How do you capture the entirety and complexity of social transformation in a one-minute video?
You can’t really. But you can spark curiosity, hope, and imagination.
In the Global South, Thousand Currents partners are at the forefront of tackling big issues like climate change, broken global food systems, and worsening economic inequality. Their approaches to our shared problems are varied, people-led, and centered on building community. Many of our partners have experienced firsthand the devastating impacts of injustice. For the rest of us, the newscycle is a constant reminder of these inequities. So while developing the concept for a campaign video, we wanted to make sure that we did not perpetuate the heaviness of the headlines.
In general, people don’t respond well to “doom and gloom.” Although it may be tempting, there are other ways to pique curiosity about issues without guilt-tripping your community. We definitely want people to be knowledgeable about the issues and to care for the right reasons, but in a “post-truths” era, it takes more than data to move people to action. And so we began our process with all this in mind.
Phase one: colorful mood boards, rough storyboards, and scripts to be ripped apart
22 weeks before our goal date, we formed a video committee, which was responsible for narrowing down our core messaging. We wanted our story to share the universal hope our partners continue to inspire. We wanted our audience to know that there is reason for optimism, especially when we work together. This idea led us to taking back language and redefining the world around us on our own (hope-driven) terms. From here, it was easy to find partners’ stories that redefined what power meant, what solidarity looked like, what community could be, and much more.
Once we identified the partner stories that would serve as the foundation of our storytelling, we had some fun. Our Director of Communications Jennifer Lentfer guided the committee in a creative exercise to get us going. We were tasked with pitching our message using everyday household objects (a water hose, a wooden spoon, a pair of goggles, and a dictionary). This process unlocked so much more than our collective creativity. The exercise challenged us to make our message more accessible by using everyday objects and simpler language.
From these pitches and discussions, the communications team drafted three concepts for the video. We created mood boards and (very roughly drawn) storyboards by yours truly for each of the concepts to present to the team. The visuals, no matter how unpolished, brought the ideas to life for the rest of the team. After discussing and reviewing all the options, the storyline began to take shape: we were inviting our audience to see the world from a different lens (the goggles) in order to redefine (the dictionary) our world.
At this point, I had the partner stories, the mood board with color palettes, and the outline of the storyboard to begin drafting the script. It may seem intimidating to write a script and you may opt to work with an agency to draft it, but since I have a background in video and film, I was excited to let my imagination flow. After a week, I presented two versions to the committee; each script was about two pages long (screenwriting tip: one page roughly equates to one minute of video time). Turning over your work to a team may be tough on the ego as a creative. My advice is to be prepared to relinquish ownership of your writing, especially when it‘s only one part of a larger collaboration. After the committee edited and revised my draft, we had a script we were all happy with. Now we were ready to move to the second phase: finding an animation studio.
Phase two: multi-tabbed spreadsheets, beautiful portfolios, and so many videos
For more than 30 years, our organization has cultivated grassroots partnerships in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This meant that inclusive representation was at the core of our creative process. We wanted to make sure that we were working with people that felt just as inspired by our partners as we were. We looked for portfolios and talent that reflected the diversity of our partners and staff. During my search, I started by watching dozens of videos with themes that most resonated with the work of our partners.
In order to organize my work, I created a spreadsheet to keep track of our budget, timeline, tasks list, and portfolio links. In addition to the spreadsheet, I drafted a Scope of Work (S.O.W.) that I could share with potential collaborators. The S.O.W. included the context, project statement (or creative brief), the video synopsis (since we already had our script drafted), goals of the collaboration, deliverables, administrative details, rough timeline, and budget. Attaching this to introduction emails with animation studios facilitated a clear communication for them to assess their capacity to take on the project.
I reached out to peer organizations, conducted some desk research, and finally, via my social media feed, came across the 68 Voces project, a set of videos that told the stories of the 68 different Indigenous languages of Mexico. This is how I found Hola Combo, a Mexican animation studio that produced the videos with such care and beautiful style.
From my first interaction with Hola Combo, the alignment was clear. Since our team already had done the groundwork, we were able to work with Hola Combo on a tight nine-week schedule. With the draft script, storyboards, and SOW, Hola Combo was able to begin their magic. They provided us with detailed moodboards with their artistic styles for us to choose from. Once the style was agreed upon, they began their own storyboarding to adapt our script with camera movements and framing. This process took about three weeks with frequent back and forth. We gave feedback on everything from the color of the protagonist’s hair to the clothes of the background characters, it was a true open partnership. They understood the hope and imagination we wanted to inspire and that every detail counted.
Now we had the style, framing, and the storyboard finalized for Hola Combo to start animating. The process took about four weeks. During the final two weeks, they incorporated our feedback and worked on the soundtrack based on sample tracks I had sent over. After two and half months of collaboration, we had a final product ready and formatted in Quicktime hi-res and a compressed version for the web.
Phase three: launch!
In the end, our video served as a fundraising tool for our year-end campaign, but it was also about extending an invitation to our audience to become a part of our community. We wanted supporters to donate out of excitement for the bright future our partners are building. Our goal was to spark creativity and conversation about the possibilities. #TimeToRedefine is about a sense of belonging – to know that we’re in this together, and that we are building towards the same goal: a more just and equitable world for all of us.
So my advice as a communicator is:
- Be inspired by the people you serve and look for what is already there.
- Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate.
- Organize your work with spreadsheets, storyboards, drafts, and project summaries.
- Have fun with the process and build community with collaborators.
- Create a sense of belonging in you message – this is why people connect to your story.
Most communication is an invitation to a greater conversation. But communication that makes you feel like you’re a part of something drives connection.
So what is your story inviting us to become a part of?