When purposeful organizations seek to engage with communities about their cause, they default to using promotional strategies – sharing information about their organization and the work that they do. What they often neglect, in the process, is to leverage the power of story – stories of individuals doing (and receiving) the good work.
How can we discover and share these stories?
Filmmakers Ben Henretig and David Pond came to the Media Lab to share their method of creating micro-documentaries - 1-2 minute, inspiring documentary video stories that connect our audiences to solutions that will lead to the world they envision.
During a 2-day workshop, the duo introduced 22 youth and workers in local nonprofits in the art of crafting a microdocumentary film.
As an organization, you need to get out of the way of the story.
The format works by applying a documentary methodology to capture the uncontrived story of an individual, whose story expresses the values the organization aims to promote. This involves moving away from promotional or commercial strategies. “As an organization, you need to get out of the way of the story,” Ben said.
This story is structured into four parts:
- The background or personal connection to the individual;
- The issue or challenge;
- The solution or big idea;
- The envisioned future
Key to the format’s success is the connection made with the individual. “When people share details about their lives, those details provide human insight into their backgrounds, inspirations struggles, and successes,” Ben said. These details help the audience relate with the subject and draw us into their story.
Once the audience is hooked, the video proceeds to cover the issue or challenge that the organization addresses (e.g. AIDS in Africa), the solution offered by the organization (e.g. medicine), and the “new bliss” that would result if this solution received support (e.g. an Africa where HIV+ mothers can give birth to HIV- children). “At the end, there needs a call to action, a behavior that you want your audience to take,” Ben said.
The story is then told through the creative combination of rich visuals (or B-roll) and mood-setting (but not overpowering) music that support the interview of the individual (the A-roll).
Using this theoretical foundation, Ben and David guided participants through the process of producing a microdoc starting with pre-production. In six groups, participants identified individuals they felt were doing good work and whose story was equally inspiring, such as the story of Pema Tshering – an artist affected by cerebral palsy who uses his feet to carve, paint, and shoot arrows!
After a half-day of shooting interviews and B-roll, participants returned to the lab to begin editing their pieces. Always a tedious task, editing involves combing through interviews and footage to sculpt a short, compelling video. David, a professional film editor, advised participants to first listen through the interview and pull out bites that fit into the micro-documentary structure, then go through B-roll and find spots in the story for integration.
Everyone, including ourselves at BCMD, learned a ton. For one, the microdoc format can be applied to ANY story, whether you’re in business, nonprofit, government, out of school. The critical factor is good planning and direction of the subject (yes, even documentaries use direction!). Moreover, engaging in the process of making a microdoc also helps one recognize and appreciate the amazing stories going on around us all the time. These are stories that NEED to be shared if we want to connect with and inspire the people we hope to engage.
“This workshop opened my eyes to a new and powerful format,” Karma Gyeltshen, a programme officer at the Youth Development Fund, said. “Using what we’ve learned, we hope to submit our film for the Beskop Tshechu (a local film festival).”
The workshop pieces are still being edited and will be posted by next week.