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.


Entries in advocacy video guidelines (19)


The News/Event-Driven Video: Part 2 of a 5-Part Series

Arkansas Puppy Mill Rescue - Humane Society of the United States

Two weeks ago, in my excitement to "turn a squishy, abstract art into something more tangible and process-oriented," I started diving into production details that deserved much more research and critical thought than I was capable of giving in the midst of a film assignment. So I really appreciate multimedia producer Jessica Chance for raising a red flag on the post. She's right-- defining some arbitrary and regimented production schedule, failing to take NGO expertise into account, and forcing vastly different stories into one prescribed mold is dangerously misleading advice.

Visual storytelling is an art, and it always will be, no matter what kind of practices we standardize. Our work will be most effective when we remain adaptable in our approach and keep our vision creative and unique. My goal with this series is not to offer some rigid checklist that guarantees brilliant results-- no such thing will ever exist. Rather, I hope to start a conversation about how we can focus our messages, refine our processes, and produce appropriate videos based on our advocacy goals.

So this week, I'm taking a step back. I'm sticking to ideas I can vouch for, while encouraging critical thinking about the stuff that's harder to define. As you watch the videos below, challenge yourself with questions like, why do they work? What kind of production team do you think they required? What kind of advanced planning might have taken place? And how can you apply those ideas to your next video project? At some point, I hope to engage the original filmmakers in this discussion-- but for now, I think there's value in pondering the answers ourselves. It stretches our brains and makes us more active participants in the art of effective storytelling.

As I see it, the News/Event-Driven Video is defined by:

THE GOALS: To capture viewers' attention about a timely and critical event related to your cause.

THE PRODUCT: A video that illustrates a specific event and people's raw and genuine reactions to that event. Might include formal interviews if interviews are needed to further explain the story, but sometimes visuals alone can carry the piece. Might also include graphics or animation to help illustrate what's happening.


The Humane Society

This video is never going to win any cinematography awards. The lighting is poor; the compositions, mediocre; the audio, challenging to make out in places. But damned if I'm not moved to tears every time I watch it. Why does it work? Because it's a shocking event with shocking visuals to back it up. It's impossible to watch this without wondering how humans can be so careless with other living things. It stirs emotions, triggers anger-- and according to this study, angry viewers are much more likely to spread the word. So I can forgive the guerrilla-style filmaking, because the topic alone is powerful enough to make this story a visual success.

World Wildlife Fund

WWF Earth Hour - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

I can't imagine the amount of planning that went into this. To capture real-time footage in all these different locations all over the world must have required months of planning, tons of equipment, multiple filmmakers, a hefty budget, and a brilliant editor to make sense of all the resulting footage. I don't imagine many nonprofits have the means to pull off a project so sweeping and grand, but that doesn't mean they can't learn from this one. If you know you have an event coming up in April-- the kind of event that might rally a community and create new excitement around your cause-- why not start thinking about the visual potential now? Planning ahead is huge.

Filmmaker Matt Wisniewski

This one breaks the mold. There are no formal interviews, or even many soundbites-- just an inspiring song and beautifully synced visuals to back it up. Sure, this filmmaker could have gone around and interviewed the protesters, featured more quotes from the podium, and even inserted his own voice. But I doubt the final product would have stood out from the flood of news coverage on the Wisconsin protests as well as this video does. Instead, we have an inspiring and memorable glimpse of a timely and critical event-- a video whose message is simple, clear, and uncluttered.

You might be wondering why I didn't include an example like this-- the old-school, formulaic, TV news correspondent-driven narrative. I suppose it works just fine for network news, but I have a real aversion to this style in the advocacy context. The narrator's inflection is so unnatural-- I'd never tell a story to a friend in such a tone-- and using it risks making intimate human stories sound cold and mechanical. And the predictable nature of it gives viewers too many opportunities to get bored and zone out. I know we can do better than that.

But that's just my opinion. What's yours? Keep the conversation going in the comments below, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Next Monday we'll drill down on a biggie: the Issue-Driven Video. Stay tuned!


Nonprofit Profile: Preemptive Love Coalition


By Tucker Walsh

One day last spring, my photojournalism classmate, Lydia Bullock, whispered into my ear, "Tucker, I'm going to Iraq." I sat up straight. "For six months," she added. Lydia, at barely five feet tall with short blonde hair, might seem like the least-likely candidate to move to a war zone for half a year. But her passion to do good was insationable. She had a mission to help the Iraqi people through "visual peacemaking," and so, too, did her comrades in arm, the Preemptive Love Coalition. Living and working in Iraq, PLC trains local heart surgeons and nurses to help the tens of thousands of children in need of surgery. By documenting each child's operation, they do what far too many nonprofits fail to do: let donors see first-hand the lives they are saving, literally. Find out how they do it in my Q&A with PLC co-founder Cody Fisher. 

