Brownieland Pictures: Making Messages Matter
In today’s landscape of video production, the value of content is often measured in views, likes, and shares.
With the smart phone, everyone is a DP. Cat videos and dancing senior citizens are winning over audiences. For armchair cinematographers, having a video go viral is the ultimate goal.
But for both nonprofit institutions and for-profit companies, the goals of video content still rest in the messaging. Though viral videos are a gold mine for business, solidifying an overarching message – be it product, brand, or service – remains the top priority. This strategy ensures that, in the case that the video does not go viral (which it probably will not), the organization commissioning the video will be able to leverage the content for marketing or educational purposes.
Every Opportunity, produced for The Atlanta Speech School’s Rollins Center for Language & Literacy by Brownieland Pictures, is a perfect example of how well-planned messaging can elevate a video’s social traction. Focused scripting, detailed camera work, and refined finishing give the viewer an idea of what it’s like to be in the shoes of “Jordan Carter” (the video’s lead character).
Developed to introduce new programming for the Rollins Center’s Cox Campus portal, readrightfromthestart.org, Every Opportunity tells a story based on the research of the country’s leading brain development and literacy experts on how to construct the “reading brain, while also being inspiring. It “demonstrates how small changes in adult behavior, both inside and outside of the classroom, can enhance a child’s approach and her ability to learn.” The end result is a viral hit well on its way to one million views.
The Crawford team, in particular longtime editor Curtis Elder, has proudly worked with Brownieland Pictures on countless projects through the years (including Every Opportunity). During a recent editing session, we sat down with Brownieland’s Robyn Kranz and Randy Frostig to get a better handle on the inner workings of their creative process.
Every project starts somewhere. Explain your typical “discovery” process.
Brownieland Pictures: Our partners drive our discovery process. They are the ones doing the amazing work in the community and we want to get their stories told in the most effective, creative way we can. It all starts with our partners.
What makes video storytelling so effective?
BP: Video has the unique ability to relate one on one with viewers. Viewers can see and hear people telling their stories and can put themselves in their shoes. When you read about a person’s story, it’s effective, but it doesn’t elicit the same response as seeing it. Seeing is believing in this case.
Why is the message so important in the storytelling process?
BP: You want to leave the viewer with something to take from a video, not just be entertained for the moment. Our partners have important messages that change lives, so that’s what we want them to walk away with, not just remembering the “messenger”.
What is the most important element of an effective video?
BP: It’s a connection and an engagement. The viewer has to relate and connect to show they have the ability to take action.
Is there a certain point of the filmmaking process at which you know you’re on to something?
BP: Every step of the way, we collaborate with our partners and the film is always made better. We know from the first meeting with our clients that we are on to something. It has to come from the start and that’s what drives the process and makes the film the best it can be.
When you head to the edit suite, do you have an idea of what you want the video to look like?
BP: We have a sketched out plan in our mind, but we always collaborate with our editor to make it better. We don’t have all of the ideas and that’s why working with Curtis and the people at Crawford is such a pleasure. They are just as invested in every frame as we are. After partnering with us for so long, they know our vision and genuinely care about the outcome and effectiveness of the film.
Do you ever rework the plan after seeing the project in edit?
BP: Yes, that’s what makes it fun. We have infinite possibilities when we walk into the suite.
Robyn often talks about becoming a “true partner” with clients. What does that look like? Explain how that benefits both the client and the project at hand.
BP: When we partner with our clients, we understand their story in a deeper way. That enables us to invest in the story and tell it with meaning. That benefits the client because they know we believe in their work and are invested in it. The project’s made better because we have taken the time to truly understand our partner’s mission and can interpret that effectively.
You’ve been working with the Atlanta Speech School for a number of years. You’ve been working with Curtis as editor for a number of years. How do those familiarities play into projects?
BP: We have been a partner with the Atlanta Speech School for almost 6 years and it has been amazing. When you work with someone that long, you truly understand the mission and you buy into it personally and professionally. We have other partners we feel the same way about. It makes everything we do that much stronger. As far as our relationship with Curtis, that’s been a 20-year partnership. He is such an amazing editor, but more than that, he is a friend and when you work with your friends, it makes every day that much better.
What were the Atlanta Speech School’s goals for this video?
BP: The original intent of the video was to create a “trailer” of sorts to promote the K-3 training modules coming to the Cox Campus website, which provides free teacher training on how to build children’s language skills, vocabulary and comprehension, so they are on a path to learn to read and then read to learn.
Every Opportunity has been very successful in the social media landscape. Did you expect this level of fanfare?
BP: When you create a video, you hope it reaches as many viewers as possible. This has exceeded our expectations, but we think the message is so universal that it has become viral based on its appeal to teachers and parents alike.
Shares, views, and likes are great. But considering the video’s message, what does real success look like (to you)?
BP: Like we said before, if we can change behavior of teachers and parents and drive teachers to the Cox Campus website to learn more about how to talk with their children and give them the tools they need to be successful, we will have done our job.
Every Opportunity was meant to be a trailer of sorts, foreshadowing content to come. So you’re working on more videos for the Rollins Center?
BP: Yes, we are creating content for the K-3 educators starting later this year. But all teachers from infants to Pre-K can visit the free site to get amazing teacher training.
How do you top this one (Every Opportunity)?
BP: Every video we do, we do our best work. We are never out to top anything, but we give everything 100%. If 110% was a real thing, we’d give that too. Or we’d turn it up to 11…
You guys knew how the video would play out all along. But you have to tell me, did you shed a tear when you saw the final version?
BP: You know something has power when you’ve sat in edit for weeks watching it over and over, and when you are creating the final output, it still makes you cry.
Finally, on your website, you mention that “we can tell your best story.” What’s yours?
BP: We have had the amazing opportunity to work with some of the most dynamic nonprofits in the city of Atlanta. We are heading into our 10th year of doing exactly what we love to do and we hope to continue to affect change for everyone who needs us to tell their story. That’s why we tell #StoriesfortheGreaterGood.
This interview reprinted with permission and credit from Crawford Media Services.