Joe Lane knows this is likely his last chance to impact American democracy so he better make it count.
The Ridgefield resident and documentarian owns JTFM Productions, a company that has launched him around the world — from Antarctica to Africa — in search of compelling stories to tell. His latest film work includes “Shades of America,” a 60 Minutes style weekly news show, and “The Vote,” a documentary that reviews gerrymandering cases from five different states that are heading to the Supreme Court.
“In the two-plus years of working on “The Vote,” one of the things my wife Barbara and I kept hearing from the people we interviewed was that we all needed to get more involved in the voting process,” he said. “That we needed to get people more involved in the process.”
That’s how Lane came up with the idea of The Voter Alliance, a nonprofit venture that seeks to engage with people ages 18 through 29 and increase their direct participation in the political processes by filming their stories and sharing them nationally.
“We need kids to convince their peers that it’s worth voting in every election,” Lane said. “The question is, how do we go about doing that?”
The first step of the “prelaunch” process is finding the right subjects to tell their stories and providing them with professional camera crews and equipment.
That’s why Lane is seeking anybody to submit his or her 500-word story to him at email@example.com.
“We’ve been in touch with about half a dozen kids so far but nobody has been officially interviewed yet, no footage shot,” he said. “What we’re looking for are stories that touch on social political issues — police brutality, health care, the wealth gap —anything that has directly affected them and can reach a wider audience. ... These are real stories not some Hollywood story.”
When he does find the right people, Lane and his production team will go to wherever they live and film them where it’s most comfortable. Because he’s from Connecticut — and the project is still in its infancy — he’s hoping to find some local kids who are willing to talk.
“It’s expensive to go all over and film so hopefully we can find a few subjects right here in Connecticut,” he said. “The goal is to record their stories and edit them so that we can raise the proper funding to expand this out.”
The ultimate goal is getting young people more engage in the voting process and get them to the polls by the 2020 presidential campaign. Lane believes that the initial film-work will take place this summer with a bulk of the stories being told in the fall and winter once the appropriate money is raised.
“We keep hearing that politicians talk but don’t listen,” he said. “Well, if you want them to listen, then you have to talk and the loudest way you can do that is by voting. We kept hearing in the interviews of our last project that nobody had ever given them the chance to tell their stories. This is that opportunity for a certain age group that’s coming of age.”
There might not be any footage shot yet for The Voters Alliance but that doesn’t mean Lane doesn’t have a plan.
Once he’s done his job as a documentarian —capturing and editing the stories of his subjects, the project’s promotion will begin on cell phones across America.
“This is an age group that lives by the phone — it’s a very crucial aspect to produce videos that are going to be seen only on cell phone screens,” Lane said. “What does that mean? For kids 23 or younger, it’s SnapChat. They will get these five to 10 videos on that app every day leading up to the election. Same thing for kids 24 and older but for them the big platform is Instagram. We plan on hitting both hard when we’re ready.
“... These are not videos that will ever appear on movie theater screens or even on computers,” he said. “And that’s what makes this unlike anything I’ve ever done before.”
Lane is in his mid-70s and has opted to spend the final years of his career seeing The Voters Alliance through to the end.
He knows it won’t be an easy pursuit.
“A lot of the time, kids don’t even have headphones in while their zipping through their Instagram stories,” he said. “That means they might not hear the 12 to 15 second stories that we’re producing. And what that also means is that what we have to create must be really powerful stuff to get them to click on it and actually listen.”
Once the user does engage with the clip, it will give them information for a longer film that can be viewed on YouTube — keeping the experience all on the cell phones.
“We’re going to be a lot of filming and there will be full stories that are available but part of our editing process is creating these short segments that are capable of catching the attention of our intended audience.”
When all is said and done, The Voters Alliance will cull down five to 10 days of filming into mere seconds of promotional video — a strategy that seems overly time consuming for a product so small.
“They’re going to be short segments but they will be used a lot on these platforms,” Lane said. “We’ll have two ‘films’ playing per day on SnapChat or Instagram when it really begins to ramp up.”
Growing up in Florida in the 1950s, Lane was ignorant to some the social injustices happening right in his backyard until he went to college.
He’s invigorated about the idea that The Voter Alliance will help inform kids of today, as well as empower them to speak up.
“Young people have stories,” he said. “If given the opportunity to speak and not listen, they’re going to make a difference. I’ve heard some really powerful stuff already and I’m confident that we will get a lot more of it in the coming months. ...
“It’s imperative that we find these stories and film them by September or October so we can submit what we have for funding and really get going next year.”
Looking ahead to 2020, Lane said he hopes the project creates such traction that it lasts way beyond the next presidential election.
“To do it right, this is going to have to be an ongoing project — years, decades,” he said. “Too many people turn out and vote once, and then they forget about. To hold politicians accountable after elections, we’ll have to keep it going. ... Anyone can say something while campaigning. We need to make sure that there’s a follow through and if the people we elect don’t follow through on their promises, then they’ll be shown the door.”
The 76-year-old Lane said that he expects The Voter Alliance to take up the rest of his working life.
“Last year’s election had a 50.7% turnout,” he said. “We will lose democracy if that continues. I’m making it my mission to see that doesn’t happen.”
Anyone who wants to submit a story, should provide his/her name, phone and email address and a title for his/her story to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.
“Everyone will receive acknowledgement that their story was received,” Lane said. “We will contact the storytellers we choose within three weeks. We plan to shoot the initial stories in June and July.”