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Blog: Videos for International Organizations

Launching West Africa Office, Dorst MediaWorks Welcomes Producer Teddy Attila

Dorst MediaWorks just opened an office in West Africa! Cotonou, Benin-based Teddy Attila is leading it.

This is part of a longer-term effort to offer local, cost-effective services to our international development, humanitarian, and private-sector clients, including USAID, the World Bank Group, and dozens of nonprofits.

It’s also a response to changing demand. Traditionally, our clients commissioned us for expensive films about once per year.

But these days, they want regular social-media content – and lots of it. With teams on the ground in the region, Dorst MediaWorks can do both in a more cost-effective manner.


Teaming Up …

Producer Teddy Attila is based in Cotonou, Benin.

It started with a new friendship. I went to Benin last year for a two-week shoot with the U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). It was distinctive in that my counterpart, Teddy Attila was such a rock star. I was immediately impressed by his charisma and ability to connect with everybody – the Government Ministers we interviewed, the villagers we followed cinema verité, the strangers we encountered along the streets.

But even more than that, I saw first-hand that Teddy is dedicated to his craft. Since 2017, he has led video production, photography, and storytelling for a major international development program – the $391 million MCC Compact for reform and modernization of Benin’s power sector.

He has regularly traveled the country documenting progress on the 7-year initiative, taking photos, capturing video, and flying his drone. Then he scripted and edited back in the MCA office in Cotonou.

When I arrived in country in October 2022, we fit together seamlessly, a dynamic duo that captured great stories and had a helluva lot of fun along the way.

I learned that Teddy speaks four languages. He is fluent in English, French, Fon, and Mina. In addition to his international development experience, Teddy wrote, produced and directed award-winning independent films: Freedom (2011), The Cupboard (2012), From 7 to 8 (2013), La Route des Pêches (2014), Kindred Souls (2015), and Me I Know All (2019) in collaboration with Canal+.

As MCC’s successful Benin Compact was winding down as planned in mid-2023, Teddy was looking to transition to new opportunities. For me, the prospect of having a local team ready at a moment’s notice, headed by Atilla, is a game-changer for our client’s storytelling needs.

For example, in the region during the last few years, we’ve produced for the World Wildlife Fund, International Monetary Fund, and USAID, just to name a few. Having a local team would have opened up many more cost-conscious possibilities for follow-up storytelling, for more impact and results.



“Megapolis”: West Africa’s Crazy Growth Rate

Dorst MediaWorks’ expansion doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Yes, I’m endlessly curious about Africa, and enjoy learning and working there. But there is another element. The 600-mile coastal stretch from Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire to Lagos, Nigeria, which also includes Ghana, Togo, and Benin, is the world’s most rapidly urbanizing region, an emerging “megalopolis.”

It currently has a population approaching 40 million people. By 2100, demographers foresee a continuous city of half a billion people along the same stretch. As one scholar said in this article in The Guardian, “If it can develop efficiently, the region will become more than the sum of its parts – and the parts themselves are quite big. But if it develops badly, a tremendous amount of economic potential will be lost, and in the worst of cases, all hell could break loose.”

Teddy Attila and Steve Dorst on location in Cotonou, Benin in October 2022

Now, and in the future, Dorst MediaWorks wants to be contributing to solutions. Teddy Attila takes us one giant step in that direction, where we can be an expert creative resource for development, humanitarian, and private-sector clients.


Reflecting …

This is a long time coming. When I lived in Cameroon after college on a scholarship, I never could’ve imagined that I would go on to film in 12 countries across the continent, in Benin, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

This Vimeo collection “Dorst MediaWorks in Africa” contains 20+ videos that I directed and shot in Africa.

As I look back, so many of my blog posts during the past decade show an enthusiasm and embrace of diverse African cultures, its people, and progress. Here are a few, 2022: “Making a Film in Benin? 19 Things You Need to Know”); 2019: Videos in Africa for Organizations Based in Washington DC; 2019: It’s a Wrap! International Nonprofit Health Video in Africa; 2016: Flying the Phantom 4 in Senegal: 9 Reflections from the Trip; 2014: St. George Slays the Injera (Ethiopia); 2013: Directing in Kenya, Distributing in Tokyo.

I’m excited for what the future will bring.

To inquire about a new video project, click:

“Summit for Democracy” Film Produced by Dorst MediaWorks

The second Summit for Democracy kicked off this week, with the United States and more than 100 partner countries convening to highlight progress and renew efforts to build more resilient democracies.

We at Dorst MediaWorks are proud to have contributed. We produced a short film about the Advancing Digital Democracy initiative of the Unites States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Dorst MediaWorks is a boutique agency specializing in brand visual storytelling and Instagram conversion marketing. We especially love working with organizations that do good, and celebrate institutions that support democracy, equality, opportunity, and freedom — particularly the governments and civil society organizations working together this week at the Summit for Democracy.

We love this work ❤️ because we only work with clients who do good. This commitment shows in these top national rankings:

If you’re an organization that does good, we want to work with you. Our visual storytelling and social strategies protect the environment, enable economic prosperity and support a healthy and food-secure world. Get a video estimate for your project. Get a social media marketing estimate for your account.

Watch the live Summit for Democracy 2023. Click for a schedule of official events for the Summit for Democracy.

Making a Film in Benin? 🇧🇯 19 Things You Need to Know

I just returned from my first film shoot to Benin, in west Africa.

After being off the radar for most Americans, Benin has been in the news with the release of Hollywood’s “The Woman King.” But the producers stirred up controversy by filming in South Africa, nowhere near the authentic homeland of the Kingdom of Dahomey.

Meanwhile, as if to reassert a claim to its own history, Benin unveiled three impressive national monuments, including a 100-foot high Amazon statue honoring Dahomey’s women warriors.

Despite the new attention, Benin is still off-the-beaten path, with an undiscovered feel, and a fascinating, diverse culture. Without a film industry, however, producing here requires preparation.

Here are 19 bits of advice to help you succeed.

1. No Covid vaccine required 💉
I didn’t need to show my Covid vaccination card, but brought it just in case. Here’s more from the Beninese Government related to the reduction of preventive measures.

2. Passport control: Get your E-Visa 🛂
If you’re a US citizen, you need an e-visa. In an easy online transaction, I obtained the 30-day multi-entry, and it set me back about $85. They checked it on my way in and way out. I kept the printed version in my passport, as requested, but passport control accepted the digital version I showed them on my phone: apply here.

3. Customs: Have a letter of invitation and an expediter 💪🏽
I breezed through customs because my client sent an expediter to help. He stood with me in line for passport control, helped with my bags, and then led me through the x-rays and customs. Multiple soldiers were understandably curious and pawed through my equipment (always stressful). So we pulled out the letter of invitation with my client’s logo, which satisfied them. (They did not request my equipment list, which I keep on me to help communicate that my equipment is for my use, NOT for resale. The list includes, make, model, year, and a low-ball value.)

4. No “authorization to film” required 🎥
In some countries, the presence of a camera can be threatening to a government, and to film you need an explicit authorization. In Benin, however, I did not obtain a permit. And I never felt like police were intimidated by our film crew. Outside of the main cities of Cotonou and Porto-Novo, it was very relaxed. Only twice in Cotonou did my fixer need to explain to a policeman who we were and what we were doing. We did not have an “authorization permit.”

5. The police are trustworthy 👮🏿‍♂️
I’ve been in a lot of countries where the police stress you out, but Benin’s police were professional. The city of Cotonou was organized, clean, and law-abiding in ways that many African capitals are not: trash pick-up was on point, traffic lights worked, and drivers respected them.

6. Sorry, no drones in Cotonou (yes outside)
There was a time when you could fly a drone freely in Cotonou, but those days are gone. However, once you’re out of the city, you’re good.

7. Hire a fixer
Few of us will be able to hit the ground running in a place as different as Benin without a fixer to do the localization services: translation, security, scheduling, logistics, etc. I had a super time working with Teddy Attila. He’s a director/shooter/producer based in Cotonou. He has a drone, his own equipment, (and has a bunch of drone footage of places that are tough to fly near now). Contact Teddy on Instagram.

8. Adapt your plugs ⚡️
You can use the same plugs you use in Europe (type C) and especially France (type F). France adapters.

9. Brush up on your French! 🇫🇷
Benin has many languages, but French is best. Only expensive hotels will have English-speaking staff. In the south, people speak Fon, while other languages – including Yoruba, Mina, and Fulfulbe are widespread elsewhere. Learn more here.

10. Prepare for the heat! 🥵
The temp was hitting 95 degrees for me in the afternoon in November. In general, the south is hot and humid, whereas the north is hot and dusty. There are broadly two seasons: the wet season (April to Oct/Nov) and dry season. For our indoor interviews with VIPs, I dressed in long pants and collared shirts. For everything else, I dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, with sunblock, hat, sunglasses, frequent electrolyte drinks, and my nerdy, but trusty arm coolers. I chose to eat light for breakfast and lunch so I wouldn’t feel sluggish. In summary: did I mention it’s hot! (More on the average daily highs and lows during your trip.)

11. Where to stay? 🏨
I stayed at the Golden Tulip on Boulevard de Marina, right across the street from the US Embassy. In my experience, it was a great hotel (Novotel and Hotel du Lac are others that people mentioned). It was centrally located, and easy to get in and out of the hotel every day with my equipment. They have an ATM in the lobby, 24-hour room service, responsive front-desk staff, a big swimming pool, a gym, and a spa with massages starting at 20.000CFA (about $30). On my day off, having a salade niçoise and large bottle of mineral water poolside was an awesome way to rejuvenate after our long shooting days.

12. Where to eat? 🍗🐠
During two weeks in Benin, my favorite meal was in Porto-Novo at Le Palais (pictured): a whole grilled sea bass, with sides of rice, plantains (aloko), and pimant (hot chili sauce 🌶). In Cotonou: For great food and live music at a cool venue, try the rooftop at Home Residence Hotel. Codebar, near the airport, is an upscale, expat-friendly restaurant and bar, which gets lively on the weekends. La Teranga (don’t miss the shawarma) and Livingstone are low-key, quality eateries in the Haie-Vive neighborhood. For a change of pace, grab some Indian at Shamiana. Before you leave Benin, make sure you’ve tasted aloko (plantains), peanut sauce, and wagashi (cheese).

13. Where to go out? 🍾 🕺🏿
Clubs don’t really get going in Cotonou until well past midnight, so for most of us that’s not an option on a school night. Fridays and Saturdays are lively and fun at Homeboy Lounge, Makoomba, and VIBES (in Fidjrosse). For fewer expats, go to VIBES, where you can have a Beninoise beer and a handmade pizza on the second-floor patio overlooking the neighborhood, before hitting the club for some highlife music spun by a local DJ.

14. Greetings 👋🏾
In Benin, people greet each other more than we’re used to. It’s important to start every conversation with a greeting. Use “bonjour” before noon, “bonsoir” after lunch, “salut” when talking to young people or a friend, “a demain” when you’ll see the person tomorrow. Shake hands with men and women. Ask people how they’re doing (ça va?) and inquire about the health of their family.

15. Comms and cell phone service 📲
My AT&T said they offered the $10/day International Day Pass for Benin, which allows you to use your phone normally. But it didn’t work for me (iPhone 13). As a result, I relied on WiFi and my colleagues’ hotspots. We all used WhatsApp to communicate.

16. Where to buy groceries? 🛒
The Erevan Super U, next to the airport, is great. Or grab some fruit at a market. A reminder to think twice before eating somewhere without running water. I only had salads and greens at upscale restaurants and hotels. I specialized in grilled fish and meat with rice and plantains.

17. Transport 🚕
We had a Toyota LandCruiser, which was fortunate, since we did a lot of back-country 4×4 to remote villages. In Cotonou, I’d take taxis to dinner from outside the Golden Tulip: 3.000 CFA one-way or 5.000 CFA per hour if I had him wait for me and take me around. Get a phone number and call when you’re done. Better to have a taxi driver that the hotel knows.

18. Currency 💰
Benin uses the Central African Franc, along with 14 other countries in the region that belong to one of two monetary unions. The CFA is pegged to the Euro, a legacy of French colonization. The value is currently $1 = 650 CFA. It comes in notes of 10.000, 5.000, 2.000, 1.000 and coins. My quick math was: multiply by 1.5 and divide by 1,000. (So, if a bottle of water costs 1,500 CFA, then multiple by 1.5 (makes 2,250) and divide by a thousand, so: $2.25. Download the “XE currency converter” app for your phone.

19. Sightsee 🏝
Once upon a time, I used to race in and out of countries, focused exclusively on the work. But I’ve learned to stop to smell the roses. This trip, I booked a few extra days for sightseeing, and I’d encourage you to do the same. Go to Ouida, located about an hour outside Cotonou. It’s  world headquarters for voodoo: visit the Python Temple, Sacred Forest, and have lunch at the Palmeraille. In Cotonou, go to a beach north of the airport on Sunday afternoon for a great social ritual. See the graffiti wall along Boulevard de Marina.

Can’t miss: Hang out at the new Amazon statue at dusk. If it’s a nice evening (or weekend), there could be hundreds of locals. Greet a few with a “bonsoir.” Smile and do a half wave. Strike up a conversation. People are super nice here. And in the shadow of this new monument, as you connect with locals young and old, you’ll be thankful you did.

Have a great shoot! And drop me a line. What did I miss? What did you love discovering during your film shoot in Benin?

Dorst MediaWorks Pivots During Pandemic, Embraces Clutch for Verified Reviews

Here at Dorst MediaWorks, we know that small businesses make the world go round. In the USA alone, there are 30 million small businesses employing almost 60 million workers. These days, times are tough, especially for small businesses.

We’re like a lot of small businesses: we don’t do a lot of marketing. Our marketing is our work. During the past 15 years, Dorst MediaWorks’ video teams have been to 50+ countries and made hundreds of documentary-style videos for organizations that do good.

But Covid-19 has been a nightmare. It put a stop to travel. Practically overnight, business stopped. We had a few stressful weeks. How could we make videos like we always had?

After all, we tell stories featuring real people: we travel, we spend time with people, we film them. But the pandemic made us explore our own resilience, imagination, and problem-solving to respond to these challenging times.

We had a hot minute to give our clients a good work-around. Some asked for videos made with Zoom interviews, but our initial results were insipid. It was like giving a 5-star chef a microwave for her birthday. It’s not innovative, it’s not special, it’s not good. So don’t do it.

How could we tell stories without spending time with beneficiaries on the ground? Well, check this out:


It turns out that a lot of our normal workflow with our clients at USAID, the World Bank, and other international organizations, is relevant whether we’re traveling the world or quarantined. We pivoted from travel to telling stories in new ways. We wrote scripts that didn’t require in-country footage. We moved our post-production from Premiere to After Effects. We favored photos over footage. We used narration over interviews.

In other words, we changed our identity and the way we work to respond to the unique and stringent constraints of Covid-19.

And it worked. Our last few jobs have had our clients so pleased that they offered to write reviews. For us, as a small business that doesn’t do much marketing, reviews are super important. Google and Yelp are a couple ways to do it. But something we’ve preferred of late is a verified platform like Clutch. They offer a holistic process that gives potential buyers a full look into how vendors operate. 

As part of the process, Clutch reaches out to our clients for a 15-minute interview call. Clutch assesses the impact that Dorst MediaWorks has had. We are graded on quality, attention to deadlines, project management skills, and overall price. Then Clutch transcribes and distills the interview into an edited format. For example, take a look at our most recent reviews below:

Another free B2B resource we love is Clutch’s sister site, The Manifest, where you can browse through company projects and see business metrics. 

We’re thrilled you’ve read this blog, and are interested in helping small businesses like us! Drop us a line if you’d like to talk about your next big video project. And above all, stay safe and healthy. 😀


Making a Corporate Video in Colombia? Here are 15 Things You Need to Know

I’ve been to Colombia three times in the past few years for film shoots. The country is gorgeous, with a fascinating history, and welcoming people. But producing a quality video there requires some planning. Here are 15 things you need to think about when producing a video in Colombia.

1. No visa required

If you’re a US citizen, you don’t need a visas if you’re staying less than 60 days, for tourism or business. Here’s updated information from the US State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

2. Vaccines?

If you’re a US citizen, you don’t need to show proof of any vaccines upon entry. In terms of what the CDC recommends you have before you go, check out this article. You probably have them all, but better safe than sorry. In major cities, you’re good. If you’re shooting in the rainforest or villages, it’s worth it to pay attention and get the shots.

FYI, this is the latest video I made, in early 2019, in Medellin:

3. Customs & permits

As a small crew, we didn’t bother with a permit, but definitely inquire with your unit producer. It all depends where you’re going to film and if you’ll attract attention. Upon arrival at the airports of Bogota and Medellin, we had an easy time getting through customs with our video gear.

Simone Bruno (right) was a great fixer for this shoot in Bogota in 2017

4. To Uber or not to Uber?

Technically, Uber is illegal in Colombia, but everybody uses it, and Uber claims 2 million users and almost 90,000 drivers. That said, my Uber driver at Medellin’s International Airport made me sit in the front seat so it looked like we were friends. The benefit: I got to adjust the radio (see #14, reggaeton, below)! Uber, of course, was cheaper.

5. Definitely hire a fixer

A local video production company is not required (during our shoot in Morocco recently, it was mandatory). But having a fixer with us was key for each of these three shoots. It enabled me to focus on directing and shooting and not have to think about traffic, schedules, logistics, etc. And even though I speak solid Spanish, by the end of the day my brain was tired and it was a relief to have a fixer just fixing stuff and simply focus on the creative.

6. Spanish!

Brush up on your Spanish. Yes, you can navigate the big cities with English, but outside the big cities, few people speak English. Besides, you’ll have a much better time and learn a lot more if you have at least basic Spanish. Say “dale” early and often: it means, “cool” or “ok” and keeps conversational momentum going. Just a little Spanish got me to play a little soccer with this guy:


7. Money stuff

The Colombian Peso is currently about 3,330 pesos to the dollar, which makes the math pretty easy! A lunch of 10,000 pesos is $3. The country is not as cheap as it used to be, since the economy continues to grow, but outside the major cities, it is a bargain. ATMs are ubiquitous. To avoid getting hit by transaction fees, try one of these checking accounts. People don’t regularly tip. In most restaurants, if you want to leave 50 cents, you’re good. High-end restaurants may expect or tack on a 10% propina.

8. Drones are cool

I had no problems flying my drone all over Medellin. Curious kids, but no overzealous police. Check out this site for some general drone laws in the country.

9. Safety is good

It’s safe. The people are nice. Anthony Bourdain said it best while filming an episode for Parts Unknown in 2013: “If you want to find bad people in Colombia, you can surely find them, as you could in New York or Los Angeles. But nowhere have my crew and I been treated better or with more kindness and generosity. I’d bring my family on vacation there in a heartbeat. And hope to soon. As I said before: Colombians are proud. Let them show you what they are proud of.” I couldn’t agree more. I felt comfortable. In the cities, there’s a big middle class and life and culture has a recognizable rhythm.

10. Diversity in people, climate, experiences

Colombia is incredibly diverse. Its cities are the most modern on the continent. Its rainforest is some of the most untouched (Darién). The climate zones include tropical rainforests, steppes, deserts, mountain climates, and savannas. Incredibly, it is the second-most biodiverse country in the world, after Brazil. I took a puddle-jumper from Medellin (population 2.5 million) to Capurgana, a remote, car-free village on the Caribbean coast. Then hiked to Panama the next day. From a modern, cosmopolitan place to another where my ride from the airport was in horse-drawn carriage. That’s diversity.

11. Eat all the food. Drink all the drink

The food is worth exploring! In the big cities, there’s a foodie renaissance going on. That being said, a lot of the typical stuff can be relatively bland, since culturally the cuisine uses far less spice than, say, Indian or Middle Eastern food. So, it’s worth it to dig a bit and find the specialties of each region. In cities, the water is safe to drink. For me, the fruit was a standout: I tried mamoncillo, cherimoya, lulo and guanabana. (And yes, drink the coffee. My favorite coffee shop in Medellin was Pergamino)

photo by a thirsty Steve Dorst

12. Cell phone service

AT&T offered the $10/day International Day Pass that allows you to use your phone normally (no limits), so I did that. If you’re planning on staying more than a week or so, it would be cost-effective to buy a new SIM card.

