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.

Try This!

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 videos (26)


PROJECT BREAKDOWN: The Other Side of the Clouds

Yosemite volunteers Henk & Georgia Parson at their campsite / © Tucker Walsh

As many of you know, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) recently launched a video that Tucker and I produced in Yosemite last fall. On many levels, it was a dream assignment: Spend 10 days in a stunning national park, and come back with a cool story that supports NPCA's mission. But like any storytelling assignment, we encountered many unique and often stressful challenges.

Check out our video below, then read the project breakdown that follows. And let us know what you think!


One of the coolest parts of working for NPCA is that after seven years, you're eligible for a six-week paid sabbatical to pursue a passion project related to the national parks. Well, last June marked my seventh anniversary as an editor for National Parks magazine. And there was no question in my mind that the following September, I'd hitch up my Airstream, head west to a national park, and direct an advocacy video for NPCA.

After months of planning and brainstorming with coworkers, I set my sights on Yosemite, and invited Tucker to join me to shoot a story about traffic problems within the park. There was just one problem: Two days in, it was clear we'd missed the worst of the gridlock. And while we knew we could probably land some good interviews, it would be impossible to tell this story visually.

Thankfully, NPCA was open to us heading in a whole new direction, and another answer lay in our very backyard. Turns out the couple in the campsite next to us-- retirees turned full-time Yosemite volunteers-- had some fascinating stories to tell. After spending just 15 minutes with them, we knew they'd make great characters for our film. (Read more about this on NPCA's blog.)

So we went right to work. And this is how the project unfolded...


1. Time. Because we switched stories, we had, at most, four days to embed ourselves with our subjects.

2. Tension. The last film we wanted to make was a fluffy profile video about two jolly volunteers. We needed tension. So when they told us that they hardly ever went into Yosemite anymore, our ears perked up. How does someone volunteer for Yosemite full-time, yet never actually goes there more than once or twice a month? Turns out they spend most days working in an military-like office complex in the small town of El Portal. Their jobs range from stuffing envelopes, to creating spread-sheets, to scanning and cataloging books. Immediately, Tucker's mind started racing for possible ways to introduce this hook: Cute couple that’s traveled the world now sits inside doing mundane tasks minutes away from Yosemite. Why they do it: Year after year after year they continue volunteering to keep busy, stay healthy, and prolong death. They see their old friends just “rocking in their chairs counting down the days,” and they say, “Nope, not us. We’re going to keep on living.” Sounds like the start of a solid little narrative, right? Well…

3. Depth. Here’s where it gets complicated. Henk and Georgia, in their words, come from a generation and upbringing that frowns upon complaining in any way. So during the interviews, there was this stalwart refusal to speak about their jobs or health in any negative light. Admirable qualities, indeed, but certainly makes storytelling difficult. In fact, stuffing 700 envelopes in a dark room all alone on a beautiful Sunday afternoon is something they enjoy! We didn’t buy it. Two days to go, and we’re back to square one of narrative building.

4. Visuals. We had plenty visuals of Henk and Georgia in their RV and the office, but without any direct quotes to carry the tension we wanted to portray, we were basically left with shots of an adorable woman stuffing envelopes. Zzzzzz. One day to go.

5. Advocacy. Three days in, Henk admitted that they didn't "waive the National Park Service flag." Sure, they supported the idea of public lands for all to enjoy. And yes, when it came down to it, Yosemite held a special place in their hearts. But they tended not to differentiate between the value of volunteering in a national park versus anywhere else where they were needed in the past-- like the Olympics in Atlanta, for example. So anytime we fished for an inspiring quote about the power of Yosemite, or something about their connection to the place, or what's kept them there for 10 years, we'd get painfully logical answers: They weren't here because of some intense love or loyalty to the landscape; they were here because they were trying to stay active while they aged. And Georgia's doctor happened to be in the town next door.


1. Location. We came to the conclusion that the only way to pull this video off was to get them in the park. It meant they'd no longer be the atypical volunteers that first attracted us to them, but we’d get some beautiful Yosemite visuals-- something NPCA and park lovers would enjoy. So they dug up an old assignment that required them to document historic markers in the valley, and we got a few hours of footage of them in the park, which ended up being nearly half the film.

