Make Your Nonprofit Video Extreme

Whenever I ask nonprofit people about a TV show they find memorable, they usually mention “Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition. Who doesn’t  love it when a family in need receives a complete home, usually accompanied by some bill paying or college scholarships. There’s tears, there’s joy, there’s thank-you’s — it’s a win-win for everyone. If you follow the other home makeover do-gooder, Mike Holmes, he has a similar show called “Make it Right“. Both shows are helping people to feel safe and to move on with their lives. So, how can you make your videos more like these popular shows? Tell the whole story, not just the happy ending.

Let’s start with the talent.  In both cases, the people have been chosen based on certain criteria. Certainly they are comfortable with a camera being in their home non-stop, and it is obvious they want to be on the show. In real life, the people you are helping may not be ready for that. There may be challenges concerning physical and mental health, and feelings of embarrassment, anger and sadness. It’s important to remember that just because people are in the process of receiving help, doesn’t mean that they owe anyone anything. As a caring society we should naturally think of helping each other and I think nonprofits get that. So, how do you find someone that is willing to talk about their story? First, you have to wait until they have received help and feel comfortable. Then, you have to contact them and really talk to them about the possibility of being on a video, either by phone or in person. It’s nice to be up front and to let them know that the reason for the video is really to get more funding or support so that more  people in similar situations can receive help. If you are in fear of a program coming to an end, it’s okay to share that, too.  People appreciate honesty. Make sure you bring up the context of the video — is it for a gala, or will it be posted on your organization’s YouTube? People may feel differently about how they are viewed. If you have done your homework, you probably have someone in mind already. Usually the people that agree to being on camera are now advocates themselves, wanting to help change the lives of others. Make sure you send them a follow up email or letter so that they will remember what was discussed.

Usually the next step with creating a video involves scripting. How will we tell the story? In the “Extreme show, the script bounces back and forth between the family and the people working on the new home. Much of the excitement of the show is built upon the family’s initial submission video which outlines their crisis and why they need a makeover. The original issues brought up in that video are confirmed in interviews throughout the show, creating the expectation that the needs must be met. You can accomplish a similar feel in your video through interview. Although the person in your video has already received help, you can have them talk about what their life was like before they connected with your organization. What were they feeling? How did they get the things they needed back then? What were some of the things they couldn’t do? How did if affect their family? Usually I don’t like to give people questions ahead of time when I interview them, however, in this case you may want to send them a few of the questions  just to make sure they are comfortable. Also, a lot of time may have passed and they may need to review in their own mind what changes have occurred. One of my most memorable interviews was regarding a woman’s experience with domestic abuse.  In this case, I interviewed the woman ahead of time on the phone to make sure I understood her story. I also made sure to question her about which things she was comfortable revealing on video.  She later wrote me a note to thank me for making her so comfortable in revealing something that was so hurtful in her life, and for respecting her wishes. Like many I have interviewed,  she was someone that had become an advocate for other women, so it was a natural step for her to want to reveal her story. Once you have the back story, it’s time to get to the help leading to the life changes. This will help to create the “before” and “after” feeling of a makeover.

Once you have an interview, you will need to re-enact some of what is being said. Again, you have to check to see if the person you are interviewing is comfortable in this situation. If not, you may have an actor or friend help to recreate the scene. As in many TV shows, people may be seen without their faces being shown. Was the person living out of their car? Did they receive financial counseling? Were they living with someone with drug addiction? These are all things that can be recreated in small spaces — sometimes even at the place you are doing the interview. The more you know the person’s story, the more prepared  you will be to recreate it. Don’t forget you will also need images of the person getting help from your organization and the finale shots of their life now changed. That should be the most fun!  Usually those end shots include family and friends. Don’t be scared to ask them to do what they really do at home. If Dad cooks his favorite burgers on Tuesday night, then by all means tape it. The point is to be as real as possible about the person’s life in the video.

If you have done all of these steps, you have interviewed a vibrant advocate and captured images that help to show their life before, during and after help. You also have an uplifting end scene that brings smiles to everyone — a sentimental finish for an extreme makeover.  So often nonprofits only interview for the “after” story. The end is nice, but there can be no build or climax if the whole story is not revealed. Not only does the whole story allow the audience to be part of the experience, but it also allows the interviewee to be a witness to their own change. There is nothing more powerful than that. So, make your nonprofit video extreme and let everyone share in the moment of transformation.