13. Adapting your plugs

Americans are in luck. The plugs and sockets are of type A and B, same as in the US. I recommend packing a 3-to-2 prong adapter just in case type-B sockets aren’t available. In Colombia the standard voltage is 110 V and the frequency is 60 Hz. You don’t need a voltage converter. Charge your equipment with peace of mind.

14. Get on the reggaeton

Colombia is the world capital of reggaeton. Give it a shot if you don’t already know it. Some of the best reggaeton artists in the world hail from Colombia, including J. Balvin, Karol G, and Maluma.

15. Save on airfare

Get email alerts about cheap flights leaving from your favorite airports at Scott’s Cheap Flights. The premium service costs $49/year, but if you buy one ticket every few years, you’ve saved money. I’m amazed by some of the prices I see.

If you have ideas, leave me a comment here. I hope you have a great film shoot in Colombia!

Feature Photo by Julian Florez on Unsplash

Introducing: Epic Animated Explainer Videos for Nonprofits & Organizations That Do Good

We’re proud to announce a new part of our business: animated explainer videos.

For more than 15 years, Dorst MediaWorks has specialized making documentary-style live-action videos for institutions that do good—primarily stories about sustainable development, environmental conservation, and humanitarian relief.

Now, for these same clients, we also make animated explainers. Here’s our most recent animated explainer video:


How did animated explainer videos get so big?

Explainer videos have caught on in a big way. One reason is they help you illustrate complex concepts in a succinct way.

In our clients’ world, the Girl Effect video gave birth to the genre in 2008:


A lot of our counterparts at USAID, the World Bank, and major international nonprofits loved that video, for its dynamism, colors, and upbeat music. At the time, it was novel and fun to watch. But it ushered in a lot of copycats.

We resisted for a long while. After all, who wants to read their videos? What’s the point of that?


Why make animated explainer videos now?

Our clients kept asking us to get in the game.

Why? A lot of the same creative process of a documentary video is what’s necessary to produce a good animated explainer video – including creative concepts, concise scripts, attention to detail, and audio mastering that makes the visuals come alive.

But it wasn’t until I understood that animated videos are superior to documentary-style —  in some cases — that Dorst MediaWorks made the leap. I was meeting with the head of communications at a major international nonprofit. “In some stories, we prefer to protect people’s identity,” she explained. “And in others, we just don’t want viewers focusing on what they look like. Their race or nationality shouldn’t obscure the message.”

This was definitely the case for our most recent animated explainer video that we produced for the World Bank Group. The objective was to inspire African leaders to unite and invest in making Africa’s food systems more climate-resilient.

The problem was, Africa has more than 50 countries. So, if you’re using real people in a video, which countries do you represent? In this case, it was crucial not to show specific faces, which would suggest failures or famines in individual countries. Solution: animated explainer video.

Photo by Gavin Allanwood on Unsplash


Be original, not a commodity, with your animated explainer videos

The problem is, there’s a lot of low-end animated videos out there. They have two-dimensional stick-art and off-the-shelf design elements. Over time, not much seems original. It’s a bunch of copycat, commoditized videos. And for that reason, people don’t watch them.

In many cases, the design and animation look a lot like children’s cartoons, which doesn’t work for our clients. Their topics are climate change, international development, and humanitarian relief. Taking your message out to the world dressed up like a cartoon runs the risk that viewers won’t take your message seriously.

So our solution is to always come up with completely original design. We also favor original, unpredictable animation in a 3D space. The goal is to keep viewers tuned in. Hopefully, they’ll stick with us and learn a thing or two along the way.

It’s the same strategy as our documentary-style videos: we aim for cinematic visuals that keep people watching.


What does an original animated explainer video cost?

We position our animated explainer videos on the upper end. Yes, 3D animation costs more, because the development consists of several phases of design, modeling, texturing, lighting, and rendering.

Our animated explainer videos start at $10,000 for 60 seconds, with the promise that the final product will be one-of-a-kind. So, when it’s time to make an explainer video and it’s important for it to be unique, consider giving us a call.

Hosting a Conference? Here Are 9 Steps to Produce a Lightning-Fast Video for Day #2 (Hint: It Features Participants!)

This article outlines how you can use video captured on day #1 of a conference to unite and inspire conference-goers on day #2.

At Dorst MediaWorks, we’re always looking for new ways that our videos can be useful and even inspire audiences.

Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

Most of the time, that means transporting viewers to other countries with documentary-style storytelling—and immersing them in the lives of people that are benefiting from our clients’ projects.

In pursuit of that mission, we’ve left our home base of Washington, DC to go film in more than 50 countries in the past 15 years to tell stories about international development, environmental conservation, and humanitarian relief.

Often, these videos play at events and are meant to educate, raise funds, or inspire. But recently, we tried something completely new for us.

We interviewed people on day #1 of a conference, and then edited a video overnight—in less than 14 hours—with the goal of inspiring participants and building community. How’d we do it?

Here are 9 steps to turning around your own lightning-fast video to inspire participants on day #2 of your own conference. Here’s the video:


1. Make sure your video team knows the content and your point of view in advance

In April of last year, the Sexual Violence Research Initiative and the World Bank Group hosted the Development Marketplace Awards for Innovation in the prevention of gender-based violence. Hundreds of people from around the world attended.

They hired Dorst MediaWorks to produce some videos profiling the winners. As a result, our editorial team got familiar with the content and the way that the partners talk about the issue of gender-based violence. We completed those videos and they all played on day #1 of the conference.

This process helped us enormously, because we learned the content and messaging.

If your video team is coming in fresh to do an overnight video, you might want to write the script and do most of the edit in advance—and just leave placeholders for your interviews—much like a journalist on deadline will write most of an article and leave a few placeholders for quotes.

Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash

2. Interview Style: Ensure quality

We recognized that this was a rare opportunity to have leaders from all over the world together in one place. So we wanted to capture their perspectives. But what was the best style? During style discussions, it was suggested that we conduct brief stand-up interviews with people on-the-fly. We strongly resisted that idea, believing we could get better quality with a dedicated room and no ambient noise. This was the right decision.

3. Set up a professional interview room nearby

We sent a one-person crew (camera operator) to the World Bank on the first day of the conference. There, we set up an interview room near where participants were spending the afternoon. Our first priority was to have professional lighting and quality audio—thus the separate room. Then we tasked one World Bank staffer with asking the questions (he knew the content very well and could ask follow-ups if he wasn’t satisfied). A second staffer escorted interviewees to us, just when we needed them. It worked well, since participants had been forewarned and were happy to take part.

4. Keep the interviews short – and note the timecode of the best content

Our objective was to conduct brief, but substantive interviews with about a dozen experts. We asked each the same four questions. The cameraman, who was also the editor, noted the timecode for the best answers. This made editing go faster. (We didn’t follow a typical documentary workflow, where we transcribe all of the interviews and read everything. We chose one money quote from each person and called it a day.)

5. Approach: don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good

Even watching the video now, there are several things I’d improve, but our approach was to do our best given the time constraints. By the time we got back to the edit bay in the late afternoon, we had about 14 hours to do the editing.

Photo by Jaime Lopes on Unsplash

6. Objective: Remember your goal

Our goal was to kick off day #2 with some energy and get people on the same page. That’s why we started the video with prominent text highlighting the big challenge: “Almost one billion women have suffered gender-based violence.” But we wanted to quickly transition to a more hopeful tone, thus the sudden sunrise footage and early musical peak: we wanted to wake people up and get them paying attention. The suggestion is that with all of these thoughtful, impactful people here working together, there’s hope.

 7. Feature crowd favorites to build community

The next 30 seconds of the video featured sound bites from six experts from six countries around the globe. These are some of the leaders, and we chose them with the goal of building some community. Then we included footage and mentioned winners from the past few years to further create a sense of community. These were all people and projects most participants would recognize.

 8. Cut to the music

The goal was to infuse some energy into the morning, so we decided to lay an upbeat music track throughout. This also made editing easier. The rhythm dictated the cut points for the editor.

9. Long-term value

This quick video was the first deliverable. Later, we got the interviews transcribed and our client used some of the best quotes in online articles. They also logged the two hours of interview footage into the organizational video database for future videos.

So there you go. When you organize your next conference, consider using video of participants to help inspire people on day #2. It’s a fast turnaround, but with these tips, you can do it.

Photo by Nicholas Green on Unsplash

More resources:

The 2020 Development Marketplace: Innovations to Address Gender-Based Violence Call for Proposals is now open.

Violence Against Women and Girls Resource Guide:

World Bank Group press release on Development Marketplace prizes:

Sexual Violence Research Initative:

World Health Organization report on violence against women:



Making a Corporate Video in Morocco? Here are 16 Things You Need to Know

I just returned from a film shoot in Morocco. The country is beautiful, with a rich history, and accessible culture. But making a professional video there takes some doing. Here are 16 tips to help you get the job done.

1. No vaccines or visas required

If you’re a US citizen, you don’t need a visas if you’re staying fewer than 90 days. A fun fact: in 1777, the Kingdom of Morocco became the first country in the world to recognize United States independence, only a year and a half after the U.S. Declaration of Independence was issued. We’re friends.

2. Definitely hire a fixer

You need a local video production company. There’s no way around this. I worked with Casablanca-based Tswera Productions. They did a great job. I plan on writing a longer piece about the positive experience.

Spice vendor in Marrakesh’s medina (old city) at Jemaa el-Fnaa. Photo by Steve Dorst

3. Nabbing that elusive “authorization to film”

You’re going to need a letter from the company/organization you’re working for. Then your local Moroccan video production company will go to the Centre Cinématographique Morocain to get your permit. This process will take a while. You’ll provide a lot of info, including the CVs of your crew, list of equipment, list of interviews, interview questions, distribution plans, etc. You’ll be asked to specify the exact dates and locations of your shooting schedule, so be ready to be specific.

4. The police are trustworthy

I’ve been in a lot of countries where the police stress you out, but Moroccan police were great. They were ever-present. But several locals emphasized to me that the country had suffered far fewer terrorist bombings than their neighbors (or Paris and Madrid for that matter). Yes, the police stopped us every time we were filming outside, but they accepted our permits and let us continue. While driving throughout the country, we were stopped at multiple roadblocks, but they never hassled us. The roadblocks were there to stop the bad guys.

5. Sorry, no drones

There was a time that you could fly a drone freely in Morocco, but those days are long gone. We didn’t manage to get permission. Apparently, there’s a process, but you have to name the exact GPS coordinates, day and time, which leads me to this next one …

6. Stock footage resources

If you can’t get all the (drone) footage you want, there are some good Morocco stock footage resources.

In Tangier, with awesome driver Jawad and Unit Producer Zola. Photo by Jake Lyell

7. Adapting your plugs

You can use the same plugs you use in Europe (type C) and especially France (type F)

8. Brush up on that French!

This is a polyglot nation! Moroccan Arabic is the most widespread, with French and Berber right behind. In the north, a lot of people will speak Spanish. Some in more touristy spots speak English, but don’t count on it. My team spoke French, so that worked out well for us.

9. Fridays are holy days

When you’re making your shooting schedule, keep in mind that Friday is the holy day and many people go to the mosque. It’s their Sunday.

10. Clothes to wear

For b-roll outside, we wore shorts and t-shirts because it can get hot. For most interviews, we wore long pants, business casual. For interviews with government officials, we wore suits. The women on our team wore long pants and covered their shoulders.

11. Money: Haggling is a sport

The Moroccan currency is the dirham and is about 10X1 to the dollar. ATMs abound. People prefer cash. At most markets, the prices aren’t posted. Vendors didn’t mark up drinks and food for me, but for most everything else they name a price that is 3x or more what you should pay. Best strategy: go with a local and don’t do the haggling yourself. Second-best: treat it as a game, don’t take anything personally, remember that nobody is your friend despite the Oscar-winning performances, and always be willing to walk away.

12. Mosques are verboten

If you want to see a mosque in Morocco, you’re out of luck unless you’re Muslim. The sole exception is the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. It currently is the fifth-largest mosque in the world and has the second-tallest minaret. Visit, then watch the sunset from the promenade. Maybe play some soccer or take some tea with the locals. People are welcoming here.

In Casablanca, having a tea with some friendly locals by the Hassan II mosque. Photo by Zola 

13. Beer is (sometimes) hard to get

After a long day of filming in the hot sun, there’s nothing better than a beer … unless you’re in Morocco. Alcohol isn’t available on patios or rooftops. And a lot of establishments are dry. Hotels are a good bet, so if you’re hankering for a drink be sure to ask before you get settled in. Or better yet, be like the locals and drink mint tea: it’s a ritual and a pick-me-up. I was partial to the fruit juices, especially anything with avocado in it.

Avocado smoothie, lunch in Casablanca. Photo by Steve Dorst

14. The food is insanely good

Early in my career I worked with an American cameraman who’s go-to meal every day in Cameroon was grilled chicken and fries. It worked for him, because he wanted to stay healthy and do his job. But when I’m in a new place, I like to try new things. In Morocco, you’re in luck. First, look for tagine, pastilla, and couscous. Tagine is the name of the clay cooking pot and the amazing dish that includes spices, vegetables and either beef, chicken, or lamb. Pastilla is a sweet and savory pie that’s filled with meet, with a layer of sugar, ground almond, and cinnamon. Couscous is only cooked on Fridays to celebrate holy day.

15. Cell phone service

In Morocco, my AT&T did not offer the $10/day International Day Pass that allows you to use your phone normally (and not have to stress out about your data). So I had to buy a $60 1GB Passport that I exhausted in three days and then I upgraded to the $120 3GB Passport … on the other hand, my crew had Verizon and they had the day pass. Easy peasy. We all used WhatsApp to communicate with each other.

16. What to film?

Like in most countries, be smart and don’t film government installations or policemen. Our film permit didn’t give us carte blanche: the private security guards at several private buildings, including an outdoor mall in Casablanca and the marina in Tangier, didn’t let us film. And when photographing people, be cool and ask permission.

Well, hopefully a few of these tips will help you as you head out to make a great video in Morocco. Good luck!

Producing an International Video? Here Are 8 Criteria to Choose a Great Video Production Partner

Consider this scenario. You’re in the waiting room and you Google your doctor. You follow a few links and discover he graduated last in his class!

Or you’re in an airplane waiting on the runway when you overhear a flight attendant whispering that this is the young pilot’s first flight with the airline…

Not awesome! If you’re like me, you want capable and experienced.

If you’re producing an international video, then this article is for you. It gives you eight tips to help you select the best video production partner to tell your story.

#8. Major Organizations Say Yes

When evaluating a potential video production partner, ask who they’ve worked with lately. Have they worked with organizations like yours?

In the past year, Dorst MediaWorks has produced for major international organizations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, USAID, the World Bank Group, the World Resources Institute, and the World Wildlife Fund. If they trust us, you can trust us.

#7. International Expertise

If you want to make a video overseas, make sure your video production vendor has sufficient international video production expertise. Making a talking-head corporate video in Washington DC is straightforward; producing a documentary-style video in a foreign language in another country requires a different skillset. What countries have they worked in? What languages? What size crews? Can they do indie documentary video in foreign countries? International expertise: it makes a big difference.

In the last 12 months, Dorst MediaWorks has produced in eight countries on five continents. Producing complex international videos in multiple languages can be tough. But not for us. It’s what we do. All of these experiences help our problem-solving skills to be able to succeed on your project. In 2011 in Zimbabwe, why did I build a set to hang paintings? In 2014 in Afghanistan, did I do anything differently knowing the Taliban had just launched its Spring offensive?Which country examples did I use when speaking about storytelling to development professionals in Washington DC? How did I direct the USAID video production last year in Haiti to capture the best story?

Outside Manila, producing for the International Finance Corporation.

#6. Longevity

Does the company have a track record? Recent success is paramount, but longevity suggests that a video production company is resilient, that it is able to ride the ups and downs of the economy, that it can communicate well with multiple clients in diverse situations.

Since 2002, Dorst MediaWorks has produced 300+ videos for 50+ clients in 50+ countries. Every project presents different and unique challenges and makes us better at what we do.

#5. Documentary Style

What style of video does the video production company specialize in? Commercials, explainer videos, music videos, events, and PSAs? Or does it specialize in the documentary-style video that you want for your international story? Documentary style conveys a strong sense of character, era, and place. It’s often more credible and enduring, because the protagonists tell their own stories, rather than having a narrator.

About 90%+ of Dorst MediaWorks videos are documentary-style.

In Rio de Janeiro, producing for the Public Interest Registry

#4. Mission

Does your potential video production vendor have a higher objective?

Dorst MediaWorks’ mission is to be the world’s best video production studio for organizations that do good. On this journey, we hope to help make the world a more just, sustainable, and equal place. We make videos for organizations that do good — here and around the world. If you share that vision or need a video, drop us a line.

#3. Client focus

Is your potential video vendor all things to all people? Or is it specialized? If it is more specialized doing the kind of work you need, then that’s a plus!

Dorst MediaWorks only works with organizations that “do good,” primarily international organizations that work in sustainable development, humanitarian relief, and conservation.

#2. Cinematic Film Quality

Yes, budgets can be tight on these types of international video productions, but that’s no excuse for bad quality. When considering whether to work with a video production company or not, check out their portfolio. Is it quality footage? Is it lit well? Is it color-corrected? If you need talking heads, check out the interview compositions. Are they well done?

Founder and Creative Director Steve Dorst has directed and produced feature documentary films that played on PBS, DirecTV, iTunes, and Amazon Prime Video. On any budget, in any country, Dorst MediaWorks strives for cinematic film quality.

#1. 5-Star Service

Read the testimonials and reviews. Does the video production company have positive reviews from clients?

Dorst MediaWorks goes the extra mile to make sure we provide incredible service to our trusted clients during the collaborative process. Check out our 22 reviews on Google and our top-10 presence on Clutch!

Washington DC Video Production to Prevent Conflict and Improve Lives

In rural Afghanistan, you play by the rules. Don’t look at women; stay in the armored vehicle unless given permission to exit; when you get out, stay close to your armed guard.

Life was on lockdown, and the culture cloaked behind the local languages of Dari and Pashto (which I don’t speak). I had only 20 minutes to film the women farmers and I could only interview one. Then, back to Kabul before dark.

Video production Afghanistan

I did my job and we exited the high-walled compound. Then, inexplicably, villagers from all angles began heading directly at me and my camera, like so many iron fillings attracted to a magnet.

What could they want? It was unnerving. I’d been to dozens of countries and found myself in lots of new situations, but Afghanistan was next-level. Then I heard a voice, familiar and in English. My Unit Producer, Najib Siawash, was hollering at me from a hilltop: these men wanted a photo! Of course.

That was how, in a dry, war-torn Afghan village, I got a portrait with a fighting dog, his trainer, a farmer, and a military man.


Producing Videos for Organizations That Work with Countries in Conflict 

If you’re an international organization working in conflict-affected or war-torn areas, who do you trust to tell the story of your life-transforming work?

Dorst MediaWorks has produced for the International Executive Service Corps, the International Monetary Fund, USAID, USDA, the World Bank, Women for Women International, and other groups in countries in conflict or emerging from it: Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chad, Central African Republic, Colombia, Congo DRC, Lebanon, and Yemen.

Countries at peace have a much better chance to make steady social, economic, and political progress. Their people have a much better chance to flourish and lead more fulfilled, prosperous lives.

However, in an increasingly interconnected world, where conflict, violence, and extremism do not respect national borders, unprecedented numbers of people are at risk.

That is what motivates us as a Washington DC video production company to work with international organizations that are working in these difficult places. Videos about people living in fragility, conflict, and violence help to shine a light on what is happening, and help motivate diplomacy, security, and mediation to prevent violent conflict and bring peace and prosperity.

Here are some videos we’ve produced:

World Bank: Tackling Fragility, Conflict and Violence

Addressing the global challenge of fragility, conflict and violence is key to ending poverty and promoting shared prosperity. To tackle this complex landscape, the World Bank Group is taking a broader approach to fragility by focusing on prevention, and engaging during active conflict, transition and recovery. The organization is also helping forge partnerships between organizations that work on humanitarian aid, development, and peace initiatives, which explains the United Nations video interviews and footage we have in this one.


