Define Your Desired Impact
As you can tell we're very much about impact in what we do. You don't have to be that way I just want to say that. That we're very particular kinds of animals but this isn't the only way you succeed or satisfy your needs in making a short film.
Cat hiking is totally fine. Totally fine.
This particular project I wanna share with you is for me a really nice example. The name of the film is Under Cane. The issue. It's part of now, I'm in the fifth year of looking at, this is a current project, looking at the issue of chronic kidney disease of unknown origin around the world. Another uplifting story. (laughter) This is a case where this issue came to me initially as a small commission from a very very small NGO, La Isla Foundation. They are committed to this one place in Nicaragua where this disease has impacted something like 20, sugar cane workers in the last 20 years. I always say you never know where your next great story or passion project will come from. Sometimes it comes from r...
esearch or things we learn about. Sometimes it comes from an assignment. In this case it came from a small commission. I went down, I saw what was going on. I was blown away by the situation. I could not believe how many people. Something like 67% of the males in this one community are sick or have died and they're sugar cane workers. I then made a few trips down there. Shot stills and then began to shoot video and then decided I wanted to expand the project and did a fundraising, a crowd funding campaign. Thankfully it was successful. I went back with a young filmmaker and then we produced this 15 minute film Under Cane. It appeared on the Nat Geo site and it actually had an impact. The sugar cane company in Nicaragua was one of the largest companies in the country had to pay attention 'cause it appeared on National Geographic. It's not because it was my work. It appeared on National Geographic. This was for me an example. Sorry to continue, I now have extended that work last year to India and Sri Lanka. What I'm trying to do is create a global look at this issue. It's underreported. I'm always attracted to underreported stories because it makes me feel I have a little room not only to create and tell stories but maybe to have an impact that might otherwise not happen. I find it a much more daunting task to go to Syria now. Forget that that's too dangerous for a lot of work. To go and do something where it's in the news every single day is much harder to come up with something fresh or new. What's interesting for me and this is new, I don't think we've ever had this and Julie's certainly has been roped into this, she cut the film, this short piece I'm gonna share with you, is that the goal as much as it is to raise awareness in the public it's actually also about raising awareness among epidemiologists scientists and health care researchers around the world so that international protocols to research the disease and find a cure can be established. A doctor in India who is doing blood and urine samples in a small village and then a doctor in El Salvador and a doctor in the Philippines, in Thailand and so forth and so on, that they will hopefully come together and figure out how do we create international protocols so that we can share the knowledge on the results we're getting so that we come up with a solution? My work is a tiny part of this but it's important. It's important. It raises awareness, it brings people together. I went last year to a conference in India in Chennai where a international group of researchers came together and I watched how when we showed our work these people who are braniacs in this one area of studying the kidney or a nephrologist, it's almost inspiring them. I don't mean to make it sound more than what it is but there was a palpable sense in the room when we shared pictures and stories that almost empowered them to continue their work.
I was just gonna say, that's also possible through client work. You saw the piece on Doniece Sandoval, this Lava Mae helping the homeless population. That was for the James Irvine Foundation. It's their leadership awards. They give them every year and they're very strategic about the purpose of this media, where to show it how to use it. They commissioned the videos every year because they have an awards ceremony in Sacramento in front of policymakers. They fill that room with California legislators and they are very purposeful in that these leaders who are getting the awards have track records of success with their organizations. They love showing the videos at that luncheon because they feel that those policymakers viscerally feel that success and proof of the efficacy of these programs. They can leverage that emotional connection to try to move the legislators agenda to support these organizations. It is possible through work for hire. If you do it with that same passion drive to get the story told in a way that you can connect to then it can also achieve what Ed's talking about and what this example is gonna show you on a uber scale.
In a gorilla way. To pick up I think something we're both saying here and I kind of touched on this earlier, you can reach 40 million people and not make a difference, you can reach the right 1,000 people and make a difference. Let's play this. This is just a five minute excerpt of the 15 minute film.
We're seeing alarming numbers of patients with chronic kidney disease. Primarily in men working in the sugar cane fields. This is an epidemic that's effecting almost 20,000 people. It's not due to high blood pressure, it's not due to diabetes, it's not due to any of the typical causes of kidney disease we see.
That's a taste of that film and it has a very clear advocacy message. It's telling you about an epidemic. It's got some expert voices doctors researchers but then the individuals who are impacted by this disease so that you really are informed but also you have this connection to the impact that the disease is having. The goal with the project is to inspire engagement. It's been used extensively by La Isla Foundation to promote their research, their cause to get more support. They've been very successful in getting international funding to do some deep research in El Salvador. Working now in India, Sri Lanka. It has a very clear purpose as a piece of communication for this issue but done in this really artful way. Done in a way that they could not have created themselves because they're not story tellers. They don't have the vision, they don't speak this language. This idea of balancing the information with an emotional impact so that you get to accomplish both simultaneously.
