Capture and share the evidence of the impact of your funded projects
Building a library of comprehensive multimedia documentation assets helps to tell the story of the funding program. This often includes contracting services to document and promote while also creating new content that tells the story of how the individual projects come together to make a larger impact for the community.
Projects can be documented through a mixture of written stories, images, audio, and videos. By documenting project activities, the efforts of the community are recorded, catalogued, and promoted via multimedia means and in a way that can be easily shared publicly. This serves not only to archive community activity, but also to spotlight people, projects, ideas, and collaborations in a way that connects them to the broader initiative.
By supporting and documenting catalytic funding project activities, you help write a lasting story detailing the process by which emerging leaders are seeding community change, energizing civic and cultural life, and catalyzing local solutions in a high quality way that helps to expand the reach of the program. The project documentation can be shared with the projects to use on their websites and marketing materials. It is also helpful in creating more dynamic showcase events to highlight outstanding projects and community activities or to seek editorial coverage to market the work of the larger program.
The content that follows was adapted from an explainer & instructional guidance that was prepared by The Sprout Fund for Remake Learning in September 2017.
Using an editorial calendar or messaging framework to plan documentation and storytelling activities allows those responsible for documentation and storytelling to coordinate multiple storylines that develop over time, while also remaining responsive to opportunities for documentation and storytelling that arise.
While writing, photography, and video projects all have their own distinct characteristics, the production process can be generally broken down into six phases: Creative Development, Pre-production, Production, Post-production, Distribution, and Archiving. Guidance on each is detailed below.
The focus of the creative development phase is turning abstract ideas and/or messaging goals into well-defined and easily understood storylines that can be feasibly produced.
Ideas may arise naturally from the course of program activities, appear in the ongoing discourse and news cycle, be suggested by staff and partners, or they may be related to a new or ongoing organizational initiative. Oftentimes, special projects and initiatives require some form of documentation and storytelling support. In any case, timing is key. It’s critically important to identify the right moment to document and the right moment to publish. Some forms of documentation can have a relatively quick turnaround (photos can be processed same-day if necessary) while others may require weeks of post-production work before release (video is the most obvious example here).
Once you have decided on a story to tell, spend some time thinking about the goals of the story, the big ideas you want to explore, the important questions you want to answer, the quotes you want to hear, and the scenes you want to see. It is often necessary to do some background research on the subject(s) of the story to spur your thinking. Personal and organizational web pages, social media accounts, news stories, and other produced media are easily accessible sources of background information.
Once you have identified the people you’d like to feature as the subject of the story, contact them to explain the idea for the story to them and ask if they would be interested in participating. Be prepared to answer their questions about where and when the story would be produced, where and when it would be shared, and what they will be asked to do. This is also a good opportunity to ask your own exploratory questions to further develop your understanding of the subject, or ask if they can share any internal background material, such as strategic plans, grant proposals, working documents, and the like.
To distill the story into a sensible document that a vendor can use to get started, it’s valuable to keep all the pertinent details in a unique assignment specification for each of your writing, photo, and video projects. These templates include a combination of “checklist” info that is a must have (basic details, contact information, dates and times, etc.) and also prompts to spur more creative thinking about the project.
Budgeting & Vendor Selection
Once the story has been solidified, the subjects have been secured, and the creative brief has been developed, is creating a project budget and hiring a media vendor (writer, photographer, videographer) to produce the project. (Please note: prices quoted below were typical for vendors in the Pittsburgh region in 2017.)
Writing: Costs for a feature-length story (1,000–1,500 words) are typically in the $500 range while simpler assignments like interviews, field reports, and commentary pieces can be priced in the $300–$400 range.
Photography: Costs for a single-subject photoshoot by a professional photographer typically range between $250 and $350, however the circumstances of the shoot or the pay range of the vendor may drive that cost higher.
Video: Costs can vary widely due to the number of variables. Video shoots require a minimum crew of two people and are typically priced in “half-day” or “full day” increments. A half-day two-person shoot ranges from $600 to $750, while a full day two-person shoot ranges from $1,100 to $1,300. Post-production costs (processing footage, editing, color correction, etc.) is typically priced based on an hourly rate and is dependent on the desired outputs of the project. Post-production for a single, web-optimized video with a duration around 3 minutes will likely be scoped at 25–35 hours of post-production, which will likely run between $1,500 and $2,500. Additional fees, such as music licensing or the purchase of an external hard drive to transfer footage, can add $100–$300 to the final budget. So, in total, a single-subject, single-shoot, single-output video should be budgeted between $2,250 and $3,500.