Sustainable Development Video Production: Afghanistan, Empowering Women Farmers

This video is what came from the footage I shot that day in rural Afghanistan. After the war, Afghan farmers — particularly women farmers — were getting virtually no support from the government. This is the story of how the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture improves how it does business, which helps farmers, spurs the economy, and contributes to stability. This is a program of the United States Department of Agriculture named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management).


IFC: Strengthening Corporate Governance in Fragile and Conflict-affected Countries

This video production for the International Finance Corporation includes footage that Dorst MediaWorks traveled to Sarayevo, Bosnia to capture as well as footage sent to us from war-torn Yemen. Today many countries face political instability or are struggling to emerge from years of conflict. This threatens to destroy once vibrant businesses, sending more people into poverty. IFC works in fragile and conflict-affected countries to help businesses weather the difficulties through stronger corporate governance and by building up companies’ resilience, so they can emerge from crisis as powerful engines of economic growth, hiring people, and improving lives.


Washington DC USAID Video Production: Lebanon & Rabih’s Fishing Business

This is the story of Rabih, who struggles to make a living as a fisherman before buying a new boat and building his business. And the microfinance institution Al Majmoua, which is extending loans to rural entrepreneurs in Lebanon for the first time. Dorst MediaWorks produced this USAID video for USAID subcontractor International Executive Service Corps.


Washington DC USAID Video Production: Lebanon & Hala’s Flower Shop

This is the story of Hala, who had a passion for flower arranging and used to dream of starting her own business. And the microfinance institution Vitas, which is extending loans to women entrepreneurs in Lebanon for the first time. Since 1964, IESC has worked in 130 countries and helped to create or save over 1.5 million jobs.


Washington DC USAID Video Production: Expanding Microfinance in Rural Lebanon

This is the story of a USAID project, Lebanon Investment in Microfinance Program, which worked with nine microfinance institutions to improve access to finance and increase lending to business owners in rural Lebanon. The program awarded about $10 million in grants to microfinance partners, who then made 14,000 micro-loans totaling more than $30 million. In 2015, the nation’s first microfinance association was formed, which will better serve the needs of small business owners throughout Lebanon.


Washington DC Sustainable Development Video Production: Afghanistan, From Ledgers to Biometrics


This is the story of a transformation. After the war, the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture is in disarray. Staff stand in line for an hour to sign in for work (if they come at all) and accounts maintain paper records. Through a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) the Ministry undergoes an array of productivity and process improvements. Since 1964, IESC has worked in 130 countries and helped to create or save over 1.5 million jobs. Directed, shot, and edited by Steve Dorst.


Washington DC Video Production: “A Peace Plan, Oil Shock, & Crisis” [#1/4] The IMF in Colombia

This is a four-part video story of Colombia’s resilience in the face of economic crisis, which allowed it to move forward during an historic peace process. Today, a 53-year civil war with the FARC is a thing of the past, and rural Colombia is enjoying new investment and opportunity. The International Monetary Fund engaged Dorst MediaWorks to tell deeper documentary stories about its work in Vietnam, Ireland, and Colombia.

Washington DC Video Production: “A Tax Reform Succeeds” [#2/4] The IMF in Colombia

Washington DC Video Production: “Peace is Good for Business” [#3/4] The IMF in Colombia

Washington DC Video Production: “Business Goes to Quibdó,” [#4/4] The IMF in Colombia


Since 2002, Dorst MediaWorks has been producing videos for international organizations. That journey has taken our team to 50+ countries. Our mission is to be the best video production company for organizations that do good and help make the world a more just, sustainable, and equal place. If you share that vision or need a video, drop us a line…

If you’d like to check out more videos, refer to this YouTube playlist featuring all seven videos that Dorst MediaWorks produced for the International Executive Service Corps and the USDA in Afghanistan during the conflict:




USAID Video Production: Videos for the United States Agency for International Development

How much of the US budget goes to foreign aid? What do you think—5%, 10%, 20%?

In early 2015, the Kaiser Family Foundation asked 1,500 Americans the same question. The average answer was 26%. In the same poll, a majority of Americans thought we spent too much on foreign aid.

Foreign Aid: Only 1%

The real answer: less than 1%. In 2016, the US spent $38 billion on foreign aid, which was less than 1% of a $4 trillion national budget.

By another measure, in 2017, the USA’s foreign aid commitment from the U.S. State Department and USAID totaled $50.1 billion, or just over 1% of the budget (Wikipedia). Total military assistance was about $15 billion. Total economic assistance was about $35 billion.

The Wikipedia link breaks it down by country, which is incredibly instructive. Certain conflict-prone countries are getting a lot of our attention and money. One way to look at it is that this table reflects American priorities to help alleviate extreme poverty and help assist conflict-affected countries. Why do we do it? A combination of moral and self-interest, which is perhaps beyond the scope of this blog.

But whatever our reasons, it’s hard to make the argument that it’s a waste. It literally is an incredibly small investment to help some of the poorest, war-torn countries from getting worse.

How small? In 2017, the US GDP was about $19.4 trillion. Our national budget allotted $35 billion to foreign economic aid programs. Let’s break it down as if this was a person: If you make $60,000/year (which happens to be the GDP per person in 2017), then it’s the equivalent of you donating $108.

USAID is a force for good

USAID implemented about $20 billion of the $35 billion economic assistance. Based in Washington, DC, the United States Agency for International Development is the largest bilateral international development organization. USAID works to improve lives, strengthen communities, and advance democracy.

Video team in Haiti
On location in Port-au-Prince, Haiti for USAID.

We at Dorst MediaWorks are proud to have produced USAID videos on four continents, including recent USAID video productions in Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, and Lebanon.

As its website says, “USAID’s work advances U.S. national security and economic prosperity; demonstrates American generosity; and promotes a path to recipient self-reliance and resilience.”

Typically large USAID subcontractors will hire Dorst MediaWorks to execute the video production and photography components of projects. We travel in country for filming and photography, and then work with project teams back in Washington DC to tell the best stories.


Washington DC USAID Video Production: Lebanon & Rabih’s Fishing Business

This is the story of Rabih, who struggles to make a living as a fisherman before buying a new boat and building his business. And the microfinance institution Al Majmoua, which is extending loans to rural entrepreneurs in Lebanon for the first time.

Dorst MediaWorks produced this USAID video for USAID subcontractor International Executive Service Corps. Since 1964, IESC has worked in 130 countries and helped to create or save over 1.5 million jobs.

Over multiple years, Dorst MediaWorks has produced 17 videos for IESC. Here they are:


Washington DC USAID Video Production: Haiti, Private Sector Development

This is the story of Hermine, one of many Haitians working hard to recover after 2010’s devastating earthquake. Hermine works at a clothing factory. When hercompany receives a grant from USAID to help expand operations, she is promoted. Today, she’s making progress in her dreams of building a house and helping her son pursue his education.

Dorst MediaWorks produced this USAID video for USAID subcontractor Nathan and Associates. Nathan is a private international economic and analytics consulting firm that works with government and commercial clients around the globe. It was founded in 1946 and has 40 program offices around the world.


Washington DC USAID Video Production: “Ghana & The Global Shea Alliance”

This is the story of Rita Dampson, a shea butter entrepreneur in Ghana who has built her cooperative up to more than 1,000 village women. USAID and the Global Shea Alliance partner to connect women from 21 African countries to the global marketplace.


Washington DC USAID Video Production: Ethiopia & Sara’s Handicraft Passion

This is the story of Sara, a fashion designer from Ethiopia. Not long ago, she had seven employees and was struggling to turn a profit in the local market. Today she has more than 400 employees and her designs appear in major retailers such as J. Crew. What was the difference? The support of USAID.

If you want to watch more of Dorst MediaWorks video production for USAID, check out our USAID YouTube playlist. USAID is a force for good in the world. We’ve seen it first hand.

Video Production: Videos in Africa for Organizations Based in Washington DC

When I spent a year in Cameroon in the late 1990s on scholarship, I only could’ve hoped that years later I’d be filming stories all over the continent.

During this past year, I directed Dorst MediaWorks video productions in Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, and South Africa – vastly different countries with incredibly rich cultures, dynamic cities, and a lot to offer the world. I feel blessed to have worked with some amazing people in each place.

Dorst MediaWorks Director Steve Dorst on location in Malawi
Dorst MediaWorks Director / Camera Steve Dorst on location in Malawi

The topics of these videos in Africa were international development and conservation. In Ghana: promoting sustainable tuna fishing; Tanzania: creating safer journeys for schoolchildren; Ethiopia, life-changing family planning and empowerment for young women; Malawi, improving an electric grid and empowering women; and this one from Asiye eTafuleni (AeT), which is co-creating a more inclusive city in the markets of Warwick Junction, Durban, South Africa.

Dorst MediaWorks’ clients for these documentary-style video productions are our neighbors in Washington, DC. They are some of the most respected names in the business of international development and conservation: the World Wildlife Fund, the World Resources Institute’s Ross Center, the International Monetary Fund, the FAO, and SIGN Fracture Care International.


Dorst Mediaworks makes videos in Africa for organizations that do good

If you work for one of the many US-based international organizations that are active on the Africa continent, consider giving us a call to help tell your story. You’ll probably recognize in our work what you do to give voice to the voiceless and make the world a better place.

Washington DC Video Production Services: “SARSAI” (Ross Prize finalist)


SARSAI is a program by the non-profit Amend, is providing a safer walk to a brighter future for students in high-risk school areas across Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and other sub-Saharan African cities.

Washington DC USAID Video Production Services: Ghana & the Global Shea Alliance

This is the story of USAID’s work with the Global Shea Alliance to help 16 million women from 21 African countries to collect, harvest and sell shea products and thus earn more income. Rita Dampson is our protagonist, who works with shea collectors and processors in rural Ghana.

Washington DC Government Video Production Services: “Mary’s Story,” Millennium Challenge Corporation Malawi

This is the story of Mary’s new business and her improved quality of life. It’s also the story of how the Millennium Challenge Corporation helped Malawian women in river communities develop new economic opportunities that also protect the rivers that power 90% of the country’s electricity.

Washington DC USAID Video Production Services: Ethiopia & Sara’s Handicraft Passion

This is the story of Sara, a fashion designer from Ethiopia. Not long ago, she had 7 employees and only served the local market. Today she has more than 400 employees and her designs appear in major retailers such as J. Crew.

Washington DC Video Production Services: “Economic Stability is Like Fresh Air,” The IMF in Ghana

In early 2017 Ghana’s economy faced multiple challenges ranging from declining GDP to a high fiscal deficit. Find out how the IMF partnered with Ghana to face these challenges.

Washington DC Health Video Production – Zimbabwe: “Tich’s Story” for CRS


This is the story of the brave and immensely talented Tichaona Mudhobi, or “Tich.” And the story of Catholic Relief Services and its humanitarian arm benefiting HIV survivors in Zimbabwe. Where youth have been hardest hit, you sometimes find the greatest stories of hope. Directed, shot, and edited by Steve Dorst from the Dorst MediaWorks documentary studio in Washington DC.

Washington DC Video Production: “Emerging Senegal: Guaranteed,” MIGA in Africa

This is the story of the Dakar Port, and how Senegal got a world-class container terminal thanks to the investments of Dubai Port World. It’s also the story of Standard Chartered Bank and MIGA, the risk insurance arm of the World Bank Group, which worked together to finance this big-ticket infrastructure project. Today, the regional economy is benefiting, and any company that imports or exports is learning that “time is money.”

Washington DC Video Production: “Women Powering Africa,” MIGA’s Gender CEO Award

MIGA hosted its 2nd Gender CEO Award on International Women’s Day (March 8) to recognize the accomplishments of a CEO, or equivalent, from one of its clients with a record of seeking to create opportunities for women and promoting gender equality.

Washington DC Health Video Production Services: “Creating Equality of Fracture Care” SIGN Tanzania

By providing both surgical training and implants, SIGN enables skills surgeons in developing countries to provide immediate care for patients who suffer badly broken bones each and every day. Founded in 1999, the organization has trained more than 5,000 surgeons in 51 developing countries—with SIGN-trained surgeons having healed more than 237,000 patients.

Washington DC USAID Video Production: “Ethiopia’s Tikur Abay Targets America”

This is the story of Abebe, who owns a shoe company in Ethiopia. Working with USAID, what can he do to break into the massive U.S. market? Since 1964, IESC has worked in 130 countries and helped to create or save over 1.5 million jobs.

Washington DC Government Video Production: “Powering Malawi,” The Millennium Challenge Corporation in Malawi

This is the story of Malawi’s power sector reforms and how it is spurring economic growth and poverty reduction by by improving the availability, reliability and quality of the power supply.


Volcanic Sprint

In part from my experience living in Cameroon, I was motivated to make my first documentary film there, Volcanic Sprint. It’s a story about the world’s most extreme mountain race. When it premiered on iTunes, I was over the moon. You can also watch it on Amazon Prime.

One of my favorite memories in my life was going back to Buea, Cameroon the year after I finished Volcanic Sprint and arranging for a free screening in Molyko stadium. As the sun set, thousands of children packed the place. I walked around quietly and watched the light from the movie illuminate their faces—they were rapt, excited to see their own neighbors as heroes on the big screen.

Since then, the Dorst MediaWorks team has jumped at every opportunity to help tell stories for organizations that are working to do good on the African continent.

If you work for one of the many US-based international organizations that are active on the Africa continent, consider giving us a call to help tell your story.

Dorst MediaWorks Founder Steve Dorst in 1995 with Noah Ondongo Generaud, a mvet master and Steve’s teacher.


6-Part Web Video Series Documents Irish Financial Crisis

In this age of social media, with videos getting shorter and shorter, what should you do if you want to tell a longer story about your organization’s impact on the world?

Here’s one potential solution: an episodic video series.

Washington DC’s International Monetary Fund engaged Dorst MediaWorks to tell the story of its work with the Government of Ireland during the post-2008 economic crisis. We proposed a 6-part series, totaling less than 20 minutes. This is a good example of a complex, international project that the Dorst MediaWorks editorial and video production teams love to take on.

#1 of 6 videos: Ireland: A Celtic Tiger Booms & Busts

When the Irish economy overheated in 2008, a property bubble and banking crisis provoked a severe economic downturn. In part because of regional dynamics and the Great Recession, Ireland’s response was insufficient, and the decline persisted. In late 2010, a troika of institutions responded: the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF. Despite growing pains, the troika succeeded in stabilizing Ireland’s banks and helping the economy bounce back.

Dorst MediaWorks headed all phases of production. We worked closely with the client before traveling to Dublin to interview people who were involved in the events: Patrick Honohan, former Governor, Central Bank of Ireland; Kevin Cardiff, former Secretary General, Department of Finance; Aidan O’Hogan, Managing Director, Property Byte; Larry Murrin, CEO, Dawn Farms; Dan O’Brien, Chief Economist, Institute of International and European Affairs & independent journalist; Liam Reid, Corporate Relations Director for Ireland, Diageo; Ann Nolan, Second Secretary General, Department of Finance; Danny McCoy, CEO, IBEC. Back in the USA, we interviewed Ajai Chopra, former Mission Chief, Ireland, IMF and Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

#2 of 6 videos: Crisis! Ireland Calls the IMF

Ireland was relatively poor compared to other European countries in the 90’s. They attracted a lot of foreign investment in that period, and they grew very rapidly. In the late 90’s, they were growing almost 10 percent a year. It was seen as the Irish Miracle. In the real estate business, Ireland experienced phenomenal growth. The economy began overheating, however, with a real estate bubble characterized by property boom, price boom, and a construction boom. When the bubble burst, the building industry collapsed, and a significant portion of the economy collapsed with it. Unemployment peaked at around 15 percent. The Irish economy suffered a very big contraction by any historical comparison.

There was a lot at stake, since the Irish banking system was profoundly dysfunctional. To lose credibility in that environment would have had a very severe long-term effect on employment and the prospects for economic recovery. By early 2009, the government had laid out a multi-year program of fiscal adjustment, hoping it was just a temporary panic. However, the banks were in deep financial trouble since they’d extended loans for real estate and real estate prices had crashed by 60%. By October 2010, the financial markets would not extend new loans. Banks were unable to finance themselves. It was a classic moment for appealing to the IMF for financial assistance.

#3 of 6 videos: Ireland: The Troika Comes to Dublin

It became a race against time to stop the outflow of money from the banks. The Troika arrived in Ireland in December 2010, made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and really importantly, the IMF. The IMF was in the mix because it had long and deep experience of these kinds of crises and of these kinds of programs. The Irish wanted to have an international dimension for what was a difficulty within the European Union more widely. The European Union could’ve done this all with their own money. They didn’t actually need the IMF’s money. They just needed the IMF’s imprimatur and technical expertise. In fact, none of the European institutions had ever done this before. The Fund was definitely the most experienced of the three constituent parts of the Troika. In November 2010, the Irish State agreed to an €85 billion rescue deal. It was made up of €22.5 billion from the IMF, €45 billion from the EU and bilateral European lenders (UK, Denmark, and Sweden), and €17.5 billion from Ireland’s own resources.

#4 of 6 videos: Ireland: Stress Test Consensus, Bondholder Dispute

The most important thing was to stabilize the banks. The Troika’s idea on that was to do a very intensive stress test. The key measure was to bring in an external, neutral party to come do an asset quality review, and a diagnostic of what was happening in the banks. It made an enormous amount of difference that the IMF was supervising it because they were viewed as being independent. The bailout was controversial in several ways. One of the big things was around how the creditors in the banking system were dealt with. There were clear differences of views between the Irish authorities and the Troika and within the Troika on that issue. It led to constant butting of heads. That was probably the single most controversial aspect of the entire bailout period.

#5 of 6 videos: Ireland: Austerity, Toward Recovery

Austerity was not a choice. It was a reflection of necessity. The contentious issue was between the Fund and the European Central Bank. The ECB, in particular, at the beginning, were pushing for even faster austerity, which some felt would kill off the economy altogether. On the particular choice of measures, the IMF left this to the Irish authorities to choose. That was very important, because it gave them ownership of the budget measures that they implemented. “The IMF captured the confidence of the nation,” said Patrick Honohan, former Governor, Central Bank of Ireland. “And people said, ‘These guys … are here to help us’.”

#6 of 6 videos: Ireland, Inc 2.0

The economy hit rock bottom by the end of 2010. It was a very severe slowdown. And it stayed down at bottom for another two years. The recovery began in late 2012 when the labor market turned around — two consecutive quarters of employment growth. “The financial crisis could have destroyed that reputation, so the really great work of the IMF and the other Troika partners was to stabilize Ireland to kick on again,” said Danny McCoy, CEO, IBEC.

“That was what was at stake I think in the downturn,” said Patrick Honohan, former Governor, Central Bank of Ireland. “That’s why we appealed quickly to the IMF to turn that around, but the wider confidence in the vitality and dynamism of the economy was not lost.”

When it’s time to tell a complex, international story, and it works for you to collaborate with a Washington DC video production company, consider working with Dorst MediaWorks on your next project. Here’s the location of our boutique video production studio, in the heart of Washington DC.


11 Drone Camera Moves for More Cinematic Video Production

Today, everybody has a drone, so aerial footage is nothing special. That’s why I wrote this definitive guide—to help you capture great aerial footage every time so it helps tell your story.

Video team in Haiti
Back in the Phantom 4 days. 2017, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The key to capturing story-ready aerial footage is to do three things:

#1. Dial in your settings for best picture quality.

#2. Understand how the camera moves you are doing are powerful emotive tools.

#3. Master 11 of these drone camera moves to capture more cinematic footage and tell your story better.

Before we dive in, a note about me. This article is based on my six years of piloting drones. I crashed my Phantom 1 more times than I’ll admit. Since then, I’ve tried to keep learning, using drone videography for all sorts of video productions, including Dorst MediaWorks’ video productions in Washington, DC and around the world. I’m not a specialized drone guy or even a drone fanboy. I’m a documentary guy, who’s trying to use a tool to tell stories.

In 2016, I became a certified pilot. That gave me a greater appreciation for everything that goes into flying a drone legally and safely. Since then, I conduct a pre-flight safety check and frequently check updates at the FAA site. Being a drone pilot is fairly easy, but being a safe, legal, capable drone pilot is not.

