Mission

The Digital Naturalist is an inspired forum for video, film, and multimedia with a cause. It brings together an elite panel of experts to analyze what makes digital storytelling successful, establish helpful guidelines for advocacy groups, and shine a light on the most effective and inspiring work being produced today. Through analysis, forums, interviews, and personal accounts, we hope to help nonprofit organizations and the creatives working with them better communicate the most pressing, complex issues of our time.

Try This!

If your video is comprised of interviews, try to get your b-roll after you’ve recorded all or most of the interviews. The reason is that inevitably the people interviewed will say certain things that may inspire the kind of b-roll you’ll want to shoot. Read more bladeronner.com.

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Sunday
Nov242013

Meet Blue Chalk Media: The New Game Changers

First Sight: Sonia & Anita, ©Brent Stirton/Getty Images for Blue Chalk

Every now and then, a production company comes along and sweeps me off my feet. Blue Chalk, launched publicly in Brooklyn just last week, is my newest source of inspiration. Their brand, product, mission, process-- all of it points to a new and optimistic era in the visual storytelling world. I can't help but think these guys are on to something, and could help lift this industry to grand new heights-- not just through talent and high-quality storytelling, but through their love of collaboration, passion for innovation, and determination to make fair wages the norm.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Blue Chalk's CEO, Greg Moyer, about the challenges we face and his hopes for changing the game. The result is one of the most rewarding and insightful interviews I've ever had the pleasure to share. - Amy

Blue Chalk CEO Greg Moyer

TDN: Why Blue Chalk Media, and why now? What are you hoping to accomplish-- and contribute?
Moyer: Blue Chalk Media grew out of my personal passion to create and support documentary film and multimedia projects about subjects that matter. Our long-term goal is to help invent the business models that will sustain world-class visual storytelling at a time when the legacy media support systems are showing signs of collapse.

TDN: Your website states that "Blue Chalk arrives at a complicated time in the evolution of the visual media industries." I like how this acknowledges both the challenges and opportunities facing visual storytellers today... but it also sounds like you're on to something. How are you handling challenges like distribution, how much content to make viewable for free, and how to keep enough passion/advocacy projects in the mix?
Moyer: We can't claim to have a blueprint for how best to support either world-class photojournalism or documentary filmmaking. However, Blue Chalk is meant to be more than a production company that tells compelling stories through pictures and video. We want to enlarge the audience for visual storytelling and find ways to finance and support content creation.

Our strategies start with the belief that Blue Chalk can build new brands for visual content that serve the information and entertainment needs of targeted audiences. Brands are valuable to audiences because they offer the consistent delivery of curated content against a focused editorial promise. Over time, people who appreciate a branded service are more likely to pay for its delivery.

Members of the Blue Chalk team have extensive experience creating and nurturing media brands that today are recognized as household names. We intend to help clients and partners accomplish their communications needs and we intend to publish projects of our own choosing.

TDN: What would you say to cash-strapped nonprofit organizations with critical messages to broadcast?
Moyer: We'd argue that a prerequisite for generating donations is to tell a powerful story. If this is true, the first and most important dollar invested by nonprofits should be to hire the very best storytellers.

TDN: Why did you make the switch from network programming to independent visual storytelling? Do you see opportunities in this digital field now that weren't there before?
Moyer: I've enjoyed a terrific career in cable television and had a hand in launching brands such as Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, and later introducing lifestyle channels Food Network and Travel Channel to audiences worldwide. These services all continue to prosper as both television and digital properties.

However, I personally enjoy designing and building new brands where you are free to experiment and innovate.

Never before has the technology existed to allow individual content creators to distribute their work to a potential audience worldwide. Nor has the technology to shoot and edit been more accessible. The challenge today is one of “discoverability.” With the distribution barriers so low, the winners are those who can market the existence of their work through effective communications strategies and social media.

The opportunity to engage in high-impact visual communications—whether as journalists or advocates—has never been better.

First Sight: Sonia & Anita, ©Brent Stirton/Getty Images for Blue Chalk

TDN: What lessons from your 25 years in cable television are you bringing with you to Blue Chalk?
Moyer: One of the most powerful resources required of a creative and dynamic organization is a quality culture. When I worked at Discovery Communications during its first 13 years of existence, the company was energized by the vision and collaborative “can do” attitude of its founder, John Hendricks.

