Monday, June 3, 2013

Strategies for Using Video in your Work for Social Change (guest blog)


By guest blogger Ali Pinschmidt who presented a Socializing for Justice "Skillshare: Video for Social Change" - download her PowerPoint. SoJust is a cross-cultural, cross-issue progressive community, network and movement based on the philosophy of abundance. Learn more and get connected at www.sojust.org

According to different statistics, the average American consumes 37 hours of live or taped TV a week, 9 hours of media on their mobile phones daily, and the average young person views over 3,000 ads per day.  For better or for worse, we as a society are swimming in visual media.

While the vast majority of contemporary media perpetuates and even creates the status quo, the good news is that there are so many people using video in inspiring, innovative, and powerful ways for strategic progressive change.

In the SoJust Skillshare we discussed a few different models.  The simplest suggestion was to take advantage of the fruits of this media age by utilizing some of the great documentaries, vlogs and innovative film projects that are already out there to shed light on or promote the cause you’re working on, (of course with the permission of and credit to the filmmakers whenever applicable).  As filmmaking can be so time intensive and expensive, resist reinventing the wheel when possible and support the many high quality works made by progressive filmmakers.  Hosting screenings and inviting the filmmakers and subjects in the films, incorporating these videos into your campaign, building online community dialogues around the films, or even selling the DVD to fundraise for your cause (again, all with permission), are ways to strengthen networks and take advantage of these amazing resources.  To access the wealth of videos out there, try a simple Google search, and check out films from distributors such as the Media Education Foundation and Women Make Movies.

Another low budget and easy model for boosting your message with video is using Google+ Hangout software to record and live-stream dialogue events.  This makes it possible to bring together experts and activists and those affected most by your issue, from as far around the world as you desire, all for free.  Not only can you create a live online event to which you can invite your network and the press to attend, but you come away with an instant video record of the conversation on a YouTube link that can be embedded and shared widely.  Here is one example from Community Supported Film, where I work as Program Coordinator.

We discussed other easy-to-do models, such as creating short and powerful how-to videos like Occupy the Mail, which became so successful due to it’s clarity of message, humor, timeliness, and easy steps for anyone to take action.  Videos that show your project or program in action can be just the thing to catch a funder’s eye or grab the interest of a potential volunteer base, such as this youth-made video about the Toxic Soil Busters.  And fundraising videos that clearly and excitedly explain what you are trying to do - and what you need to do it - are becoming a must for social change ventures that seek crowdsourcing funding from websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  Check out this fun fundraiser video for Growing Cities.

I also showed examples of videos that are just as much process oriented as they are product oriented, such as participatory video projects, like Video Volunteer’s India Unheard, that empower new media makers from demographics often ignored or poorly represented in the mainstream media.  Video Bridge models use the camera to mediate conversation between different populations, such as this project I’m working on to facilitate communication between students who have dropped out of school, teachers, and administrators, or this Question Bridge to redefine black male identity.

We also discussed how effective it can be to use videos in conjunction with well-thought-out campaigns.  The goal is to have an audience engagement campaign waiting and ready for a viewer to take part in after watching a powerful film.  At the moment when the lights come on and the viewers feel excited, overwhelmed, angry, or delighted by what they just saw, it’s crucial to be able to respond to that “now what?” moment.  By providing a clear way for people to take a relevant action or join up with a community that’s working on the issues in the film, we can use the transformative power of video to move, educate and activate.  Here’s a great example of an audience engagement campaign for use with the film No Impact Man.

We are living in an amazing time when the technical tools for video production are literally in our hands through very affordable high definition cameras, and the potential for free distribution far and wide is literally at the tips of our fingers through the internet.  But technology alone doesn’t create good or effective video media.  It’s extremely important to take the steps to properly plan your story and your strategy for distribution and audience engagement, as well as implement key best practices when you film.

When planning a video for social change, there are several basic things that need to be answered:
  • What is your message?  Just like in writing, you should be able to have a thesis statement that you keep going back to throughout your process.
  • What is your goal? – and is it SMART?  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound?
  • Who is your primary audience?
  • Who or what will this audience listen to?
  • What type of change are you trying to achieve: Consumer change?  Behavioral change?  Do you want someone to simply have a new awareness, or know about a particular resource?  Do you want your audience to make political change, or become a part of a movement?
  • How and when will your primary audiences see this video?
  • What is your realistic capacity and what are your resources for this project?
Once you have thought out these goals, sit down to write out the plan for your video.  This is called a treatment or script, or when you draw it out visually it’s called a storyboard.  Having this plan in place up front – even if it changes later - will help keep you focused.

After you finish planning, here are some things to remember when you film:
  • Keep the camera still: use a tripod, monopod, table, or support the camera with your body whenever possible, and resist the temptation to zoom and pan a lot
  • Make sure your subject is not backlit or in shadow, and film in a well-lit area
  • Use a variety of shots: close ups, mid shots, wide shots, and over the shoulder shots, and hold each shot for at least 10-15 seconds so that you have proper coverage when you edit
  • Try to show the action rather than talk about it
  • Use the rule of thirds to frame your subject
  • Film in a quiet place and use a microphone
  • Keep your video short (especially when you are first starting out)
For more in-depth resources, I highly recommend the book Video for Change – a free online publication by the nonprofit Witness.  Available in numerous languages, it’s a comprehensive resource covering everything from planning and ethics, to filming and distribution.  For excellent guidance for planning your audience engagement strategies, check out these great resources by Working Films, the Fledgling Fund, and the Center for Social Documentary – all leaders in this exciting field.


Ali Pinschmidt is a filmmaker, educator, and works to amplify the perspectives of others through video training and outreach.  Working as Program Coordinator for Community Supported Film, Ali coordinates outreach and engagement campaigns for films made by CSFilm trainees in communities in crisis and transition.  Ali has been an adjunct faculty member at Clark University and Holyoke Community College, designing and teaching the course “Video for Social Change”.  She has also taught Citizen Video Journalism at Amherst Media.  She was recently trained by industry leaders from Working Films and the Fledgling Fund at “Reel Change”, an intensive training on designing audience engagement campaigns for social issue documentary films.

At Clark University, Ali earned a Master’s in International Development and Social Change with a focus using video as a tool for change. Ali’s documentary film projects have been used by the Institute for International Cooperation and Development and Haley House, Inc. for promotional and training purposes, and recent films were featured at the Northampton International Film Festival, and Pioneer Valley Transition Town Film Festival.  Her most recent project is a video-mediated conversation between youth, teachers, and administrators in western mass to explore the issue of students dropping out of school.  Ali has worked with several international and US-based nonprofits in the fields of education, poverty alleviation, direct service, and empowerment through grassroots video – including with Video Volunteers in Goa, India.


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