• Jay

NP Documentary Philosophy

When you watch a non-profit promo video, what do you see?

Generally, I see a glorified power point presentation or slide show with moving pictures. I hate those. They’re dry, dull, overproduced. They do tell me what’s going on, or rather what the company wants to say to me…and generally tug at some heartstrings to get involved by use of pictures of people in need. They don’t really create a connection for me. They draw upon the “impulse-purchasing” nature of who I am- get me wound up for five minutes and hopefully I’ll sign over my bank account, or spread the worthiness of the cause.

All the elements of a proper production are there though: controlled sound and lighting, a script that says exactly what’s intended, shots that support the script and the message as well as textbook cause and effect or story-form writing. It’s perfectly done but not entirely that creative or genuine (not withstanding those producers who DO genuinely try and tell the truth with this type of production). I’m talking about a different kind of connection- a story that’s told by the subject and not entirely by the producer.

I’ll fine print this and say: I do understand that every producer, editor and director somewhere along the line are working to say something regardless of what the subject says and ultimately, supports the subject. It has to be constructed in such away that it’s cohesive to the viewer, maintains relevance and resolves in some fashion. AND…nothing I say is new or revolutionary.

Anyway, I try and take a different approach to the typical NP promo vid, or fundraising vid etc. Let’s take for example the International work that my NP does. We focus on an post-graduate leadership school in the Philippines. We invest time and resources for a doctorate degree in a given field. When you give money for this, it doesn’t end up with us. It doesn’t end up with the school. It doesn’t even end up with the student! It ends up with the people the student works with, teaches, and engages with on a daily basis. Those students span 9 different countries around the globe.

That’s the end of the ripple.

Now I could shoot this in traditional documentary format: get some shots of the student studying, list a bunch of facts about the impact it’s having in various countries, share some testimonies about how it’s impacted lives… All delivered via crisp, professional, well-written voice-over. But I don’t.


you NEVER use voice-over.

I do this because I want the audience to have a genuine connection with who this person is. I want to bring this person to the audience; a glimpse of their life, their family, character, personality, work, etc. Just as in local interactions, they way we feel a connection with and get to know people is participating in their daily life. If I can bring a bit of this person’s life to my audience and at the same time, do it clearly and relevantly, I’ve succeeded.

Currently, I’m failing 🙂 But it’s a good goal to have.

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©2019 by Jay Friesen.

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