Blog: Distribution

The 6 Most Epic International Development Videos Ever

Here in Washington, DC, we have a lot of smart people working to make a difference in international development, and a cluster of global nonprofits, USAID subcontractors, and multilaterals.

With all this competition, it can be tough for you—a communications professional—to get the word out about your organization’s results.

As the founding producer of Dorst MediaWorks, I’ve specialized in video production for international development organizations since 2003. My primary counterparts are Directors of Communications, and we spend a lot of time brainstorming how to tell great stories.

Here are six international development videos that have animated our conversations and inspired us. Use the comments below to critique these choices, or add your own favorites!

“Still the Most Shocking Second a Day,” by Save the Children

Hands down the best video about the Syrian refugee crisis you’ll ever watch. It’s even better than its predecessor, “Most Shocking Second a Day,” whose message clearly struck a chord: “Just because it isn’t happening here, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening” (and surpassed 55 million views!). Maybe it gets to me because I’m a parent, with a daughter. But that’s the point: it brings the crisis home. The protagonist is our daughter, our neighbor. Emotionally, you can’t dismiss her, particularly given how it’s filmed, with her experience so front-center. Knowing that, Save the Children emphasizes via the YouTube description: “The refugee crisis isn’t just a story on the news – it’s happening here and it’s happening now. Please watch and share.” Moreover, at the 01:30 mark, an annotation reminds us to donate via text. Spectacular strategy, well-executed video, with a wraparound fundraising campaign. This is as good as it gets.

 

“Price tag lipdub by 500 women in Uganda,” by SYPO

The most entertaining microfinance video you’ll ever dance in your chair to! My face hurts from smiling ear-to-ear! Well-produced, the video has fun music, choreography, and mobile camerawork that takes us to meet hundreds of women beneficiaries of a microfinance project. The message, “We want the same things that you want,” really hits home, making a connection. And their lip-syncing refrain of “It’s not about the money, we just wanna make the world dance,” is a brilliant (and ironic) send-up by the Dutch NGO SYPO. The YouTube description reads, “Every single one of these strong and resourceful women has started a business of her own.” I’m a believer: happy, agents of change, dancing their way into our hearts. That’s results!

 

“The Source,” by Charity: Water

Immersive storytelling at its finest! Charity: Water is known for its successful outreach, so it’s no surprise they give us this. “The Source” is a Virtual Reality (VR) video, so get out your Google Cardboard, or at least watch it in the Chrome browser for the full 360 experience. At one level, this is traditional documentary storytelling: six days in the life of an Ethiopian girl Selam as a water well is constructed in her village. What distinguishes this video is the VR novelty that puts you in the driver’s seat. Scroll around and be part of Selam’s world! You decide what to look at. When these VR videos are done well, I find myself watching them several times, like this one. “The Source” is part of a first wave of immersive VR videos that will only get better as the technology continues to become more accessible and we filmmakers learn how to work in this new medium.

 

“Project Daniel,” by Not Impossible Labs

The best storytelling around innovation ever! I had the opportunity to shadow Mick Ebeling in New York City for a few days last month for an upcoming DirecTV documentary. He’s a charismatic guy whose Not Impossible Labs has, quite incredibly, won two consecutive SXSW innovation awards … Several years ago, I saw this video and loved it. And I’ve been taking it to my clients ever since. I like to watch it together because international development organizations love to talk about being innovative, but rarely manage to show it well, like “Project Daniel.”

I love a lot of things about this video, but here are three things in particular. First, the opening sequence tells the entire story visually in 10 seconds: A boy without an arm throws an object and smiles. Tremendous! No words required. I will never forget that scene. Second, the story structure plays with time to great effect: we start at the pinprick of transformation (Daniel throwing the object), then back to Daniel’s injury, then to Mick’s inspiration, then fast-forward to Mick “putting the plan in action” and finally, the breakthrough … where we started. It’s fun, unpredictable, and serves the story well. Third, Mick’s passion and perspective: Without Daniel, there is no transformation and no story. But without Mick, there is no connection. We are Mick. We get inside his head, and can’t help but be in awe of his determination. Unforgettable. That’s true innovation!