#1. Recommended Drone Settings for Best Picture Quality

First, make sure you have all your settings correct dialed in. I’ve settled on these after a online research and testing (I own the Mavic Pro 2): Manual, 4k/24, MP4, no style, color is D-cinelike, h.265 codec; ISO 100, shutter 1/50. Buy some ND filters and use them so you don’t have to change the ISO or shutter. I never push the ISO beyond 200. And honestly, the best time to fly your drone is dawn and dusk. When you take off, enter Cinematic mode, which makes your moves slower and more …. cinematic. Use “program” mode in most cases (T, P, and S on side). If you have other settings, please let me know. Experiment and see what works best for you. (I plan on doing a subsequent blog on LUTs and color grading).

#2. Where’s WALLDO?

Second, make sure you know what you’re saying with your drone camera moves. That’s where WALLDO comes in. No, I’m not talking about the character from a British series of children’s puzzle books (thanks Wikipedia!). WALLDO is a handy acronym that serves as a sort of Cliff’s Notes for video production videography in the field. It was developed before the introduction of drones, but it applies to aerial cinematography as well. 

WALLDO stands for Wide, Angled, Low, Linking, Depth, and Opposite. Each word has a purpose for storytelling. After all, cinematic language is more than 125 years old. Because we’re exposed to so much visual media, we’ve grown to have emotional responses to camera movements. If you’ve worked as a director or cinematographer, you’re probably very familiar with this already.

WIDE: Filming video from far away, or a wide shot, provides perspective and context. It gives viewers the lay of the land and helps establish a sense of place. This is rarely a problem for aerial videography since most lenses are fixed and you can’t zoom in (not the case for the Mavic Pro 2 Zoom). Moreover, with whirling blades, it’s not a good idea to get too close to your subjects (Unless you want a lawsuit). Most of the drone shots I see are wide shots.

ANGLED: Filming video right in front of your subject is one way to do it. Unfortunately, this can get dull if you do it exclusively. Capturing novel angles can enhance depth. It also tends to be more interesting and dynamic. Here’s how to turn on the gridlines on the DJI Go 4 App to help inform your compositional choices.

LOW: A few years ago, I directed and shot a broadcast TV show about a dog that survived brain cancer. It seemed that for half of our location video shoot day on the farm I was shooting from ground level, chasing the dog. This is “low.” It gives people a new perspective. It should be motivated by the content. How can you do that with the drone? Well, use it like you would the Ronin-S, holding it in your hand (without blades). On location in Pune, India recently, we didn’t have a gimbal, so we just held the drone in hand to follow our protagonist:

LINKING: Here, you want to connect two objects by moving the camera. This is editorial in nature—you’re making a point (otherwise, why move the camera, right?) Usually, it’s accomplished with a pan or perhaps a rack focus. One example of this move is the final 40 seconds of a video I produced for USAID in Haiti. I wanted to link our protagonist to the entire country in one conclusive shot. So I conceived of one long take, where the drone pushed in as the heroine approaches (denoting importance), but then as soon as she hit her mark, the camera does a neverending crane (see below) upwards as smooth and fast as possible:

DEPTH: Early in my career, I was lucky enough to team up a lot with talented cinematographer Stefan Wiesen. Born in Germany, one of Stefan’s favorite sayings was “vordegrund macht bild gesund,” which translates to “the foreground makes the picture.” And Stefan was a master at creating depth. This is incredibly important for aerial cinematography, arguably more so, since wide shots of faraway objects get dull quickly without a sense of perspective. How about a tree or two? Foreground elements help bring the viewer into the scene by making it feel three-dimensional.

OPPOSITE: The reverse angle, or reaction shot, is what you see when you turn around and show the opposite point of view. Film a preacher, then show the rapt congregation. I don’t use this one as much as I’d like, but I keep it on my cheat sheet to remind me to do it more.

#3. 11 Drone Camera Moves That Will Change your Life

Sometimes, when I’m piloting a drone, the technical operation takes all my brain bandwidth and I don’t have much creativity left to consider the best camera moves. That’s why I always have this list of 11 drone camera moves with me—and yes, they will change your life! 😊

It’s not really about being artistic or cinematic. It’s about using a diversity of techniques to help you tell the story best.

1. Neverending Crane.This shot helps link an object or a location to a wider context. Check out this Bjork video, directed by Spike Jonze. The final crane shot is surprising, majestic, and visually conclusive. You may not be able to get your talent to take a ride on a 70-foot crane, but you can do similar things with your drone shots:


2. Gimbal Down.This move features the drone camera tilted down to earth, with no horizon showing. It is best used when there’s dynamic action beneath it. It’s a unique perspective, and at its best when the movement below suggests shapes and geometry, perhaps that are undetectable to the terrestrial eye. Otherwise, why use it? For example, here are two gimbal down shots in a row for a video production in Medellin, Colombia, one with a mild rotation:


3. Gentle Rise. This camera move also uses a gimbal down, with no horizon showing, but the drone is rising here. The effect is making an object or location smaller or less important. Or it can link geographic elements. For enhanced effect in your video production, use it for a respite following a sequence that relies heavily on close-ups. Or use the very beginning of the rise and the very end, like this excerpt from a Hanoi, Vietnam traffic roundabout above. It compressed time and is entertaining for the viewer:


4. Fly-by. This drone camera move shows scale. Check out this video shot from a hillside above Bogota, Colombia. The trees in the foreground frame the impressive skyscrapers, giving us scale, turning what would be a flat skyscraper shot into something better.


5. Object Pull Out. You see this a lot—the drone camera pulls away from a sad person and it accentuates how remote and lonely she feels. In this video production for the International Monetary Fund, we get right to the point where this is a banking crisis and ensuing panic. So, we pull out from people walking on a pedestrian bridge:


6. Object Push In. By contrast, pushing in denotes importance, like this drone push into a factory in Senegal. The aerial composition has a clear focus and we push in on it from above:


7. Slider / Lateral. This is a long pan or dolly move. The drone gives us great power to stick with action longer from above or to link objects in new, creative ways. Formerly, you’d need to build long dolly tracks or hire expensive cranes and jibs. For example, check out this lateral aerial video shot from a promo video I made for one of the best cycling clubs, Squadra Coppi (ok, I’m a member!). They were riding 15mph, so no dolly was going to keep up with that (29-second mark):


8. Follow moving object forward. This tracking shot is even easier these days since various drones have the ability to lock on to a subject and follow it.


9. Follow moving object back. In traditional land-based camerawork, this is pretty standard visually, but difficult to accomplish without a gimbal, jib, or dolly. In this video production for the Millennium Challenge Corporation in Malawi, I followed Mary on her motorcycle. My idea was to contextualize Mary in the harsh environment and introduce her as a strong woman protagonist:


10. Rotate. This camera move sounds like what it is. Fly your drone to a spot, then rotate it above your object. Don’t overuse this, because it’s not a natural thing for the eye to see. But if you want to attract attention, or it serves the story, try it. For a narrative short video I’m directing, the protagonist was entering a dream state, so I decided to use it. Here’s a quick clip above the swimming pool.


11. Tilt. This is a powerful tool—follow your protagonist to the cliff’s edge, then tilt down to reveal the ravine below for example. It reveals new information, and shows space between two objects. Adjust the gimbal dial on the front-bottom left of the drone controller. This shot from the Squadra Coppi promo video links the peloton in the distance to the hills of Virginia in a majestic, conclusive shot. Tilting up to the sky lets us place a logo there as well (the end).

Hopefully these camera moves help take your drone footage to the next level, so it’s more of a storytelling tool. Thanks to all the talented people out there from whom I’ve begged, borrowed, and stolen good ideas, including Pro Church, and

Are you interested in how drone videography can help tell your story? Check out our Washington DC video production portfolio and services. Or come pay us a visit at the Dorst MediaWorks’ Washington DC video production offices at 1211 10th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001


A version of this article first appeared on the Z-Channel Films’ website.

It’s a Wrap! International Nonprofit Health Video in Africa

Washington DC video production company Dorst MediaWorks just wrapped an international health video for SIGN Fracture Care International, a nonprofit organization.

SIGN works with skilled surgeons in some of the poorest countries to heal patients with badly broken bones.

Typically, before SIGN shows up, people suffering badly broken bones may fail to get appropriate treatment, and then face a lifetime of disability and poverty. But SIGN is working for equality of fracture care around the world, and Dorst MediaWorks is supporting that through video production.

Impactful Nonprofit: Accomplished Surgeons Are Chief Changemakers

By providing implants and training for surgeons, SIGN empowers surgeons in developing countries to provide timely care for patients. SIGN has trained 5,000 surgeons in 50+ countries.

Dr. Billy Haonga, Muhimbili’s Head of Orthopedic Trauma Surgery, began with SIGN in 2008: “SIGN has really helped me to remain at the hospital,” Haonga says. “As a surgeon, it helps to have safe, working equipment and tools that are easy to use.”

The nonprofit’s work to build orthopaedic capacity in Tanzania has spread beyond Muhimbili. SIGN Surgeons like Dr. Haonga train other surgeons to use SIGN Techniques. Then the newly trained surgeons work with SIGN implants in their own hospitals across the country.

With an approach that focuses on empowering skilled surgeons with training and implants, SIGN Fracture Care has developed sustainably, with skilled surgeons driving growth.

“SIGN has helped many people from falling into poverty after breaking a bone,” says Dr. Haonga. “I thank SIGN for that.”

In 20 years, SIGN’s global footprint has expanded to more than 50 countries, with SIGN-trained surgeons having healed more than 237,000 patients.

Washington DC Health Video Production

Tanzania’s film office is stingy in its award of film permits of late, so Dorst MediaWorks hired a local crew for this video production. The talented Eugene Kiliwa and Esther Atanasi shot on location at Dar es Salaam’s Muhimbili Orthopaedic Institute.

Back in Washington DC, the Dorst MediaWorks editorial project team ran point on the post-production storytelling process. First, we received the footage from our Tanzania crew; second, we commissioned translations for the Swahili interviews; third, we compiled a transcript that we shared with our nonprofit client. Together, we collaborated on the story. After all, in documentary, we tell the story from the people we film, highlighting their perspective and experience.

Dorst MediaWorks invited the SIGN Fracture Care team to give input on a draft scripts before we launched editing. Then we edited a rough cut and then a fine cut, all the while working closely with the client team to make sure the story was working for them. Finally, we did color-grading, did a final audio mix, then created high-quality video files for event and online distribution.

As Washington DC’s top video production company for international organizations that do good, Dorst MediaWorks has a lot of experience working in other languages and telling impactful documentary stories that show results on the ground.

So if your organization has a story to tell about its programs overseas, Washington DC’s Dorst MediaWorks is a video production company that should consider. We’ve worked in more than 50 countries, with some of the most impactful international development and humanitarian relief organizations out there.

Dorst MediaWorks’ post-production editing facilities are located in Washington DC just a few minutes from the DC Convention Center and the Mt. Vernon Square metro station. We’re a short walk or ride share ride from hundreds of international nonprofit organizations, associations, and government agencies.

My experience working with SIGN is that they do a lot with a little. Their website reads, “95 percent of our budget goes directly to supply the SIGN Surgeons with the implants and training needed to care for their patients.” That’s what I inspired me to donate to their cause after working with them.

16 Documentary-Style Gender Videos for International Development Stories

So, you’re tasked with producing a video highlighting a great project overseas. The project is empowering women. What’s the best way to tell the story?

Dorst MediaWorks has produced gender videos for a range of clients, including the World Bank Group, the USDA, IESC, the IMF, MIGA, PIR, WRI’s Ross Center, and USAID.  Along the way, we’ve come up with some thoughts about what works—and what doesn’t.

First, check out our Washington DC Gender Video Production page, which contains 16 documentary-style gender videos we’ve produced lately—in Haiti, Ghana, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Lebanon, Brazil, the Philippines, Malawi, and India.

The first thing you’ll notice is we’re not scared of foreign languages. Our video production in Haiti is chock full of Creole, Hala’s story in Lebanon is all Arabic, and in the Philippines video, you’ll hear Tagalog. Of course, we master to English captions, but for the stories to be enduring and credible, viewers need to hear the voices of project beneficiaries. These women need to tell their own stories. And the video needs to make a personal connection.

1. Washington DC Video Production Services: SWaCH (Ross Prize Finalist)

SWaCH Pune Seva Sahakari Sanstha is a member-owned cooperative for waste pickers that is helping to clean up the streets of Pune, India. Our protagonist, Pinky Sonawane, speaks Marathi. She’s gone from being disrespected to working for the city, recycling, and earning more income than her husband! Yet, her world is so different from ours in so many ways: she lives in a slum, speaks a different language, bobble-nods her head “no” when she means “yes” … how do you make that connection? We elected to show her peers, then Pinky’s work setting, and then her family situation. By the end of the video, when we see Pinky welcoming her children home from school, it’s a recognizable moment. We’ve all either welcomed our children home or been welcomed home. In the span of 4 minutes, we’ve gotten to know Pinky and understand how her life has improved. This is the power of documentary-style video production, and why documentary is often the best solution for gender video production around the world.

2. Washington DC USAID Video Production Services: Haiti Private Sector Development

This is the story of USAID’s efforts to spur Haiti’s private sector. We see through the eyes of one factory employee, Hermine, who is one step closer to her dream of owning a home and providing a solid education for her son. How does Dorst MediaWorks tell the story? Compared to Pinky’s story above, we went a different direction, starting at Hermine’s home. The first frame is a stunning aerial shot at dawn over one of Port-au-Prince’s dense slums. In this context, we hear a rooster (added in post-production) and see Hermine and her son moving around their tiny shack in the half-light. A little color correction helps give the impression that all this takes place very early in the day. Before Hermine says a word, we have a strong sense of place and point of view (which only documentary style can provide). Despite the fact that they are living in poverty, their morning ritual is recognizable. And when Hermine walks her son (we don’t name him for privacy reasons) out the door for school and she says in her native Creole, “He’s always wanted to be a doctor,” we connect with this aspiration. As a parent, I also connect with this strong desire to help your child’s dreams come true. From here on, we are rooting for Hermine to succeed at her job, which she does thanks to USAID’s investments that have helped her company grow.

3. Washington DC USAID Video Production Services: Ghana & the Global Shea Alliance

This is the story of USAID’s work with the Global Shea Alliance to help 16 million women from 21 African countries to collect, harvest and sell shea products and thus earn more income. Rita Dampson is our protagonist, who works with shea collectors and processors in rural Ghana. How does Dorst MediaWorks tell the story? To an outsider, Rita (the entrepreneur) seems very similar to the village women. So we wanted to give the viewer a chance to bond with Rita and see life from her perspective to start the video out. So we made it a journey, filming her POV in the jeep, then as she greets all her acolytes. Our camerawork highlights that it is her story — filming over her shoulder, following her as she walks. Perspective is key, as is always keeping in mind what your target audience knows or doesn’t know.

4. Washington DC Government Video Production Services: “Mary’s Story,” Millennium Challenge Corporation Malawi

This is the story of Mary’s new business and her improved quality of life. It’s also the story of how the Millennium Challenge Corporation helped Malawian women in river communities develop new economic opportunities that also protect the rivers that power 90% of the country’s electricity.

5. Washington DC Sustainable Development Video: Empowering Women Farmers

After the war, Afghan farmers — particularly women farmers — were getting virtually no support from the government. This is the story of how the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture improves how it does business, which helps farmers, spurs the economy, and contributes to stability. This is a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) that is uniquely effective.

6. Washington DC Video Production Services: “The Power of Education,” The IMF & Vietnam

For the IMF: Vietnam has invested heavily in education, allowing young people to fulfill their dreams of starting their own business. Hear how Nguyen Thu Ha thinks her studies will enable her to be a successful business owner.

7. Washington DC USAID Video Production Services: Lebanon and Hala’s Flower Shop

This is the story of Hala, who had a passion for flower arranging and used to dream of starting her own business. And the microfinance institution Vitas, which is extending loans to women entrepreneurs in Lebanon for the first time.

8. Washington DC USAID Video Production Services: Ethiopia & Sara’s Handicraft Passion

This is the story of Sara, a fashion designer from Ethiopia. Not long ago, she had 7 employees and only served the local market. Today she has more than 400 employees and her designs appear in major retailers such as J. Crew.

9. Washington DC Video Production: “Women Powering Africa,” MIGA’s Gender CEO Award

MIGA hosted its 2nd Gender CEO Award on International Women’s Day (March 8) to recognize the accomplishments of a CEO, or equivalent, from one of its clients with a record of seeking to create opportunities for women and promoting gender equality.

10. Washington DC Gender Video Production Services: “Innovative Solutions to Gender-Based Violence,” World Bank Group

The World Bank hired Dorst MediaWorks to produce five videos from innovative projects fighting gender-based violence around the world, in Bangladesh, Moldova, Kenya, Lebanon, and Pakistan. Here are some highlights.

11. Como é Tua Experiência .ORG? — DANCA — Agência de Redes Para Juventude (Português)

This is the story of Agência de Redes Para Juventude, a Brazilian nonprofit that fights for social transformation through dance and culture. And the story of the Public Interest Registry, the global institution behind the popular “.ORG” Internet suffix, which is popularizing “.ORG” around the world.

12. Maxima’s Story: The IFC in the Philippines

This is the story of Maxima, who goes from waiting in line every day for hours for well water to having clean running water in her own home. And the company Manila Water, which is connecting low-income famiies to water for the first time.

13. Washington DC Government Video Production Services: “Annie’s Story,” Millennium Challenge Corporation Malawi

This is the story of Annie’s tragic loss and her new passion. It’s also the story of how the Millennium Challenge Corporation helped Malawian women in river communities develop new economic opportunities that protect the rivers that power 90% of the country’s electricity.

14. Washington DC Government Video Production Services: “Emily’s Story,” Millennium Challenge Corporation Malawi

This is the story of Emily’s new business, beekeeping, and her improved quality of life. It’s also the story of how the Millennium Challenge Corporation helped Malawian women in river communities develop new economic opportunities that also protect the rivers that power 90% of the country’s electricity.

15. Washington DC Government Video Production Services: “Judith & Alice’s Story,” Millennium Challenge Corporation Malawi

This is the story of Judith and Alice’s new business and their improved quality of life. It’s also the story of how the Millennium Challenge Corporation helped Malawian women in river communities develop new economic opportunities that also protect the rivers that power 90% of the country’s electricity.

We at Dorst MediaWorks are proud to be Washington DC’s go-to video production company for producing gender videos around the world. We’ve worked with some of the most impactful international organizations out there. We are committed to showing how important their programs are through the lives of the women and girls that are benefiting.

Dorst MediaWorks, Inc is centrally located in Washington DC, a few minutes from the DC Convention Center and the Mt. Vernon Square metro station, conveniently located on the green and yellow lines. We’re a short walk or Uber ride from dozens of US Government buildings.

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21 Examples of Washington DC Government Video Production, Documentary Style

So, you work for a government agency or a contractor. Do you ever feel intimidated by the challenge of creating videos that show results from your successful programs? There’s no need to be. They are another important way to get the word out to your target audience.

Government agencies are increasingly using documentary-style videos for a number of reasons. For instance, check out Dorst MediaWorks’ government video production services. All videos directed, produced, shot, written, and edited by Dorst MediaWorks.

Dorst MediaWorks Director Steve Dorst on location in Malawi
Dorst MediaWorks Director / Camera Steve Dorst on location in Malawi

Why documentary style? First, these videos are perceived as more credible. They aren’t primarily promotional, nor are they scripted. They use the voices of project beneficiaries who talk about their impressions and experiences. These testimonials, as a result, are more enduring. Whether your target audience watches these stories this month or next year, they find them informative and memorable. Ultimately, this makes for a cost-effective communications investment that builds your brand over time.

Second, documentary-style videos are a great tool for organizations that are trying to be accountable and transparent to their stakeholders. If USAID is running a project in Lebanon or USDA is funding a program in Afghanistan, should they interview an executive in a Washington, D.C. office or actually show the project where it is being administered? Ultimately, federal agencies are accountable to citizens, and videos are a great way to share information in an accessible way.