Except for complex projects that may require extra background work, out-of-town travel, or multiple site visits, It’s better to set a budget before engaging a vendor than to have the vendor develop a quote.
When selecting a vendor, consider how their past work fits with the goals of the project. Some vendors specialize their practice, while others who may be generally well-skilled, exhibit their talents best with specific kinds of assignments. For example, some writers come from a magazine or creative nonfiction background and specialize in narrative writing, while others may have a journalism background and are more comfortable conducting field reports or interviews.
Photographers may specialize in events, portraits, or documentary style. Videographers often fall on a spectrum of how “produced” their videos are. Videographers on one end of that spectrum will focus on staging shots, feeding lines to subjects, and using intentional lighting as often as possible. On the other end of the spectrum are videographers who take a more observational or documentary approach with only minimal production values.
In any case, a review of a vendor’s website, reel, or work examples will often reveal the mode in which they are most comfortable working.
The focus of the pre-production phase is preparing for and coordinating the work of media vendors (writers, photographers, videographers).
This is the time to reconnect with the subjects to confirm their participation, describe in detail what the production experience will be like and what will be asked of them, and confirm time, date, and location details. If youth are going to be depicted, this is also the time to work with the subject or principal point of contact to secure media appearance consent releases.
For video shoots, be sure to discuss on-site logistics with subject(s) and/or principal point of contact, including directions, parking, and site access details. Remember that video crews will need to load-in and store their gear on-site. In some cases, it may be necessary to scout the location in advance of the shoot to confirm details yourself.
Once production details are confirmed with the subject(s), send briefing materials to the vendors. In addition to the creative brief prepared during creative development, also share the interview questions that will be asked of subjects. Additional background materials may include existing assets like photos, logos, brand assets, or past video footage. Meet with the vendors to go over the briefing materials and answer any questions they have.
Writing & Photography: Introduce the vendor to the subject(s) and/or principal points of contact by email so they can coordinate directly.
Video: Prepare and distribute crew call sheets in the days leading up to production and send a reminder to the subject and/or principal points of contact confirming last minute details.
The production phase is where the magic happens. ✨
Writing: It is rare that you need to accompany the writer on site-visits or during interviews. Remind the writer that you are available to answer questions or review passages that may arise over the course of the writing process, but before a complete draft is available.
Photography: It is often helpful, but not necessary to accompany the photographer to the shoot. For projects with very specific shooting goals, providing on-site direction to the photographer is likely to yield the shots you’re looking for. For projects whose subjects require special handling (VIPs, families, organizational partners, children, etc.), it may be necessary to accompany the photographer in order to answer questions and liaise with the subject.
Video: Plan to accompany the crew on production. On the day of the shoot, arrive early to confirm location details and establish contact with the subject(s) and/or principal point of contact. Be prepared to assist the video crew as needed, moving things, finding and securing quiet spaces to conduct interviews, carrying equipment, move furniture, and manage crowd control.
The focus of the post-production phase is refining the work of the media vendors from rough cuts and drafts to finished products ready for release.
Establish clear expectations for the post-production timeline, including specific dates for when rough cuts and drafts are due, dates by which you will provide feedback, dates when refined cuts and drafts are due, and dates by which files must be finalized for release.
If the project requires input from clients, funders, or partners, confirm to a mutually agreeable review process that allows for group feedback while also making orderly progress toward the final product. Keep in mind that vendors base their post-production budgets on a set number of revision rounds and exceeding that number will likely incur additional charges.
When preparing written feedback, be as clear and straightforward as possible. It is often helpful to provide both high-level overall comments to provide general feedback about the piece as a whole, what parts are working and what parts need more attention, and then provide specific scene-by-scene or line-by-line comments as a bulleted punch list for the vendor to resolve. In some cases, it may be necessary to meet with the vendor and sit in on the editing process to point out specific issues and verbalize your feedback in conversation.
Writing: In addition to reviewing for basic spelling, grammar, and usage, read the piece from several points of view. Take on the perspective of different kinds of readers: a reader in the know, a reader coming to the subject for the first time, a skeptic, a funder, a partner, etc. If you make direct edits in-line, be sure to use a change tracking tool so that the vendor knows what has been changed. Share it with subjects for fact-checking after you’re happy with it.
Photography: Request the photographer to provide basic processing, labelling, and tagging of their photos. The photographer should also make an initial selection of photos, rather than submitting the full set of photos captured at the shoot. A photographer may shoot hundreds of images, most of which will be unusable, while 15–25 may be suitable for submission. For those submitted photos, ingest them into your filing system and make your own selection of the top 3–5 photos from the shoot.