 

“Kony 2012,” by Invisible Children

The video that provoked a Thermidorian reaction! It’s hard to understate the widespread influence this video had, the allegiance it inspired—and when the pendulum swung back—the hate. Love it or hate it, Invisible Children brought Joseph Kony to the national consciousness; it helped shape policy; and it inspired a cohort of college students to think about conflict-affected people in Africa. Not too shabby! This should be on every list for the next generation. It was that influential.

 

“One Future, #ZeroHunger,” by World Food Programme

OK, so maybe this one isn’t “epic.” It’s nowhere near as inspiring as “Project Daniel,” tear-jerking as “Shocking,” or entertaining as “Lipdub,” but this video is effective nonetheless. Why? It has one idea and delivers. Visually, it’s strong and memorable. The script is concise, and refreshingly devoid of any wonky insider lingo. Watch it again: it’s all stock footage. It reminds us all that strategy always trumps budget, which is great news for comms departments with shrinking resources. Now that’s epic indeed!

So, what do you think? What do you think of these choices? What are your favorites? What’s inspired you?

Live: Dorst MediaWorks 2016 Reel

Dorst MediaWorks’ new reel, entitled “Development Stories on Five Continents” is now live on YouTube.

It includes clips from 15+ countries where I’ve filmed in recent years—every frame here I’ve either shot myself or directed. These are all videos for international development organizations.

It includes my work in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, and other places. It leads off a playlist called “Dorst MediaWorks Reel: Videos for International Development,” which includes commissioned short documentary films for international humanitarian and development organizations.

Visually, it launches with a bombed-out structure in Kabul, followed by a pre-dawn scene in rural Kenya—children are waking. An aspiring hip hop artist strums a guitar on a rooftop in one of Rio de Janeiro’s sprawling favelas. Then a Lebanese fisherman pulls in his catch.

Music is Tornado, by Jonsi.

Most of these stories are character-based, showing how programs improve the lives of beneficiaries. My clients include USAID and its implementing partners, the World Bank Group and its partners, and other international development organizations.

For Rabih in LebanonSara in Ethiopia, and Kinote in Kenya, their fortunes have changed.

Their lives are better.

If you have time, stick around until the end of the 2:50 clip. There’s a graphic that lets you click into 15 of the videos you see here. You’ll hear the voices of Rabih, Sara, Kinote, and dozens of other people —  in their own languages, including Arabic, Urdu, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Swahili, Tagalog, Amharic, Meru, and Shona.

Dorst MediaWorks’ goal is to help make the world a more just and equal place. We make videos for international development organizations that show how international development programs transform lives. This gives greater voice to the world’s poor and strengthens the entities that work with them.

For a post on the background and reflection that went into this mission statement, click here.

“Super Humans Unmasked”: 1.7m Facebook views

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 10.39.56 AMIn December, Doug Gritzmacher and I joined Producer T.J. Cooney for a few days in San Francisco to film a bunch of adults that dress up as superheroes.

It was one of our first projects under the banner of Z-Channel Films, our new company. Doug and I have been collaborating off and on for years, and we’ve finally decided to take the plunge and work together in this new initiative (more on our motivation and background).

As for the superheroes, I was skeptical. What was the catch? Were they Comicon junkies living out a suspended adolescence? Or bored middle-agers with aspirations to be cast in Kick-Ass 3?

As soon as I met Roxanne Cai, however, I got an immediate appreciation for her commitment and true motivation.

Since Roxanne founded the California branch of The Initiative, she’s led efforts to pick up used drug needles around the Mission District. Not just once in a while. But every week for four years. At last count: about 200 trips and about 7,000 needles off the streets.

That’s not all. About once a month, the group hosts a pop-up Street Boutique. They dress up as superheroes for fun and to attract attention to their good deeds. Then they hang up all the clothes on mobile racks so people can consider options in a dignified manner.

Meanwhile, Roxanne’s story is getting some interest on Facebook, with about 1.7 million views.

