Get Off The Sidelines And Shoot!


You really don't have any excuse to get off of the sidelines and start shooting, and a lot of people don't shoot video because they are waiting for some mystical, magical perfect moment of opportunity. This is the completely wrong way to think about getting your digital life together.

The world is not going to change by itself, and your career is not going to change by itself either. So when it comes to promoting yourself, you're probably going to need to take matters into your own hands, and this doesn't need to be very hard.

The production values, the people that are involved, the locations you shoot, the quality of the audio, video – whatever all of that stuff is tertiary to the actual work that you are doing. And as long as you're comfortable, I can promise you that that's probably good enough to get whatever you need done.

I've had a lot of fun putting together an ad for our own company last week. There were a lot of headaches, and if you go to the website, you'll be able to see the final product. But I want to talk a little bit about how we did it. It was a couple of hours' worth of shooting and a couple of smart ideas that made the ad look maybe a tiny bit more professional than the norm without a whole lot of extra effort.

So the first step is to write the script. Think about your message, think about the emotions. Really, the way that I like to do things is think about the kind of problems that a person who has your problem might be going through during the day. Make them montage in your head of the weirdest and worst and most stressful stuff that a person might have to go through, or stories that you've heard, words that you've heard. And if you've been able to talk to a lot of clients, a lot of people, this is just a little bit easier.

Next, you want to think visually and create a storyboard. You want to break your script into scenes and visualize how all of your shots are going to come together to tell your story. Now, the odds are pretty good that this isn't going to be a perfect process, right?

Your finished product is probably not going to match your storyboard and your storyboard also doesn't have to be art. Don't worry about being some real artists first of all. There are lots of storyboards that are just ugly and ridiculous. Second of all, your storyboard can be text in the digital world. It can just be clips and times and descriptions. It's just really making sure that you and your editor are on the same page and that the script matches the visual. Looking for b-roll is going to help you a lot with this.

This is the stuff that adds a lot of credibility elements to your video. Like obviously, you can just use stock footage that you got from like Getty or iStock or something like that, but really, you're going to feel a little bit better if you have things from your community or from people around you or from real locations.

Eventually, it's going to be time for you to shoot. Our shoot wasn't a lot. We used a cell phone camera, a little rig to hold it, and we had some lights on the side, although it was a pretty bright day and we turned out to not need it so much. We also had a lavalier microphone, and you can even see it in some of the shots. I mean, it's not like I was really trying to hide it because I want the audio to be as good as I could be. This was a very windy day, you know, it's only getting colder outside, so this thing is going to be swishing and wishing a little bit in the background. And you don't have to do all of that alone. Get people to help you, getting a lot of perspectives and ideas. Yeah, that's it. Get out of your comfort zone. Post-editing is important, you know. You can add subtitles and all those other things that make a video great, but just making it clean, legible, and sensible is probably going to be good enough.

Use B-Roll As A Running “Evidence Folder”

Obviously, you know that social media runs off of attention. However, sales don't come from attention. You know, likes and money are not the same thing. Money usually comes from being useful, helpful, credible, and consistent. B-roll can help us do that. It's footage that enriches the primary visual of a video.

So, while I’m talking about how social media works, who believes in what I’m saying?

Well, the b-roll is running as literal evidence. It's showing journeys in real-life communities we've been a part of, past experiences. And when you do that, b-roll can grab attention and invite engagement. Having a lot of b-roll is pretty crucial.

First of all, organizing it onto a Google Drive really helps. We have a folder that just says, “Hey, the footage b-roll,” and then we sort it from projects.

We have a folder that is internal advertising, and then we have it sorted by folders so it can have work sessions.

You know, for all just hanging around and talking about a project, that's b-roll. That can be things happening all the time, just showing that we're doing whatever I'm talking about. It's pretty powerful. It also gives us the ability to communicate our values. It also lets people see the story from different perspectives, so they don't have to just trust my word for it.

They can interact with the community, visit a website, look visually at previous work, watch a testimonial, look at samples of the work. All of these things come together to help us tell that story.

Create A Storyboard

Hey everybody, let's talk about storyboarding. It's not just for filmmakers; obviously, it helps if you're making a movie. I watched a YouTube video by David Sandberg, a horror movie director who also directed Shazam. He made a 20-minute video in which he discussed how he created storyboards. These storyboards weren't extremely artistic, and although David wasn't a great visual artist, he had a great sense of clarity in his drawings. You could sort of see on the page what the finished product would look like.

What really stood out to me from that video was that he used a variety of tools in his creative process and emphasized using whatever was most comfortable. This guy doesn't want to draw, so he uses action figures and holds them up. If he wants the camera to move in a certain way, he mimics the motion with his cell phone camera. It's fascinating to see how rough a storyboard can look and yet still convey the expectations for the finished project.