2. Tension. The more we transcribed, the more we realized that the tension and conflict we needed to create a complex story just didn't exist. So we decided to keep it simple and light, about a charismatic couple coming to terms with aging the best way they knew how: by doing good in a national park.

3. Time. We spent as much time as possible filming Henk and Georgia at work and in their RV-- and they were extremely gracious about this, inviting us in every time because they wanted very much to see us succeed. At night, we'd go through footage and talk about how the story was shaping up, so that by the time Tucker left, we had some semblance of a storyboard to work with.

4. Advocacy. I can't tell you how many times I freaked out over the lack of inspiring park quotes. Had I made a huge mistake, choosing to focus on characters who didn't live for the national park experience? But Henk and Georgia are who they are, and framing them as anyone different would have been a huge disservice to their story. So we went with the story they gave us. And then we threw in as many inspiring Yosemite images as we could. And what do you know, a few months later when I premiered the film at NPCA's headquarters in Washington, D.C., staff were so drawn to Henk and Georgia's charm and honest message that they didn't seem bothered by the lack of inspiring park quotes. One coworker even commented after the showing that because the message was so subtle, more Americans-- park lovers or not-- will be able to relate to the story. Exactly!


1. When in need, remember stock photos. With only a few hours of footage from the park, the video was feeling a little too light on parks for NPCA. So we found three nice, cheap landscapes of Acadia, Ft. Sumter, and, yes, Yosemite-- all of the park units where Henk and Georgia had volunteered-- and then Tucker applied an Instagram effect so they'd match other old photos in the scrapbook scene. Not ideal, but we think it was a pretty clever solution for filling an important visual hole.

2. If your characters aren't opening up in interviews, get them to open up when you're shooting b-roll. A big part of the reason we decided to keep the office scenes is because Georgia finally admitted that stuffing envelopes was “a lot of repetition,” and it was enough to hint at the fact that not all the work they do is glamorous and fun. That said, even without this, we absolutely needed to incorporate their office work into the story somehow; showing them only in Yosemite would have been fiction.

3. Quotes shouldn't have to do all the work. This was a hard lesson for me, coming from so many years of print journalism, where we often rely on stellar quotes to guide stories. But in this case, even though Henk and Georgia didn't say everything we hoped they'd say, we were still able to tell a genuine story about them and let the visuals (Yosemite landscapes, office scenes, hand-holding on trails) do the rest. Never underestimate the power of visuals!

That's all we've got! Thanks to Tucker for adding many of the thoughtful reflections above. We'd love to know what YOU think of the video, so share your comments below, or join the conversation on Facebook!


The Character-Driven Video: Part 4 of a 5-Part Series

"The Mast Brothers" by The Scout

Ahhh folks, this is a tough one. Tucker and I have searched high and low for nonprofit videos that meet the quality we're looking for in a Character-Driven Video-- but we keep coming up short. And that's a bummer, because in my opinion, this is is the most powerful category of them all.

Instead, I'm going to post some documentary-style videos that weren't produced by advocacy groups, but stand as really solid models regardless. By getting viewers to care about the central characters in these stories, these filmmakers are also getting viewers to care about the bigger themes those characters are part of (chocolate as an art, families in poverty, and the sacrifices of caretakers). And that's a formula nonprofits can learn from.

As I see it, the Character-Driven Video is defined by:

THE GOALS: To inspire appreciation for a cause through the perspective of a character (or characters) whose life relates to that cause. Ditching figures and stats in exchange for human stories that other humans can't help but connect to.

THE PRODUCT: An intimate character profile that keeps the character central, but also expands to tell a bigger story about a bigger issue that their life represents. The advocacy itself is subtle. For example, a video like this doesn't make you care about women's health care in Zambia by relying on a bunch of experts to say it's a problem; it makes you care by telling the story of a woman in Zambia who is struggling with health care. It's the A+ example of the age-old storytelling rule: "Show, don't tell." In the end, your audience should feel like they caught an intimate glimpse of someone's personal struggle-- not like they were being preached to by an advocacy group. In fact, I imagine the most successful videos would take the organization out of the story almost completely, aside from a simple logo and URL text slide at the end.