Way to go Roxanne! If we all followed your inspiring lead in the community, there’d be a lot less pain and suffering.

 

Directing in Kenya, Distributing in Tokyo

steve-equatorNairobi’s Westgate mall terror had not yet seized headlines when I left Washington, D.C. to direct and shoot a short documentary there. While I’ve been all over central Africa, it was my first time in Kenya. I stayed at the Nairobi Fairmont, which had all the old-world charm of a century-old safari hotel, as well as a dash of unsettling colonial vibe.

The DC-based World Bank Group has sent me to a lot of countries in the past few years to document what it’s doing on the ground. You can take issue with how successful the institution’s been in some countries or some sectors, but I like what I’ve seen. Lately, I’ve been serving as director, shooter, editor — and I’ll usually work with a DC-based producer and a unit producer in the field.

This time, it’s the Inclusive Business unit of the IFC, or International Finance Corporation—that has me in Meru, Kenya on a coffee farm. When we get there, our coffee farmer is nowhere to be found. We scramble to find a replacement. Soon, I find myself filming a day in the life of Cyrus Kinote, his wife Rhoda Nkirote, and their two darling children.

steve-kids
Sometimes, the craziness just overtakes you . . . 

I direct and shoot, and enjoy working with IFC producer Marcus Watson, who has a good eye. I know this will be more believable if we let Kinote tell his own story, documentary style. I also want the visuals to show his agency and dynamism. So many development videos are bad because they have top-down narration and don’t really give space for the voices of the poor. I resolve to do better. Today, I want to film how Kinote earns a living, spends time with his family, and collaborates with his colleagues. I want to do it all from his point of view. In so doing, I hope the viewer might empathize with Kinote, and care that his life has improved.

Today, I want to film how Kinote earns a living, spends time with his family, and collaborates with his colleagues. I want to do it all from his point of view.

They say that working with animals or children can double production time. On Kinote’s farm, this definitely holds true. Kinote’s cows are lowing like it’s their job, perpetually interrupting the master interview! Finally, Kinote throws some extra food in the stall, and we buy ourselves a window of time.

Rose Moseti is a stellar unit producer (sorry for the eating pic, Rose!). She works for Camerapix, Kenya's best video production company: http://www.camerapix.com/
Rose Moseti is a stellar unit producer (sorry for the eating pic, Rose!). She works for Camerapix, Kenya’s best video production company: http://www.camerapix.com . . . Below, Marcus Watson is a fun producer to work with. He’s since left the IFC to take a job in Kenya.

Late in the day, I film a series of shots with the GoPro, where I affix the little POV camera all over the place: in a coffee tree, a pile of coffee berries, and a wheelbarrow—even around Kinote’s chest. The end result appears as a short montage starting at 2:29.

We did the interview in Kinote’s native Kikuyu. Back in Washington, DC, I edit the story and dub in English. It turns out that the IFC also wants a version to show to some important stakeholders in Tokyo, so I master a second version with Japanese subtitles.

For me, it’s a first: from Meru to English to Japanese!

steve-anthony
I really enjoyed getting to know Anthony Ngugi, who works for Ecom SMS, the outfit that trains all the coffee farmers and gives them market access. Anthony’s a charismatic guy who seems to relate equally well with the uneducated farmers and the company executives — and comes from a farming background hiimself.
Here's a still from the Japanese version. This is Kinote crossing a stream to his coffee fields.
Here’s a still from the Japanese version. This is Kinote crossing a stream to his coffee fields.

Volcanic Sprint on iTunes tomorrow!

Volc Sprint crew

Seven years ago last month, with both legs dangling out of an old African military helicopter, I trained my film camera down at small dots of racers during the world’s most extreme running race. The participants in the Mt. Cameroon Race of Hope still had 25 miles and 10,000 vertical feet to go to reach the roof of West Africa. We screamed up the main drag from Molyko Stadium, spitting up red dirt above thatched-roof huts to Upper Farms with its thousands of joyous fans.