Video: Write the names and affiliations for everyone appearing on screen so that the vendor has accurate spellings for creating lower-third titles. Provide text and logos for inclusion in closing credits. Be sure to check all on-screen text for proper spelling and accuracy.
The focus of the distribution phase is sharing the finished media products and supporting readership, viewership, and engagement with the media.
Once a piece is finalized, send to the finished product to everyone involved in the project, including vendors, subjects, and partners. Include an explanation of credit attribution and usage rights. Be sure to also send it to your internal team and explain where and how it will be posted and how they can help with distribution.
Writing: Prepare the final written piece for publication via a blog or Medium. Be sure to include visual support, such as a featured cover image, body images or graphics, or a related video. Draft social media messages previewing the new post and schedule multiple messages to share out over several days.
Photography: Post the final selects to a Facebook album. Be sure to tag them and add captions, then share the album on twitter and maybe share a selection of the images on Instagram.
Video: Post the final video to Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. When posting to social media, use the platform’s native video player whenever possible. Be sure to add tags and a description to the file, linking back to wherever the media is featured. Thank (and mention, if appropriate) the vendors, subjects, and partners. Add caption files using YouTube’s built in captioning tool. If the video is supported by a writing project, publish it alongside that piece.
The focus of the archiving phase is managing the orderly storage and future use of media files.
Writing: The written word is the easiest content to archive. If your chosen publication platform has full-text search it’s rarely necessary to keep final written content anywhere other than the publication platform itself. Just be sure you choose a tool with export capabilities if you want to extract your content at a later date.
Photography: Find a software solution that is specifically designed to handle photo files. Use a date-based filing system to keep your photos organized chronologically. Add tags and keywords to photos so that you can use full text search to call up photos for easy retrieval. For final selects, store a copy of the files in a web-accessible space such as Google Photos so that colleagues, partners, subjects, and others can find and access the photos as needed. A workable solution is better than a perfect solution. You spent a lot of money on photos, people should be able to use them.
Video: Have the video vendor save the final video output together with all source footage and project files on an external hard drive. If you work regularly with the same video vendor who can store footage for you, develop a straightforward method for keeping track of the files they maintain. Be sure to get backup copies of the files and consider moving old footage to deep cloud storage. Hard drives decay, so if there is some footage that is really useful, make sure you back it up.
Style & Tone Recommendations
In general, documentation and storytelling content should align with the values, interests, and expectations of your organization. Furthermore, over time, you should develop multimedia content with a generally consistent style and tone but with some variation depending on the type of media. For example:
Model your stories on high-quality magazine writing: clear and concise, but with a personality. Use a tone is lively and engaging, conveying a sense of the immediacy and activity of projects happening in real time and providing evidence of the subject’s positive impact on people and communities. Written content should confirm to the following style and tone guidelines:
- Tell stories in a narrative manner, rather than straight reportage
- Except for personal reflections, write stories in the third person
- Allow the qualities of the subject to speak for themselves, as opposed to using praising language
- Connect abstract ideas to the concrete actions and activities of the subject and/or the normal lived experience of the intended audience
- Avoid the suggestion that the subject of the story has solved all the problems, but instead explore what remains unsolved and suggest how the work continues
Capture project activities in action, focusing on interaction between people. In addition to this kind of documentary activity coverage, also commission portraits of project leaders for use in directories, and event photography to cover important happenings. Photo content should conform to the following style and tone guidelines:
- Focus on capturing authentic moments of interpersonal interaction, especially between young people and adults
- Avoid staging shots unless absolutely necessary
- Capture plenty of over-the-shoulder and detail shots to use when depictions of youth faces is not possible or desired
- Include shots that set the context for the scene, such as establishing shots of the location of the shoot and wide shots of the subjects in a specific setting
Maintains a video style that is youthful (but not immature), engaging, inspiring, accessible, and optimistic. Video content should conform to the following style and tone guidelines:
- Properly light and mic interview subjects; direct them so that they are comfortable and natural
- Use language that is clear, comprehensible, and compelling to its intended audience
- Shoot live action b-roll footage in a documentary-style and illustrates the real people and places involved in funded project activities
- Create motion graphics and animations that are attractive, clean, friendly, and clever
- Choose background music that is contemporary, smart, engaging, and optimistic
- Except in videos promoting or recapping a particular moment in time, try to create content that is “evergreen” and the story is supported by durable examples
Lastly, in recognition of the diverse audiences that follow and trust your organization, content produced about you and your funded projects should always be respectful and appropriate for all ages.