Directed by: Dawn Smith

Paid for By is a comedy web series that explores the nature of American politics as seen through the lens of political commercial production. Our heroic producer, Margot Meriwether, environmentalist zealot and proud feminist, is faced with the fact that ideals must be compromised when money and politics are part of the political commercial equation. Nevertheless, she persists in her firm desire to make the world a better place by producing ads she believes in, even as politics demands compromise. Each stand-alone episode takes place during the political commercial shoot and ends with the fake political commercial. The series is a fun take on the duplicitous nature of our political system, how money influences messaging, and the game of political ad making. Created and directed by a political commercial producer, this series rings true in a post Citizens United world.


Dawn Smith is the creator, writer, director, and co-producers of PAID FOR BY. She works as a freelance director and producer in Boston, MA by way of Los Angeles and Chicago. Dawn received her BA from University California Irvine, was involved in a summer film intensive at USC Student Film School, and interned at Media Process Group in Chicago. She was a winner of the USC Student Film Festival for her short film "Isolation" and her screenplay "The Weasel Men" landed her in the top 15% of the Nicholl Fellowship screenwriting competition in 2010. Her screenplay "The Light Fantastic" was a second rounder finalist at the Austin Film Festival in 2017, and in the top 20% of the Nicholl Fellowship in 2017.

Interview conducted by Jeff Ayars, Web Series Curator

Q: What’s your background & how did you get started?
I got an internship at a production company in Chicago, and shortly after that was hired as an associate producer at AKPD Message & Media, formerly Axelrod & Associates. I worked on political commercials and issue ads, and it was exciting to see my commercials on television. Occasionally I would see Axelrod in the office (he was already at the White House by the time I started working there) and I enjoyed working on ads about issues I believed in. Once I moved to Boston I wanted to focus on writing and directing, more than producing, and after the election season in 2016 decided to write about political commercial production. There's nothing quite like the creative process of comedy, and I've had a blast putting this series together.

Q: What inspires you to create?
Figuring out how to make people laugh inspires me to create. I like taking things that are challenging, frustrating, even sorrowful, and trying to find a way to laugh about it. It's a great way to cope, it's collaborative when it comes to working with actors and producers to turn it into a comedy short, and there's nothing quite like stepping back and laughing at yourself.

Q: What advice do you have for indie creators on a budget?
The advice I have for indie creators is to make sure you work hard on your script first. You can save a lot of time, money and headaches if you rewrite repeatedly. Rewriting helps sort through story or character problems, as well as get you to know the story and see problems before you're shooting. Storyboarding is also a wise use of time, and a great way to spot problems before shoot day. Do the work ahead of time so that you're prepared when you're behind the camera.

Q: What makes your project special?
My project PAID FOR BY is special because it's coming from the perspective of someone that has worked on political commercials. My knowledge and experience producing ads informs how I write, and gives the series an authentic and comedic feel. Politics is divisive and miserable right now, and my series takes issues that divide us and finds a way to get us laughing at ourselves again.

PAID FOR BY is an Official Selection of the 2018 NYC Independent Film Festival.