It was my first time directing a documentary. I had no cash. So I put everything on credit cards, hired a knowledgeable DP to head up filming, and then Dan Evans left Washington, DC to fly to Buea, Cameroon. Little did I know that it would go on to do well in film festivals, get distribution around the world, and remain to this day the only documentary that chronicles this extreme running race.

If you like documentary films or running, or appreciate projects that are really a wing-and-a-prayer, then spread the word about Volcanic Sprint.

Tomorrow, Volcanic Sprint goes live online, with its premiere on iTunes!

If you like documentary films or running, or appreciate projects that are really a wing-and-a-prayer, then spread the word about Volcanic Sprint. How can you help? Share the FB post that accompanies this blog post. Rate Volcanic Sprint on IMDB (we don’t have many ratings, and a few boneheads gave us 1 out of 10 ratings, so you can help counteract that . . . if you want!).

Watch the trailer here:

Check out the Volcanic Sprint website, where US endurance running legend Scott Jurek says: “Insurmountable challenges, true courage, a triumph of the human spirit. Inspiration for runner and non-runner alike!” US marathon record-holder Deena Kastor says, “This movie captures the competitiveness, danger, and heroism of the world’s most difficult marathon.” And 2009 NYC marathon champion Meb Keflezighi calls Volcanic Sprint “A wonderful movie that is uplifting and inspirational!”

 

TV Director in a Cowboy Hat (Part 1)

steve-cowboyHat

When I first got the call, I wasn’t wearing a cowboy hat. It was November 2010. The TV series was called “Survivor Tales.” It was its first year, and more an idea than a series. Produced by an upstart production company in DC with a skeleton staff, they’d just lost their DP/editor when he moved to NYC to work on a (now defunct) reality show, and outsourced creative to an underling. They were halfway through their third episode and needed some pickups in rural Minnesota . . . on a ranch . . . of a dog . . . named Dakota.

I was like, “Yeah, I’m in!”

First, I got familiar with the footage they had in-the-can. Unfortunately, it was rough. Master interviews in a server room, the rattle and hum of machines over voices. And a run-and-gun style that might have made sense on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq (where my friends John Collin and Ryan Hill have captured some beautiful images, notwithstanding the inhospitable environment), but was just sloppy for this context.

The next day, I found myself at the University of Minnesota. It was sink-or-swim time, since we were a crew of two — the producer and me. I ran camera, lights, and audio. I found a deep, quiet hallway for the interviews. At the time, they only had budget for the Sony EX-1, so I needed all the depth I could wrangle. Then I started directing broll of the doctors, mostly lab setups to help bring to life their cutting-edge research.

The next day was more fun, chasing a black Lab around a 100-acre ranch. This dog, Dakota, had beaten brain cancer thanks to a revolutionary vaccine the doctors were hoping to adapt for people someday.

Footage from that first shoot eventually made it into episode #10, “Dakota’s Brain”:

The good thing about when a DP/editor skips town, the production company needs to find a replacement DP and editor. They liked my Minnesota footage, and then entrusted me with the writing and editing of the show.

Little did I suspect, but this gig would grow to me serving as DP, writer, and editor for 10 episodes over the next two years.

The next month, I flew to LA. where I spent four days with Toby Forrest, who was bravely overcoming an incredibly devastating spinal cord injury to become an accomplished actor and singer. The narrative arc on this story was amazing.

One night I followed Toby verité style to a gig at the Viper Room on Sunset. I got a Director credit on this show, which became episode #1, “Toby’s Story”:

Like every shoot, “Toby’s Story” had challenges. At the Viper Room, I would have preferred a second camera, and we weren’t allowed lights, tripod, or an assistant. Most challenging, on the final day we had about an hour of sunlight left to shoot a conclusive scene, but we were stuck in the Valley in Van Nuys and my producer didn’t have any ideas. What’s more, we didn’t have a wheelchair-enabled vehicle. What to do?

