One of my clients is Downing-Clark Hope Center and Academy, a special school and boarding home for teen and pre-teen girls in the Atlanta area rescued from sex trafficking. This is a topic that has been near and dear to my heart ever since I created this PSA for another client, Street GRACE. It’s been used by numerous churches and non-profits to illustrate the horrific statistics happening right in our backyard. It was actually this PSA that led Downing-Clark to me.
Downing-Clark wanted a video they can use in their fundraising efforts. Something that would move people, but also show the hope they offer. So we came up with a unique film concept. Inspired by the film “Sliding Doors,” I wrote a script that displayed two possibilities for a teen girl caught in the sex trade. One in which Downing-Clark exists, and one in which Downing-Clark doesn’t exist.
Let me just say, it was a lot easier to write than to shoot and edit. I did an early rough-cut to get feedback. Were people “getting it” or were they confused? Were they inspired to learn more about Downing-Clark? Based on that initial set of feedback, I revised the film and came up with this version 1.
I wanted to make a film that was more narrative in feel as opposed to a traditional PSA. The filmmaker and storyteller in me wanted this one to work. But ultimately the client decided that what was needed was something more straight-forward in presenting who they were and getting people to learn more. Unfortunately, many people were not getting it without a second or third viewing (and some not at all). That may be great if this were a stand alone indie film. But when it needs to help raise money, that wouldn’t do. So I revised the film, and blended the narrative with the PSA approach. Based on the client’s ecstatic reaction and additional follow-up feedback from their board , I think we made the right decision.
Below is the final official release version. Huge, huge thanks to LensProToGo for supplying us with a 5D Mark III and Zacuto gear, and to that amazing composer Tony Anderson for his contribution to the cause. Also, many thanks to the volunteer cast and crew who gave so sacrificially of their time and talent to help such a worthy cause; and to the parents of the actors who let their non-professional daughters play in some provocative roles.
Sometimes in order to best serve your client, you have to put your muse in the corner. No matter how much the inner artist in you wants to go all existential and meta. 🙂
What say you? Did we make the right choice?
If you are moved by this cause, I would encourage you to spread the word and help Downing-Clark re-open their doors.
Brian Russell says
Great pieces … both have really powerful messages. I love your use of different looks throughout, especially in the split screen sections. To be honest, I can’t make up my mind which I like better. The original narrative version definitely flows better for me, and the story seemed pretty clear. Of course, I had read your blog post first, so maybe it is just that I knew ahead of time. The VO in the final version feels forced, and tonally very different from the main characters narration and this took me out a bit (just a bit!) But, the voice over did provide information that I did not know, and educated me in a way that I think would be key to getting donations. It is a very powerful piece, and heart-wrenching subject. As a the father of a 21 year-old daughter, the plight of these girls feels uncomfortably close. Nice job all the way around. This is work that really could change lives.
Ron Dawson says
Thanks for your comment reply Brian. Much appreciated. Once you know what I was trying to do, it does make it hard to know for sure if you understand on its own or because subconsciously you’re just remembering what you know. 🙂 I hope you’re right that it changes lives. That for me is the main goal.
I would agree that the second version was the more effective and informative version. I do like the first one although there was no room for the information which was actually so important to the narrative in the second version. The first one demonstrated clearly the bad things that do and can happen to a girl. The second one said the same thing but it also told just how much it happens every month! In just the Atlanta, Georgia area!! It talks about the need for help for these girls. So, unless you could find a way to add that narrative back into the first version (and I don’t think your approach would) then you must use the second version.
Both had the same drama and impact demonstrating the ideas of “hell” without overtly graphic depictions, but the second one conveyed more information about just how deep “hell” can get while also demonstrating the hope and promise that can be and is available to them through Downing-Clark.
The thing that works best about the second version is the end. It shows more of the positive lifestyle a girl can have by going to Downing-Clark. The first version didn’t show enough of the girls hanging out and enjoying just being teenage girls. It only hinted at it. I don’t know if any re-shoots were necessary, but you showed enough. My only hard criticism would be of the use of a shot of horseback riding from a car. Just wondering why you wouldn’t have shot it hanging out the window? The frame of the car window changed it from being in the scene to being voyeuristic. Had you used that shot as a shot in version 1 of the girl dreaming about a better life, ok, I can see that used there in that way. But it’s a minor issue as it still shows what is available at the center.
