about the overall strategy,” I prompted.

Chayale explained that in truth, Avi’s reputation really spoke for itself. He’d been successfully involved in public affairs for several years, and was well-known and well-liked. She was confident that once at the polls, most of the community would pull the lever for Avi. The concern was ensuring people would take the time out of their hectic lives to go vote at all.

With that in mind, Chayale and her team had already developed a series of ads to run both in local publications and on social media that highlighted some pressing issues Lakewood faces — traffic and busing, to name a few — without mentioning Avi or the campaign.

“Our goal is to get people engaged,” she explained. “If we can remind people of the problems they face daily, it can shake them out of their complacency and push them to vote for change.”

Avi’s campaign manager Tzvi Herman, who was also on the call, detailed the issues: The ubiquitous traffic on Lakewood’s poorly developed state roads means it can take upwards of 40 minutes to get across town; the busing crisis, which leaves many families either paying out of pocket or not having transportation at all; and inadequate government funding overall for a community over 100,000 strong that receives less funding than townships half of their size. We agreed to create several promos breaking down these issues, with some featuring Avi himself, others with professional narration.

“There’s one more concern,” Tzvi added. “Avi’s running as a Democrat, which makes sense, because that’s the majority party in New Jersey.”

This was a pragmatic decision on their part, because it is very difficult to effect real change from the minority side of the aisle.

“Avi’s affiliation doesn’t reflect on him or his values,” Tzvi continued, “but it may turn off frum conservative voters, so we have to stress that it’s simply a strategic political move.

Fair point — we all know people who will focus immediately on the party, not the person.

Senior production manager Moshe Niehaus jumped in.

“I have an idea — instead of us trying to explain why it’s the right decision, why don’t we video Simcha Eichenstein and Simcha Felder?” he said, referring to a frum assemblyman and senator, respectively. “They both ran and won in New York on the Democratic ticket, for the same reason Avi is in New Jersey. They can give a sense of context and show this has been done before successfully.”

He paused before adding, “We can also use these videos to promote the idea of the bloc vote, explaining that no matter your political view, we can only accomplish as a community when we vote united. The message can be that presenting a strong and unified front transcends any political affiliation.”

Tzvi and Chayale loved our ideas, and we put them on our campaign videos list.



Our first step was to get Avi himself down to our studio for a filming session. He was already in full campaign mode when he walked into our office, introducing himself to everyone in the office.

“I’m Avi, nice to meet you! You live in Lakewood? Are you registered to vote?”

Avi has a charismatic, larger-than-life personality, and it took a few minutes before we were able to usher him into the studio and get down to work. Once he was under the lights, our strategy was simple: Get as much content from him as we could. People are busy at the best of times, and we knew campaigning would make Avi’s schedule even busier than usual, so we couldn’t be sure he’d have time to come back for a second round of interviews.

Our normal setup is to have the interviewee sit, but to capitalize on Avi’s dynamic presence, we had him stand for much of the filming. Many people need some time to get comfortable under the camera’s glare, but because of his career, Avi has been presenting publicly for years, and he jumped straight in.

We asked Avi to discuss the issues Lakewood faces, the importance of voting and voting early, the advantage of running in the majority party, and anything we could foresee being relevant. Tzvi Herman — the first Orthodox Jew to hold public office in Jackson Township — was able to draw on his local politics experience and give on-the-spot guidance regarding what points to cover and how to word the more sensitive topics.

He was also equipped to help with the technical facts and stats, so when Avi was discussing the school district in Freehold, he paused to check with Tzvi.

“Is it Freehold Township or Borough?”

Tzvi explained that it depends on the context, and they settled on the more general “Freehold, New Jersey.”

At one point Avi mentioned the rabbanim’s call to vote. He wanted to quote a certain Chazal to reinforce his point, but he couldn’t remember the exact wording or where to find it. Our company recently joined the Toraso B’Umnaso Corporate Learning Initiative, arranging for a talmid chacham to come to a workplace and learn with staff daily, so we were able to ask our in-house scholar Rabbi Yehuda Heber for help. Talk about offering full service!



Our list of promos also included some scripted pieces narrated by a professional voice actor. A nice majority of our productions have uniquely Jewish wording — be it the hard-to-pronounce chaf sound or words like Torah, mitzvos, and yeshivah, which come off as stiff and stilted by someone unused to saying them. We work with talented voiceover artists, but there are only a handful of people inside the community who narrate professionally, so it can be hard to find variety.

