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.

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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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The Inspirational Trailer: Part 1 of a 5-Part Series

World Wildlife Fund

Last week, I shared what felt like a huge epiphany from my sabbatical: We have to stop lumping advocacy videos into one big category. Goals and audiences vary. Issues and characters vary. The idea that we can apply some one-size-fits-all format to video is only keeping us from producing the truly stellar stories that good causes deserve.

In hindsight, it all seems so obvious. But maybe by having these conversations, and by shedding light on some production-related details, we can turn a squishy, abstract art into something more tangible and process-oriented; something that you don't have to be a genius filmmaker to grasp. 

We'll kick things off with the Inspirational Trailer. Again, please weigh in if you have experience making a video that fits this style-- these posts are just the start. I'm relying on TDN readers to help shape these ideas!

THE GOALS: To inspire viewers to connect to a cause, in a style that plays to the emotions. Advocacy can be subtle. Engage first; educate later; this is just the first step in what is hopefully a long and loyal relationship with this audience.

THE PLAYERS: On camera, it can involve anywhere from one to several different characters, or even simple scenes that connect to an idea or a cause. Behind the camera, it might take several filmmakers, a creative director, an editor, possibly a designer/animator, and also potentially advocacy staff to help guide the concept or suggest characters for the film.

THE FINAL PRODUCT: A 30 to 90-second video that's super inspiring. The film doesn't have to deliver any hard messages, facts and figures, or talking heads-- it's meant to be inspirational, even entertaining; it may even almost "trick" people into caring by tugging at specific emotions. Images and scenes might be symbollic. Metaphorical. Subtle. Big-picture. Lofty. End credits can include a website and/or a simple, clear call to action.

THE GRAB: Inspiration, inspiration, inspiration. Stats and hard messaging can come later. 


People For Bikes; "If I Ride" - Watch more Videos at Vodpod. 

WWF - We Are All Connected - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.
The world is where we live - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

Am I forgetting something brilliant? Feel free to post links to additional videos. Otherwise, tune in next week to learn about the News/Event-Driven Video! 

Over and out from beautiful Yosemite...

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Reader Comments (8)

Is this post coming from the direction of a filmmaker making an advocacy film with their own desired outcome, and funding? Or from producer creating video for a client to fill a strategic need?

October 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Chance

That's a great question, Jessica. I think it could (and maybe even should) come from both. If there are nonprofit communications staff reading this-- and I hope there are-- I think they could jump leagues ahead of the curve by having such a detailed vision of the different kinds of videos that fit their different needs. And by knowing all the moving parts-- from the necessary crew to final run time-- they can start to budget appropriately for these projects. Donors are much more likely to support a group that can say, "To make the most effective film possible, we need $X for an animator, $X for two filmmakers, and this is a deadline we can realistically meet"-- rather than a group that says "Videos are cool! Let's make one about global warming. Not sure what it'll look like but here are some talking points." The latter doesn't inspire nearly as much confidence.

At the same time, parsing out these different video styles and what's required to produce them might help production companies define rates, guide those initial client meetings, and start producing stories that truly fit the topic they've been handed and meet the organization's original outreach goals.

So I think it can benefit anyone who sees a need for an advocacy related video and is involved in that initial concept stage. The more we can recognize, collectively, that different stories lend themselves to different storytelling styles, our processes will become more focused, and our end products more effective. That's my hope, at least.

I just realized that something that could help this series would be to define a set of questions to ask at the outset of each project-- and those answers would point you clearly to a specific style. I'll get to work on that!

October 10, 2011 | Registered CommenterAmy Marquis

Thanks for your reply, Amy. I appreciate that TDN is working to inspire people with your posts, and set a bar for quality video production. I’ve been following TDN now for some time with interest. There is definitely room in this exploding field for best practices on how to proceed in this area. I appreciate the beautiful video examples you post, and the collaborative critiques TDN has developed. These are wonderful tools.

However, I find the assertions you make in this post to be dangerously misleading, especially under the heading of “the science of advocacy.”

Specifically I’m concerned with generically pre-defining and setting expectations about how and what nonprofit organizations should be producing when it comes to video, and how production companies should be serving their clients. As a producer serving nonprofit clients I have to ask what your experience is in this area?

To clarify my own background and perspective: I worked as the communications director for a statewide association for four years. In that role, I produced and utilized video in my efforts to impact state and national legislation, by connecting the voices of youth in foster care to the attention of decision-makers. Our videos worked hand-in-hand with a large, pre-existing nonprofit and advocacy effort for change. It was a very effective tool.