Now, as a founder myself, I take the role of culture creator seriously. The most enjoyable aspect of building a business is collecting people who share a common set of dreams and want to work to realize collective ambitions. The more profoundly a culture is lived, the more certain that an organization will accomplish its mission.

TDN: Your bio mentions the "opportunity for Blue Chalk Media to incubate a new era of rich media storytelling as digital distribution pushes traditional and new media brands to 'go mobile.'" Are you counting on a significant number of people to see your work on Droids and iPads? What does that digital platform look like?
Moyer: One of our favorite buzz phrases at Blue Chalk is "press play." We believe that in a digital world, "video is the new black." The short-form, digital-first video is one of the richest expressions of story that we can supply. Short-form video is easy to share and fun to watch as the medium allows more immersive and emotional elements into the storytelling.

We believe that photojournalists need to think more about how to gather video along with stills. Sometimes this may require a shooting partner. By gathering more components of the story at the outset, it may improve chances for monetizing their photography down the road.

TDN: Who makes up Blue Chalk's staff, and how much are you planning to collaborate with other freelancers on your projects? Why that model?
Moyer: The core Blue Chalk team of six full-time staff brings together experience from the worlds of photojournalism, documentary film, cable television programming, digital communications, and business development gleaned from experiences with commercial entities and nonprofits alike. We'll add to staff as the volume of work requires.

However, we're already big users of freelance talent, having hired photographers, videographers, sound recordists, editors, composers, animators, and graphic designers to complete our assignments. None of our projects has been fully produced by staff.

We also intend to help build teams around individual creatives who are finding that their profession has evolved into a team sport. It was once enough to carry cameras and a proverbial toothbrush into the field. Now to get those pictures to market may require the help of a producer, video editor, marketer, and business affairs maven—all tasks we can accomplish in partnership with industry professionals.

Collaboration keeps everybody learning. I’ve never seen a creative company that prospered by relying totally on in-house talent.

TDN: I've read some really thought-provoking articles recently claiming that humanity's only chance at halting catastrophic climate change is to revolt. How does this make you feel as Blue Chalk's CEO? As a storyteller? As a human being? What is our collective role as visual storytellers in this scenario?
Moyer: Storytelling is the necessary first step to instigating societal change. While I’m not personally in favor of taking the law into our own hands as anarchists might propose, I do think that we suffer grave consequences if the marketplace of ideas is framed within boundaries acceptable to corporate interests.

I’m a firm believer that people as individual readers and viewers need to support quality storytelling. If we believe the mantra that “all content is meant to be free,” then we will be wildly over served with “free” content about issues that carry an advertising agenda. Having alternative funding models to tell and retell stories of climate change, for example, may be instrumental in saving the planet.

TDN: Thinking big-- what are your greatest hopes for visual storytelling, knowing the digital world and global connections we have access to now? Where do you hope to see this industry in 10 years? How do you hope it affects the world?
Moyer: First, I want the marketplace for visual storytellers to expand so that people can build careers and support families based on their talents and experience.

Second, I want visual storytelling to be an ascendant cultural force in the grand tradition of photojournalism—exposing viewers to stories that provoke public opinion and lead to collective action through better understanding of the larger world.

Third, I want to surround audiences with images and video that garners appreciation for its visual design. Great imagery in public places helps us all see better.

TDN: What story are you most excited to unveil with your public launch? Why?
Moyer: What makes me the most proud is that in our first six months, we've already produced a range of stories that can move you to tears or provoke a chuckle. We want to guard against becoming an editorial monoculture where one type of story defines our brand. Examples of our diverse projects are available at bluechalk.com.

TDN: Are you hiring?
Moyer: Not immediately, though people should follow us on social media and watch the website. We will post open positions as we grow.

About Blue Chalk Media
Blue Chalk Media a Brooklyn-based digital media company founded by people who believe in the power of nonfiction visual storytelling. With roots in photojournalism, documentary film, cable television and digital communications, the Blue Chalk team is equipped to serve third-party clients and partners as well as to publish independently.

About Greg Moyer
Greg Moyer is an award-winning television and digital media executive with deep international experience and a track record of innovation in channel design, brand positioning, programming, marketing and global distribution. A creative and inspirational leader, Moyer has successfully operated across senior positions for Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, VOOM HD and Food Network, among others. Moyer led Discovery in collecting five George Foster Peabody Awards for programming excellence.