Fortunately, having graduated high school nearby (Redondo Union High!), I knew just the place. I took the wheel of Toby’s van, drove south on the 405, and pulled into Redondo Beach right at golden hour. “Toby’s Story” concludes with what I shot next. “Will I walk again, I don’t know,” muses Toby in extreme closeup as he gazes toward the sun-dappled Pacific. “Will I be independent again? I sure hope so. Will I adapt to my circumstances? Most definitely.” Cut to Toby’s point of view. A jogger, in silhouette, exits frame left. Music track fades up. It is the end of Suite 68, which brought down the house at the Viper Room. Against a wistful final guitar lick, Toby’s own lyrics close the episode: “All alone in my misery.”

————————————————————-

Steve Dorst earned credits as DP, Writer, and Editor on 10 episodes and Director on 4 episodes of the TV series, Bench to Bedside, which was acquired in 2013 by the commercial television arm of Australian Broadcast Corporation for global distribution. With a producer, Dorst captured inspirational stories and cutting-edge research on location across the country. Filmed documentary-style, the series is about true stories, real diseases, and high stakes.

Shattered Sky on Hulu, iTunes & Amazon!

I’m thrilled that Shattered Sky is newly available to watch on Hulu! If you have Hulu, it’s free. Just click here. Let me know what you think! The film is also available for purchase or rental on iTunes and Amazon. And if you need a social-issue break from video games, check it out on Playstation!

Thanks to the big Facebook community for spreading the word. December was the best month for downloads yet. Thanks!

Shattered Sky tells the story of how America led to solve the biggest environmental crisis the world had ever seen. It challenges us all to do the same on climate change today. If you want, pass it on — tell a friend or two about my movie — hopefully more of us can have a can-do spirit about solving climate change.

Repairing the Shattered Sky

I wanted to share a great follow-up to my Bloomberg article last week. Policy Innovations, a publication of the Carnegie Council, ran a Q&A with me entitled Repairing the Shattered Sky. Editor Evan O’Neil asked some tough questions. I call climate negotiations “medieval trade fairs” and US politicians “cowards.” I hope you have a chance to read it!

It was good fun, particularly thinking about the film and the issues it raises through Carnegie’s lens: ethics. China came up a lot. The moral and practical responsibility of Americans to act on climate change came up as well. Hope you can read it!

Kickstarter, Bloomberg, and the Care2 petition

Pretty excited today. An article I wrote got picked up by Bloomberg. It’s in Bloomberg’s Sustainability blog, “The Grid.” It’s about my experience interviewing Jim Rogers — the CEO of America’s largest coal utility — for Shattered Sky. About the lessons of the ozone issue, through the eyes of America’s most powerful coal executive.

Today is also the second day of the Shattered Sky Kickstarter campaign. It’s been an incredible response, with $9,200 given, by 54 backers in the first day. It’s not easy launching a project to raise $35,000, but it sures allays some fears when you raise 25% in the first 24 hours. If I reach my Kickstarter goal, Shattered Sky’s distribution will be great: festivals, promotion around the PBS TV distribution, and Facebook contests and other initiatives to accompany grassroots events. Here’s my first Kickstarter update.

I’m also encouraged by the progress on the petition, which I’m conducting with Shattered Sky’s advocacy partner, Care2. More than 4,400 people have now signed it, demanding that candidates Obama and Romney pay more attention to climate and energy issues in their election runs.

 

Sign the Petition! Obama & Romney . . .

I launched a petition today calling on our Presidential candidates to talk early and often about their plans for a fair national energy policy and solutions for climate change. This year is a critical presidential election and an important time in history. Will we see big money and bad politics? Or can we inspire progress on climate and energy? My movie, Shattered Sky, which is premiering on PBS in September, tells the story of how America led the world to a solution on the ozone crisis. Let’s remind our candidates about that success story. Solving big environmental issues is not a partisan issue.

Care2 is Shattered Sky‘s advocacy partner, working together to restore a can-do attitude on energy and climate solutions. Care2 has almost 20 million members, and is the nation’s largest online community empowering people to lead a healthy and green lifestyle while taking action on important causes.

So, take a minute and sign the petition . . . Obama & Romney: What’s Your Plan to Solve Energy & Climate Change?