The Scout

The Mast Brothers - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

This is one of my favorite kinds of character-driven videos-- the kind that grabs you with a raw and intimate glimpse of the person (in this case, two brothers' passion for the sea)-- which offers viewers an immediate connection-- and then weaves that into the larger story the filmmakers ultimately want you to care about (in this case, the brothers' business: chocolate). The quotes are constantly answering the "So what? Who cares?" questions, and by the end, viewers understand that their business is about more than just making candy; it's about finding art and meaning in a craft that has sadly been reduced to 99-cent bags of high-fructose corn syrup on the shelves of Walmart.

Filmmaker Catherine Spangler at UNC

Enough to Survive - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

This one's a heartbreaker, and could very well serve as a video for a nonprofit that's tackling poverty. Again, there's nothing wrong with facts and figures when used in the right way-- but numbers don't hold a flame to the emotion on this woman's face when she talks about her situation.

Evolve Digital Cineman/IMG

The Promise - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

I don't love the style of this video (the dramatic zooms on interviews, the scripted narration), but never mind, because it fits ESPN's brand. What I love is that this starts out as just another super-cinematic, adrenaline-packed profile about an ambitious athlete-- no doubt inspiring enough to keep you watching-- but then it jolts you into a much deeper story 2 minutes and 15 seconds in. And that's when the story gets real. In the end, you're not just impressed by the character's physical potential-- you're left thinking hard about everything he's sacrificed for his father, how clueless we when we judge people on the surface, the pressures of being a caretaker, the frailty of life, the depth of human suffering...

Agree? Disagree? Have something to add that we might have overlooked? Keep the conversation going in the comments below, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Next week we'll drill down on the Fundraising Video-- the last in our series. Stay tuned!


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...


Five Types of Advocacy Videos: A 5-Part Series

Gaining perspective above Tuolomne Meadows

As most of you know, I've been away on a six-week sabbatical that marks my seventh year as an editor at the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). It's hard to believe an entire month has passed since I settled into El Portal, a tiny town just two miles west of Yosemite National Park in California. I'm here to produce two short films for National Parks magazine. Tucker and I are putting the finishing touches on the first one; this Wednesday, Sarah Menzies and I will start filming the second.

I've been directing videos from behind a desk for several years now, so parts of this process are nothing new. But to finally be on the ground, behind the camera, combing through every second of footage in Final Cut Pro and debating endlessly the strongest possible story angle-- it's epic. Exhausting. Exhilarating. And hands down the toughest assignment of my career.

Just 10 days in, I'd grown so much as a stoyteller that when I sat down to list my "lessons learned," I didn't know where to start. All I knew is that I probably had enough material to generate a year's worth of TDN posts. It wasn't until I was driving Tucker back to the airport that today's post came into focus. As we reflected on our assignment, I kept coming back to the one thing that surprised me most: how hard we worked to take the advocacy out of this advocacy video. It sounds backwards, I know-- but every time we tried to place a glowing quote about Yosemite or the National Park Service in our edit, the story felt forced. Cliché. Like we cared more about pushing prescribed talking points, and less about the quality of the story itself. So we'd back off, and start down another path. And we did that over, and over, and over again, until we were sure we were telling a truly genuine story. We'll see later this month if the critics agree.

Does that mean the cause always has to be so subtle? Not necessarily. I've seen plenty of in-your-face advocacy videos that work just fine-- Charity Water's September campaign is the perfect example. Then it hit me: All this time, I've been lumping "advocacy videos" into one big, vague category, and that's been an enormous oversight of this blog. In reality, advocacy videos come in all shapes and sizes, and for good reason: Goals vary. Audiences vary. Trying to force every video into some one-size-fits-all format hasn't worked so far, and it never will.