You don’t need an Act of Congress to create a quality documentary-style video. Just a professional crew from Dorst MediaWorks. Here are 21 great videos produced by Dorst MediaWorks for USAID, USDA, and MCC during the past few years. You should have no trouble getting inspired to make a documentary-style video part of your marketing strategy.

1. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Haiti Private Sector Development

This is the story of USAID’s efforts to spur Haiti’s private sector. We see through the eyes of one factory employee, Hermine, who is one step closer to her dream of owning her a home and providing a solid education for her son.

2. Afghanistan: Empowering Women Farmers

After the war, Afghan farmers — particularly women farmers — were getting virtually no support from the government. This is the story of how the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture improves how it does business, which helps farmers, spurs the economy, and contributes to stability. This is a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) that is uniquely effective.

3. Washington DC Government Video Production: “Annie’s Story,” Millennium Challenge Corporation Malawi

This is the story of Annie’s tragic loss and her new passion. It’s also the story of how the Millennium Challenge Corporation helped Malawian women in river communities develop new economic opportunities that protect the rivers that power 90% of the country’s electricity.

4. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Lebanon & Rabih’s Fishing Business

This is the story of Rabih, who struggles to make a living as a fisherman before buying a new boat and building his business. And the microfinance institution Al Majmoua, which is extending loans to rural entrepreneurs in Lebanon for the first time

5. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Ghana & the Global Shea Alliance

USAID and the Global Shea Alliance help 16 million women from 21 African countries to collect, harvest and sell shea products around the world. By linking these communities to the global market, USAID helps families engage in international trade and earn a reliable source of income — helping their countries on their journey to self-reliance. This video highlights the work Rita Dampson does with shea collectors and processors in rural Ghana.

6. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Ethiopia & Sara’s Handicraft Passion

This is the story of Sara, a fashion designer from Ethiopia. Not long ago, she had 7 employees and only served the local market. Today she has more than 400 employees and her designs appear in major retailers such as J. Crew.

7. Washington DC Government Video Production: “Mary’s Story,” Millennium Challenge Corporation Malawi

This is the story of Mary’s new business and her improved quality of life. It’s also the story of how the Millennium Challenge Corporation helped Malawian women in river communities develop new economic opportunities that also protect the rivers that power 90% of the country’s electricity.

8. Sustainable Development Video Production: Afghanistan, From Ledgers to Biometrics

This is the story of a transformation. After the war, the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture is in disarray. Staff stand in line for an hour to sign in for work (if they come at all) and accounts maintain paper records. Through a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) the Ministry sees a lot of improvements.

9. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Lebanon & Hala’s Flower Shop

This is the story of Hala, who had a passion for flower arranging and used to dream of starting her own business. And the microfinance institution Vitas, which is extending loans to women entrepreneurs in Lebanon for the first time.

10. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Birth of Ethiopia’s NovaStar Garments

This is the story of Mohammed, who moves back to Ethiopia after 18 years in the U.S. to open a textile factory. The problem is, he doesn’t have much experience, or any buyers. It’s also the story of USAID, whose initial support gives Mohammed just the market exposure he needs to rapidly expand his business.

11. Washington DC Government Video Production: “Judith & Alice’s Story,” MCC in Malawi

This is the story of Judith and Alice’s new business and their improved quality of life. It’s also the story of how the Millennium Challenge Corporation helped Malawian women in river communities develop new economic opportunities that also protect the rivers that power 90% of the country’s electricity.

12. Washington DC Sustainable Development Video Production: Afghanistan, Taking Stock of a Modern Ministry

With more than 9,000 staff and tens of millions of dollars of new donor investments, the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture needed a way to track its assets. This is the story of a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) that helped them do it. Since 1964, IESC has worked in 130 countries and helped to create or save over 1.5 million jobs.

13. Washington DC Government Video Production: “Powering Malawi” Millennium Challenge Corporation Malawi

This is the story of Malawi’s power sector reforms and how it is spurring economic growth and poverty reduction by by improving the availability, reliability and quality of the power supply.

14. Washington DC Sustainable Development Video Production, Afghanistan, By Afghans, for Afghans (POV Mohamad Jaqob Hotak)

This is the story of Dr. Jaqob, who is the director of human resources at the 9,000 member Ministry of Agriculture in Afghanistan. After working for 10 years with various international donors and NGOs, he shares why a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) is uniquely effective. Since 1964, IESC has worked in 130 countries and helped to create or save over 1.5 million jobs.

15. Washington DC Sustainable Development Video Production, Afghanistan, By Afghans, for Afghans (POV Herschel Weeks)

This is the story of Herschel Weeks, an American aid worker who has led projects in challenging places around the world for the past 25 years. As Chief of Party for a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) Herschel shares why he thinks this is the most successful project he’s ever worked on.

16. Washington DC Sustainable Development Video Production: Afghanistan, By Afghans, for Afghans (POV Noor Seddiq)

This is the story of Noor Seddiq, an Afghan national who after 25 years living in the U.S. has returned to help rebuild the country. As Deputy Chief of Party for a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) Noor is a bridge between the U.S., program staff (99% of whom are Afghan), and the Ministry of Agriculture and its farmers.

17. Washington DC Sustainable Development Video Production: Afghanistan, “CBCMP, A Huge Difference”

This is the story of how the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture improves how it does business, which helps farmers, spurs the economy, and contributes to stability. This is a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) that is uniquely effective.

18. Washington DC Government Video Production: “Emily’s Story,” Millennium Challenge Corporation Malawi

This is the story of Emily’s new business, beekeeping, and her improved quality of life. It’s also the story of how the Millennium Challenge Corporation helped Malawian women in river communities develop new economic opportunities that also protect the rivers that power 90% of the country’s electricity.

19. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Promoting Trade in Ethiopia

This is the story of Mohammed, Sarah, and Abebe, three Ethiopian businesspeople who built successful companies exporting to the United States. It’s also the story of USAID, whose advice and exposure was exactly what these business owners needed.

20. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Lebanon, Samir’s Cattle Business

This is the story of Samir, who almost gives up cattle farming before finally building a thriving business. And the microfinance institution Emkan, which is extending loans to fishermen and farmers in Lebanon for the first time.

21. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Ethiopia, Tikur Abay Targets America

This is the story of Abebe, who owns a shoe company in Ethiopia. Working with USAID, can he break into the massive U.S. market?

Dorst MediaWorks, Inc is centrally located in Washington DC, a few minutes from the DC Convention Center and the Mt. Vernon Square metro station, conveniently located on the green and yellow lines. We’re a short walk or Uber ride from dozens of US Government buildings.

Videos for Good: Washington, D.C. Video Production for US-based International Organizations

Wow, that was painful! I’m used to being the guy behind the camera! As a documentary director/producer and founder of Dorst MediaWorks, that’s where you’ll usually find me, but a friend who advises purpose-driven brands encouraged me to record this short mission statement. Yes, we’re just a boutique video production studio, but at Dorst MediaWorks, why do we do what we do? … Um, I’m a little nervous halfway through… 😊

Here’s a little more about how we got here.

I started Dorst MediaWorks in 2002…How’d I get into this business, since I didn’t study film? At the time, I was working as a writer. I had a burning desire to be a documentary filmmaker, but not a clue about how to get there. So I went around asking charter schools and nonprofits in Washington DC if they wanted a video … for free. I hired professional cameramen and editors and did the producing and writing myself (in retrospect, my cameraman did most of the directing 💪). I wouldn’t recommend this approach for making money. But within a few months, I had a portfolio that let me start charging for videos. As we proved ourselves, Dorst MediaWorks moved up the food chain. By 2004, we had our first international location shoot in Japan. By 2006, I was in Cameroon making my first independent feature doc, Volcanic Sprint. We were off and running …

Dorst MediaWorks, Tokyo, Japan
My first international shoot. Tokyo, Japan. Rooftop of Mori Tower, March 2004.

To help US-based international organization show results...[WHO DO WE HELP?] Having studied international relations and sustainable development, I was eager to tell these kinds of stories. Fortunately, Washington, D.C. is full of organizations that do this good work. By sticking with this niche, Dorst MediaWorks gradually earned a reputation for knowing the issues. And because our teams not only know video but also know international relations, economics, and other development topics, this made the whole project cycle easier for our clients. This saved time and money; and earned us trust and respect, which you can feel when you read Dorst MediaWorks’ Google Reviews.

Through inspiring documentary-style video…[WHAT DO WE CREATE?] As Dorst MediaWorks gained traction, we got calls for other styles of videos: training, press conferences, explainers, events, music videos, etc. None of this felt quite right. Documentary was my initial passion and that’s what we’ve stuck with over the years. A big part of that is staying true to character-based storytelling, featuring people’s voices where they live and work. That’s why in the past year alone, we’ve filmed in nine languages, including: Chichewa in Malawi (watch “Powering Malawi (MCC in Malawi): Washington, D.C. Government Video Production“), Creole in Haiti (“Haiti: Private Sector Development [USAID] Washington DC Video Production“), Marathi in India (“SWaCH in India: Sustainable Cities Video Production, Washington DC“), Spanish in Colombia (“Colombia: A Peace Plan, an Oil Shock, a Crisis [#1 of 4] Washington DC Video Production“), and Zulu in South Africa (see below). We always master into English, because our primary audience is usually American.

That journey has taken our team to more than 50 countries… [OUR EXPERIENCE] I’ve directed in 10 countries in the past year and my team is well-traveled. Photographers Jake Lyell and Kyle Laferriere collaborate often with Dorst MediaWorks: our clients seem to want both videos and photos lately. You can see where we’ve worked by filtering by location at Dorst MediaWorks’ Videos for Good video page. I also want to emphasize that relationships are key. We have a serious commitment to treating our clients, subjects, and crew well, especially across culture and language barriers. We acknowledge that kindness and empathy are prerequisites, and cinematic quality follows.

Dorst Mediaworks team in Medellin, Colombia
15 years after the Tokyo pic above. In Medellin, Colombia, with our team, and some new friends. Our documentary set-ups are indie and nimble; we film in public places. And we have to respect and be kind to the people who share these public places.

Our mission continues to be to try and make the world a more just and sustainable place...[WHAT DRIVES US] I believe that your work should improve the world in some small way. I respect doctors, solar developers and elementary school teachers — people that are making a difference every day. That’s what I aspire to. If a well-told story can help our clients increase their impact around the world, then that’s a good thing. Our team just finished a whirlwind five-country trip for WRI’s Ross Prize, where we chronicled innovative urban projects that point the way toward a more sustainable future. That sort of assignment is motivating for all of us.

By working only with organizations that do good...Our client list is full of do-gooders. Most are based in the US. Most have projects overseas that aim to improve the lives of people and communities. Their missions are humbling and their impact considerable.

Dorst MediaWorks' clients are organizations that do good, across sectors

Check out our portfolio — from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe…In 2014, we filmed in Afghanistan for a USDA program building capacity in the Agriculture Ministry. The logic was that if Afghan farmers had good harvests, they would be less vulnerable to extremists. A year earlier, we went with Catholic Relief Services to Harare, Zimbabwe to document a youth HIV program that was working with an entire generation orphaned by the devastating disease. Since then, we’ve been to dozens of countries to tell inspiring stories to strengthen the organizations that trust us.

Do you work at an organization that does good in the world? If you think we’re a good fit, send me an email! Hopefully we can work together and make some Videos for Good…

Odds are, you’ll make a visit to our office and editing suite in Washington, DC. Looking forward to seeing you soon!

Video on Sustainable Cities: One Minute of Happy!

The Washington, DC-based World Resources Institute hired the Dorst MediaWorks team to tell the stories of the five finalists for the inaugural $250,000 Ross Prize for Sustainable Cities.

As a result, we traveled to Medellin, Colombia to film Metrocable; to Pune, India to chronicle the work of SWaCH; to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for SARSAI; to Durban, South Africa for AeT; and Eskisehir, Turkey to film the city itself.

Here’s the highlight video that played at the New York City gala last week:

It was a privilege to go to four continents and craft stories from these five worthy finalists.

We did it documentary style, which had us interviewing and editing in Spanish, Marathi, Swahili, Zulu, and Turkish — and mastering to English.

So what do you think makes for a sustainable city? Which of the finalists do you like most? Who would you have picked for the grand prize?

Who We Work With

Videos for Good. The name says it all. We are a boutique video production studio based in Washington, D.C., traveling the world to tell your story. Our team has been to more than 100 countries. We are seriously committed to treating our clients, subjects, and crew fairly, especially across cultural and language barriers. And these days, we have the luxury of being incredibly focused: we only make documentary-style videos for international organizations that do good. 

Since 2002, making videos for good


So when it’s time to raise awareness, do some fundraising, or simply show your great results, call Dorst MediaWorks. Let’s make some Videos for Good

If you are a nongovernmental organization (NGO) or a not-for-profit, we want to tell your story. You do great work transforming people’s lives. The people you serve are your greatest fans, and when they tell your story, documentary-style, their passion and enthusiasm is contagious. When we amplify their story with a little cinematic magic, this forges an emotional connection between your work and your audience. Sometimes, that’s a head connection, but more often, it’s a heart connection. Let’s collaborate and create videos that motivate and inspire people to advocate for what you do.

Are you a Nonprofit making the world a better place? Let’s make some Videos for Good.


Are you a Government Agency making the world a better place? Let’s make some Videos for Good.

Photo by Jake Lyell.

Video production and storytelling for government agencies that do good around the world has been our privilege for years. We’ve filmed in Haiti for USAID, Malawi for MCC, and Afghanistan for USDA, producing diverse stories. Our documentary-style videos translate high-level issues and topics into results on a human scale—outcomes you can see and feel in communities around the globe. These stories share knowledge, advocate for policies, and illustrate results. 


Perhaps you work for a private sector company that supports philanthropy, volunteerism, or CSR work around the world. Increasingly this is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also a strategic differentiator that makes your company a workplace of choice.

Are you a Mission-Driven Company making the world a better place? Let’s make some Videos for Good.


Are you a Multilateral Organization making the world a better place? Let’s make some Videos for Good.

Photo by Jake Lyell

Washington, D.C. has the greatest concentration of multilateral organizations in the world, and we enjoy working with them. In fact, we have worked with the biggest and the best. The world is a complex place, and while bilateralism may be in fashion these days, the most complex global challenges like fragility and conflict, climate change, financial stability, and global health are best tackled with multilateral solutions that unite the strongest, richest countries with all the rest. 


If you don’t see yourself above, contact us anyway. Are you passionate about something that is making the world a better place? Then talk with us. We want to hear from you.


Our clients include:

Dorst MediaWorks has teamed up with diverse clients in various sectors around the world. Our solutions are rock solid, solutions that will make your job easier. We tailor our video solutions to your specific needs to bring your goals to life. Along the way we’ve garnered Emmys, Tellys, and other awards. 

World Bank Group
AT&T People Planet Possibilities
Braille Institute
Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
Catholic Relief Services
Colombia University
Discovery Communications
Distributed Sun
Earth Institute
Earth Justice
FBR Media
Forum One
Global Environment Facility
Habitat for Humanity
Human Rights Campaign
ICF International
International Crisis Group
International Finance Corporation
International Medical Corps
International Monetary Fund
Johns Hopkins University
Maryland Public Television
Millennium Challenge Corporation
Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency
Nathan Associates
National Democratic Institute
Plan International
Population Services International
Public Institute Registry
Red Cross
Ross Prize for Cities
SIGN Fracture Care International
Smithsonian Institution
Thurgood Marshall Academy
UN Foundation
United Nations
University of Baltimore
US Department of State
VEGA, Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance
World Wildlife Fund
World Resources Institute

Women for Women International

We’d love to hear from you, to talk about the next international video production you have in mind.

This USAID Video in Haiti Shows USAID is Working to End Poverty

Based in Washington, DC, USAID is the world’s premier international development agency. USAID works to help improve lives, strengthen communities, and advance democracy. As its website says, “USAID’s work advances U.S. national security and economic prosperity; demonstrates American generosity; and promotes a path to recipient self-reliance and resilience.”

So we at Dorst MediaWorks were proud to have been selected to work with subcontractor Nathan Associates to tell the story of USAID’s investment in Haiti’s private sector.

Our Washington, D.C. video production team set off for Port-au-Prince to spend a week documenting Haiti’s progress. What we encountered was a country that is still mired in extreme poverty, but with certain bright spots of hope.

This video production shows the experience of one factory employee, Hermine, who after suffering the devastating effects of the Haiti earthquake, is one step closer to her dream of owning her own home and providing a solid education for her son.

Hermine’s company received a grant to upgrade its equipment and open up a new business unit making t-shirts for sale to American companies. As a result, our hero, Hermine, gets promoted and takes on more responsibility. We see her training staff on the production room floor. Ultimately, with her salary increase, Hermine buys a small plot of land (to replace the house that was destroyed in the earthquake).

USAID’s investments in Haiti’s private sector help empower women and youth. This creates trading partners for American companies and helps Haiti on its path to self-reliance.


Dorst MediaWorks | Videos for Good. We are a video production company in Washington, D.C. We make videos for US-based international organizations. We’ve been to more than 100 developing countries, and are committed to treating our clients, subjects, and crew kindly, especially across cultural and language barriers. We aspire to authentic character-based storytelling and exemplary service. So, when its time to raise awareness, do some fundraising, or simply show results, call Dorst MediaWorks. Let’s make some Videos for Good.

Vietnam Documentary Videos

One of the benefits of making a video in Vietnam is elbow room.

I’m flying Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, reportedly the busiest air traffic route in the world, with 20 daily flights. Our 787 Dreamliner must seat 500 people, and there’s not a free seat in sight. But far from cramped, I feel fine.

At 5’10” 165 pounds, I’m the largest person on the plane.

Vietnam video team

I’m in Vietnam to make a series of short documentary videos for the International Monetary Fund to chronicle their cooperation with the Vietnam Government. It’s a bit of a success story, with millions of people escaping poverty in the last generation alone.

One of our first stops is the National Economics University, where in addition to interviewing the director, I visit some classes and talk with students.

Smart and bilingual, these 20-year-olds couldn’t have timed it better. They’re coming of age when Vietnam is opening up to the world.

They are a testament to how the country’s strong education system is positioning it well to take advantage of the opportunities that are brimming in the world’s biggest regional economy, which stretches across southeast to east Asia and represents half of global production.

How far they’ve come! It’s insane to consider is that their parents very likely suffered through the famine of 1984, and their grandparents endured the “War of American Aggression.” Their great-grandparents resisted the French occupation as subjects of French Colonial Indochina.

Indochina map Vietnam

Life is changing fast here, but these young adults are not looking back. They’re practical, motivated, and good-natured.

One of their dream jobs is working for Samsung, which has hired more than 160,000 employees in Vietnam and is set to export $50 billion worth of phones, TVs, and other goods this year alone.

After the Government’s sound economic management, such foreign direct investment is the single biggest factor in a resurgent economy.

Anna Saigon, 5 stars on trip advisor, is bubbling with internationals. Shaking beef (bo luc lac) and pork chops are the stars, and the Bia Saigon beer is light enough to down two at a time (ummm, it’s hot and humid here, don’t judge)!

Steve drinking Vietnamese beer

The next day, back in Saigon, we hit up Sax N Art jazz club, which has an international cast of legit jazz artists. Sebastien is on keys and trombone — sometimes both at the same time! He stole the show, but hey, as a a pianist, I’m partial. The owner, Tran Manh Tuan, is on a multi-country tour. A prominent jazz saxophonist, he’s created something special here in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City.

Sax N Art Jazz Vietnam




Colombia: A Story About Conflict, Crisis, Business, and Peace

When the International Monetary Fund hired Dorst MediaWorks to tell the story of its engagement with the Government in Colombia during the past decade, I was unsure how to tell it.

Sure, there was a lot of potential. Many Americans know bits and pieces beyond the drug trade: FARC guerillas had terrorized the country for a half-century, the economy was up and down, and the President just won the Nobel Peace Prize. That’s something to start with.

But so much of the IMF’s work is so inside baseball. And it’s only interesting to economists and policy wonks.

The good news, however, was that I got access to a diversity of smart, informed people who have been on the frontlines in Colombia: among them the Minister of Finance, Minister of Post-Conflict, Director of the Central Bank’s Board of Directors, the CEOs of Promigas and Telefonica, as well as a selection of professors and journalists.

