By Tucker Walsh
Oscar-winning director Jessica Yu was one of 30 filmmakers challenged by Focus Forward Films with creating a three-minute web video on “innovative people who are reshaping the world through act or invention.” She chose to do a film on Mr. Toilet. Here’s 10 reasons why I think it’s one of the best short-form advocacy videos I’ve ever seen.
1. Intriguing. Before the viewer even presses play, we see two things. 1. The title: "Meet Mr. Toilet." Who’s going to pass up clicking play on that video? 2. The thumbnail image: an Asian man in a business suit at the edge of a cement structure squatting down (as if on a toilet) and looking out onto the vast ocean. Weird, right? Intriguing, right? You wanted to click, right? I did, too.
Side note: Don’t let Vimeo/YouTube to choose your project thumbnail for you! What image do you want representing your story, and graphically speaking, what will catch people’s eyes when they’re skimming through their Facebook feeds or RSS readers?
2. Universal Appeal. The first two seconds of Meet Mr. Toilet start with, “When we were children, our parents told us...” Bam-- it draws immediate universal curiosity. Everybody was a child once, so everybody can relate and everybody will be intrigued. Oh yeah, something else is also universal... TOILETS!
3. Hilarious. I once asked MediaStorm producer Eric Maierson what type of college-level multimedia video he rarely sees but wishes more people would do. Funny stories, he told me. Let’s be honest with ourselves-- most documentaries, especially advocacy films, are often super serious, sometimes downright depressing. True, millions of people dying from contaminated water is anything but funny, but that doesn’t mean the topic can’t be approached from a lighter angle. Jon Stewart does this brilliantly on a nightly basis. Using humor can have a ripple-effect of positive payoffs.
4. Character-driven. Mr. Toilet is the perfect character: He's likable, unusual, passionate, inspiring, and, of course, hilarious. And when you have the perfect character to communicate your message in three short minutes, why interview anyone else? Keep it focused. Use your subject as a hook to capture people’s attention. Relate the subject to the issue and the issue to the subject.
5. Issue-driven. Even at the most hilarious moments in this film, the issue is still king. Every line builds off the last one to create a narrative about an important issue that far too many people know little about. While only three minutes long, the viewer not only feels educated and entertained, but sold on the idea that this is a devastating issue that needs serious attention.
6. Unique. Who the hell has ever done a mini-doc on toilets before?
7. True multimedia. In 180 seconds, this film uses interview “A-Roll,” “B-Roll” of the subject, “B-Roll” of the contaminated water, stock video footage, animation, still photographs, newspaper graphics, video portraits, and podium speech footage. Using a variety of visual aids allowed the director to only cut back to the interview to introduce the speaker and show emotion and humor. Furthermore, the quirky animation provided a direct visual for the parts of the narrative that could not be covered with real footage, like shit on fire burning a house down.
8. Short and sweet. Three minutes is the perfect length for a viral web video. When it’s a great story, it feels more like two minutes, and it’s more than enough time to get a serious, thorough message across. No matter how busy one is, everyone has three minutes to spare, especially if it’s to be entertained and informed. For this type of viral advocacy video, short and sweet is always a winner.
9. Hopeful. I dare anyone to watch this video and not have a smile on their face when the credits come up. The last line is, “I think we can see the day that everybody on Planet Earth will have access to clean toilets any day, any time.” The last visual is Mr. Toilet and one of the people he’s helped exuberantly laughing and hugging. People are more likely to get involved, share the video, and remember the message if they are left feeling something. Make the viewer angry and fed up, or leave them laughing and overcome with joy. Emotions lead to action.
10. Call to action. There’s no text slide with a website link or direct call to action, most likely because this video wasn’t shot for a client. However, my guess is this video has a larger aim, which is to remind the mass public that every time they take a dump, they should feel grateful for their toilet; and to raise awareness that contaminated water kills millions of children yearly. By taking an embarrassing topic (poop) and packaging it into a humorous, brief, character-driven video, viewers can share that video with their network knowing they're helping to spread important information while also putting a smile on their friends' faces.
Want a shot at creating a similar project? Starting in April, Focus Forward films will be accepting three-minute videos about “people or organizations whose innovative efforts in medicine, computer science, robotics, engineering, green energy, or other fields of applied technical knowledge have had a significant positive impact on humanity.” You could win $100,000 and a a trip to Sundance 2013. Find out more athttp://www.focusforwardfilms.com/faq.