This series is an attempt to define several core types of advocacy videos, based on the most effecitve works I've seen to date. My hope is that these concrete profiles will help advocacy groups envision exactly what kind of video best fits their goals; after all, knowing what the end product looks like is half the battle. So here they are-- five distinct styles, each of which addresses five very different communication goals:

1. The Inspirational Trailer, meant to introduce a general audience to a cause or idea.
2. The News or Event-Driven Video, meant to send a critical message to members and supporters about a timely event.
3. The Issue-Driven Video, meant to educate and motivate viewers about an ongoing issue that needs attention.
4. The Character-Driven Video, meant to inspire appreciation and compassion for an issue by putting a human face on it. (Potentially the most subtle, yet most powerful, of advocacy videos.)
5. The Fundraising Video, meant to appeal directly to current and potential donors, as well as to brand an organization and show its operations, successes, and goals in an inspiring, motivating light.

Over the next five weeks, I'll break these categories down even further, addressing a series of questions like: What are the production requirements behind each style? Who are the essential players, on camera and behind the scenes? What should the final product look like, and who's already doing it well?

So stay tuned. And as you read, by all means, weigh in. I don't claim to have all the answers, and in my current sabbatical bliss, I might have overlooked something really obvious. So leave your comments on the blog, or keep the conversation going on Facebook and Twitter.

Sending happy and productive vibes from Yosemite!


Q&A: Stop Torture In Healthcare

By Tucker Walsh

We hear it all the time: The "future" of digital storytelling is about collaboration -- telling character-driven stories with a purpose, publishing them in multiple platforms, and sharing through social media. Well folks, the future is here. Scott Anger and Bob Sacha, who've collectively produced work for National Geographic, NPR, LA Times, and MediaStorm, to name a few, have set the bar. By creating poignant and intimate character-driven stories for The Open Society Foundation's "Stop Torture in Healthcare" campaign, they took issues I didn't even know existed and made me care. Find out how in my Q&A with Scott and Bob below.

50 Milligrams Is Not Enough - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

TDN: The Open Society Foundation asked you to tell stories about torture in health care. Explain the process of taking this broad topic and distilling it down to three intimate stories on three individuals living on three different continents. What were the biggest challenges that stood in your way?

SCOTT: Bob Sacha and I were given the three, general topics that the Open Society Foundations wanted to highlight as part of its Stop Torture in Health Care initiative and a directive to each as a stand alone, compelling narrative film. The three topics were the denial of pain relief, forced sterilization of women and the forced detention of drug users. We worked very closely with the communications person for the project, Paul Silva, and OSF’s multimedia producer Pamela Chen. The five of us met and talked about the need to find unfolding, contemporary stories with a central character - or characters - going through a process that’s visual. Of course, filmmaking is about visual storytelling so historical films about something that happened in the past - or films simply about a topic or an idea - can be less than compelling. Every good film has a character that pulls the viewers through the story so we worked together to find one for each of these topics.

The biggest challenge was identifying amazing characters from afar. Because we were aiming to make three films, 10 to 15 minutes in length, we knew that each film had to contain a single main character with enough happening in their life to add depth and allow us to address the larger message that we wanted to communicate. Because OSF works closely with local NGOs on the ground in most countries, we were able to quickly cull through well-written, detailed reports for character leads.

We first narrowed down the countries; Ukraine for denial of pain relief, Cambodia for forced detention of drug users, and Namibia for forced sterilization of women. These three countries best represented this issues needing the most attention. Next, we compiled a list of potential characters in each country and had conversations with local representatives who knew the people. In addition to having someone deeply involved in each issue, they needed to be willing to let Bob and I basically spend 10 consecutive days with them filming every aspect of their lives. That’s a tall, but essential, requirement to make the kind of observational, cinema verite films we wanted to make.

BOB: One thing that was great about working with OSF was that they understood that we needed to find characters that were compelling to tell these stories and not just talk to the heads of their programs. While administrators have a valuable point of view, it's really hard to make a gripping film based on interviews with them. So many other foundation pieces seem to have staff people included, and I always feel that weakens the story.

they took my choice away - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

TDN: How did you find your subjects, and what did you see in each character that ultimately led you to deciding to tell their story?

