We’ve long lauded the power of story to create connection and inspire action. But here, we'll show you the story-building process for a film we made in Uganda that generated some powerful results.
It's always been a part of Stillmotion DNA to do pro-bono projects for worthwhile causes; Old Skool Cafe was one, our doc #standwithme started out as one, and last year we had another opportunity with the Australian-based nonprofit One Girl.
They were launching a new program called Graduation, and they'd need a video to help make it successful. Graduation is a 3-year commitment of a monthly donation to sponsor young girls in Africa through school.
They had the goal of getting at least 30 people signed up for a 3-year commitment. So we were to craft a story which had a very clear metric of success: number of people who sign up.
Our relationship with One Girl dates back to June 2015, when we began donating 2 percent of the profits from our storytelling process, Muse, to the organization. One Girl believes in education, and we believe in education, making it a fine complement.
About a year later, in August 2015, I found myself hunched over in the Ugandan countryside, gripping an 8x8 Scrim Jim in one hand, and my production binder in the other.
We were at the farm of a local man, Musisi, who lived about an hour outside of Kampala. He was our main character, what we call the Heart of our story, and who would lead our audience on a journey.
His small plot of land was covered in an assortment of resources that he would cultivate into sales that funded the education of his daughters.
It wasn’t until watching him work that I realized this. From the small weed-like plants tucked into the red dirt (“they’re good for your blood,” he told me) to the stacks and stacks of mud bricks covered in straw so as to not lay like prey to the rain—he was utilizing everything.
This stamina was fueled by one thing: his desire to educate his girls.
In some African countries, girls are more likely to be sexually assaulted than attend high school.
Such trauma is debilitating enough, couple that with no education, and girls enter a downward spiral of child marriage, early pregnancy, poverty, and possibly prostitution, putting them at serious risk for sexually transmitted diseases, like HIV.
When educated, the opposite is true.
When girls in Africa are able to stay in school, they’re able to use their education to get a job to support themselves. When this happens, she’s able to marry and have children when she chooses. And she’s more likely to support her family and give back to her community with the money she earns. And more importantly, she’s able to raise healthy, educated children who follow the upward trend.
This is where One Girl’s Graduation program comes in. Financing a girl’s education is an enormous hurdle in countries like Uganda and Sierra Leone. If we could share a story that inspired people to support Graduation, we could all work to save generation after generation of women.
The story was culminating into a gesture of respect for hard work, from One Girl to Musisi. The whole climax of the story—and the potential for the story to change lives—hinged on his reaction.
We can't expect the audience to want something more than our character does. As the Heart of our story, if he was elated then you too would feel that energy and the story would be a triumph, capable of positively impacting the lives of so, so many.
If he reacted in any other way, the story—and its potential—were doomed.
With only a handful of days in Uganda there wasn't room for a backup plan, another storyline, or another character. We were all in with Musisi and this moment.
So I hid behind the Scrim Jim and held my breath for his reaction.
You’ll see his response for yourself in just a moment, but know that I was extremely relieved that I got to witness it while hiding behind the Scrim Jim, unseen. No one could see the tears rolling down my face.
I hear you’re not supposed to cry at work.
So we got the type of reaction we had dreamed of when Musisi heard the news. And as a result the film was exactly what we'd planned.
But more than that, A Father’s Fight has gone on to work wonders for One Girl. Here’s just one example from Chantelle Baxter, CEO of the organization...
"We were advised by a fundraising expert that after we launch, we should hope for a 10% increase in our monthly giving over a 12 month period. It’s been two months since video release, hundreds of shares and thousands of views later, we’ve seen a 50% increase in our monthly giving. FIFTY PERCENT in TWO MONTHS. It’s almost unheard of—and I attribute it to the power of the story that was told."
These are incredible results that speak to the power of story to guide hearts and move minds.
Here's the thing–we only had a handful of days to find, build, and tell this story. What we crafted, and the results this story generated, are a direct result of how intentional we were in every decision we made. And we have a 21-minute documentary that takes you behind-the-scenes where you can witness the whole thing.
This mini doc is included in Mini-Muse, a free online course that we’ve developed to provide filmmakers and storytellers a solid foundation on which to tell better stories.
A powerful story, some actionable education, all at an incredible price (free)! Join below.
Mini-Muse has a collection of 3 tutorials in it, all free, and complete with recaps and downloads. Here's everything that's included:
- The 4 Pillars of Story. Learn how to connect your audience with your story, how to foster trust within your audience, how to leave them with a clear message, and how to keep them watching to the very end.
- The Big 3 Things every lead character needs. Come away with an understanding of the key traits your character needs in order to pull your audience in, form an emotional bond with that character, and sustain that connection through to the end.
- Project: One Girl Uganda Documentary. See a 21-minute documentary of Stillmotion in Uganda and the story building process.
We've been getting lots of questions lately about the challenges of embracing story with your clients. This piece is a great example of the results that can happen when you're given the room to develop your creative in an intentional way.