Untitled - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.



TDN: Talk about how and why PLC made video and digital storytelling a priority. Has it been a major part of PLC's marketing outreach from the start, or is it a new strategy you're developing to reach your audience?
PLC: Storytelling matters because people matter. That means we’re in the endless pursuit of finding the most effective mediums for storytelling, and right now it has so much to do with video and digital storytelling.

Our work takes us to cities and villages all over Iraq, so we’re constantly listening to the stories of people we live and work alongside - stories that bring us to tears, stories that make us throw our heads back and laugh, and stories that shatter stereotypes and misunderstandings. We’re better for hearing them, and we want others to hear them, too.

People need to know Sheikh Ali and his coalition of Muslim leaders who are waging peace across Iraq alongside us. They need to know little Ghazel and her father who left their secure Sunni community so the Shiite doctors down the road could give her the lifesaving heart surgery she desperately needed. This father put his daughter in the hands of his “enemy” to make a statement that there can and will be peace in Iraq. These people matter, and so do their stories.

We live this out by never going anywhere without a camera and a paper and pen to document our day-to-day interactions. Every lifesaving heart surgery we perform in Iraq is documented and crafted into our story so people back home can feel like they’re right here with us, and also so the families of these children can see that their story is important and that their voice is being heard.

We’ve always been passionate about digital storytelling because we see it as a form of visual peacemaking. We began PLC with the story of the first child we saved, a boy named Aras, and we haven’t stopped telling stories since.

But of course, we’ll never stop developing and evolving how we’re doing it.

Saving Mohammad's Life - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.


TDN: Why is visual storytelling important for nonprofits to invest in?
PLC: A love for good storytelling is in our DNA. It’s how we’re wired. To miss out on good stories means to miss out on so much of what it means to be human. Without a doubt, one of the most thrilling day-to-day tasks that I have is using the stories I hear to connect the people I love around the world with the people I love in Iraq. For a nonprofit to miss out on knowing and telling the stories of those they’re helping, it means others miss out on it too, and if that’s the case then how are they supposed to care about your cause?

If you want to cultivate a community of passionate advocates and donors who stick with you for the long run, start telling stories.

TDN: How do you decide what subject or stories you want to document? Who shoots and produces them?
PLC: Everything we do is filtered through our Core Values, so every story we tell reflects them in some way or another. Beyond that, we want to tell the stories we don’t think others are telling or hearing. We’re fully aware of the single story that most of the world hears about Iraq, and we’re out to tell the stories that people are missing out on - stories of hope, courage, and reconciliation.

In Iraq, we’ve had the privilege to work alongside filmmakers and photographers like Lydia Bullock, Heber Vega, Matt Brandon, Matthew Foster Addington from the Duck Duck Collective, Mario Mattei and the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers, and Jonathan Olinger and Ricky Norris from Discover The Journey.

PLC 3 - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.


TDN: Which videos have been most effective? Are there any that you feel failed to get the message across? How did you learn from those?
PLC: One of our first black-and-white videos (above) about a little girl named Nivar was huge for us. We were blown away by all the positive feedback and responses we received after we launched it. Kids loved it, parents loved it, and we heard stories from so many families who watched it together and talked about how to help Nivar.

We had a few ill-conceived vignettes of children that never lasted long. Those were the times we failed to develop a working plan for before we started to film.

We’ve learned the hard way... but we’re better for it. We’ve found that the best videos are simple and personal. If we try to communicate too much in one video, or if we stray from telling the story of just one child or family, we lose our impact.

TDN: Once you create a video, how do you make sure it gets seen?
PLC: We hand it over to our press secretary and he launches it out through the main social media outlets and our blog. If it’s a timeless piece that we want to be around for a while, we’ll put it up on our homepage along with e-mailing it to our followers. From there it makes it way to other blogs, walls, Twitter feeds, donor mailboxes... you name it!

But getting seen in sheer numbers is never our goal. We also want the right people to see it. If we create a video on development, it needs to be seen by people we know really care about development work. If it’s about the medical aspect of our work, then it needs to be seen by the people in the medical field. If our videos are missing the key audiences who would connect with it, we’re not doing our videos justice.

