How Descript Helped Produce The Sharpest Political Ad of the Season

July 6, 2020

Descript’s magic lies in its simplicity: It transcribes audio and video and allows you to edit the underlying media by editing the transcript. Harnessing that simplicity in creative ways enables editing workflows in Descript that would be overwhelmingly laborious and time-intensive in other traditional media editors. In a nutshell, that’s the story of how political coalition Republican Voters Against Trump (RVAT) used Descript to edit down hours of footage of Senator Lindsey Graham’s own words into a razor-sharp ad that went viral on Twitter and made waves in American news media.  

We recently spoke with the mind behind the ad, Barry Rubin, and his teammate Chris Herbert, who manages the editing and production of testimonial videos sent to RVAT by individual voters. For both Rubin and Herbert, Descript has become an essential tool.   

A parody Twitter account takes off

“I discovered Descript by searching ‘audio transcription + AI’,” Rubin says. “I started using Descript because a lot of the videos we make, we don’t film ourselves — we download source material off the internet or C-SPAN,” he says. Before producing the ad, Rubin operated a parody Twitter account, “Lindsey Graham’s Fake Conscience,” which featured years-old Lindsey Graham videos contradicting statements and positions of present-day Lindsey Graham.

“In 2015, 2016, Graham would talk a lot of trash about Donald Trump,” Rubin says. “I gathered hours and hours of videos of Lindsey Graham speaking and I could quickly dump those into Descript to search the transcripts, for ‘Trump’, for example. Each day, I’d upload a video snippet of Graham speaking.” The parody account began to attract followers, and Rubin noticed that in particular, a clip of Graham praising Joe Biden really took off. 

Cobbling the ad together

That was when the idea for the ad began to germinate — and since Rubin had already been cataloguing Graham’s speeches with Descript, putting it together was relatively easy. “Since I’d been making videos about Lindsey Graham for the past year, I knew where the ad would go,” he says. In the manner of a typical political campaign ad, the ad opens with a negative tone, but flips toward the end, to be positive about the candidate the ad is supporting — in this case, Joe Biden. “Immediately, I knew where we’d need to go by the end of the ad. The bit about needing to save the Republican Party — that’s four different Graham clips combined, and I used Descript to edit that last sentence together.”

“For us, I feel like Descript levels the game.”

Barry Rubin, Republican Voters Against Trump

According to Rubin, Descript allows a smaller, scrappier organization like RVAT to go toe-to-toe with much more well-funded organizations. “Other political organizations might outstaff us and have access to tens of thousands of dollars worth of software that we don’t have,” he says. “But I honestly feel like I was able to do a better job, and produce a more effective ad, than some of these organizations with millions in funding. For us, I feel like Descript levels the game.” 

Speeding up the video edit process

Chris Herbert, Rubin’s teammate at RVAT, manages the production of a steady stream of user-submitted voter testimonial videos — sometimes hundreds per week. Descript allows Herbert’s team to quickly and easily edit these videos without any experience using traditional video editors. “I manage a team that quickly processes these videos,” he says. “People submit their testimonial videos to us directly through an online tool. Even though my team has never used other video editing software, they can pull them into Descript and edit them into different lengths for different platforms — like two minutes for Twitter, one minute for Instagram, or even shorter for a Facebook ad.” 

Both Herbert and Rubin use Descript to manage and search within the videos they work with. “Before I used Descript, our process was incredibly time-consuming. I used Premiere and Final Cut Pro, and managing our videos was a nightmare, relatively speaking,” Herbert says. “You’d have to remember, ‘Oh, I think they said this at that point,’ or you’d have to tag clips individually. But with Descript, you just look at what’s right in front of you: ‘I’ll move that to the beginning because it’s better for an intro.’ It’s made everything a lot faster.”

Copy Search Results saves even more time

Beginning with Descript 3.8, we’ve added a feature that has made RVAT’s editing workflow even faster and more efficient. Called Copy Search Results, this feature allows you to search within a Project for all instances of a given word (“taxes,” for example), and then copy the whole sentence surrounding each search result to the clipboard. Paste it to a new composition and you’ll see every instance that search term appears in a transcript — in context of the sentence it’s spoken in. Watch the video below to see it in action.

“That feature has been super helpful,” Rubin says. “For example, if we’re analyzing a Trump speech, and we want to focus on certain themes, I can search the transcript and quickly see how many times a word was said. From there, I can decide whether or not that clip is relevant, and if it is, I can copy the sentences over for further editing.”  

“It’s saved us tens of hours of time on each video project,” Rubin says. “It’s hard to think about going back to the way we used to work.” 

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