Overall, the most important thing is you actually have two products. One would be used for fundraising to the uninitiated (Ver. 2). The other (Ver. 1) could be used to begin the conversation when you know you have the opportunity to follow up the video with all the statistics and facts not used in that version (Ver. 1). It would demonstrate the need. Of course, without someone from Downing-Clark to follow up the video with facts and figures, the second version stands on its own very nicely. It even has the all important “call to action” that every good video for a non-profit cause should have. So version 2 would be the clear winner overall.
As for the article itself…
Nicely done! It’s a great lesson for anyone who thinks they are the next great director and it’s their way or the highway. I think a great director can take direction as well as dish it out. Besides, if the client doesn’t have the chance to be a part of the process and be heard, they won’t be coming back to you next time. They will be looking for someone with a different approach. What you also demonstrated to the client, besides the willingness to bend, was that you are more than a one-trick pony. That you have more than one way to communicate an idea and that to me is a worth while quality. The last thing you would want is to be pinned as a producer who can only produce one style of video.
Ron Dawson says
Great points Leo! I also like the fact that in the second version we see more of the better life of the girls. That was actually one of the comments from the client in the first version. So I’m glad it came through.
It’s so funny you commented about the horseback riding scene. That was quite a challenge. I think it took about 3 hours total at the horse ranch. Two hours longer than planned in an already all too tight timeline. To make matters worse, for protective reasons we actually could not show one of the girls, but that girl was needed to help with the horses. So I had to try to film just one girl, in a moving car, with NO rig, and zoomed in. Can we say “DP nightmare”? 🙂 Lastly, we were in a minivan and I could not hang out the window.
Thanks for your kind words about the article. It is hard sometimes when you need to give up your creative vision, especially if it’s for a project you care so deeply about. But ultimately I think this new version will better suit the client.
FWIW I know the movie Sliding Doors but I never bothered to watch it. It could have been made clearer for your purposes if you set up the very beginning being about choices and how a bad choice here or there can change everything snowballing into something you could never imagine.
Clearly the choices made to make the second version were all better for communicating the message. Could you have re-worked the first version some other way? Maybe. In the end it’s ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS making sure you have achieved two goals – 1) The message gets through. 2) The client is happy. I would hope that in doing both of those things, you also don’t hurt your reputation by making poor choices. lol My litmus test is this, if I question something, so will a viewer, so I had better be sure I have a reason to leave it in the video.
I didn’t mention the small changes I noticed in the treatment of the video but I thought all of it had a nice look and consistent with what your message was all about. I guess the only other consideration which I only offer now after thinking about it more, is that you may have put some of those numbers quoted on-screen to emphasize them a bit more. This video was not a corporate piece so numbers and such were not that important. AND the images you used behind them like the girl in the bedroom while speaking to the amount of beds available to teens in crisis helped to reinforce that stat, but placing some of those stats on-screen may have been a good idea.
Kudos to the actors! They did a commendable job. The main girl has that Kristen Stewart angst thing going on.
Ron Dawson says
Thanks for the feedback Leo. No time to re-do anything. But I appreciate the input for future reference.
I too was very happy with our amateur actors. Just high school kids really. I’m so proud of them.
Meg Simone says
Wow. Tears at breakfast. I just watched both. I will agree if I was seeing these without a backstory I may not have had the same reaction to the first film, which I loved instantly. I couldn’t imagine another way to present the material… until I saw the 2nd film. I do like the 2nd film better for the purpose of raising money. I learned more about the Downing-Clark Center, and the actual cause that the money would go to support. The facts about the owners, what the center provides, the hope it shows for the girls, that was really great. The entire film tugged at the heartstrings. Amazing work Ron – a really cool post with lots to learn from.
Ron Dawson says
Thanks so much Meg. Really appreciate your feedback. And I’m sure the clients will too.
Robert Lee says
Excellent article Ron, and thank you for sharing your videos.
Both are powerful videos and outstanding. I can only imagine how difficult it was to modify your first version for the client, Still I do believe you made the right choice, because I think it would have been a lot harder to change the first version to make it more accessible to viewers without altering the pacing and tone of the film, than it is to change the format as a PSA like you did in the second version.