This project opened up the doors of possibility, though, as the scripted messages discussed the more generic traffic and funding issues, and we could reach out to the wider world for narrators. This allowed us to turn to voiceover websites, where not only can you pick from a variety of artists, but you can listen to the samples of the artists’ styles.

I asked postproduction coordinator Usher Weldler to choose the narrator, and he opted for a powerful male voice in a style that comes across as authoritative bordering on aggressive.

“This will help with that strategy we discussed, shaking people out of their complacency,” he commented when he sent me the samples.

Interestingly, the narration company asked us how to pronounce Avi’s name, and if they should pronounce Route 9 as “Root” 9 or “Rowt” 9.

When we sent Consult Write Media cuts of the first three promos, two of them narrated and one featuring Avi himself, the feedback we got was that the videos were great, but in reality, Avi was powerful enough to carry the promotional content on his own. We decided to release those initial two to give the ads variety, but to limit the narration for the future pieces.



For a political video, we had to get more creative with the visuals that run alongside narrated audio than the standard yeshivah campaign. We used a combination of stock footage, our own filming, and animations and graphics created by our VFX department, in addition to pictures and videos of Avi supplied by Tzvi Herman.

I asked Usher Weldler to get in the car with one of our cinematographers to film the traffic and poor road conditions Avi was referencing in his videos. When I told Usher the proposed schedule, filming the three main arteries in town at 2:30 p.m., followed by a small acted scene depicting a family’s struggles with government funding for busing and therapy at 4:30 p.m., he was skeptical.

“Moshe, you want us to find the busiest traffic in town, and you think we’ll get out in under two hours?”

I told Usher to play it by ear.

“If we have to skip some of the filming so be it.”

At around 3:30 p.m., my phone lit up.

“Remember how I was worried about the timing?” Usher said. “The good news is we made it all across town. The bad news is, that’s because we couldn’t find traffic. Not on Route 9, not on Route 88, not on Route 70.”

Apparently, as it was right after Succos, the town was still slowly getting back to its frenzied routine — and the roads were practically empty. Talk about Murphy’s law!

We rescheduled the traffic filming for the following day, when the roads were back to their normal congestion.


Checks and Balances

Several of the promos would focus on the lack of government funding for the district, resulting in higher costs of living for the community. I asked VFX associate Miss Shayna Goldman to show this visually by designing a personal check that an actor would make out to the appropriate agency. I knew she had done a perfect job when someone who saw it commented, “It’s great, but shouldn’t we blur the name and account number on the check?”

The personal check of “Moshe Kahn’’ looked real enough to cause concern about potential fraud!

Associate VFX director Jeremy Lewis took lead on the promos, designing several animations to help drive home the messaging. In the video highlighting the disparity in educational funding, Avi discusses how the Newark school system, with 38,000 students in the district, receives $1.2 billion a year, while Lakewood, with 55,000 schoolchildren, receives only $56 million. Now anyone who knows basic math understands that Lakewood is receiving much less, but at the same time, $56 million doesn’t sound like pocket change — which is why the video in which Avi says, “We get zero for courtesy busing,” is much more powerful than the one discussing the educational funds numbers.

To combat this, Jeremy designed two animations. One had two bars, with the one representing Newark funding much larger than the Lakewood one, showing the point visually rather than mathematically. He then had the bar with the Newark stats transform into the percentage that Lakewood receives in comparison. Highlighting the fact that Lakewood receives a measly 4.6 percent of what other districts receive in state funding helps viewers feel the injustice much more than saying, “We receive only so many million dollars.”



Many of our videos are part of some form of a campaign — fundraising, awareness, and so on — but this was our first time producing content for a political campaign. In addition to the challenge and excitement of a whole new genre, it was the first time that a campaign we were part of would end in a clear win or loss. Obviously our promos are one element of a larger effort, but we all felt some level of personal victory when Avi was declared the winner. Even our cinematographer on this project, a veteran filmer who lives nowhere near Lakewood, expressed excitement.

“I’ve been involved in about 15 political campaigns, including one for the New Jersey governor Jim Florio,” he told Avi. “This is the first time the candidate actually won!”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 990)

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