When former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s political action committee released its first video in 2010, titled “Mama Grizzlies,” a soft spot that highlighted Palin rallying conservative women around the country, the memorable video made beltway insiders and political professionals certain that the video came from someone in their fraternity, and they began to wonder which one of their veteran friends landed a high profile client like Palin.
But like the outside-the-beltway, anti-establishment spirit Palin embodies, the commercial was made by a team—PassCode Creative—that had never made such a political video before.
PassCode has since made other memorable videos. Recently, they rolled out a spoof that had Bigfoot endorsing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich over Mitt Romney. They made a video titled “Lemonade,” for the American Grassroots Coalition highlighting the dangers associated with raising the debt ceiling for future generations. PassCode made a spot for former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer. (Another of their Palin videos, titled “Iowa Passion,” was regarded as one of the best political spots of this election cycle, even though Palin did not for president.)
Eric Welch, a co-founder of PassCode, while on set shooting a spot for Dierks Bentley and Walmart, told HUMAN EVENTS that he and Josh Gatlin, the other co-founder whose father is country music singer Larry Gatlin, worked together to make a music video for The Gatlin Brothers and their song, “Johnny Cash Is Dead and His House Burned Down.” While the music video was becoming a hit and going viral, Gatlin, who was a veteran aide in George W. Bush’s administration, sent the video to fellow Bush adviser Jason Recher, who was doing advance for Palin at the time.
Recher was impressed by the music video, and the three met for a social dinner while Recher was in Nashville in early 2010. When Gatlin and Welch told Recher, that they wanted to form PassCode because they “envisioned bringing a much needed, fresh approach to the way conservative ideas were presented in the media,” Recher saw Welch and Gatlin as a natural fit for Palin’s “outside-the- beltway” thinking if Palin and SarahPAC ever need such services. Recher ended up forming PassCode Creative with Gatlin and White.
On Feb. 6, 2010, after Palin keynoted the Nashville Tea Party Convention, Recher arranged for Welch to meet with Palin backstage. After the meeting, Recher, SarahPAC treasurer Tim Crawford, and Doug McMarlin, Recher’s business partner, gave PassCode Creative the green light to start working on videos for SarahPAC.
“PassCode Creative was developed with the goal of showcasing authentic people with real passion, expressed in visuals that push beyond the tired, cookie-cutter political ads,” Welch said. “Our goal [with Palin] was simple—highlight the real, genuine spirit that Gov. Palin carries every day. At each event, I was given an inside look at how kind and genuine she truly is—especially when meeting everyday folks on the road.
“This made our jobs very simple; we merely amplified her message and distinct style, using her own words.”
Welch, who shoots the videos, has a background is in advertising and production and he started his video-making career as an editor, cutting music videos and live concerts. Eventually, his videos for various artists would be seen on MTV, CMT, BET, and he has worked with people from across all music genres such as Tim McGraw, Jewel, Colby Caillat, Blake Shelton, Three Doors Down, Lifehouse, Jars of Clay, and Julianne Hough.
“As a music video director, I am always trying to tell a story,” Welch said, adding that they are attracted to politicians who resonate authenticity. “I want to use shots that translate an emotion and develop ideas and themes that translate heart and emotion. I bring those same thoughts into my work in the political world.”
PassCode is also different because its founders are not from the Beltway. They are headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Being from the heartland gives us a down to earth perspective on what connects with main street Americans,” Welch said. “This allows us to better convey ideas through images that connect the everyday people. Being outside the bubble or echo chamber allows us to hear the thoughts and opinions of the great people who shape this nation, which allows us to make better videos that resonate with regular Americans.”
Steve Bannon, a film director who has made numerous documentaries about conservatives, including Palin, has been impressed by how PassCode Creative’s videos resonate with regular, everyday people.
“Eric Welch is not the typical hack making those awful 30 second spots that have turned off everyone,” Bannon said. “He is a film maker of the highest order, one who brings a depth of emotional power to the Palin spots. A power that resonates with friends and foes alike, like the governor, he represents the future.”
In an election cycle in which so much of the electorate is frustrated with Washington, PassCode may be proof that outside-the-Beltway advisers are as essential to the conservative movement as anti-establishment candidate are.