Tuesday
Oct292013

The Ways: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Creating a Short-Film Series

When Wisonsin Media Lab Producer Finn Ryan reached out about his new short film series, The Ways, I knew we had to get something on TDN. A few years ago, Finn and his team broke serious ground in the advocacy video world when they unveiled their debut series, Climate Wisconsin (see our original Q&A here). I was curious to know how their process had evolved since then, especially as someone embarking on a new film series myself! Here's our quick, behind-the-scenes glimpse at how Finn has pulled off yet another powerful collection of digital storytelling.

TDN: I'm constantly encouraging clients to think in series and chapters if they have more than one issue/character/story they want to focus on. Why did you a series work best for your project?
Finn: We felt it was necessary to produce a series because there is so much diversity of culture and language among the tribes in our area. While there are recurring themes within The Ways, like treaty rights or language revitalization, tribes have very different perspectives and practices. We decided that we would produce stories from all 11 federally recognized tribes in Wisconsin. We're releasing stories as they're produced which gives us an opportunity for engagement throughout the project. This is good because we can build a community around the project, but it also puts more pressure on each story, because every story has its own moment in the spotlight.

Hunting Deer from Wisconsin Media Lab on Vimeo.

TDN: What's been your biggest challenge?
Finn: Timing is the biggest challenge. It's definitely more difficult to manage production and promotion simultaneously, which is what we're doing with The Ways. The stories are produced as documentary shorts so timing with subjects, collaborators, and weather add even more challenges. We're constantly switching gears. It keeps the project lively, but can also result in production delays if there are too many promotion events or materials that I have to attend to.

TDN: What did you learn the hard way producing Climate Wisconsin that you were able to avoid this time around?
Finn: We're trying to build off of Climate Wisconsin in many ways. We moved away from the multimedia format (stills and video) and are only using video for The Ways. While the use of stills in Climate Wisconsin is effective, we're happy with our ability to show more action with video in The Ways. Another lesson learned from Climate Wisconsin is related to what I mentioned earlier about building a community around the project. It was challenging to do this with Climate Wisconsin because we didn't have any new content to offer after the launch. With the Ways, we add stories every couple months.


Powwow Trail from Wisconsin Media Lab on Vimeo.

TDN: What surprised you?
Finn: The project has been really well received and supported in Native communities. This surprised me a little because are primary target audience is high school students. My hope is that the project's success in Native communities is a reflection of the research and outreach we've done. Our Native content advisors have really helped us connect to Native communities around our area.

TDN: How do you juggle so many stories at once (re: the idea that you're publicly launching one, while shooting another, while scouting for a third)... and how do you decide to pace the releases so it's doable and you stay sane?
Finn: This is very challenging, but it also allows for stories to evolve in their own way. Sometimes it takes months to find the right subject or for the timing to work for a weather or season dependent story, such as Hunting Deer. It also allows me to bounce ideas off of more advisors and subjects because I'm constantly interacting with tribal members from many Native communities around the central Great Lakes. It can be overwhelming trying to keep it all moving forward, but I've realized that good storytelling takes time.

TDN: How did you find your stories? Did you start out with a pre-set number to tell, or are you winging it, based on what comes your way?
Finn: I find subjects and stories based in many different ways. Some are recommended by project partners and others I find from online research. For example, I came across a short video from TPT of Tall Paul in a parking lot at a powwow (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwI_gx-A4Ck) on YouTube. I really liked Prayers in a Song and thought it could make a good music video. We were not planning to produce a music video as a story, but the song explores issues like identity, language, and place, all of which The Ways is trying to support

Prayers in a Song from Wisconsin Media Lab on Vimeo.

TDN: Any advice on budgeting and funding a project like this?
Finn: The Ways is funded directly by our production budget at Wisconsin Media Lab, which is a division of a state agency of Wisconsin. We planned to produce nine stories, but expanded to 12 based on the success of the project and the need for stories covering all federally recognized tribes in Wisconsin.

