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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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Monday
Apr182011

Sometimes Simple is Better.

By Scott Kirkwood

Amy and I have spent a lot of time trying to raise the bar for the production of multimedia pieces within our national parks nonprofit. Many of our colleagues want to go out into the parks with a Flip camera and produce a video that they’re certain will captivate viewers. Their thinking often seems to be: “The parks are beautiful, the threats facing them are serious, and anyone can use a camera—you just need to push a button and aim, right?” We’ve spent a lot of energy trying to persuade people that you need a lot more than that.

But these videos from LOVE146 show that sometimes, if your story is powerful enough and simple enough, it just might be better to turn on a camera and listen to someone talk.

A few months back, Amy shared this video with several of us, and told us she thought it was brilliant:

love146.org - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

When it comes to photography, writing, storytelling, and multimedia, Amy and I pretty much always agree. But this time, we didn’t.

I found the piece terribly depressing from the very beginning. The dreary music, the plodding pace, the imagery-- all of it brought me down. The title animation is slick, the distressed font is graphically interesting, and the sepia photos are well-conceived, but it all feels like a very corporate way to tell an otherwise human story.

And the problem is, there’s really no story. We are bombarded by numbers—27 million enslaved, 2 children sold every minute.... I’ve read a lot on what motivates people to advocacy and nearly all of it says that people are more likely to give to your cause if you share the plight of one person, not the plight of millions. A member of your audience can’t help millions, so the response is to quickly shut off. But the idea of helping one person? That’s do-able.

(Interestingly, LOVE146 tries to do this with another piece: Diana’s love story introduces us to a young girl who has been rescued from enslavement, but in blurring her face to protect her identity and translating her own words into English, we never experience the young girl directly, so the attempt fails.)

If you stick around long enough, the piece changes rhythm about two minutes through. People exchange 146 tags, we hear impassioned quotes from Martin Luther King, and then we see colorful images of children, illustrating hope and positive change. Then we’re told some very vague things about what Love146 does. Prevention, advocacy, after-care—I don’t really know what any of these things mean in concrete terms. We see a building of some sort that clearly provides schooling and care, and that tangible image helps a little.

But in the end I’m left with this vague idea that something horrible is happening to many children and some group with a weird name is doing something vague to help them. In the end, it just wasn’t enough to provoke my interest in learning more, or joining the cause. I just wanted to stop watching.

I actually think this LOVE146 video is far superior:

The Broken Heart Club - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

It’s very simple—Rob Morris, the director of LOVE146, sits before a video camera and tells a story. The sound is mediocre. The lighting is poor. A bland, grey wall serves as the background. Morris looks a little like he just woke up. But in the piece, he describes how he stood in a brothel for the first time looking into the eyes of children. He remembers trying to hold in his tears and his anger. He remembers calling his wife from his hotel. When she asked “How are you doing?” he just lost it. He “allowed his heart to break into a million pieces.” At that point, something came to life in him. Someone once told him it is the broken heart that makes us human and only once that happens can love and compassion spill out. And at that point he and the cofounders gave birth to the organization. He tells us that these stories are absolutely heartbreaking, but he celebrates that heartbreak, because it is the broken-hearted that end up changing the world.

In this brief, startlingly simple video, we learn the story of these children, the story of the director’s very personal experience, and even the story of the organization’s founding.

Because Morris starts by telling us how hard it is to deal with this subject, we’re willing to go there with him. The piece leaves us a little saddened, but with a little bit of hope. And enough curiosity to want to learn a little bit more.

Scott Kirkwood is a regular contributor to TDN.

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Reader Comments (2)

Scott, have to disagree with you on this one -- or not necessarily disagree, more recognize that a video like this will hit everyone differently. I heard a few people say the same thing: "I had to turn it off after 30 seconds because it was so depressing."

For me, it probably left the most lasting impression of an advocacy video I have seen. Something about the way the music helped introduce me to an issue I didn't know much about, made me feel terrible inside, then completely lifted me up and made me feel hopeful. I've never been more inspired to spread the word about a cause. I'm not really one to donate after watching an advocacy video, but I certainly felt the desire to help spread the word about this issue.

I think it just reinforces the point that you might not hit everyone the same way, and some people might turn it off and ignore it completely... but if you can inspire even 10 percent of your viewers to be emotionally driven, passionate and ANGRY about an issue, then you probably have done your job!

April 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPerry Wheeler

I thought both videos were extremely effective at doing what they sought to do. Personally, I was emotionally moved by both of them and inspired to spread the word. LOVE146 seems like an incredible organization, and it's great that they understand the power of web-based, visual storytelling.

That being said, I was more intrigued by the first video than the interview of the founder talking. The graphics and animation were stunning, and that alone kept me watching. At the same time, it was extremely simple and slow enough for me to process all the information being thrown at me. I never once felt overwhelmed.

Also, Scott, I understand what you were saying about wanting to hear one person's story, but from my perspective, the intro really was one person's story. That person was an anonymous girl with no name, but the facts were still presented to the viewer by showing them one person we could sort of connect with. I was intrigued and wanted to know more about her. "She was put on a menu." Wow, that made me angry. It hooked me by elevating my emotions to a level that kept me wanting to learn more. Then, I loved how "her" story turned into "their" story. For me, it was seamless transition and allowed me to stay seated because I was already emotionally invested in the one girl we were introduced to.

The only part of the video I thought was too long or drawn out was the 60 seconds part. It think we got the point after 5 or 7 seconds, 17 seemed uncomfortably long (but maybe that was their point).

The ending was brilliant to me. It used MLK to narrate and bring some life to the piece. I felt connected to MLK because he is part of American history, so it took a mainly international issue and drove it home locally, in a subconscious way. The rest was uplifting and excited me that I discovered such a great non-profit.

Those are just my thoughts. I totally see where Scott is coming from, and I think the beauty is that LOVE146 had an additional video on their website that was more compelling to him. This shows that all styles of storytelling impact people differently, and that having a variety to show your audience is ideal. Congrats to LOVE146 - I'm your new follower!

April 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTucker Walsh

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