If there are specific parts of a scene or particular angles you want to capture, consider integrating them into your storyboard. If you're unsure about what to use and when, shoot more than one version. Most professional productions will film from two or three angles, and the more angles you shoot from, the more it's going to cost. So, if you want shots from the back of your head, both sides, and straight from the front—like a preacher at a mega-church—you can do it, but it comes at a price.

The simplest way to achieve this is to do multiple takes. Of course, this approach has its own problems, as it triples your time investment. It takes three times as long to set up and shoot. But, it's easier than bringing three cameras and finding three people to operate them, which is also a hassle.

For this ad, we shot straight ahead, from each side, and from behind. We also recorded a take that was just audio, with me looking at the phone and speaking into a lavalier microphone. With all these angles covered, the likelihood of something going wrong was relatively low.

Integrate Real Places With Your Filming

It's really cool when you can take a shot and bring it to life. Looking for a good location to shoot can make things a lot easier. Sometimes we work with clients who have wonderful places to shoot, but they use them very rarely. We once had a client who worked outside of a huge compound and only shot a few videos there a year. We would throw our hands up and pull our hair out, saying, “Hey, just take out your camera right now.”

But wherever you are, there's something engaging and beautiful. I think unless you're living, well, I don't want to say wherever, maybe you live in The Dakotas and there's nothing out there. But what's cool is that no matter where you live, there's something visual that we haven't seen before. I'm sure that if you live in Nebraska, I've seen Nebraska with Bruce Dern, I saw interesting things there. There's always something to see.

But if you do live in a city, I want to start with that and talk about just finding the character inside your city. If you live in Atlanta, you can just ride a bus and go somewhere. But you can just go out, you don't even have to leave your own neighborhood. What's within walking distance? If you look for architecture, is there a church nearby? Is there a gas station nearby? Is there a public school nearby? Hopefully not an active public school, don't get arrested. But is there any cultural institution besides a restaurant that's going to chase you away as soon as you step down?

Nature can also be a backdrop. When you go outside, there are so many backdrops. If there are trees outside, if there are rivers outside, if you've got gardens, flowers, plants. If you have enough of anything green to fill a frame, just get there and your work is done. Nature is a great collaborator. What about local monuments? Things that are extremely boring to you because you've lived around them for a long time, but they're novel to a person that doesn't know about all that stuff and see it every day outside of TV.

When I think of local landmarks, you might think if you live in Philadelphia that the Rocky Steps are ridiculous and corny, but somebody from outside of Philadelphia will at least find some novelty there, right? And wherever you live, there's probably a huge volume of storytelling that is locally ingrained but nationally obscure. Look for those things. Authenticity is really at the heart of anything that you do when you're looking for settings to shoot.

And you've got to also, of course, shoot what you've got.

Shooting inside your cubicle can be interesting. Think about the camera's ability to isolate anything. Things like index cards, business cards, shoe boxes, toys, props, small backdrops. Bringing emphasis to them and letting people look at them is almost always visually interesting for a few seconds. If you've ever just held something in your hands and looked at it, like I'm looking at a cheap phone case, the phone case has got ridges, it's got dimensions. It's just by virtue of the fact that a real person made it, even if it's like a 70% toy, it's more interesting than what we're going to find in a blank texture from Canva.

Let’s Talk About Internal Tech

What technology are you using? You know, you have so many gadgets, so many people, and so many priorities. How do you build technology that's actually less about the whistles and more about the work?

I have seen in the biomedical field, you know, those guys play with microscopes and stuff like that. This is advancing human civilization in progress, and it's running on software from the Stone Age. They've got software that's running from the 1990s.

Those guys are stuck with the technology that they have, no matter how obsolete it is. It's specialized. You do not have that problem, and you can build technology that's less about having everything work perfectly.

First of all, look at what your team already knows how to use. For your core team, this is not a specialized piece of data that you're going to look at in a graph. Just ask them what tools they're already using or like to use. Familiarity breeds efficiency. Most of the really important stuff is on really simple tools like Google, Trello, and a few others.

And when you're really looking at specialized software to use, ask yourself if it's something that is going to help you accomplish vital tasks more quickly or bring more of your target audience into your work. Some of the paid tools that we use are Streamyard, which lets us talk, invite guests, have chyrons, play videos during long-form interviews, and store some of that footage. We also have Dropbox, which lets you share and store files. I have files for years and years to go back to, and I don't have to worry about having a backup or anything. I have Dropbox, and I pay those guys in order to keep my files safe. Another tool that we use is This is something that's pretty easy to train. That's another piece of advice that I've got. If you're using paid tools, try to find things that are easy for you to change from one to a competitor. Like the gap between Docs and Microsoft Word isn't that hard.