TDN: What percentage of your overall budget is dedicated to video, video staff, marketing, etc?
PLC: Until recently, we have focused most of our efforts on making sure the maximum amount of what we have is making its way to our programs - even if investing in more traditional and new marketing options would’ve produced more revenue.

Last year we put about 3% of our budget into media production (we don’t have any hired staff for media production but we contracted out a few jobs). Off the top of my head, we probably put about $7-8k into media creation last year.

Rather than assume that quality video and photography was out of reach for our paltry budget, we chose to do almost all of our design, video, and photography in-house. Most of our allocated budget was used to purchase equipment with a dedicated grant that was made for that purpose.

We also have one of the most passionate support groups we could ask for, so a lot of our best work was done by volunteers and supporters who wanted to be a part of our work. 

Reconciliation Through Healing - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.


TDN: Tell me about your latest video (above). What did you try to do differently from past videos?
PLC: With our most recent video we sought to articulate our grand vision of “Reconciliation through Healing” - the idea that violence destroys trust and physical healing rebuilds it. The people of Iraq have suffered tremendous injustices - many of which they attribute to America, Americans, and America’s foreign policy. So when we bring in Americans to heal their children, we have a great opportunity to rebuild trust and rebuild the worlds that have been destroyed. We help communities inside Iraq that are at odds with each other learn to work together, serve each other’s children, and openly convey this message of peace.

The short video is the most “big picture” piece we’ve created to date. It’s also our first entirely animated piece, which was a lot of fun! Animation allowed us to tell stories and convey historical elements that we could have never adequately captured with a physical camera.

TDN: Several of your videos, such as "Thoughts on Nivar," are mainly audio driven. Others, like "compulsive whistling video" are purely visual (and music) driven. How do you decide which style is be best to capture the story your trying to tell? Have you found one type of video more effective than the other?
PLC: We choose whichever style tells each individual story the best. If we have footage that does a great job communicating the story in a way that words would negate the impact, then we keep our mouths shut and let the visuals and music take over. If the footage needs a narrative to fill in the gaps, we grab a mic and try to do exactly that. A lot of times we don’t know which way will work best until we see what footage we have to work with.

Because our supporters live around the world, I think the most effective videos for us are the ones that transcend language and rely completely on visual storytelling. In that sense, our purely visual stories reach a much larger audience.

TDN: Have you ever gotten complaints about showing graphic heart surgery images without any warnings?
PLC: I think I’m the only one that’s complained. Seriously, I don’t have the stomach for it. I’ve been in multiple operating rooms to document surgeries but I still can’t get used to staring directly at the heart of a child I know and love. My heroes are the doctors we bring into Iraq that can mend one heart after another.

I think they’re important shots, though, and I’m glad we get them. It may sound odd, but the people who appreciate them most are the children’s parents. They love seeing the hands that are healing their child.

TDN: What tips do you have for other nonprofits that are trying to embrace this medium?
PLC: Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s an intimidating world out there - especially the medium of digital storytelling - and it’s easy to think all of this isn’t worth pursuing unless you’re able to be the best. That’s a mistake. Grab a camera, shoot hours of footage and be happy with the few seconds of actual good footage you end up with. Start creating digital stories and don’t be offended when others critique you. Be thankful for them and learn from them. The worst storytellers are the ones who are silent. Scream your digital lungs out and see what happens. 


Learn more at PreemptiveLove.org and on Facebook.


3 Rules for Getting Your Video Seen

By Jack Jostes & Chris Woodley of Ramblin Jackson

If you’re reading this blog, you probably work for or with an organization that’s dedicated to a cause-- and whether that cause relates to poverty, the environment, or women’s health, the messages you send to the public are important.

So you’ve established a community. And you’ve established a brand. And maybe you’ve just produced a really stunning video. Mission accomplished, right? Not so fast. If no one sees your video, it doesn’t matter how great it is, or how much time and effort it took to create it. More than likely, it’s not going to become viral on it’s own (more on this in a previous post), so it’s up to you to get it out there. 

Unfortunately, too many organizations view the video as the END goal, and fail to budget in the time, brainpower, and money necessary to make sure the video gets to the people they're trying to reach. Doing so requires a lot of work, but these three rules will get you off to a good start. (Quick disclaimer: Video marketing can be a complex science. We could offer 100 tips below, but the fact is there's no single formula that fits every scenario. The goal of this post is to shift organizational thinking in the right direction... but it's only meant as a first step.)

