I’ve been making films in one form or another for 20 years. You would think I have seen it all. But every project I take on has something unique about it that requires thinking of a new solution or approach. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I still love doing what I do so many years in.
Such was the case with the latest video I created for The Action Center, a nonprofit in Lakewood, Colorado, that provides immediate help to anyone in need, regardless of income or circumstance. They hold their annual fundraising event at the end of each April and show a video to their attendees with the goal of inspiring them to contribute. The Action Center has shown several videos in the past but had had a number of poor experiences with the video production vendors they worked with. I first approached them in late 2018. They were a little gun-shy based on their previous experiences, but I was able to persuade them that working with me would be rewarding and positive. The video we made together was a big success and they found my assurances to be true. They contacted me early this year about doing another video for this year’s event.
The person we found to focus this year’s video on was Maureen, a previous participant of The Action Center who, with their help, turned her life around. She was homeless and in the throes of drug addiction. Today, she is clean and sober and has a home with her husband. A fantastic happy ending, to be sure, but for purposes of the video, we needed to show that journey. Since there was no footage available of her during that time, I needed to re-create it.
I do recreations often in situations like this. It’s tricky territory because if it’s not done carefully it can come across as cheesy and inauthentic, which completely turns off an audience. Having seen plenty of examples of poorly done recreations and creating my own multiple times, I’ve established a pretty tried and true approach that works well.
Except when a video requires recreations from two different time periods. And that’s what this story was going to need.
The triggering event that set Maureen down her dark path was a very painful one. She had gone to work one day and talked to her teenage daughter on her lunch break. All seemed to be well. When she got home that evening she found her daughter dead on her couch. There was no foul play or medical reason. It was sudden and unexplainable. The first recreation I needed to create was a flashback sequence showing this event. The technique I used was to slow down the camera frame rate and drag the shutter to get a more abstract looking visual, as if we were seeing Maureen’s memories projected outside of her brain.
Since Maureen’s experience with The Action Center following her descension into addiction and homelessness happened in the past, I also needed to recreate these events. With the help of The Action Center, we set up scenes with staff and Maureen to film these as if we had been there with cameras when these interactions first took place. Sometimes this is all that’s needed to show an event from the past. But Maureen’s physical appearance between now and when she first sought out help from The Action Center was noticeably different, which meant showing that footage “straight” wasn’t going to sell to the audience and, worse, would only confuse them. I needed some way to acknowledge to the audience that, yes, I know you know we are recreating this but I want you to pretend these are real events from the past.
The flashback technique I used for showing Maureen’s memories wasn’t going to work for these scenes. First, they happened at a different time and, second, there would be dialogue and sound. So I experimented with a number of ideas. But everything I tried was either too close in style to the flashback technique, or too cheesy.
Then I thought of applying a black and white treatment. Boom! It worked perfectly. It gave me a way to wink to the audience that I knew they knew what we were trying to do while also clearly distinguishing the sequence of events and keeping them in the story. Now I just needed to show it to The Action Center and hope they felt as I did about it.
Fortunately, they did, but added something I didn’t expect, which was that because the past events were in black and white and current events in color, it became a metaphor for showing how Maureen’s life gradually became enriched with the help of The Action Center. This is a perfect example of why I find the revision and review process with my clients such a critical phase of the filmmaking process. They will often see and notice things that I don’t. It allows them to be a key part of the creative process and allows me to deliver an even better product than I could without their involvement.
Because of Covid-19, The Action Center moved their event online, where the final completed video was shown. My contact and collaborator at The Action Center reported back rave reviews. She had this to say:
“OMG, everyone LOVED it! I’ve never had so many compliments on one of our fundraising videos.
And most importantly, almost everyone I talked to said they teared up and continue to tear up when they watch it. We’ve never had one of these stories do so well. THANK YOU!!!As always, thank you for being a great partner and helping us make an amazing presentation!”