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.
WHO'S DONE IT WELL, AND WHY:
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
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.