Documentary films for an international organization

For this project, I ended up producing, directing, shooting, writing, and editing four videos, delivered in Spanish. I picked up a unit producer and interview while in country.

Some documentary videos stretch you in new ways. This one certainly did. I had never conducted a production all the way through in Spanish. That was a challenge.

And I had never done a series of videos that were so much about internal economic decisions. I chose to focus on the impacts that these decisions had – on Colombia’s stability and its ability to move forward with the peace process. I also wanted to chronicle the extent to which major public officials had relied on the IMF for sound advice during a difficult time.

Watch all four videos here:

A Peace Plan, Oil Shock, & Crisis

The first video tells the story of Colombia’s peace plan that was cut short by an historically large oil shock and economic crisis.

Minister of Finance Cardenas turned out to be a great interview, and I used bites from him throughout the story in all four videos. He called the conflict with the FARC a kind of “handbrake on the economy” because for years, the country had to invest more in its defense and security than it wanted to, to the exclusion of infrastructure and rural development.

The Minister of Post-Conflict, Rafael Pardo spoke almost cryptically of “two years of secret talks and four years of open talks” just to get to a point where meetings were possible. I couldn’t help but thinking that a multi-episodic Netflix series about the behind-the-scene in the peace process would be awesome!

Juan Pablo Zarate, the Co-Director of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank, described the huge oil shock that hit the Colombian economy in 2014, but how the flexible exchange rate helped soften the blow. And other important figures spoke about the decisions they made to help keep the country from getting mired in a crisis, and how the IMF helped out along the way.

A Tax Reform Succeeds

The second video in the series goes into more depth about how a controversial tax reform also helped reduce the effects of the crisis, and keep Colombians out of poverty.

Ricardo Avila, the Editor-in-Chief of the large daily newspaper, Portafolio, explained how 23% of the central government’s revenue “depended on oil, and that almost disappeared completely.” This was a huge number and it blew my mind. How do you fill a 23% hole in any budget?

Ana Fernanda Maiguashca, a member of the Central Bank’s Board of Directors, said the reform was “tremendously important for the long-term sustainability of the Colombian economy.”

Peace is Good for Business

As a result of the quick reactions, the government was able to escape the worst of the economic crisis and move forward with the peace process.

The third video in the series opens with footage from the Nobel Prize Committee awarding Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos the 2016 Peace Prize.

At this point of the narrative, I turn to more voices from the private sector. Antonio Celia, the CEO of Promigas, turned out to be a jovial, whip-smart leader of the largest natural gas company in the country. He spoke at length about the pain and suffering inflicted by the FARC, which I’ll never forget. But he also spoke about the importance of extending opportunity, perhaps for the first time, to poor rural areas: “Peace is good for business, and business is good for peace.”

Business Goes to Quibdó

To show the impacts of the new opening, I chose to film in Quibdó, a small town in Choco, which had gotten itself ensnared in the conflict and isolated from most investment.

I got the perspective of Alfgonso Gomez, the CEO of Telefonica-Movistar, who estliabhsed a call center in the area.

I also interviewed a manager named Raquel, who described the scope of the operation: “I feel personal satisfaction in seeing how we help people, how we contribute to their lives.”

Most exemplary of the newfound opportunity in this isolated town was the perspective of worker Jennifer Quejada: “I had never I had never been able to give my son a birthday party before, so the first gift that I gave him was a birthday celebration with all his friends and lots of presents. Working here has been a wonderful experience.”

To learn more about Dorst MediaWorks video productions for organizations that do good, check out some of our videos for nonprofits, government agencies, and other international organizations.

Video Storytelling: Visual Primacy and the Hero’s Quest

I’m a lucky man. Yesterday, I got to talk about my two passions–documentary filmmaking and international development–as one of four panelists at the Society for International Development’s (SID) “Storytelling with Data” event in Washington, D.C.

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 6.13.00 PM

SID’s DC chapter aims to be a “global town square” by convening development professionals from across the spectrum. Since I make videos for international development organizations, they invited me.

I kicked things off by asking people about their favorite documentaries, just to signal that my talk would be interactive (People mentioned the documentaries of Jeff Orlowski, Jenifer Siebel Newsom, and Michael Moore).

Then I showed them the Dorst MediaWorks reel. I wanted us all on the same page about what I do: documentary-style videos, with a focus on beneficiaries whose lives are improving–who most often tell the story through their own voices.


After we watched the reel, I wanted people to walk a mile in my shoes. What’s my approach to telling stories?

So I introduced a USAID project, Lebanese Investment in Microfinance (LIM), that I was hired to produce some videos for.


When the Sky’s the Limit, Where’s Your Story Start?

In five years, LIM awarded about $10 million in grants to nine microfinance partners in Lebanon, who then made 14,000 micro-loans totaling more than $30 million to thousands of rural entrepreneurs across the country.

“So, if you’re in Lebanon to tell this story, where do you start?” I asked. I paused. Nothing. Talk about drowning in data! 14,000 loans?

“What do you film? Where do you start?” I smiled. And waited…

If you remember one thing, take this with you: In your storytelling, first establish the person and passion, then the problem. Otherwise, nobody cares.

And then people began lobbing up ideas. “Successes and failures of the project,” one man offered. “Challenges the entrepreneurs faced,” said a woman up front. “Lives changed,” shouted somebody from the back.

Yes! For me, telling the Lebanese microfinance story meant that I needed to identify individuals who struggled against great odds and succeeded. I wanted to tell a character-based story that would show the benefits of the LIM program.

I spoke with Beirut-based program officers for IESC, USAID’s implementer. They helped me identify some possibilities and we narrowed it down from there.

Ultimately, I made three videos, about Hala’s Flower Shop, Sameer’s Cattle Business, and Rabih’s Fishing Business.


Rabbi’s Fishing Business

We watched the first minute of Rabih’s Fishing Business together. I wanted people to see how I approached the storytelling.



“What did you notice about the first minute of the video?” I asked.

One guy up front piped up immediately: “There’s nothing about microfinance or the project at all in the first minute.”


Then, we talked about two important storytelling pillars that often get lost when people make videos showing the good work of international organizations: The primacy of the visual and the importance of a hero’s quest.


Visual Primacy

I read somewhere that when we watch videos, what we remember is 80% visual.

Think about it: so many videomakers labor endlessly on crafting just the right narration or interview sound bites, but then fail to exercise such care when their editor slaps up some moderately relevant b-roll footage (a term I hate by the way).

As a result, viewers respond a thousand different ways, jumping to whatever vague or unrelated connotations these visuals inspire.

Or even worse, explainer videos or descendants of the (once innovative) Girl Effect require viewers to read, read, read like they’re at a PowerPoint convention.


And that’s why so many short videos, particularly those cobbled together — without strong visual stories — make no impact. They are a waste of time and resources.

So back to Rabih. Who is he? Rabih is a fisherman who’s having trouble making ends meet, because he doesn’t own a boat and has to pay a lot to rent one. He gets a loan to buy a boat, then increases his income, which helps his family.

There were a lot of ideas from the extended project team about what I should shoot to tell this story: the microfinance institution, the training conferences that the microfinance lenders attended, and even the association of microfinance organizations that the project established.

I resisted.

I wanted a hero shot of Rabih and his boat to start the film. And that’s what I got.

For the first 10 seconds, there are no words. This is by design.












My opening here is a poor-man’s version of the kind of thing Alejandro Innárritu achieves to great effect in The Revenant. In one of these long takes, Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki follows Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) into a natural cave, into the water, with the camera floating around him, gradually revealing his surroundings, a frightening perspective.  (See the New York Times Anatomy of a Scene)

If I was making a feature with Rabih, I’d choreograph his departure to play out in one take. But this is low-budget documentary-style video and Rabih really is fishing and he’s in a hurry. So, I started behind Rabih’s head to get his point of view, so the viewer could inhabit his world, if only for a moment.

When I’m editing, I like to turn down the volume and see if the video is telling the story visually. That’s the ultimate test. This opening passes that test.


A Hero’s Quest

We connect with people with authentic passion.

I didn’t understand a word of Rabih’s interview, because it was in Arabic. But when I got the translated transcript a few days after meeting him, I absolutely loved what he said: “Since I was 10 years old, I’ve been a son of the sea … I saw fishermen and discovered my passion.”

These words vibed 100% with the commitment, agency, and persistence that I witnessed through my camera lens.

Who’s not immediately intrigued by an individual who is so passionate about what they do?

Then the whammy. A text block: “Today, Rabih will pay more than half his earnings to the boat owner.”

This is a BIG problem in need of a solution.

Voila! This explains why USAID established the microfinance project in the first place.

If you remember one thing, take this with you: In your storytelling, first establish the person and passion, then the problem. Otherwise, nobody cares.

Viewers can try to care. We all try to care about issues and their resolution. Rural poverty in Lebanon is an important issue. Yes.

But here, in a minute, is the power of story. The sort that goes straight to the heart, not the head.

We meet Rabih pre-dawn. We join him on his boat and learn of his lifelong passion to be a successful fisherman. We don’t have to try to care. We care, instinctively. Call it empathy. But its the storytelling gene built into us, refined over millennia.

As a result,  we’re invested in a solution.

As the video unfolds, we meet Rabih’s microfinance loan officer and Rabih’s family. We see Rabih sell his fish at the market. His world gets a big bigger and we understand it a bit more. By the end, as Rabih is tidying up his boat at dusk, we learn that his dream is to buy a larger boat and grow his business.

His life is improving and the USAID project is part of it.

This is the hope and the promise of international development. Rabih embodies this success story. Strong visuals and Rabih’s passionate quest to succeed help us care.


Also on the Panel …

Dani Clark works in communications at the World Bank. Turns out Dani also blogs at Medium, where she’s currently writing a gripping true-crime serial about a Texas man on death row. I started the first one last night and couldn’t stop until I’d read them all.

Kunle Badmus owns Kowree, a start-up technology firm aimed at helping African governments and businesses access opinions of their citizens and customers. Its’ true innovation is simplifying the feedback loop for improved communications and performance.

Allen Carrol gave a riveting introduction to Story Maps, a browser-based interactive storytelling platform that lets you combine authoritative maps with narrative text, images, and multimedia content. For a visual person like me—who’s always looking for new and better ways to distribute video—I’m excited about the insane potential of Story Maps and can’t wait to start using it.

Thanks to Kenlee Ray and Riccardo de Marchi Trevisan for organizing the event (check out the Society for International Development’s DC chapter on Facebook). Stimulating event. Good times.

Despite Trump, Can Videos Give Voice to the Voiceless?

My video production company, Dorst MediaWorks is based in Washington, D.C., where global nonprofits, USAID subcontractors, and multilaterals are competing to do international development better than the next guy.

Trump is already going after this sector in a big way. If he finds support for cuts, it may be because Americans grossly overestimate what we actually spend on foreign aid. This survey found that just 1 in 20 Americans knew that foreign aid makes up only 1% of the federal budget, while the average response was 26% of the budget!

There’s a lot in flux right now. But assuming America continues with its small, but impactful, foreign aid programs, I’ll continue to make videos about them.

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For the better part of 14 years, that’s there I’ve been–specializing in video production for international developent. Our videos illustrate development results, mobilize funds, or raise awareness. Topics include: health, agriculture, governance, the environment, gender, microfinance, and education.

So when my company got a new website recently, it made me rethink my mission. First, we worked first on the four main sections: feature documentary films, videos for international development organizations, a bio page, and a blog (great design by Patrick Calder of the Design Foundry).

The most challenging thing was refining the company mission. After all, we do much more than just “make videos“ or “tell stories.”

I struggled coming up with something that conveys why Dorst MediaWorks does what we do — and encompasses all stakeholders in the video production process.

My company got a new website. It made me rethink my mission.

Yes, we’ve been at it for a while: since 2002, we’ve made 250+ videos for 50+ organizations in 15+ countries.

And we’re unique. I’ll be the first one to admit that my route into this business was strange and a little circuitous!

But it’s turned out to be an advantage for my clients that I have a Master’s in Economics, experience living in Africa, and have made a feature film there (Cameroon).

Those experiences shaped who I am as a person, and it helps keep me grounded as I point the camera, write scripts, and edit a story.

When I swoop in to a country, I hold a camera and wield influence, and I need to be aware of that dynamic. The people I film trust me, whether it’s a female Ethiopian entrepreneur, a Brazilian musician restoring hope and enterprise in the favela, or a grandmother enjoying clean water in her Manila slum for the first time.

Moreover, there’s the prevailing income and opportunity disparities. Few of the people I film have much accumulated wealth. Most would have difficulty securing a visa to travel to the USA (fewer now, given Trump’s misguided Refugee Executive Order).

When I point a camera, I’m initiating a relationship: with Kinote the coffee farmer in Kenya; Tich, a brave young man in Zimbabwe; Rabih the fisherman in Lebanon. We are forever linked.

That’s a big responsibility. In a world where you can livestream HD video to Facebook’s 1 billion users with three clicks, sometimes that responsibility is lost on people and organizations.

My mission statement would need to reflect that.

If capturing footage implies a social contract, editing is fraught with ethical implications. Once you string two clips together, your video is no longer objective. Non-fiction stylings, sure, but framed within an illusion of causality. And in this sector where rich-country organizations and filmmakers are telling stories about poor people, ethical choices are inherent in creative choices, whether we acknowledge them or not.

All this was running through my head as I agonized over a good mission to help guide my work.

Finally, after much back and forth, this is what I came up with: “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.”

What do you think?

I like that it keeps my focus both on my client (who is paying me and has power) and the people we choose to film (who I will likely never see again and who have little power).

If I amplify the voices of those with no voice, then I’m using my camera for good.

If through my videos, I help strengthen the organizations that are doing this work, then they can expand to reach more people.

Little by little, the world becomes a better place. More opportunity and access. A little more peace and prosperity for the other 95% of the world’s population.

And for a measly 1% of the federal budget every year, that’s a return on investment that Trump supporters should embrace as well.

See for yourself! Check out the Dorst MediaWorks portfolio of videos for international development organizations. You can filter by topic (education, health, small business, etc) or location (Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, etc).

You can click around on a world map to see where I’ve produced for clients ranging from USAID to Catholic Relief Services to the World Bank.

So, can videos give voice to the voiceless? Yes, that’s the goal: to help improve lives, one at a time.

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?

Flying the Phantom 4 in Senegal: 9 Reflections from the Trip


I flew the DJI Phantom 4 in Dakar, Senegal last week. Over a mosque, through a statue, hovering near curious children. It was a great experience and really elevated the production values of my international development video. This was my first trip to Senegal, but my 20th trip overseas to make a video for an international development organization, with my company Dorst MediaWorks.

Since I just bought the Phantom 4 last month and this was my first project using it, I wanted to share nine reflections from the trip.


1. Cinematic, yes

Bottom line, aerial shots take it to the next level. I’ve filmed in a lot of places in a lot of conditions, but I got truly excited when I put the Phantom 100 meters in the sky and started filming. Brilliant moving pictures.


2. Client love

At the first review session, my client loved the aerial footage. It was all they wanted to talk about. I spent 90% of my production days earthbound, shooting interviews and following characters, but the aerials garnered all the attention!


3. Content is still king

img_8173I was in Dakar to tell the story of how a newly renovated container terminal has helped Senegal’s economy, and how a unit of the World Bank helped make it a possibility. It’s a typical project for me, since I specialize in making videos for international development organizations, like subcontractors for USAID or partners of the World Bank Group. I bought the Phantom 4 because I knew it would be hard to show the sheer scale of operations from the ground—humongous cranes, massive containers flying through the air, rows of stacked containers. The copter was the perfect tool. If, by contrast, the story had been about an education project, the most I could have expected out of the copter would have been some transition shots. But on this gig, the Phantom gave pictures that were absolutely essential to the storytelling.

Here’s the finished film for the unit of the World Bank Group, MIGA:


4. Mohamed, thanks

img_8196Unit Producer Mohamed Srour was great. A white guy in West Africa already gets a lot of attention. Throw in camera equipment and a drone, and you get very curious crowds! Flying a drone in Africa is a magnet for attention. Mohamed has been plying his craft for almost 30 years and was a joy to work with. He allowed me to focus on the creative. If you ever need a fixer in Senegal, give him a shout: 011 221 776300208



5. Safety first

steve-beach-dakarIt was school vacation in Senegal, so loads of children were out playing during the day. Mohamed led us to some well-known spots to fly the drone, including the Mosque de Oukama. As soon as I sent the copter up, boys immediately started gathering around. I was glued to the DJI app on my phone, busy piloting, so the first time I looked up there were 30 boys crowded around me. As the sun set, the Phantom was about 300 meters west over the Atlantic. Suddenly, the app started beeping: the battery was running out! Even though I was pressed to land the thing immediately, I had the presence of mind to ask Mohamed to clear a safe landing area — the rotating blades can be very dangerous. Almost as soon as the Phantom landed on the sand, the envelope closed and all the boys crowded in again. We took a few photos, I high-fived everybody, and we wrapped for the evening.


6. Geofencing, ugh

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-3-20-49-pmThis version of the Phantom has geofencing built in. I guess drunk guys flying drones onto the White House grounds didn’t help. The good news is that people can’t fly copters into the paths of airplanes. The bad news is that I can’t fly the thing in Arlington, Virginia where I live — or anywhere within an approximate 20-mile radius of the White House (that’s the big red circle).  I can’t even take off. What surprised me was that in Dakar, there was similar geofencing around the airport there. DJI calls it a Geospatial Environment Online (GEO), which is continually updated and also includes other sensitive areas like prisons, power plants, major stadium events, etc. Good idea, but bad news if you just want to practice flying at the local park and you’re too close to a no-fly zone. Like me.


7. So Easy!

I bought the Phantom 1 when it came out in 2013. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a gimbal and the GoPro I rigged up yielded shaky, unusable footage. But on the plus side, I became a proficient pilot. So when Red Bull hired me to direct a few episodes for a TV series, I flew the Phantom 2 Vision Plus: in Portland, Oregon and the Florida Keys. Then I got hired to operate camera for a PBS documentary in Jamestown, Virginia and I also flew there. But I hadn’t flown a Phantom for about 18 months when I got this Senegal gig. Yet it is so easy to operate that I had no problems at all.


8. Great value

I spent $1,600 at Adorama for the DJI Phantom 4 Quadcopter Aircraft With Pro accessory Bundle. This costs less than a Canon 70-200mm lens; less than a tripod; even less than my trusty Litepanel 1×1 I take everywhere! At this price, the Phantom 4 is a great value.


9. Just fly!

The Dakar story about the container terminal took me to a company that imports most of its product from Europe. I wanted to illustrate how a company became more profitable now that the container terminal is more efficient. “Time is money,” said the project manager in English (even though he speaks only French and Wolof!), which was exactly what I was hoping to hear. After the interview and some b-roll, I got out the Phantom (I always do it last in case people object). I figured I’d get a quick establishing shot and call it a day.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-5-54-10-pmSuddenly, something special happened. The laborers went into hyper drive. With the copter overhead, I was able to see what I couldn’t see from the ground — they were all loading and unloading gas tanks in three independent dynamic assembly lines! Immediately, I lowered the copter to the far right of the scene and piloted a slow push left over a truck (see 00:12 – 00:23 in the video above). In one take, I was able to capture a beehive of activity that illustrated the project manager’s quotes perfectly. It was my favorite shot of the trip.

For more on the history of the DJI Phantom.

New Dorst MediaWorks Site … And a Higher Goal

I’m excited about my company’s new website, which is live this week!

It was high time to define Dorst MediaWorks’ mission statement to reflect what we’ve been doing for 14 years: video production for international development.

“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.”

The website features four main sections: feature documentary films, videos for international development organizations, a bio page, and a blog.

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Patrick Calder of the Design Foundry did the design work.

On Dorst MediaWorks’ portfolio of videos for international development organizations, you can skip around and see 30+ films from 15+ countries. Or you can filter by topic (education, health, small business, etc) or location (Azerbaijan, Kenya, Zimbabwe, etc). You can even click around on a world map to see where I’ve produced for clients ranging from USAID to Catholic Relief Services to the World Bank.