Since we are a Wisconsin government agency, we don't have to pitch projects externally. What we do have to do is prove both their need and value. For The Ways, we are working closely with partners like the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and the American Indian Curriculum Services at UW-Madison. Through our partnerships and speaking directly with teachers, we identified a critical need for educational media and resources that show contemporary Native communities throughout our region. This is what we do as an agency: produce educational media that meets specific needs in our state. Addressing the need is just the first step. We also have to show the value and effectiveness of what we produce. The fact that Climate Wisconsin addressed a specific need for climate change education in Wisconsin and did it successfully-- over 50 school districts currently use it-- makes it easier to justify the production of a project like The Ways. These types of projects are effective in engaging audiences around a specific content area.

TDN: Do you think nonprofits would benefit from operating more like media-focused organizations like yours?
Finn: Nonprofits should take media production and outreach more seriously. I'm not sure if they should do it all in-house though. It seems like if they had a producer/media director on staff, that could work well. Then they could bring together other media producers, content partners, and stakeholders based on a specific project. This seems like it would allow for a lot of flexibility without being a constant drain on resources.

Finn Ryan is a producer at Wisconsin Media Lab. See more films at theways.org.

Tuesday
May142013

Scripted or Unscripted: How each approach impacts your advocacy video shoot

By Jerry Monkman

Jerry Monkman

As a photographer who spent 15 years exclusively shooting still imagery, the transition to video was a relatively easy one with regards to the visual aspects of the process. However, in the three years I’ve been producing short advocacy film projects, l have found it to be a much bigger challenge to learn the art of the interview and using the spoken word to turn some pretty pictures into a compelling story. I’m finding that there are merits to shooting both scripted projects, and unscripted interviews, but both approaches have their plusses and minuses.

Last year, I worked on a pair of projects: one was primarily scripted, and one was primarily unscripted, but both resulted in successful projects for the their respective clients. The scripted project involved creating a pair of two-minute videos for The Connecticut River Watershed Council whose goal was to convince voters in the Hartford, Connecticut, area to approve a bond referendum funding The Clean Water project, a multi-billion dollar sewer system improvement project that would reduce the amount of raw sewage entering the Connecticut River (the referendum passed by a 3-1 margin in November.) Our turn-around time was very short - 2 weeks to prepare, shoot, and edit the project - and the time span the videos would be used was also short - about two months. A scripted approach benefited the short time frames for reasons I’ll get to below.

The unscripted project involved a series of 3- to 7-minute long videos for the Society for the Protection for New Hampshire Forests campaign to stop a proposed electricity transmission line project in the state. The purpose of these videos was to build awareness over the long term, culminating in a fundraising video that has so far raised over $2 million. In this case, unscripted interviews with people directly impacted by the transmission line project resulted in stories that could be used for several years and remain relevant during that time.

Here are some of the pros and cons of going scripted vs. unscripted:

5 Things to Consider: Scripted Videos

1) A scripted project makes it easy to create well-honed, finely tuned message that you can get across quickly. I find it preferable to unscripted interviews for videos that are two-minutes or shorter.
2) Scripted projects reduce the time spent in post-production, as you don't have to find that 10 second sound byte buried in 30 minutes of footage.
3) A scripted message can also reduce production time because you can provide your "talent" with the script ahead of time, often reducing the amount of takes required to get the shot. This gives you more time to shoot b-roll as well.
4) On the flip-side, scripting an on-target message can increase pre-production time. Writing that perfect sentence that explains your story succinctly is difficult, takes time, and requires a copywriting skill that you and your team might not possess. A scripted piece will feel more like an ad than a documentary, so it's a real challenge to write a script that comes across as authentic.
5) It's easy to plan a scripted shoot to include really short sound bytes that can be repurposed into shorter teaser clips. For my Connecticut River videos, we were able to take our existing footage and create 2:30 second and 2:15 second PSAs that ran on local media websites.

Hartford Clean Water Project - "Stand Up for Our Rivers" from Jerry Monkman on Vimeo.

