Only a life lived for others is worth living. ~ Albert Einstein
Last night I attended my daughter’s induction ceremony into the national Beta Club. (Can we say “Proud poppa in the house!”) Anyway, I was never smart enough to be in Beta Cub. Well, let me re-phrase that. I never committed to school work enough to get the grades needed to get into Beta Club. 🙂 So I didn’t know that a part of the qualifications is not just academic excellence, but service as well. That really struck a cord with me.
Lately I’ve been getting a number of requests from filmmakers asking about my “business model” for doing cause-driven and non-profit work. I wanted to share about my journey.
Ever since I started my company almost nine years ago, I’ve wanted my filmmaking to have purpose, to attain a higher calling if you will. When I focused on weddings, I wanted to create films that would strengthen marriages and families. In 2007 when I switched my focus to do commercial video work in the pro photography industry, I didn’t just want to make cool music video promos of photogs. I wanted to produce films that conveyed the power of the photographers’ work to affect the lives of their clients. I was naturally drawn to tell stories like the ones I did for photographers Dane Sanders, Jules Bianchi, or most recently, Shawn Reeder. Photogs who had an emotionally moving story to tell and powerful connection to their clients. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that it was the work I did for the photography-related company Pictage that led me to my current focus of non-profit, cause-driven, and inspirational films.
It’s been a year now and the journey has been incredibly rewarding. As I wrote in Event DV Magazine, you can make a living doing this. But be warned. The journey can be scary. In an already tough economy, focusing on this kind of work is challenging to say the least. Non-profits and worthy causes as a whole don’t have coffers overflowing with cash to throw at promotional films. So you have to be creative. You have to collaborate and partner with them to make it happen. Whether you use a crowd-sourcing site like Kickstarter, or create a clever social media campaign.
Or, you can do something similar to what my wife and I are doing with our photography studio Teen Identity. We’ve built in a higher purpose into the capitalist nature of the business. In this case, raising the confidence and self-esteem of teen girls while fighting the negative images of women in the media. We created the Teen Identity Network to partner with photographers and filmmakers around the nation who wanted to incorporate these ideals into their own studios. In other words, create a viral effect.
One of my favorite films last year was “Inception.” In that movie they comment that the most powerful human virus is an idea. The smallest germ of an idea can grow into a world-changing organization. That’s cool. That’s inspiring. That moves me to keep conceiving and playing with ideas, no matter how big or small. Whether it’s creating an online magazine for girls that I hope will one day over-shadow Teen Vogue. Or running a film and video production company that could become the next Participant Media (makers of “Food Inc.”, “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Waiting for Superman”). Or gathering a small group of like minded leaders in this industry to do and offer something…different. (Hint. Hint. Wink. Wink).
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
So, what can you do to bring purpose to your passion. Well you could…
- Organize a charity shoot for a teen girl with cancer, like Carla Lynn is doing for Ashley with Hope, Faith and Photos for a Cure
- You could do personal or charitable work for a cause you believe in like Joe Buissink did for the book Autism Heroes
- You can make a film that addresses a social cause, then form a movement around it like Whitestone Motion Pictures is doing with “The Candy Shop” (learn more about this in tomorrow episode of “Crossing the 180”)
- You could pledge to donate a certain percentage of your gross revenue to a cause you believe in, similar to the (RED) movement (and no, it’s not related to the digital cinema camera).
These are just a few ideas. But remember, you don’t get into this business to get rich. Don’t pursue the path of purpose because you think it will be a great way to differentiate your business from the competition (although that is a possible benefit). Do be forthright. Be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot do. Do make sure your family comes first (you can’t help anyone else if you’re drowning too). In the end though, the rewards transcend the money you make (however much or little it may be).
“Lens & Learn” Documentary Short Version
Last year we produced a 4-minute short at WPPI for Pictage and their “Lens and Learn” charity event at the Boys and Girls Club of Las Vegas. This is the documentary short film version (just under ten minutes). It gives more details and insight into the event.
Dan Rollins says
Great post Ron! Very inspiring. I appreciated your perspective when I read your book “ReFocus” as well. As a Christian and aspiring storyteller/filmmaker I want my character and values to embody the work I do, or at least make sure the job isn’t going against what I stand for. I have had a few people ask me to talk with bands they know about doing a music video… I have been very careful about that until I know what the band is all about. I want to make sure that when my wife & i take on a video job it, we are proud to say we did it. And that one day we can show our kids and not be ashamed.
Kita & I love to interact with people regardless of their beliefs… most of the time we have no idea what they are, but what we do know is that we can serve like crazy and make sure they feel like they were the most important people in the world after the shoot.
I think the most rewarding project we did was a benefit video for a kid with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. We spent the evening with him and followed him around the hospital and captured the “day in the life”, along with his incredible attitude and sense of humor. (it is on our LiveWire Films Vimeo page) The privilege of spending time with that kid was payment enough, but we did also add a donation button to our webpage and received some contributions for the work we did. I could tell stories like that all day long!
Sorry for the rant… all this to say, great post Ron! Thanks for having a purpose and sharing that with others.
Ron Dawson says
Thanks for sharing Dan. When it comes to music videos, you definitely have to be careful what you say yes too. 🙂
Ron- I loved reading this. Last week I had the opportunity to shoot for pediatrics hospice and it reminded me how special and beautiful it is for someone who has little to nothing to feel the importance of a camera on them, etching their story in time.
Jaime Espiritu says
I’ve been taking the similar path. My higher calling always has been video. Since I got laid off my tech job last year, I’ve been doing a lot of non profit video. It is satisfying that I can impact a lot of people this way. It’s always about the people I serve that matters most. As Christians, we work for God anyways. We always step out in faith to see what God will do next.
Wow- this has been something weighing heavy on my mind as we launch our business (started in August and growing fast!). Thanks for your inspiration and ideas. I’m excited about the potential ways to inspire change in the world through our craft. Thanks!
Ron Dawson says
So glad it inspired you.