At some point or another, every single advocacy organization must be able to capture their supporters' undivided attention and educate them about a problem that needs solving. It's the only way the organization will survive. Which means this week's Issue-Driven Video is a biggie-- but based on the dozens of advocacy videos I've watched this year, it's also apparently one of the hardest to execute well. Too often, I see groups attempt to cover complex issues in a 3-5 minute video; the result is an overwhelming number of stats, facts, and talking heads that not only fail to engage, but often leave viewers confused about the issue and what exactly they can do about it.
So if you set out to make an issue-driven video less than five minutes long, remember, less it more. Choose the single most important fact to center the entire story around, and save the rest of the details for the website or follow-up videos. If you have the budget to produce a longer, more complex video, the examples below might help. As I see it, the Issue-Driven Video is defined by:
THE GOALS: To educate viewers about a problematic issue, as well as empower and motivate them to take action to fix it.
THE PRODUCT: In most cases, I see these as longer-form films, anywhere from 7 minutes to a feature-length documentary... but for the sake of the kinds of videos we profile on this blog, let's say 5-20 minutes. One exception here would be an issue that's divided into much shorter chapters, in which case short chapters might focus on a single character or idea-- here's one of my favorite examples (this one's animated, but you could achieve the same effect with film). Perhaps we could even put feature documentary trailers in this category; Bag It's, for example, does a fantastic job of presenting a complex issue in 2.5 minutes, although if your goal is to educate viewers, a trailer alone won't cut it. In general, issue-driven videos require more than one voice to explain an issue-- and to prevent those voices from competing with each other or overwhelming the viewer, you need to allow some space for each of those characters to breathe, hence a longer piece. Your characters would likely include a central figure to put a human face on the issue, along with experts to provide stats and informed perspectives. Videos should include a legitimate story arc with a beginning, middle, and end, lots of great tension, and some kind of resolution, or at least suggestions on how to reach a resolution if the issue hasn't actually been resolved.
WHO'S DOING IT WELL, AND WHY:
It wasn't that long ago that we featured Anger and Sacha's work for the Open Society Foundation's Stop Torture in Health Care, but this story remains a shining example of how to tackle an issue well. By featuring Vlad, a young man suffering from incurable brain cancer, they're able to insert a HUGE dose of humanity into what is otherwise a complicated and political topic about inadequate pain treatment in Ukraine. The story centers around Vlad's struggle, yet manages to bring in in other voices-- including experts-- quite successfully.
"An example of what advocacy storytelling can and should be"-- that's what Tucker's email read when he sent me the link to MediaStorm's latest video for a nonprofit client. I couldn't agree more. The opening scene is ridiculously intense (I mean really? A butterfly landing on the hand detonating the mines? Insane.). What follows is beautifully cinematic, well paced, and thorough in its education. I appreciated not having to dive immediately into subtitles, but obviously love the use of this family as central characters-- I have no doubt that I care more about this issue now that I can put faces to it. I'll be shocked if this video doesn't win some serious awards in the near future, or at the least, channels some new funding to the nonprofit it represents. (If the video alone isn't impressive enough, check out all the challenges the film crew faced shooting the story. It's impossible not to learn from this project!)
An oldie but goodie. This is the first advocacy video I saw that made me realize that there's hope for issue-driven advocacy videos. This 10-minute film touches on some of the touchiest issues of our time-- the war in Afghanistan, Afghan women's rights, and the uprising of reform-minded youth in the Middle East. Aside from the woman managing this NGO, you won't hear any expert interviews here; the visuals and testimonies carry this story just fine. My only complaint is that the credits run too long before offering a website address where viewers can take action. If I worked at Skateistan, I'd demand that those text slides get flipped.
Agree? Disagree? Have something to add that I might have overlooked? Keep the conversation going in the comments below, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Next Monday we'll drill down on the Character-Driven Video. Stay tuned!