I'd add in terms of getting support, as I said it started with a commission. Not a big commission a small commission a couple of weeks. Then I did a crowd funding campaign. Then I started to apply for grants and I got grants. It was published in wherever, The Atlantic or National Geographic. Then a Dutch NGO gave me support to go back and do something. Now I've applied for a big grant that I'm hoping in August to hear about but anyways sorry. I've applied to another big grant that would allow me to go to Peru. That's where I wanna go next. This is a case where this is a long-term, this is again my fifth year involved in this. I'm not trailblazing in terms of the speed of production but every year I'm chipping away, I'm adding more. We've done three films now of this length. My goal is to continue this and to continue to build the content but it isn't like I got one big piece of support that paid for it all and I've put my own money into it too.
I guess part of the take away here is also serializing what you do. In a way that was the question earlier from online from Victor I believe, this question of if I do 10 short films can I make one? Maybe it's just a serialization. It's another approach and it's a valid approach.
I love the idea of serializing as a topic and bringing people back to it time and time again. If there is a story for it what platform would you suggest hosting something like that? Would it be a website? Would it be a channel or something online that could support it?
Julie can probably address this better than me but I'll start. Certainly a website is a way to do it. There are these like verses it's online. It's a platform it's called Verse Publishing. It's a platform. We've done a couple of things with them where you can create a timeline. It's tailor-made for video stills, text graphics, infographics so forth and so on. There's that way to do it. There's also maybe getting a publication or an NGOs website to host it as well. Then there's social media. Facebook Instagram, Twitter to some degree. Less with this. Certainly Instagram and Facebook are ways to have hosts if you like because the idea it seems we're in this link and click click and link world sort of. There's probably a better term for that. I feel we're moving away from it's in The New York Times and it leaves the next day and then it's gone and of course that's a hugely tremendous way to get your work out there absolutely but there are these other ways to do it now that in some ways can be more targeted as well.
You can setup your own YouTube channel for your series. Vimeo channel for your series. The beauty of creating a serialized treatment is that if any one of those films gets picked up in a mainstream media outlet you can send people back to your whole series. Some are gonna be more successful than others. Some are gonna have niche interests to different outlets. With Newest Americans we decided to serialize one woman's story. She's an undocumented law student at (mumbles) Law School. She just graduated a couple of weeks ago. The first openly undocumented student to go through the law school and now she will challenge the state bar to see if they will allow her to practice in the state. What we decided to do was for three years we occasionally did a film about her. We just would check in on her and we produced, we're now doing the fifth installment. In the process of creating this we went to The Atlantic and we said we're serializing this woman's story. Does it interest you? They said this is fabulous yes. Every time we produce a segment we put it up on this Atlantic video page. The Atlantic pays nothing and I don't mean a little I mean nothing. It's for visibility, it's for distribution's sake. It lends credibility 'cause everybody respects The Atlantic so as an outlet it makes you look good because you've been vetted. You could approach a publication if you're doing a series. Pitch them one at a time or you can say I'm doing a series, would it interest you? Is there that opportunity? You have to get really creative in where to place these things. There's no one size fits all. Unfortunately placement does not mean income. It just doesn't. Even when places license these videos they don't license them for as much as it costs to make them. That's just the cold hard reality but if you build a beautiful webpage for them then when you do place one or the other then at least there's this very impressive repository that you've created that becomes a destination.
One perverse thing that's happened is that you can't any more connect the value that you receive, the compensation you receive from media outlets to the value of what you created and the impact it might have. What you do is you leverage it. If you have work that's appeared in The New York Times or these other publications that have prestige and stamp of approval and all that even though you might of not made any or very little money from it, what it then allows you to do is when you go for that grant or when you go to that NGO or that foundation or that corporation or whatever it may be. Government entity whatever it may be. Wherever the potential funder is you now have the imprimatur, you have the stamp of approval. We had an example last year we did something called (mumbles) on young Muslim women in Newark who were wearing hijab and just talking about their experience. It appeared in The New York Times lens blog and now it's been seen by over 2 million people so that's pretty good. We made $400. In other words there's no connection to exposure and compensation but what it meant is when we go for the NEH Grant or when we go for these other forms of funding they're looking at that and going, wow these people are having reach. I'm not happy about this formula by the way 'cause I come out of the world where you did something for National Geographic and you got paid for it properly and it had whatever impact it had but that's just not the world we're living in anymore. Yes the National Geographic still is that. It is still that but very few are. Being flexible nimble thinking differently. These are critically important skills to have and a mindset to have to survive or to flourish in today's media world. Specifically with these short-doc films as a way to succeed and make the films you wanna make and get them out there.