1) Have a plan.
While your video is still in production, begin looking for ways to get the completed version out onto the interwebs. Draft a plan that includes the sites where you want to place the video, your advertising budget, the staff responsible for monitoring hits and comments to the video, etc. There are dozens of sites that can help spread your message-- YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, Twitter, etc.-- and best of all, many of them are FREE! Determining which social network or website is worth investing time in will be different for each organization; if you’re not sure which one is right for your, we recommend asking a Social Media consultant.

2) Use keywords where it matters.
Once you’ve selected the websites where you want to upload your video, make sure that you include keywords in your file names, tags, titles, and descriptions. Pay SPECIAL attention to file names: While the person who produced your video might have named the file "CompanyXvideo2.mov,” it's unlikely that your audience will search for such keywords. Working with a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialist  for this portion of the project would be a great idea, and there’s also plenty of excellent information about video SEO at reelseo.com and CopyBlogger.com.

3) Embed the video onto your website’s home page using YouTube.
  • Don’t bury your video on some hard-to-find interior page of your site-- make sure it's visible from the home page!
  • When grabbing the embed code from YouTube,  deselect “show suggested videos when the video finishes.” Otherwise it can be distracting to the viewer.

  • If your video was produced in high-definition, upload it in high-definition. Don’t sacrifice the quality, not even on sites like Facebook, YouTube, etc. The sound will also sound better as a result!

Again, while these three rules are a good and simple start, marketing your work can be a time-consuming and uncertain process, and generally takes a lot of trial-and-error before you get it right. They call us “social media experts” for a reason! The good news is, we’re here to help. Follow Ramblin Jackson on Twitter (@ramblinjackson), or post a question about video marketing on our Facebook Wall.

Ramblin Jackson is a social media company in Boulder, Colorado. To see more of their work, visit ramblinjackson.com

Fonts Matter.

© DoubleM2If you're reading this blog, you're probably the visual type. You might own a pretty nice camera, and you might even take pretty nice pictures with it. You might geek out over After Effects and cutting-edge cinematography, just like I do. You're likely drawn to good stories, and probably enjoy the challenge of visualizing them. But how much do you pay attention to fonts? That stuff is just for graphic designers, right? Not so fast. If you're relying on text to guide a video, you should be giving typography just as much thought as you would quotes and images and music. But don't worry—TDN Contributor Morgan Heim did a bunch of research, so that you don't have to. Read on to learn more...


With names like Seven Monkey Fury, Kontrapunkt, and Rational Integers, no one would blame you for thinking I was just talking about some new bands… or as in the case of the last one, the most awesome math club ever. What all of these share, though, is the art of the 26-character design. You got it: fonts.

Fonts are a generally underappreciated art form. A graphic-designer friend recently stated that no one notices fonts until you screw one up. And who would want to get caught using the wrong kind of font? Embarrassing! So I’d like us all to buck that trend a little, and instead pay attention to fonts—or as some like to refer to it, typography—for the good things they bring to a multimedia piece.

Letters come in more shapes and sizes than you can doodle. Some look like slight variations on common themes, while others, such as Kontrapunkt, definitely carry their own sort of panache.

Regardless of your fancy, fonts—I mean typography—can influence the mood and style of a piece just as surely as photos and music can. Done well, I dare say, you don’t need much else. In fact there’s a whole genre of multimedia out there that specializes in doing just that—it’s called kinetic typography. Check out the following links to see what I mean:


Now, before we go any further, try this exercise: Look at each of the following fonts and think of three words that you would use to describe them—one word for era (eg: space age, hipster, classic), one for style (eg: clean, robotic, grunge) and another for emotion (eg: thrilling, somber, scary). You might use slightly different words to describe each font, but I bet in general, each of your choices will convey a fairly universal theme, regardless of your bias. Some fonts just scream scary, while others hint at old carnival posters.

This illustrates the different feelings a font can add to your project. A punk-rock skateboard flick just wouldn’t look right with font that reminds you of The Great Gatsby. (For the sake of convenience, I'm picking obvious mismatches; you’ll likely have to choose among much subtler differences.)

This brings me to my next point: variety.

By default, most of the fonts that come with your standard software setup aren’t that interesting. Plus, everyone is using them. Thankfully, there is a wealth of options out there for people who want to expand their design repertoire. Below is a list of creative-commons sources for typography; incorporating them into your existing editing suite is almost as easy as downloading them.

I have to admit, I recently spent an entire Friday night in a downloading frenzy, but already my multimedia is bearing the fruits of this labor. So, in the spirit of typography, embrace your inner font nerd. Your work can only benefit from it.

Morgan Heim is a photojournalist living in Boulder, Colorado.


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.