5 things to Consider: Unscripted Interviews

1) Authenticity. An unscripted interview will almost always come across as more authentic, especially if you take the time to find someone who is deeply connected to the issue you are describing.
2) An unscripted interview requires less pre-production time than a scripted piece (since there is no script!), but to succeed you’ll need to prepare a good set of questions that will tease your message out of the interviewee. It helps to send some of the questions to your subject ahead of time, but save some for the interview, which will aid in point number 5 below.
3) You will most likely face more post-production effort with un unscripted interview vs. a scripted project. Some people can talk for 20 or 30 minutes to make a good point, but you need to hear all 30 minutes to understand what they’re saying (that makes for one, boring video.) So it can take a lot of time to find those nuggets to fit into your shorter piece. I find transcribing the interview helps me to identify those nuggets (try transcriptionhub.com for an affordable transcription service.)
4) I feel that it really helps to have someone other than the photographer asking the questions, preferably the client or someone else very familiar with the issue. When you are manning the camera, and possibly the sound and lights as well, it can be a challenge to give your full attention to the subject. Alternatively, if you can have an assistant handle the gear, you can ask the questions and listen to the subject, assuring that you’re getting a message that will work in your film.
5) Ask questions over and over until you get a relaxed, authentic response. Some interviewees can be so passionate about the issue that they'll have their talking points memorized - while this can be good for getting some great sound bites, it can also sound like the person is spouting their own agenda and/or reciting a script -exactly what you're trying to avoid if you've chosen the unscripted approach.

Lynne Placey: Say No to Northern Pass from Jerry Monkman on Vimeo.

For longer documentary films, the unscripted approach is the norm, both because of the authenticity factor I mentioned above, but also because it usually results in dialogue that takes the filmmaker in directions they may never have envisioned. For the filmmaker, that’s when things can get fun and interesting. For the viewer, it often results in a more compelling story.

Jerry Monkman is a conservation photographer and advocacy filmmaker living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This is his first time writing for The Digital Naturalist.

***

EDITOR'S NOTE: I would add one more point to Jerry's challenges of scripting a film: Finding someone who can deliver that script naturally. Not only does your subject need to be relaxed and engaging on camera-- he or she has to be somewhat of a good actor, too; viewers are less likely to buy your story if the delivery doesn't feel authentic. There aren't many folks out there who can pull this off, so if you're going to script a film, choose your characters wisely. Here are some shining examples:

  • Charity:water has always done this beautifully, thanks to their charismatic spokesperson and CEO, Scott Harrison. Check out one of their newer videos here.
  • The KONY 2012 film isn't just a brilliantly scripted video-- it's the most successful advocacy video ever, having gained 100 million views in just 6 days (read more about TDN's analysis of this here).
  • Gnarly Bay Productions made a beautiful film driven by a beautiful script, which one could argue advocates for living a cool life, if that counts as a "cause."
  • If I Ride by People for Bikes and "Growing is Forever" by filmmaker Jesse Rosten and writer Kallie Markle remain two of my all-time favorite advocacy video scripts ever written.

Have other favorites or interesting examples? Share your links below!

Monday
Feb042013

9 Lessons on How We Engage

TEDxCibeles presenter Simran Sethi

By Merete Mueller

If you're into documentary filmmaking and video storytelling, there's a good chance you've heard this all-important rule before: Don't make a film about an issue; make a film about a story.

But sometimes, whether we're working with a non-profit or just looking to make change, we can't help but take on a juicy, complex issue in hopes of making our audience care about it as much as we do.

In that case, how do we find the story? And once we find it, how can we be sure that our audience will walk away with a new understanding or the motivation to take action? We all know how to engage those who think, speak, and live in ways that are similar to us, but how do we reach people across the aisle or on the other side of town?

These are some of the questions that environmental journalist Simran Sethi tackles in her TEDx talk, “Why and How We Engage.”

I first met Simran in 2008, at the height of the media's buzz about “green” and saving our environment. Simran was right in the thick of it. An environmental correspondent for CNBC and former voice at Treehugger.com, Simran had recently been dubbed “the environmental messenger” by Vanity Fair and was regularly appearing on Oprah and other network television shows to talk about easy ways that everyday people could lessen their eco impact.

But then the recession hit. And within the span of a few months, we saw environmental issues disappear from the mainsteam media spotlight. Unable to believe that care for our environment—our most enduring and necessary asset—could be dismissed as a passing fad, Simran set out to understand why exactly the media's messages hadn't translated into widespread action. Why exactly was it that no one seemed to care?

Over the next year, I assisted Simran as she interviewed behavioral psychologists, marketing specialists, and major figures in the environmental movement. Looking for clues about what makes us care about and act on issues, she pored through psychological research and turned to her neighbors in Lawrence, Kansas for insight—people who at first glance seemed to hold values quite different from her own, but who turned out to be her best teachers.