SCOTT: Each of the three main characters were going through a process that had already been documented by representatives of OSF. For example, Vlad in Ukraine, with whom we spent 10 days filming, was dying in pain. He was suffering through exactly what the Stop Torture in Health Care initiative was setting out to stop. He and his mother struggled daily to secure pain relief medication and he had a doctor willing to talk about his condition, which allowed us to expand on the larger issue. Vlad and his family were also very willing to have us spend considerable amounts of time with them.

TDN: How does focusing your story on one individual allow you to best document a broad topic, like torture in health care? What are the challenges of this approach to storytelling?

SCOTT: Compelling stories are always told through a strong character. It is a standard storytelling structure to use a character as a thread to pull the audience through a story or communicate and idea.

The challenge is to find the most compelling characters. It is standard practice to travel in advance of the production in order to meet potential characters and assess their viability. Sometimes, people with the most compelling story can’t always communicate clearly or are reluctant to allow the filmmaker access. Because of time and budget constraints, we were not able to travel and meet the potential characters for this project.

Bob and I know what to look for in finding characters and assessing potential. However, since we were enlisting the help of some who had never cast characters for a documentary, I created a simple set of guidelines to help with the assessment. Here is some key criteria when assessing story/character potential:

  • CHARACTER: Is there a main character through which the story can be told? Are they interesting and able to communicate the story? Are there supporting people who can help corroborate and support the main character?
  • STORY ARC: Is there a process with a beginning, middle and end?
  • VISUAL: Is there a process the characters are going through that’s visible and visual? Can it be seen?
  • ACCESS: Will they allow you to witness their process? Can you physically get close enough to record the story?
  • TIME: Do you have enough time to witness and film the evolution of the process?

As long as these five points are present, there’s a good chance of telling a successful, visual story.

violence - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

TDN: You consider this project advocacy journalism. Can you expand on what this means, and where and how this niche of storytelling is making a difference?

SCOTT: Advocacy journalism is a relatively new term. For me, it means telling journalistically sound, non-fiction stories that have a specific use or that are intended for a specific audience.

To some, the term “advocacy” might mean that the story is somehow manipulated but it is not. I have been a journalist for my entire career. I never stage, re-enact or ask people to do anything for the sake of the film beyond sitting for a formal interview. I like to think of it as how a newspaper or magazine columnist might work. The idea is that I’m not trying to balance a story but present an aspect of in the most truthful and compelling way.

Ultimately, this kind of storytelling is about credibility. Credibility, especially in social advocacy organizations, is just as important as it is for journalistic organizations if not more. If an organization is seen “creating” stories or manipulating them in any way, they run the risk of losing the ability to be believable. This would jeopardize not only future storytelling but also the organization’s ability to function effectively and be trusted.

Another important point is that these films we created for the OSF initiative had to be able to stand up to potential scrutiny by critics, governments and other organizations. These are controversial issues being debated within powerful institutions. The stories had to be completely honest and true. Approaching them as journalists and truthful storytellers was the only way to accomplish this.

BOB: There was never any doubt nor conversation about how we were going to approach these stories. We've been journalists our entire career and really believe that telling the truth is the best and most powerful way to tell a story like this. We're especially careful to never stage anything. That's one of the great challenges about this kind of work in that you need to capture something when it happens. If you miss it, you either watch for it to happen again or figure out another way to capture the point. The thing about working with someone like Scott, who is also a great shooter, is that one of us was always thinking ahead. so there were really two brains watching and anticipating what was going to happen next. It's doubled the chances of success.

TDN: Your three videos, along with other content, lives on its own website: StopTortureInHealthcare.org. What are the benefits and downsides of having an entire website dedicated to your project?

SCOTT: To me, there is no downside to having content live on a dedicated website. A dedicated website allows organizations to build a specific audiences around a topic or cause. It’s easier to promote and allows for better engagement with people and other organizations through blog posts, requests for action, social media, etc.

BOB: OSF was smart in that they served the videos from their YouTube channel, so people can also find them directly from YouTube.