The gap between a tool like Later, which, by the way, controls social media scheduling, is pretty easy. And doing it once means that you've wrestled with your Facebook, Instagram, TikTok. One of the reasons why I can post on seriously, I'm on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter.

Like, I'm on all of those, which is pretty crazy. And that's just from having really good scheduling and having enough content to be far ahead of time and not missing my schedule or anything like that. So really, pinch pennies, but have a purpose. Try to pick things that are affordable and effective.

Also, it's often useful to look for software that you can buy once and use forever if it does something that's really vital to your organization. But it's really a matter of pros and cons. A lot of the tools that charge you a monthly fee will plug into other apps using something called API. I'm not going to go into all of how API works, but it's just having the ability for apps to talk to each other. It's pretty important because information is going to go from one to the other. Zapier is another paid tool, and it's hard to get around because it automates stuff like transcriptions, formatting, posting, publishing, and taking things from one app and putting them in another one or doing things like when somebody sends a form, sending an email or preparing a draft statement or something like that. All of that automation takes time, and it's a pretty vital part of the technology stack.

Coalition Building

Every organization will run into this: if you are working to improve the world in any serious way, you will actually encounter furious opposition.

You will find large institutions that are opposed to the work you are doing, even when it doesn't make any logical sense. I believe that any serious effort in social change or altruism of any kind faces this issue of running into resistance. In these situations, you will need to work with large groups of people that are even larger than your own organization. You will need to find collaborators. I want to talk about that now.

Large coalitions can definitely be a big help. Find people that fit your cause, reach out to them, and build relationships with them. Form coalitions that are grounded in a shared purpose. A lot of the time, this is exactly like joining people to your own organization, except your meetings will be less frequent because they all have their own meetings.

But if you are working on a local issue, such as lowering utility prices or lowering the rent in my city, then in those situations, you can plan campaigns, synchronize messaging, and most importantly, schedule joint events where people from all the organizations are talking. This can be physical, but it can also be a Zoom call. If you have a local organization and you don't feel like there's a scene like this, scheduling a weekly meeting is a good place to start.

But what exactly are you doing together? You have a couple of options.

Number one, co-creating content. Look for opportunities to collaborate on content, such as webinars, podcasts, live Q&A sessions, or town halls. When you share a platform, you multiply your reach. What about petitions? What can people sign that will get them involved? Can you all share in that data? And who will follow up? You don't need to argue too much about who will follow up because you already know that you will. It's inside your organization's DNA.

Look for ways to create educational initiatives. Can you summarize your Q&A into a fact sheet or some sort of information that people can use as they make phone calls to city council representatives, as they prepare to vote, or as they gather to march? Measure what you're doing.

Use this data to steer the coalition. And if the coalition doesn't want to be steered, you steer yourself because you will have a lot more information and access than you might have just from doing it solo.

Apathy In The Press

A lot of people think of the press as the finish line for what they're doing, and if they can put together the right people, tell the right story, and build awareness, they'll get the results that they want. But it doesn't always work that way. You're working really hard on a cause, and you present it to the press, and you find that the community is not so interested. So, how can you give your press releases a little extra?

You've got to number one, look at the people in the real world who are interested in what you're doing. If you've got a connection that has sway with the press, look for opportunities to give the work to them and put the whole thing in their hands.

Don't be too technical, don't use too much jargon. Really think about who is involved. Don't make your press release read like a press release. Rewrite it like a letter. You need to get people really involved. Also, what can you do to add a sense of immediacy? Why is this news?

Why does it need to be reported now, as opposed to a year from now? Are we talking about an evergreen problem, or are we talking about something that really needs to be solved in a set amount of time? If there's something where the clock is ticking, make sure that you're talking about that.

Don't rely on the reporters to do all or even most of the work. That means you're still going to need to make the assets. Make it visual. You're going to need to make a website, a landing page, handouts, and all of this stuff that you think the reporter should be doing. Not so true. You're the one that's got to do it right.

Local is always best. Get a list of local reporters.

Go Google stories that are like the thing that you're struggling with, and then write down the name of the person who reported on it and what institution they worked at. If you spend a couple of hours at this, you should have a list of reporters in your town that are interested in housing.

If they reported on housing last year, they're going to be interested in it this year.

Think of your story as part of a larger story. You know, all stories are, of course, but really, whatever your nonprofit is dealing with, it's part of a societal story too.

Don't look at your press releases as the only campaign that you're running. Look at advertisements, social media pushes, and things that don't just generate clicks but have actions.

You definitely want to have some sort of landing page that people can go to for more information.

And of course, really, just like any campaign, following up is just as or perhaps more important than just sending the message. You want to make it very easy for them to plug in. You may need a Zoom room or a StreamYard room so that you can meet with them and talk to them in more detail. That will help you be remembered when you're seen.

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