The resulting TEDx talk is a must-see for everyone in the storytelling trade. While Simran focuses on the environment, her findings apply to any issue, and especially to any kind of advocacy storytelling. Here are 9 lessons from her presentation that we can all apply to our video work:

1. We are not as evolved as we think we are.

We humans are operating with the same brain that our cavemen ancestors were born with. Even though we have access to so much more information and have the ability to travel across the world, even though we attend universities and every day come into contact with a diverse array of cultures and peoples, we still process information the same way that we did back when we were cavemen.

As Simran puts it, “The way we engage in the world is not because we are stupid or lazy, and it's not because we don't care. There's only so much that our brains can handle. So the key for us is to figure out how to tell stories in a way that connects to our two-thousand year old green brain.”

2. There are some things that we all have in common.

While this information overload might seem to be bad news for storytellers looking to get our messages heard, it's actually good news. If all humans have the same cavemen brains, that means there are certain things that we will always have in common. Such as: caring for and wanting to protect the safety and well-being of our families, appreciation for food, the need for shelter and a sense of community and belonging.

As storytellers, we can always begin with and come back to these truths of the human condition to be sure that our audience walks away with something relevant. When shaping your story, no matter what the issue, it's helpful to ask how you're relating to and appealing to these basic human needs, which we all understand.

3. Facts won't cut it.

According to the psychological research that Simran explores in her talk, facts and information do surprisingly little to sway people's opinions. We tend to filter information based on our previous experiences. If we hear a fact that fits with our existing worldview, we'll pay attention. If not, we'll ignore it.

A video that relies on facts alone will do little to engage an audience. Instead, we need to draw people in with a story, to convey an experience as well as information.

4. The messenger matters.

We trust people who seem to be like us. This means that we'll often only pay attention to information that comes from people who seem to share our existing worldview, and who are accepted by our community and the people we trust. According to Simran, this explains why An Inconvenient Truth was so effective in engaging people who already trusted Al Gore, but did much less to convince those on the other side of the political spectrum.

If you're trying to reach a certain demographic of people, choose a narrator or a main character that is familiar to or respected by that group. When writing narration and titles, keep in mind what language and wording your target audience will respond to.

5. We have a finite pool of worry.

Physiologically, our brains can only hold so much. No matter how frightening an issue might be, we will not be able to care about it if our minds are occupied with other, more immediate concerns.

The best bet for convincing anyone that a cause is worth caring about is to relate it to a concern that they already have. For example, Simran speaks about her neighbor in Kansas who is a climate change skeptic. While this man may not have time to worry about polar bears on melting ice floes in the arctic, he does care greatly about the asthma his daughter has as a result of the local coal plant. An effective conversation about climate change would start there, with his existing concern.

6. Humans respond to 4 kinds of threats.

According to Simran, our brains will only respond to threats that are 1. instantaneous, 2. imminent, 3. personalized, or 4. in some way repulsive to us.

In order to reach people who already have a lot on their minds, we need to find examples that hit closer to home and within our immediate futures, that more obviously impact our ability to lead our daily lives. If you are trying to galvanize a specific community, you'll want to start by finding out which concerns are most pressing to them in their daily lives, and communicate the issue through that lens.

And in order to make a threat or an issue rise to the surface and be acted on, we need to tap into our audience's emotions, to help them feel that information is immediate and important. First, we need to make sure that the story relates to a universal human care (see Lesson #2), and is told through compelling characters (see Lesson #9). Once these basic building blocks are in place, we can also use music to drop our audience into the right frame of mind to experience the emotions we're going for.

7. “We start to desensitize after magnitudes of one.”

It makes sense: we care most about those who are suffering when we can place ourselves in their shoes, and that's hard to do when we're considering vast numbers instead of one individual's experience.

Pick one main character with one main question, and build your story from there.

8. We are relational.

According to Simran, we are storytelling animals. We make meaning out of hearing other people relate their experiences, and by retelling our own. Above all, we are curious about each other and want to be reminded that we are part of a community, that we have the power to impact the people around us.

There is nothing that engages us more than a well-developed character. Make sure that your characters are strong: delve into their backstories and highlight the questions they are struggling with at this particular point in time. Show us how they have grown and changed, and how they interact with those around them.

9. Before we speak, write, direct or produce, we must begin by listening.

We are best at communicating about issues when we understand the hopes, cares, and needs of the people we are speaking to. We won't get anywhere by feeding people information or overloading people with more worries that they can handle. But if we talk to each other, if we ask questions about what concerns affect our audience most and actually listen to the responses, we can't help but speak directly to their cares and interests.