It was a blast looking back at the blog posts I started doing nine years ago around my experience making my first feature documentary film Volcanic Sprint, with Dan Evans. This new version of the blog lets you jump into categories, like the 57 posts tagged “Field Production,” or 54 tagged “Travel,” or cycling, equipment, or my latest doc, Jobs for G.I.s.

I like how the site is visually rich. The slideshow on the front page contains stills from my work. The pictures, films, and blogs — so many great memories of working in some challenging, interesting places with amazing people.

It’s an honor to be doing this work, amplifying the efforts of international development organizations, and ultimately improving the quality of life of the people they work with.

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.

St. George Slays the Injera

bira_logo_georgeIf you’re a butcher, don’t open up shop in Ethiopia—the country is fasting.

For most, this means not eating meat or dairy. They fast for Lent, which seems to go on longer than normal. And people fast Fridays. And Wednesdays. And yes, there are other prophets, and people fast for them too.

I’m no a food critic. I’m a documentary filmmaker and I run Dorst MediaWorks. We make videos for international development organizations. This time, I’m here to make videos for USAID projects.

It’s my first day in Addis Ababa, and the fasting explains why my unit producer, Addis Alemayehou, is angry.

Or maybe that’s because he picked this week to quit smoking.

In any case, Addis (the man, not the city) looks like he can take it, so I rub it in: “This injera with spicy beef is pretty darn good,” I grin, still baffled that meat is literally off the table 200 days a year.

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Addis heads 251 Communications, a local PR and business facilitation outfit that’s riding the crest of Ethiopia’s economic boom. He’s also the former Chief of Party of a successful USAID project (I’m here to tell the story of how it made a difference). Addis grew up in Canada, is whip smart, and seems like the perfect bridge for a dynamic Ethiopia looking to nail down new markets.

During the next five days, I film different entrepreneurs and their businesses. They’re in different sectors—apparel, shoes, handicrafts, tourism—but all have benefited from USAID support, mostly in the form of technical advice to improve their production processes and “export-readiness,” as well as trips to U.S. trade shows. As a result, they’ve increased exports to the U.S., grown their revenue, and hired more people. My client is IESC.

The second night, Addis takes me to Yod Abyssinia, which is part restaurant, part cabaret. I join a gaggle of expats and friends who are enjoying local music and dance. In what is swiftly becoming a trend, I eat more injera. I try Meta beer.

Meta is supposedly the upscale beer, but I prefer St. George. It’s an unassuming light lager, like 90% of beers in Africa. The way it slays your thirst after a bite of injera and spicy beef is like a Miller Lite washing down a Ben’s Chili dog at Nats Stadium on a sweltering DC afternoon. It quenches, it doesn’t inebriate (suffice it to say, I’m not a fan of this rating of Ethiopian beers).

The next morning, I film another business. Sara is an ambitious entrepreneur who’s taken her company from a domestic firm with seven employees to a 300-person firm that supplies the Gap. Here’s the final video on that one:

My driver is the genial Kirubel Melaku, and his van I dub “Big Red.” It looks like somebody dipped Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine in a red bath. It sports red carpet on the ceilings. Need I say more?

Big red

Outside of Addis, the country gets poor and hardscrabble pretty fast. It’s the dry season, and dust whips across fields and covers the highway. A pack of gaunt horses assembles on the highway median, inches from speeding vehicles—it’s the only place with wind, explains Kirubel, so bugs bother the horses less.

Ameseginalehugn,” is the byzantine six-syllable expression for thanks. My breakthrough is this: its iambic pentameter is strangely analogous to how I learned to say “Hello” in Hungarian: Jó napot kívánok. Six syllables each, same rhythm.

We fit in an afternoon of b-roll footage, and I find myself shooting in Trinity Church. There, in all my beady-eyes reverence, I’m at the grave of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God.


Lots of buildings are going up. Outside the city, there are scores of roadside scaffolding shops. Long, young denuded trees are stacked and bundled, ready for transport to urban construction sites, where workers will scale the fragile trellises. My only thought is that if Ethiopia doesn’t stop using trees for scaffolding soon, there won’t be a tree left in the country.

Last year, Kiru drove Bono around when he visited Ethiopia, and he shows me pictures. Cool! Another European passenger downloaded the Billboard Top 100 on Kiru’s phone. That explains why, as we crawl through bumper-to-bumper traffic, I put Pharrell’s Get Lucky on loop. Somehow, it fits.

The Chinese are everywhere. The largest shoe factory, the largest steel factory, building the largest highway—trucks and motorcycles and phones. I wonder if the Chinese write stuff about us on their blogs: 美国人到处都是。最大的汉堡包特许经营店,含糖的可乐类饮料,最糟糕的不合身的运动服。和美国的游客大声,脂肪和忘却。

By the third day, I realize I can’t say a single word in Amharic. It’s not for lack of trying, but honestly, it’s incredibly opaque. No cognates, nothing to hang on to! The whole day I’m trying to learn something, but it goes in one ear and out the other.

Suddenly, I have the most bizarre synapse and am saying “thank you” without a hitch. “Ameseginalehugn,” is the byzantine six-syllable expression for thanks. My breakthrough is this: its iambic pentameter is strangely analogous to how I learned to say “Hello” in Hungarian: Jó napot kívánok. Six syllables each, same rhythm. It’s odd, but it works!

All in all, the people I meet are bright and friendly. And especially going there on the heels of a film trip to locked-down Kabul, Addis is literally a breath of cultural fresh air!

I’d definitely go back to Ethiopia again.

Finally, no dispatch from Addis Ababa would be complete without a knock-down drag-out darts competition with a dozen locals at a German pub:

Darts, dance, beer, injera. A couple new friends and a dynamic city. Despite the fasting, I’m all ready to go back!

International Development Video: Shooting in Afghanistan

ABADE-1120As I take my first steps on Afghan soil for a 10-day film shoot, I can’t shake the knowledge that the Taliban just launched their spring offensive.

I’m walking the gauntlet, a no-man’s-land, since Kabul airport doesn’t seem to permit cars anywhere near it (fewer bomb threats?). So under an intense sun, I push my cart stacked with video equipment for four city blocks to an awaiting armored SUV.

Kabul Airport, jetlagged, and trying to take it all in

I’m here to make some international development videos for a subcontractor of USDA (since 2004, my company Dorst MediaWorks has made videos for international development organizations). It’s my 11th country in the last four years, but I’ve clearly underestimated Kabul.

I move into what people call a villa, but what’s really a walled compound. Like a prison. It has 10 armed guards on duty at any one time—a UK ex-special forces type and nine locals. When I go out, it’s in an “armored” with an armed guard. We get security briefings every morning, don’t leave the villa except to work, and return home before nightfall.

My friend Joe, a USAID veteran, skypes me several times from the States—most likely to give me a pep talk . But I don’t answer. For some reason, I don’t want any more context than what I have in front of my own two eyes. It’s verging on overwhelming. 

“[A]pproaching a checkpoint outside of Kabul, a soldier bangs violently on our window. We stop. My heart’s pounding.”

My job is to make some short documentaries about a successful USDA project, CBCMP, that is improving how the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture functions. It’s a capacity building project. In a country where more than 70% of the population derives some or all of their income from the agricultural sector, it’s important work. If farmers are more successful, the thinking goes, there’ll be less poverty, less opium, and perhaps a weaker Taliban.

Editor’s note: Check out the final videos in this YouTube playlist, “Afghanistan: Agricultural Capacity for USDA and IESC”

The first shoot day, I can barely open the SUV door it’s so heavy (bullet-proof glass, armor). Kabul is crowded, dry as dirt, and framed by the most imposing snow-capped mountains I’ve ever seen. Hardscrabble stone homes, etched into the mountainsides, snake to impossible heights—overshadowing my memories of Rio’s favelas (my blog post from Brazil).

I run all the creative—directing, shooting, audio, and lights. I have a series of young men serve as my unit producers, ushering me around, asking questions in interviews, and making sure I don’t commit any cultural gaffes (“don’t look at any women,” one says the first day). They are smart, dress in Western clothes, and I get along well with all of them, especially Najib Siawash.

Najib is great to work with.

Interviews are in English or Dari. I’ve just conducted a bunch of Arabic interviews in Lebanon (Beirut Dispatch: 5 Things I Learned in Lebanon) and will soon head off to Ethiopia where we’ll do Amharic. I start reflecting on all the interesting languages I’ve filmed recently: Meru in Kenya (Directing in Kenya . . .), Russian and Azeri in Azerbaijan, Tagalog in the Philippines, and lots of Spanish.

I think about how I love the documentary process, how at its best it can be respectful and authentic. I think about how in the edit, I’ll use people’s voices rather than narration or dubbing, and how this makes all the difference.

Hardscrabble stone homes, etched into the mountainsides, snake to impossible heights

After a few days, I’m fed up with filming government workers in government buildings, so I insist (again) on a day filming some farmers. With the security situation, it takes an act of Congress to find common ground between the local Deputy Chief of Party (“let’s go to Jalalabad!”) and the hardcore UK special forces guy (who prohibits travel anywhere).

So the next day we set off for some farms on the outskirts of Kabul. Looking around on the drive, I never get over how men dominate every public space. It’s like aliens abducted the women. In some commercial districts, we pass literally thousands upon thousands of men and boys, without seeing more than a handful of women.

For the next week, I have a dozen conversations with both locals and expat aid workers about the absence of women in the public sphere. It’s like I’m obsessed the way I keep bringing it up, but I do a good job being sensitive and listening. I never can escape a deep conviction that half of the population is being shut out of jobs, opportunity, and personal liberty.

So I film some women farmers, some of whom are wearing a blue full-body chador, or burqua. Afterwards, Najib takes my iPhone and starts snapping, including this odd video:

On the way back, approaching a checkpoint outside of Kabul, a soldier bangs violently on our window. We stop. My heart’s pounding. I have my camera rig on my lap and a hundred scenarios run through my mind, the least of which is the camera get confiscated.

I never get over how men dominate every public space. It’s like aliens abducted the women.

The driver unlocks the doors. The military guy sticks his face in the back seat, two inches from mine . . . and breaks into a huge smile. He leans back a touch, and over his rifle, he stretches out his right hand. Before I realize it, I’m grasping it in in a big friendly handshake. The soldier breaks out in his native Dari, then as quick as he appeared, he’s gone.

Najib translate: “Sorry to stop you, I thought you were my friend!”

Apparently, I look like Afghans who come from the Panjshir Province. What’s more, Afghanistan’s greatest national hero, Massoud, the “Lion of Panjshir” hails from there. He was assassinated two days before 9/11, and he is celebrated here on a national holiday called “Massoud Day.”

look alike
Never thought I looked so Afghan . . .

Now that I’m home, I follow the news with renewed interest. Today, the Tailban attacked an election office. Last week, gunmen indiscriminately shot women and children at the Serena Hotel. I hope against hope that next week’s election will go off peacefully, bringing to power a new President who can quell the violence and move Afghanistan in the right direction.

Leading a Photography Workshop in Kabul

IMG_0120-smallWow, what fun! I really didn’t expect to have such a blast leading a photography workshop for local Afghan staff of a USAID project.

I was already on location to make some capacity building videos about a successful USDA project, CBCMP, that is improving how the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture functions. That’s a typical assignment for me: making videos for international development organizations. (Check out the YouTube playlist with the final videos; and my blog post).

But the photography is a rare treat. In addition to the workshop, I visited five companies to take photos of their work.

ABADE is a $105 million USAID project that offers technical assistance and business advisory services to Afghan companies on the rise. It stands for Assistance in Building Afghanistan by Developing Enterprises.



Twelve staff joined, from as far away as Herat and Mazar. Most work in Kabul. All of them have other primary jobs—from program coordinators to monitors to engineers. But they had one thing in common: they wanted to learn how to take better photos (event organized by the incomparable Che Cuspero, ABADE’s Communications Manager).

The questions were great. I stayed practical. Most would be sharing the project’s only camera—the Canon 650D—so our conversation revolved around how to better use this camera. We covered camera fundamentals—ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Then we talked about how to approach a scene better prepared, with a checklist of what to shoot. Finally, we analyzed a bunch of photos together—which showed how much the group had learned.

Thanks everybody for the interactive session! Great to meet you Yama, Bibidil, Elham, Kabul, Abid, Ibrahim, Mochtar, Boya, Wais, Abdullah, Toor, Obaid, and Nasir.

Stay in touch! And keep taking photos!

Beirut Dispatch: 5 Things I Learned in Lebanon

photoBeirut is a complete blast. The people are dynamic, the food crazy good, and in a week I’m all over the country, from the Syrian border in the north to close to Israel in the south. Here’s five things I learned during my film shoot in Lebanon.

1. Beirut’s got an image problem


When I told friends I was going to Beirut, all conversations and Facebook comments were variations on “be safe, be careful.” Some mentioned Hezbollah. Most focused on the Syrian civil war, which has already sent almost a million refugees into Lebanon (a small country of only 4 million that is ill-equipped to welcome so many people.)

Turns out, concerns aren’t overblown. The night I arrive, police stop me for more than an hour near my hotel. They don’t like my camera equipment (it doesn’t help that the hotel is catty-corner to Parliament!) My taxi driver has a soccer ball, so we juggle on the cobblestones while Mr. Police speaks, at length, on his iPhone. No dice. Ultimately, my hosts book me in a less sensitive accommodation. Aaaah, sweet sleep.


2. Dynamic and cool, the Lebanese carry on


The first day of shooting goes according to plan.

That literally is the most beautiful sentence you can write if you’re a filmmaker abroad.

“Yes, there are bombs . . . If you die, you die.”

This is 100% due to my team in Beirut, the all-Lebanese staff of the USAID-funded Lebanese Investment in Microfinance project. All logistics, scheduling, transport, and access issues are worked out in advance. Thanks Khalil, Carla, Mahmoud, Moussa, Liliane!

Here’s a few things I hear throughout the day—the likes of which don’t float around the local Whole Foods back home: “We had our own civil war for 20 years, and we didn’t all go running into other countries!” . . . “The refugees get a stipend at the border. Then they accept lower pay in our jobs. Our young men can’t compete!” . . . “Yes, there are bombs. But we go out almost every night: if you die, you die.”

Day one’s a wrap. I’m impressed at the work ethic and efficiency of my team. I’m also surprised by how sanguine people remain despite the dicey security situation.

Dynamic and cool, the Lebanese carry on.


3. Fishing is an endurance sport


Jet lag sucks.

I don’t get to sleep until past 3am. I hate my 4am wake-up call. I despise the 4:45am pick-up. It’s still pitch black as we drive up the coast to the tiny fishing village of El Beddaoui, in Chekka.

What I don’t know is that we’re less than an hour from the Syrian border. And minutes from the sectarian violence in Tripoli—where we’ll go before lunch.

Rabih is a fisherman. He’s been on the water since 3am setting his nets. He bought his used boat and nets with a microfinance loan. Today, he work for himself and not for the man. It’s changed his family’s life, and I’m here to tell that story.

It’s the pre-dawn blue hour as I step on the boat. Here, at the dock, the water is serene, but soon in the open Mediterranean, the waves knock me around. I’m filming with the Canon 5D Mark 3, with the 16-35mm lens on a Manfrotto monopod—small, lightweight, great in low light.

“Rabih can’t stop smiling. After all, it’s his boat, his nets, and he’s making a better living now.”

As the sun rises, Rabih stands heroically above the horizon. The work is grueling, as he pulls up the thousands of yards of nets by hand, fish entwined, balled up in baskets on deck.

After two hours at sea, I shoot some b-roll around town, rejoin Rabih at the fish market in Tripoli (no issues), hang out with his family at home, then return to port where he’s prepping to head out to sea again.

I’m exhausted, but Rabih can’t stop smiling. After all, it’s his boat, his nets, and he’s making a better living now.


4. Shawarma & Robert Downey, Jr. go together


My second day of filming I spend on a cattle farm in Bekaa with Samir. He’s bought 10 heads of cattle over several years thanks to three successively larger microfinance loans, and expanded his business considerably.

Working around all that cattle dung inspired a terrible hunger, so Khalil recommends one of his favorites: Barbar Shawarma, which is located in Corniche, a seaside promenade in Beirut’s central district.

First, Khalil. This guy is really the project’s M&E Coordinator, but this week, he’s my extremely capable Unit Producer and translator. He gets along extremely well with everybody we work with across the country, and we never have a problem.

And as the week unfolds, he’s also acting food critic and cinema aficionado, since he can’t stop reciting the closing scene in Avengers, where Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man crashes to Earth, opens his weary eyes, and says, “You ever tried Shawarma? There’s a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don’t know what it is, but I wanna try it.” (Back story on that revised ending on Entertainment Weekly).

Well, I try Khalil’s favorite shawarma in shawarma’s birthplace, and it’s great!


5. Byblos is irresistibly photogenic


The rest of the film shoot takes me to five of Lebanon’s six Governorates (or provinces). I’m deep in Hezbollah country, where billboards of the Ayatollah Khomeini share real estate with ads for Pepsi and designer watches. And by Friday, I have more than enough quality footage to cut four short films.

Saturday is a day off. What’s brilliant is that long-time friends Stefano and Margherita live and work in Tyre, about an hour south. They pick me up and we drive up the coast to Byblos. It’s a respite, a quiet tourist town, and irresistibly photogenic. You’d think on my day off, I wouldn’t touch a camera, but the light was beautiful and I took 50+ photos . . . on my iPhone! Oh, and Byblos is a UNESCO world heritage site.

It’s a perfect way to close out a great week, where I feel good about the footage I captured and learned a lot about the culture and people of Lebanon.

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.

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:
Rose Moseti is a stellar unit producer (sorry for the eating pic, Rose!). She works for Camerapix, Kenya’s best video production company: . . . 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!

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.

Directing in Brazil: In a Favela, an Oasis

Wphoto11hat is a favela? When I left Washington DC for a filming trip in Rio de Janeiro last week, I was apprehensive. It was my first trip to Latin America’s biggest country.  And instead of filming a documentary film on the beaches of Ipanema or Copacabana, I’d be a director/producer on a commercial in some of Rio’s poorest slums (favelas). What would I find? (I took this crazy pic on accident as a wave crashed on me during a walk on Ipanema beach!).

To prepare, I read a book entitled “Culture is our Weapon,” by Patrick Neatte and Damian Platt. It chronicles the severe poverty, ubiquitous drug trafficking, and endemic violence of the favelas. It follows the birth of AfroReggae, a transformative nonprofit that gives at-risk youth opportunities to shine, primarily in art and music (samba, hip hop, dancing, drumming, etc).

At that point, I spy three teenage boys in shorts and flip flops—and automatic rifles slung over their shoulders.

I stayed in Ipanema with an old friend, Neil Breslin, who flew in from Luanda, Angola to be the Unit Producer. Neil runs a firm connecting businesspeople in and out of Angola and speaks perfect Portuguese. He also owns apartments in Rio, so it was a great change of pace to stay at a friend’s place rather than a hotel.

Wrapped AfroReggae shoot at AR21 concert, with AfroSamba lead singer LeCao Magalona and M’zée Fula-Ngenge. Leviano Bar in Lapa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.

The first morning, we turn inland to a favela called Vigário Geral. As the stunning seaside landscape recedes behind us, Rio is revealed as a sprawling mega-city. Most striking is the trajectory of the favelas, precipitous, straggling, and clinging to hillsides.

Our AfroReggae contact drives with us. Then outside Vigário, a local teenage boy meets us. He sits up front and is our ticket in. There’s one way in and out, a desolated and looping off ramp that issues to a main street blocked by two industrial trash containers. Culture is our Weapon describes why favela residents erect such blockades: to keep out overzealous police who have been known to rush in with assault vehicles, purportedly chasing drug traffickers, shoot with impunity, and leave just as quickly. It occurs to me that AfroReggae was established after the massacre of 21 innocents in August 1993, right where I am now.

At this point our genial driver, Elton, turns into a spider’s web of narrow alleyways. Homemade super-sized speed bumps pepper the route, so we top out at 5 mph, and Elton executes an exaggerated zigzag for several minutes. We trace a large “U” until we rejoin the main street again. We’re in.