TDN: Knowing this project was created for a niche audience, what storytelling or shooting approaches did you take to best connect with your viewers? There are very little stats and figures in your stories; was that a conscious decision? If so, why?

SCOTT: We set out to tell the most compelling, character-driven stories we could. We researched each topic extensively so once we arrived, we knew exactly what kinds of information needed to be conveyed in the stories in order to make them both useful for the OSF initiative and interesting for someone unfamiliar with the topics. Our goals was to make three good films, period.

Characters make films and stories successful. Although facts and figures are important, there are more effective ways to deliver statistics around the films on the websites or in reports. When someone sits down to watch a film, they want to be transported into an interesting story. Statistics tend to interfere more often than not. It is much more compelling to watch a powerful character go through a process than to see a list of meaningless numbers on a screen. It’s about putting a face and a personality on those numbers.

BOB: One advantage about making a film for a specific audience was that they helped teach us more about the subject. There were a few suggestions in the editing process about scenes where we didn't realize we were perpetrating a stereotype. It just made us more sensitive as storytellers to work with people who really understood the issues because they've been working on them for years. So it was great to be educated by them.

TDN: Talk about the logistics of each story: how many days were you in the field, how long did the post production take, did the two of you edit together side-by-side?

SCOTT: We budgeted for 10 days of shooting in the field and estimated that we would collect about 30 hours of footage. In the end, we were pretty close to those numbers. We arrived at these estimates simply from experience of knowing how stories unfold, what kinds of footage we needed to shoot and the typical logistical padding needed when working/traveling in unfamiliar places.

The post-production was done apart simply because Bob and I live on separate coasts. We each edited one of the films and hired a very talented editor, Linda Hattendorf, to edit the third film because of deadline constraints.

Post-production was a challenge because each of the films were in a different language other than English. We had time-code accurate transcripts made from all the footage so we could edit relatively accurately on our own. Editing conversation off of transcripts is difficult. Every language has nuances and different types of sentence structure. Once we had a rough cut close enough, we had a native speaker brought in to help use make a fine cut.

It was important to make films in the native language of the subjects and use English subtitles so the films could be shown in each country.

BOB: All the subjects spoke some English and they were proud of it and wanted to communicate to us in English. But I learned that even though a subject speaks some English, it's still better to conduct the interview in the language that they were most comfortable expressing themselves in, which is usually their native language. While it was a lot tougher for us in the post-production stage, it allowed us to capture much better interviews.

TDN: How can collaboration take advocacy storytelling to the next level? What are the pros and cons of working together?

SCOTT: Collaboration is key to the success of projects like the Stop Torture campaign films. As much as I can do research, I can never match the level of understanding of an issue or topic of those working in specific fields for years on end. Bob and I were able to draw from the deep knowledge of OSF staff members who have been working for years in Ukraine, Cambodia and Namibia. Paul Silva and Pamela Chen where able to stay focused on the overall goals of the organization and ultimate usefulness of the films. They are also wonderful, talented storytellers in their own right. We were all able to work together in a very synergistic way.

In terms of Bob and I working together in the field, it is always better to have a colleague to bounce ideas off of at the end of the day or a collaborative partner who works alongside to shape story as the production progresses. Bob’s an amazing visual storyteller with years of experience at National Geographic and elsewhere. We’re both used to working in strange places on difficult stories. There’s no real downside to having a small, efficient team working together. Another benefit is that Bob and I have similar skills so we were able to trade off for every day between filming and collecting sound. This took some of the physical strain off each of us. As much as the idea of a single-handed, multi-platform journalist working alone in the field sounds ideal, having a second person adds strength to the storytelling. Our days were rarely shorter than 12 hours long for ten days straight. This kind of cinema verite storytelling is intense and exhausting work. Having the opportunity to swap tasks allowed each of us to keep a focus on story development while the other concentrated on making good images. We were always in agreement on story direction and production.