When I saw how effective video was as a complementary arm to an advocacy effort, I left my post to start Chance Multimedia, and have partnered with communications directors for four years now in that role. Our clients include reputable foundations, nonprofits, schools, and more. I'm very passionate about helping nonprofits use video for advocacy. I agree with you... it works and can be very powerful.

Tips and bullet-points about what to expect and how to “do” video production can be helpful, especially when the project itself has been defined. But, and especially when the “project” being discussed isn’t clear, declaring rules is misleading.

These items concern me specifically:

- Pre-defining production time: One-to three days to produce a video and 2-3 days to edit is completely arbitrary. Not only because every project is different, but also because this leaves out pre-production, planning, review, and revision. The advocacy experts and leaders you are working for and with will need to make their mark on your video. And they should. The timeline you lay out here doesn’t account for that. Nonprofit communications staff should focus on “why” before determining “how” to make a video. Then figure out the logistics.

- Not taking existing advocacy effort and expertise into account: In my experience the communications staff at any nonprofit that is going to have the budget and capacity to afford a video like the ones you've posted here, are going to be very savvy communications professionals with years, even decades of experience in their field. They are going to know their audience, their stakeholders, and what resonates with them better than anyone else. They will, or should have, a much larger role than "maybe" suggesting characters or direction. Some will come from a production background as well. Video is going to be one part of a much larger, multi-faceted advocacy effort, and filmmakers will do well to acknowledge that they can bring their expertise to the table, but they will need to bow to and learn from the existing advocacy structure, too. Your video isn’t going to “work” in a vacuum, no matter how technically beautiful it may be.

- Arbitrary expectations: If your audience is a nonprofit with no vision for video, but a large enough budget to hire and compensate a crew like the one you're describing, (In my experience, this is the exception, not the rule) I would warn them not to set expectations for content, production, post-production and therefore budget, without first taking their unique and strategic end-goal into account. The filmmaker you bring in should work with you to figure out the best road to take to get your video produced. Filmmakers and nonprofit professionals should set expectations for budget, production and content once they’ve determined the need and consulted with one another, not the other way around.

Thank you for the opportunity and space to provide feedback. I look forward to continuing this discussion.

-Jessica Chance, Chance Multimedia

October 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Chance

Jessica, I really appreciate this perspective. I definitely have some additional thoughts but am driving between LA and Yosemite today and will be filming like crazy through Wednesday, so I'll have to continue the conversation later this week. Hope to hear some other reactions in the meantime!

October 10, 2011 | Registered CommenterAmy Marquis

Hey Jessica,

Thanks for your feedback on Amy's post today. I agree with many of your thoughts. Some of the specifics outlined above were guidelines, not rules, but the wording failed to make that distinction. Like you said, it is nearly impossible to discuss specific timeframes, budgets and crew without first determining the goals of the production and the message you want to share with your audience.

I do hope it's beneficial to highlight some of the different types of advocacy videos and what each style of storytelling does best. This series is not intended to say there are only five types of advocacy videos and each type must fit into a limited mold. Rather, it's an effort to create an outline that filmmakers, directors, and advocacy groups can utilize to help determine how their message can be best communicated. You make a great point - figuring out the "why" is more important than the "how" - but our hope is this series only helps determine what that "why" is by highlighting the various approaches one can take.

I know Amy has some great ideas for improving the next installment of this series, so check back often and definitely keep sharing your thoughts! Thank you again!

All the best,


October 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTucker Walsh

Editor's Note: The following section was removed in order to better clarify the intentions of the blog post and eliminate generalizations that may be misleading.

THE LOGISTICS: One to three days to film around an event that might be staged. Up to a week or longer to animate or design a set for a more visually conceptual piece. Two to three days to edit.

October 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Digital Naturalist

Thanks for your replies, comments and edit, Amy and Tucker. I appreciate it. I've got a lot on this week as well, but will chime back in with some further thoughts later this week, and look forward to hearing yours, too.

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Chance

Hello everybody,
Thanks so much for sharing the Topsy commercial.
Using an AIDS patients dramatic recovery to demonstrate the effect Topsy and its ARV treatment programme can have on those battling the advanced effects of HIV/AIDS. When treated, a person on the verge of death can return to health in a matter of months

If it resonated with you then please do support us here: topsy.givengain.org
And check us out on facebook.com/thetopsyfoundation
Thank you.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTopsy Foundation

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