The word storyteller emphasizes “telling,” but in order to be effective we really have to be professional listeners. Even if we think we know the issue that we are communicating about, we still need to begin by researching, by formulating questions, and by remaining open to telling a story that's slightly different than the one we thought we were setting out to tell. Rather than presenting quick-fixes and easy answers, it's sometimes much more powerful to spark questions that will continue a dialogue and encourage an audience to keep thinking long after they leave the theater.

Merete Mueller is a writer and filmmaker specializing in online and new media. Her first documentary film, TINY: A Story About Living Small, will premier this March at SXSW.

Monday
Nov262012

An Editing Tool You Can't Live Without

Technologist/filmmaker Jeffrey Chow

Okay, this post is going to sound a little like an advertisement. But I REALLY want to see this product come to fruition, because it solves a problem that's plagued our industry for too long.

So here it is: I have this brilliant friend here in Boulder, Colorado. His name is Jeff Chow, and he's created a genius app that takes much of the guesswork out of clunky, non-intuitive editing software like Adobe Premier and Final Cut Pro. If this just got your attention, you need to go to Kickstarter immediately and help support this project-- the window for donations closes in just three days.

The app speaks to me on a number of levels. While my focus is on directing and producing short films, I'd love to become proficient at editing them, too, and CTRL+Console makes that process way less intimidating by highlighting simple, logical, user-friendly short cuts. But that's not all. Something else in Jeff's Kickstarter video stood out to me: his focus on helping advocacy groups. In fact, for a Kickstarter donation of $10,000, Jeff and his team will create a charity video for the donor's organization of choice-- and knowing what goes into good advocacy video storytelling, this is one hell of a deal. (So if any of you reading this want to make a pitch to your organization, I highly encourage it!)

Recently, I asked him about his decision to focus on causes, and posted his response below. But first, check out the video, then pitch in a little dough to help make sure this sees the light of day. A mere $35 gets you the app itself!

I've always thought that good business leaders aren't just out to make a profit, but understand they're part of a community. And by giving back, everyone can prosper. Rather than trying to get a bigger slice of the pie, I'd rather grow a bigger pie that we can all benefit from. That's why I've included pledges that benefit nonprofits.

My connection to causes goes back to a job I had as a map correspondent for BACKPACKER Magazine, when I spent 10 months in the woods hiking the Appalachian Trail. That much time living 24/7 in the woods connects you to the rhythm of life and nature in a way that's hard to describe, but certainly pervades one's view of the world. In nature, everything is connected. Traveling in both time and space along 2,175 miles of the Eastern U.S., you get an opportunity to see areas impacted by humans, and areas that have been largely untouched. Areas where trees were harvested and full of stringy undergrowth, juxtaposed with areas where the dense canopy of old-growth provides a playground for animals and humans. Up north in Maine, there are mountaintops where you can't see a single, human-made mark-- just endless forests and lakes. Seeing and experiencing those changes, it becomes obvious that as an ecosystem, a change in one factor affects another. And rather than thinking that we're apart and separate from nature, I believe we're just another example of it-- and that by caring for the community, one cares for oneself. This view of nature is also my view of business and community.

I have volunteered for various nonprofit organizations over the years and have seen how much time and energy they spend fundraising. Fundraising is about advocacy-- getting people to understand then care about the cause-- and advocacy is about getting people to care in a measurable way, so that these organizations can have a real and lasting impact. Videos have the power to make people care, and are increasingly the way people consume content. Yet many advocacy groups don't have the capacity to produce video. If an organization wants to grow that capacity in-house, CTRL+Console attempts to make learning video production faster and easier, allowing staff to be more productive with their time.*

Non-profits do great work serving an important and often underserved area of society. I want to support that effort with the product itself and giving back through my business.

*Editor's Note: TDN would never encourage nonprofit organizations to forgo working with the pros who know better than anyone how to tell a compelling video story, and I know Jeff would agree, because he IS one of those pros. There should be no illusion that a cool app in the hands of a random, untrained nonprofit staffer equals a film that people will want to watch. That said, TDN wholeheartedly supports blossoming in-house teams that are hiring professional editors, working closely with talented directors and cinematographers, and seeking tools that help make video editing a more efficient, user-friendly process.