BOB: There are so many advantages to working in a team of two with someone who has the same technical and practical skill set. We agreed that we would switch roles every other day, even if we didn't film the day before. For instance, whomever was doing sound that day would conduct the interview. We'd always discuss the questions and the direction of the interview in advance and also listen carefully during the interview and ask each other if we had other questions. We also were able to form a tight bond with our subjects because were had such a flexible team of two (plus interpreter).

Seeing the story one day through the camera and then experiencing it through headphones the next day while recording sound really helped us see the story in multiple dimensions, which is really helpful.

And finally, in some situations it helps to have two people who can shoot. We were spontaneously invited into a rehabilitation center one evening and because we knew we had limited time inside, Scott went in one direction and I went in the opposite direction. We both filmed some really great stuff in a short time (we each handled our own sound in that case) and that doubled our effectiveness.

TDN: In each story you had an official or professional's interview included in the video. Were those interviews conducted before or after your shoot with the main subject? How can having an official's voice benefit the story? Does including these interviews ever hinder a story, and if so, how can you avoid that?

SCOTT: We usually conducted more than one interview. I like to do an interview at the beginning of a story in order to get the basics recorded but also discover what I don’t know about a story. These interviews always lead into a previously unknown direction. Once the story is shot, I like to go back and re-interview subjects in order to precisely fill holes in the narrative and get them to talk specifically to the images and scenes recorded.

BOB: Since we did multiple interviews with our characters, it was interesting to see how they relaxed a lot more during the final interview, after we had been hanging out together for a week. All the interviews--everything we shot as a matter of fact--was done in a single trip . One thing about a two person team where we do everything is that we also have to set up all the interviews as well as capture them, download and manage the files, transcode, change flights,etc. So it's a lot of work and more times than once we wished we had a third production person to help. But it all worked out fine in the end.

TDN: You both prefer the title "multiplatform journalist" over the more commonly used "multimedia journalist." Explain the differences between the two, and talk about how publishing your content in various platforms helps reach your audience more effectively.

SCOTT: The term “multimedia” has no meaning anymore because all storytelling is executed, to some extent, in more than one medium. It’s redundant. Actually, the title “multiplatform journalist” is redundant as well. I prefer to be called a journalist or documentary storyteller. Everything I do, including audience engagement, spans multiple mediums now.

Audiences are fragmented like never before. The one-medium-fits-all strategy is no longer valid. This is true in the non-profit world as much as it is in the traditional media. Some people consume storytelling in video form, on specific websites, while others consume it on their mobile devices. There’s also a significant group of people throughout the world who still experience stories in the traditional way on television or in a cinema. Unfortunately, this means multiple distribution strategies for every story so the widest audience can be reached.

Successful distribution of stories means knowing your audience extremely well. For example, what are they interested in? How do they consume stories or content? Most NGOs know their audiences already so this usually isn’t a hurdle. But it goes further beyond just knowing audience. Every campaign should aim to engage the super-supporters - also known as trusted sources - of a cause or issue. In addition to fragmentation, we all are more willing to listen to those friends, colleagues or even strangers that we trust and follow. These trusted sources become another distribution channel and help spread the message by linking, blogging and broadcasting the content.

TDN: At what point in the post-production stage did Vlad pass away? After building such a close relationship with him, how did that effect you personally (you don't have to answer this if not comfortable doing so)? Did the two other subjects get to see their video? If so, what did they think?

SCOTT: Vlad passed away near the end of the post-production of the film. It was extremely sad because we really got to know Vlad and his family well. They were extremely warm and generous by allowing us into their home and allowing us to witness what they were going through. Vlad was funny, smart, charming and, despite his condition, a real pleasure to be around.

As journalists, we’re taught to keep a distance from our subjects but that’s not realistic. We are human and its our humanity that allows us to tell stories more intimately.

BOB: We knew that Vlad was going to die but it was really a punch in the chest to me when it heard that he had died. You try to distance yourself somewhat from subjects but you can never really distance yourself from being a caring human being.I did feel very lucky that were were able to spend time with him and we'll forever be indebted to him and his family for the way they so bravely and willingly shared their lives with us. I hope that by sharing his story, some thing will change.