For aspiring video producers, it’s always hard to find some interesting subject matter. Are you looking for an audience?
Why not give your video expertise away for good by helping out a charity? You’ll have a built-in audience, a story to tell and a real reason to shoot. Plus, you will take away some great stuff for your demo reel. There are three general ways to go about making videos for charity. You can produce promotional videos, do training videos or teach video making as a purely educational exercise. Reading this article will help you decide what type of project to do and for which charity.
When video is used as a promotional tool, quality of the final product is key. The charity is going to show this video to others, so if it looks cheap, your production will hinder rather than advance the cause. Nonprofits can benefit from video in many ways, including volunteer recruitment. Frequently, representatives will go to community groups to talk about the charity. It’s great when they have a video in hand that shows happy volunteers and clients.
I once shot and edited a promotional piece for a group of retired seniors who volunteered for the local sheriff. The group came to me with a general script about what the volunteers do on a daily basis. In one afternoon, I shot them patrolling neighborhoods, doing office work and directing traffic. While getting the b-roll (general video shots that help support the story), I also interviewed them about how much they loved their work. At that point, all I needed to do was take short sound bites of the interviews, place them in a slightly revised script and slap in the b-roll. The organization used the video when speaking to other seniors and also showed it during community events and fairs, playing the video on a television in their booth.
In order to function, all charities need funding. Video is often used as a promotional tool to raise money. Sometimes it’s the same promotional video that’s used for volunteer drives. But even more effective is a video specifically targeted to raising money. Your cause could be armed with a video showing that donations are being put to good use.
Charities also want to raise awareness about a societal, health or environmental problem. That’s what charities do: find a problem and try to fix it. A video that addresses this issue would focus more on the charity’s clients. Not only can you present this type of video at community events, but you can also offer it to local television stations and cable providers, who are always looking for public service announcements. It’s even possible to go high-tech and stream it on the Web for the whole world to see.
A training video’s quality should be good, but it doesn’t need to be as snazzy as a promotional video. Let’s face it; you have a captive audience of people who have already committed to your organization and are sitting through the training video to get information, not to be impressed. A training video can be as simple as a videotaped message from the head of an organization, describing the charity to a more detailed video on how to keep safe during an annual chili cook-off.
Shooting video as an educational tool for charities is about method rather than the end product. You are teaching video techniques and storytelling, and you are not overly concerned about how it looks. I’ve found two productive ways to teach video. One is to start with a storyboard I wrote ahead of time and concentrate on the technical aspects of video. The other is to approach students with an open slate by letting them decide what to say and how to say it. Both have benefits and drawbacks.
I set up a program for a children’s summer camp. Many of them had never seen a video camera before. My goal going in was to show them how the video camera works (focus, iris, zoom), sound and lighting techniques and how movie makers tell a story. I went in with a simple storyboard of 14 shots. It was a commercial selling bottled air, a parody of bottled water. After going through a general tutorial on the storyboard and how all the equipment works, we rotated duties for each shot. In the end, every one of them got to be the director, camera-person, lighting expert, sound person and actor. I edited the piece myself to show them and their parents what an excellent job they did. The nice thing about educating in this fashion is that you can keep the class well-organized, teach a lot of information in a short amount of time and come out with a coherent video. However, the final video doesn’t communicate the children’s own thoughts.
Another way to teach video is to put the students completely in charge. This works best with one child or a very small group. I learned this approach while working with critically ill children in the hospital. The goal was not to teach video techniques so much as to allow the children to express themselves through video. Whether playacting superheroes or talking about the boredom of living in a hospital, the children found dealing with illness a little easier. The quality of these videos wasn’t as good as it would have been under strict creative supervision, but the children had more fun while learning about video.
Making Your Shoot Comfortable and Lawful
You are working with charities and, therefore, many of the people you serve are in a vulnerable state or sensitive situation. They could be hospitalized or in need of a home and food. Establish a rapport with people before you stick a camera and microphone in their faces. Many are nervous or just bad on camera. The best way to make them comfortable is to talk to them, conducting an interview without their knowing it. Sit the nervous nelly down while you park yourself next to the camera, and strike up a conversation. Ignore the camera and be informal. If this still doesn’t work, I always use my “Tape is Cheap and We Edit” speech: “Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. I’ll cut out anything that doesn’t sound good; that’s what editing is for. In fact, you can say the same thing three times and I’ll just take the best one. Tape is cheap. There is no rush.”
Oh, by the way, don’t ever let the subjects hold the microphone. You will watch as they move it closer and closer to their mouth until it looks like they are licking an ice cream cone. If you can get a lavalier mic, the subject will be much more comfortable. If you don’t have one, hold the microphone yourself.
Get a release form from everyone who is on camera. There would be nothing worse than having your nonprofit sued because someone didn’t want their face shown. By asking for a release, you are also making sure that it is clear to everyone that the video might be shown to the public as part of a promotion.
Helping Yourself Help Others
Before diving into the world of raising money, figuring out tax-exempt status and getting an executive board, why not learn to swim with others? Starting out by helping charities with video is exponentially easier than beginning your own nonprofit. Take your camera, microphone and editing chops to an already-established organization and get some experience.
So where do you find these charities? If you are already involved in the community, it’s a no-brainer. Just find a way to work your video wonders with the groups you already know. Church members could tape a service and show it to shut-ins who have difficulty leaving their home. Instead of putting on a play for Sunday school, you can produce a video with the kids. For artsy people in the “scene,” create a video montage of the hottest works in your city and put it up on the Web. Airplane enthusiasts can produce a training video for their aeronautics club.
It shouldn’t be hard for those not so involved either. I suggest doing something simple first. Call an organization that has an event already scheduled, like an environmental group that will be planting trees. Ask them if you can videotape the digging and say that they can use the video in the future to promote Mother Earth. Don’t forget to tell them you’re giving the video away for good!