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 news driven video (2)


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!


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!