Changing the World Through Cinematic Video

Mon, Jun 26, 2017

Creating fundraising commercials through cinematic video with Teradek

The village of Mangoase, Ghana is full of culture, tradition and heart. But what many of us who live in the developed world don’t know about it is that Mangoase - meaning ‘under the mango tree’ in the regional language - is one of the most poorly-developed, poverty-stricken areas in the entire country, with the majority of families on the brink of starvation, living off the meager yields of subsistence farming, drinking from dangerously contaminated water sources - one illness or bad season away from losing it all.

When Compassion International, a large humanitarian aid organization, discovered the living conditions of the people of Mangoase, they began to establish a fundraising campaign with goals to bring educational opportunities, healthcare, nutrition supplements and much more to the village. Part of this campaign involved the production of a commercial video featuring a young girl and the difficulties her family undergoes every day. For this, they sought out cinematographer Bjorn Amundsen (@bjorn_amundsen_dp) and director Paul Nevison (@paulnevison) to spearhead the acquisition.

“Since I was young, I’ve always been exposed to other cultures all over the world because my parents were both missionaries,” said Bjorn. “As I got into filmmaking, I started by volunteering for a lot of nonprofit organizations that needed storytelling help. That’s how I was found by Compassion International, who asked me to help develop a short fundraising commercial for the village of Mangoase.”

The Secret to Humanitarian Fundraising

Fundraising commercial by Bjorn Amundsen shot cinematically with Teradek Bolt

We’ve all seen the somber, heartbreaking humanitarian commercials on TV highlighting impoverished families in 3rd world countries who are in desperate need of donations. But for Bjorn, these commercials don’t draw the attention their causes deserve.

“You see all of these commercials on TV asking for donations - but they’re awful! The quality is low. They put people in these shots where they look destitute and despondent. These kinds of commercials don’t give the people any kind of dignity. On top of that, they’re not engaging at all to watch,” said Bjorn.

As a seasoned documentary filmmaker for aid organizations, Bjorn knew exactly how they wanted to film the commercial. According to Bjorn, the secret to creating the most engaging humanitarian video is to shoot cinematically. Rather than reading off facts and statistics like all other fundraising videos, Bjorn wanted to tell a story.

Women of Mangoase travel a kilometer to gather unsafe drinking water for the village.

"When Compassion International assigned Paul and I to this project, our goal was to paint the people of Mangoase in a different light," said Bjorn. "We wanted to do better than the typical humanitarian ad by making it visually stunning. Using this style of video meant that the organization could reach their goals faster, and that the family could get the help they need sooner than later.”

But while Bjorn knew that shooting a cinematic commercial would yield better results, getting this kind of footage wasn’t going to be easy. He needed to capture the essence of what it meant to be part of the family and the hardships they undergo, all while ensuring that the video was visually compelling enough to capture the hearts of viewers. To do this, he turned to wireless video. 

Telling A Story

For the short documentary-commercial, the production team wanted to feature the family’s youngest daughter Christine, capturing her life and the difficulties she faced every day.

To get high-definition footage, Bjorn, who acted as DP and camera operator for the project, used an ARRI Amira production camera with Canon cinema lenses. Mounted to the Amira camera was his Teradek Bolt 500 transmitter, sending the video feed in real-time to a Bolt receiver connected to the director’s SmallHD 702 handheld monitor.

Amira camera with Bolt 500 system and handheld director’s monitor rig.

Bolt is a wireless transmitter that can send video from camera to monitor with zero delay, making it perfect for workflows in which cables are impractical. For Bjorn and his crew, this meant just about every part of the acquisition.

Much of the production consisted of filming outdoors, following Christine as she goes through her daily motions. This meant being constantly on the move with her and other villagers, walking through brushes, hiking up mountains and traveling far distances on foot. The Bolt played an essential role here. Having a cable between the camera and monitor would make it impossible for Bjorn and his crew to have the mobility that they needed. With wireless, Director Nevison followed behind and monitored from the handheld SmallHD without needing to worry about cables.

Bjorn Amundsen and crew shooting in Ghana for Compassion International
Bjorn (middle) with Nevison (right) and Caleb (left).

When they wanted to film inside the family’s tiny home in the village, having their wireless downlink was especially important. “The space was so small inside the home, even I could barely make it. There was simply no way for Nevison to just come in and monitor the camera over my shoulder,” Bjorn clarified. Instead, Nevison monitored the video from outside the house, where he didn’t need to interfere with the limited space inside.

For the final scene of the commercial, the Chief of Mangoase held a dance ceremony that the production team wanted to film. In order to capture this scene in the most compelling way possible, Bjorn positioned himself in the center of the circle of dancers to film close-up shots. Instead of having wires, which would be a safety concern for the villagers, or having Nevison stand behind Bjorn in the tight circle, they used the Bolt to transmit Bjorn’s feed to Nevison, who stood farther out from the festivities so to not interfere with the ceremony. 

Bringing Aid To Those In Need 

For underprivileged areas like Mangoase, the cycle of poverty is a vicious one. Because impoverished families resort to subsistence farming to survive, children are unable to go to school to receive a proper education because they’re forced to help on the farm. “This provides a good short-term solution for the families, but not a good long-term one,” Bjorn explained. “Without education, the villagers never learn the skills they need to move up in life - and typically those with less education have more children - which starts the cycle all over again.”

Producing a cinematic commercial gives Compassion International a huge advantage in raising funds. The dramatic angles, higher quality and better storytelling elements make this humanitarian production much more visually fascinating and engaging. It also portrays the community not as sympathy-seeking beggars, but as a dignified people with a vibrant and beautiful culture. This culminates into a video that sends a stronger message to viewers, and gets help to the people of Mangoase much quicker than previous methods.

“We did something like this in Kenya last fall, and because of the cinematic look we used for our video, the organization more than doubled its fundraising goals.”

All of this helps organizations such as Compassion International accomplish their altruistic goals and, more importantly, provide people like Christine’s family a better future. And thanks to wireless video, cinematographers like Bjorn are able to find creative ways to produce much better videos for the cause. It’s the future of humanitarian video, and Teradek is proud to be a part of it.

“The Bolt was an essential part of our workflow in Ghana. Instead of having to do dailies every night, we could make sure we had the right shots as we filmed. This saved us a lot of time and made our production go so much smoother.”

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