At that point, I spy three teenage boys in shorts and flip flops—and automatic rifles slung over their shoulders. This sent a shudder through me. I tell my car mates this is freaking me out. That I’m only used to people in uniforms with guns. Neil counters that we’re actually safer here. The boys won’t harm us. They’re simply keeping the status quo (to protect their drug turf)—whereas if you get robbed in Ipanema or Copacabana, good luck getting justice.

I hadn’t filmed a frame yet and already my worldview was turning upside down. Safer neighborhoods with gun-toting teenagers? Citizen blockades to keep out police? Moreover, I was already seeing parts of Brazil that most Brazilians never see.

AfroReggae’s impressive, new four-story community center was built in 2010. It is clean and imposing, with a gaggle of children playing ping pong and foosball in the courtyard. It has all the collective good energy of a YMCA. A massive sculpture of a fist extends from the roof — is it a warning or an expression of pride?

The first person I meet is Anderson Sa, AfroReggae’s co-founder and the lead singer of AR21, formerly known as AfroReggae Band. I’d seen Favela Rising, an average documentary about a fascinating subject, where Sa factored prominently. I shot Sa in his recording studio, practicing with his band, and mentoring a younger singer, LeCao Magalona, who headlines the AfroReggae band AfroSamba. Both Sa and Magalona prove to be charismatic guys and very skilled musicians.

My client for this job is a private sector company based in Reston, Virginia. They are growing their business overseas, with Brazil one of the priority countries. So they hired me to make a series of spots that will be distributed in Brazil first and foremost. I’m shooting, directing, writing, and producing. I’ve already written the script. The voiceover is in Portuguese. The story needs to resonate with a local audience—which is a change for me. Usually when I travel to film overseas, the resulting film or video is to be viewed by Americans.

All this is going through my head at nightfall as I’m getting the last few shots. A plague’s worth of mosquitoes have descended on us from a nearby marsh and are harassing my young on-camera protagonist. The poor boy can’t concentrate on anything else. People are streaming home.

Both Sa and Magalona prove to be charismatic guys and very skilled musicians.

Since my morning encounter with the rifle-toting teenagers, this is the first evidence that Vigário is an unsafe, unhealthy place. The dozens of people I’ve met are authentic, nice, and all doing their own thing like anybody in any neighborhood. I played soccer with some boys and challenged a young man to a pull-up contest (I lost). I saw (and filmed) a steady stream of talented youth in violin lessons, samba classes, and all manner of dance practices—from ballet for little tots to African dance for seriously legit young adults.

AfroReggae has helped create an oasis.

Adany Lima runs the only youth dance troupe, Movimentos, in Cidade de Deos, a favela made famous by a movie of the same name.
Adany Lima runs the only youth dance troupe, Movimentos, in Cidade de Deos, a favela made famous by a movie of the same name.

Film @ Egypt: Ahmed, Ambulance-Beater + 5 Videos

steve-liftRockEgypt, for me at least, is not one of those places you can parachute in and feel at home. It’s intense, with its own pronounced contours and customs.

A Washington, DC-based organization hired me to go to Cairo and film for four days. As DP and director, I’d pick up a unit producer and driver in country, (When I’m back home, I’ll write and edit a short documentary film).

Here’s a 1-minute clip from some stuff I shot on day 3 on a nature preserve. Check out the underwater clips!

Day 1 starts early. After a couple interviews, it gets fun. Khalil runs the agribusiness unit of a large company, so I decide to put us on motorbikes, winding through the vineyards on the way to his staff. Anytime you can ride on the back of a motorcycle, filming, and get paid for it, it’s good times . . . What a blast! Here’s a quick clip:

I decide to do Khalil’s interview in the greenhouse, since it’s quieter and there’s some shade. I get set up, using my Litepanel LED, then wait a bit until the golden hour is just right. Here’s a still (no color grading):


Anytime I can complete three interviews and some creative b-roll on day 1 in a new country, it feels great. This rosy feeling of accomplishment takes a hit, however, when my “unit producer” informs me she needs to “spend some time in the office” on day 2. She’ll be leaving me with the driver for beauty shots Tuesday around Cairo.

Anytime you can ride on the back of a motorcycle, filming, and get paid for it, it’s good times . . . What a blast!

This is well and good, except I speak no Arabic and Ahmed, my driver, speaks about 57 words of English.

Ahmed driver
Despite a language divide, Ahmed and I become fast friends

Now, I’ve shot city b-roll in some crazy places before, from Harare to Baku and Manila to Mexico City, but nothing compares to Cairo. Old lady drivers make Manhattan cabbies look like Zen Buddhists. It’s manic. Somehow things function, but it’s tight, chaotic, and extraordinarily loud.

After a lengthy argument, my unit producer relents—only to call at 10:30pm. She’s not coming; driver to pick me up at 7am.

I feel abandoned, but there’s work to be done. This is what it’s like to be an independent documentary filmmaker — you move forward, you solve problems, you do it all: shoot, run audio, direct . . . and I was ready to learn some Arabic along the way!

The next morning, Ahmed and I head to the pyramids. Without a unit producer, I wing it. Fortunately, Ahmed knows a guy who knows a guy. Because it is virtually impossible (and prohibitively expensive) to bring film equipment in the main tourist gate, I should get a horse and go around back where I can film the pyramids from a hilltop in the desert.

Good plan, right? Except the stable owner tries to get me to name the first price. Having lived in Cameroon—where people approach haggling with the vigor of Olympic athletes—I knew enough to wait.

“2,400 Egyptian pounds,” he offers. I laugh out loud. Stable owner wants $350. The next 20 minutes is a legendary back-and-forth where I feign disinterest, act like I’m walking away, and eventually settle on about $64. I immediately have this sinking feeling in my stomach that I could have gotten it for much cheaper, but I can’t haggle the whole day. I have a job to do.

A fence encircles the entire Giza pyramid area. It is reportedly 22 kilometers long. It probably helps the state capture more tourist dollars, because everybody has to enter the main gate, paying some 60 pounds.

Skirting the pyramid fence from the slum side is a start contrast. Dilapidated storefronts advertise horse tours or all-terrain vehicles. I pass a dead horse, a cemetery. Then we enter the desert:

Muhammad knows no English, but is a nice boy who carries my slider to our destination. Thanks!

My guide, Ali, complains how tourism is way down since the revolution. He has a winning smile, and fortunately for me, a background in TV. When we finally reach the distant hilltop, and I capture the footage I want, Ali takes my camera and directs me with the confidence of a commercial director:

steve-hold-pyramidsteve-jump steve-liftRock

What saves the rest of day 2 is Ahmed, the driver. Every time I want to get out of the van and film, he makes it happen. Alternately, he charms security guards, tips people to watch our van, and finagles our way behind locked gates. Thank you Ahmed! You are a lifesaver.

At Muhammad Ali Mosque at sunset, Ahmed and I capture a stunning silhouette of this historic building:

Day 3 promises adventure. We’re accompanying the CEO of the company to an innovative pilot project where they’re raising seabass in a saline lake, Al Fayyum. The drive is only 150 kilometers, but because we start in central Cairo, it takes four hours.

Despite the 95-degree heat, this is my favorite day. Any time you can film on a wooden rowboat and underwater with a GoPro on a monopod, it’s cool. The clip posted up top is from this day.

The rest of the afternoon we take our time heading back to Cairo. At golden hour, we come across a family harvesting wheat. While my unit producer (back with us today) stays in the van on her phone, Ahmed jumps out with me. He spreads some small tips around to the grandfather and the children just to say “thanks,” as I film the family in action:

We continue down a rural road. The light is so nice, I jump out. Soon, outgoing young men gather around. They’re curious. Ahmed explains what I’m up to, and they enjoy hamming it up for the camera:

Day 4, I do an interview, spend some time with the company, and then spend an afternoon getting broll around the city. At sunset, Ahmed invites me for “koshari.” It’s yummy, and a fitting end to an intense week.

Because my flight departs at 4:35am, I awake at 1am, and Ahmed picks me up at 1:30. What we don’t count on is a big accident on a bridge, and I’m dangerously close to missing my flight. We’re going nowhere. And what’s not helping is a sea of gawkers who arrive on motorbikes, park them on the only functioning lane, and start directing traffic of their own accord. Where’s the police? Where’s emergency services?  . . . At a snail’s pace, we creep forward to the scene, which has the vibe of a democracy demonstration more than a traffic accident. At that moment, Ahmed spies an opening. An ambulance breaks free from the scrum. Ahmed reacts. We are hot on its tail, and race through the city at breakneck speed.

Eventually, even the ambulance is going too slow. Ahmed, with commentary, leaves the ambulance in his dust!

I make my flight! And head back to Washington, D.C. Thanks my friend . . .

Colombia shoot with the Canon 5D Mark iii

blogI’m in Cali, Colombia and using my new Canon 5D mark iii to direct and shoot a short documentary film here. Cali-native, Jose David Quintero, is the death-defying biker who flies down the mountain below San Antonio.

Here’s a short clip of stuff I shot yesterday and today, and edited tonight (not color graded). Music is not mine (it’s Morcheeba’s “Over and Over” from the “Big Calm” album. Buy it!

I used my new MYT glider. And found that a monopod, if used properly, can approximate the feel of a mini-jib. I used only two lenses, the Canon 16-35mm and the Canon 24-105.

Cali is much larger than I anticipated. Mountainous, its neighborhoods cling to San Francisco-like slopes. I couldn’t have done the shoot without Producer Santiago Chaher, the co-owner of Cefeidas Group, an international advisory group that does a lot of consulting across Latin America.

I’ll do another post later on other key discoveries: why Club is a better beer than either Poker or Aguila; why marranita is not all it’s cracked up to be (sorry Eulalia!); and how the cacophonous din of high heels threatened more than one interview.


Mecánico as Film Crew?

Delfino’s a cypher. I’m riding shotgun with this 40-something Mexican, camera in my lap, finished filming for the day in Mexico City. Delfino’s on about some subtle details of a fuel-injected engine. In English.

I hold up my hands in protest. Sorry man, I don’t understand a thing. He keeps at it. Turbo this, catalytic that. I smile.

Delfino’s clearly a master at his mechanic trade, but he can’t read or write. He’s fluent in English and Spanish, but struggles to make ends meet.

I’m here to make a short film for a DC-based group that invests in Vinte, an affordable housing company. Delfino is a first-time homeowner in a Vinte complex, where units start at $23,000.

How does the company do it? Partly it’s economies of scale. Delfino’s complex will eventually have more than 5,000 units. But it’s also the novel condominium business model, with security, paved roads, and reliable water, lights, and Internet. It’s a stellar option for people who grew up in Mexico’s messy informal settlements.

I’ve spent parts of three days here and have to admit, the neighborhood’s nice. It’s clean, quiet, and safe. Delfino’s three children, all younger than age seven, love the community park that has a biking path, basketball court, and jungle gyms.

We do the interview here. For Delfino, it brings back a flood of memories. His parents moved to California when he was a toddler (which explains his mastery of English). He dropped out of school at age nine, but rebuilt his first car engine at ten. His face lights up talking about that first car, how it won a race, how he realized he could build things. He had a gift.

When his father returned five years later, Delfino’s mom enrolled him in school, but it was far too late. Delfino was making good money as an apprentice mechanic. And besides, school was tough. Fixing cars was easy.

The interview wraps. In my ten-plus years working as a filmmaker, I’ve never let a subject help on set. Many volunteer, but it’s a polite gesture that I politely refuse. Before I realize it, Delfino is dismantling lights and rolling cable. He insists it’s his first time around this type of equipment. We work silently, as if we’re a team. Of course, he manages to pack everything up just right.

As he closes the last pelican, I reflect that this is why my job is so cool. Yes, the travel is incredible. But the best thing by far is the personal connections. And it’s the documentary process that I have to thank for it. The peculiar way that reality, premise, and personal narrative combine to create something unpredictable and authentic—and periodically, sublime.

Delfino’s had a hard life, but he’s in a good place now providing for his family. He opened up his life for a few days and I’m better for it. The master mechanic with the irrepressible smile.


Life is Precious

Today, I interview and shadow Precious Ncube. She’s 23 and carries herself with a quiet confidence, wielding an easy smile. She also is HIV positive, has lost both her mother and sister to AIDS, never knew her father, has no siblings, and bounced around a litany of households as a young girl.

Today, against all odds, she’s not only stable, but a leader. Her peers at the clinic have elected her President of their group. She aspires to run a nonprofit group someday, using her experience to give back to AIDS orphans. She’s studying how to sew to earn some income. She helps her grandma in the garden and around the house. Her greatest hope is to get married and have children someday herself. I learn that if Precious stays consistent with her medicine, she can keep her HIV viral load down and certainly have kids.


One of the most inspiring people I’ve met here in Zimbabwe is named Precious Ncube.

Carpentry and the Artist as a Young Man

Today, I’m shooter, audio grip and . . . set designer and carpenter?

Tichoana Mudhobi (“Tich”) is our subject. When we fail to get permission to shoot at the National Gallery where Tich has some paintings, I have to improvise. Sure, we filmed him at home, with his family, in his tiny room, hanging out with his sister and friends — but how can we show his art in a public space?

With two hours before sunset and a stack of Tich’s paintings in the bed of a pickup truck, I wander the grounds of Catholic Relief Services‘ compound in Bulawayo, hoping for inspiration. A driveway, a shed, a sidewalk . . . around back, there’s a stack of wooden paletts, and I have a vision.

30 minutes to build an art installation, ready go!!

Within minutes, I’ve grabbed our indefatigably positive driver Geofrey Mwedziwendira and with the claws of a well-worn hammer, we reduce a half-dozens pallets to their constituent 2x4s. Then we construct a simple two-tiered structure for 8-9 oil paintings. We leave gaps so when I shoot through the set-up, the art can be in the foreground and the three subjects behind.

Just in time for golden hour, we hang the final paintings and roll tape. I gently push and pull my Sachtler tripod along the Hollywood Dolly tracks, back and forth. Tich is in form, mentoring his art students, discussing each painting, musing about overcoming poverty, confident in his element. Having multiple paintings at eye level and all characters standing was key to creating an eyeline that worked. I flip the dolly to the other side, and the setting sun illuminates three hopeful faces. Another day in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe shoot for Catholic Relief Services


Shooting in Zimbabwe means a lot of firsts for me. First time shooting in southern Africa, first time in Zimbabwe. We have a benign, but frequent police presence and were strictly limited to pre-approved locations. I’ve never had film subjects so keenly aware of the authorities. Undoubtedly, it’s the fresh memory of the 2008 post-election violence. Our home base was a Catholic school where I assume we could film nothing more provocative than noisy children — which skewered audio conditions for our interviews, but made us some friends.

Azerbaijan Interview: Without a DIMMER ? !

Coming to Baku to film a short documentary meant checking to make sure that anything I plug in doesn’t blow up like a firecracker. I brought an Arri 1000k light for interviews, which runs on both the USA’s 120 volt and the 220 in Azerbaijan. All I had to do was buy a 220 lamp from B&H, which I did. I got 4 plug adapters so I could charge my various batteries, phone, computer, etc, and I was good to go . . or so I thought! Hours before my departure, I realized my dimmer only ran on 120 volt. . . . So began a hunt, as I was taxied around town by my implacable driver, Jarulla. We soon strike gold at Santral Electrik, a halogen dimmer rated up to 2k watts. Fortunately, the guy behind the counter, my new hero Ceyhun, was not only an able salesman, but a quick electrician, who rewired the thing, transforming it from a home wall dimmer to a mobile video-production dimmer . . . There I was, good to go for interview set-ups. Thanks to Ceyhun!

In Baku: Russian, the Persistent Lingua Franca

So, here I am with (left) Ilaha Mammadli, a finance journalist from “Trend,” an international news services with offices in Baku. On the right is Rasmina Gurbatova, the film’s director. . . Most people speak Azeri to each other on the streets, but this interview was conducted in Russian. And although the vast majority of people in Baku speak Azeri, many people communicate in Russian. One expat told me it is elitism. Is it possible that despite 70 years of Soviet totalitarianism in Azerbaijan, Russian is still the urbane lingua franca here? Haven’t most cities that were colonized by the USSR (Budapest, Vilnius, Dresden) dispensed with its Lenin statues, Politburo leaders, and vestiges of Russian culture (language, etc) long ago? Baku, however, is an exception: is this because Baku has been a multi-ethnic crossroads for as long as it’s been a city? Only recently has it become majority Azeri. . . . For me, it’s a surprise that card-carrying Azeris still speak so much Russian without it messing with their Azeri nationalism . . .

Welcome to Baku!

Baku is a big city with a tiny airport. I’ve landed in Azerbaijan, a country with about 9 million people — 4 million of whom are jammed into this cosmopolitan city on the Caspian Sea. I’m here to shoot a documentary . . . Newly landed, we queue up to jam through a single door. On the other side, travelers are chain-smoking in an endless passport-control line. This of course is comfortable compared to my second connecting flight: In Istanbul, a people-mover had dropped us off at the base of our airplane — in the middle of a driving rainstorm! All us travelers were drenched before we could mount the stairs. The Turkish Airlines flight was straight out of Pan American Airways, with turquoise seats and friendly stewardesses (!). I half expect to see Leo DiCaprio flying the plane. . . . After 20 hours: DC-Franfurt-Instanbul-Baku . . . I’m here!

USAID: Global Development Commons

Wrapped a short film for USAID today. It focused on the Global Development Commons, which is what they call a their new approach to development aid that has improved information flow and better partnerships. To tell the story, we used a documentary approach, highlighting emerging projects in West Africa centered around the agricultural value chain and in Bangladesh about disaster preparedness. What did they have in common? Technology played a big part, empowering partners to communicate better, and help people improved their lives.

World Bank Film Wrapped

I wrapped another short film project for the World Bank today. Really fascinating, and challenging job for the Global Development Learning Network. I directed remote crews in Tanzania, Mongolia, Japan, Ghana, and Nicaragua, where it was a real treat to get to know people and their work cultures. Then I wrote a script, edited, and tried to show how the GDLN is helping people connect better. The result: some interesting stories from around the world, where people have benefited in the worlds of health, private sector development, and education.

Crisis Group Film Wrapped

Wrapped a film today for the International Crisis Group, which is a group that works to prevent and resolve deadly conflict. Featuring a slew of experts, including Madeleine Albright, Louise Arbour, Richard Armitage, Betty Bigombe, Colin Powell, Mary Robinson, Strobe Talbott, and Ernesto Zedillo, the film does a fine job showing the expertise and impact of the Crisis Group. Dan Evans helmed this one — great job Dan!

Diversity is the Spice of Life

Well, sometimes the sheer diversity of a workday is kind of fun. I woke up early (still jetlagged from trip to Italy), and edited in the piano music I composed yesterday for the short film we’re producing for the Department of Justice. With a crew call of 7:30am, Dan picked me up so we could interview Congresswoman Lois Capps on Capitol Hill. This was for a short film we’re making for WomenHeart. This group is doing some great advocacy work for women with heart disease. Quickly back to the office for a fine-cut review of a short film I’m editing for American Red Cross’ measles program. They have been busy trying to provide emergency humanitarian aid for the tragedies in Myanmar and China, so this project has been delayed. But it’s a pleasure to be working with a group that does so much good. Then meeting with the client for a rough-cut review of a short film I’m editing for the World Bank’s East Asia and Pacific Region. They captured all the footage and photos in Vietnam, and I’m justing writing the script and editing. They came back with some good options for traditional music they recorded, so it made it fun. Hmm, pretty brain dead after this day, so what did I do but go home and watch the finale of American Idol. Good times!

Mayor to General

Today, two interviews with very interesting former public officials. For a gala video for Thurgood Marshall Academy, we filmed former Mayor Tony Williams, who spoke about how nurturing such an innovative school in DC’s poorest community was key to improving the city. After a quick lunch, Dan and I headed down to interview General Colin Powell, who was most recently Secretary of State, before Condoleezza Rice. This shoot was part of a new film we’re making for the International Crisis Group, for whom we made a short film in 2006.

Armitage Straight-Talker

Today we launched production for a new short film for the International Crisis Group. This group is one of the most important conflict-resolution outfits in the world, fiercely non-partisan, highly influential, respected across borders and party lines. Today was my first time to meet Dick Armitage, the former Deputy Secretary of State and current principal at Armitage International, based in Arlington. In the interview, he was sharp, frank, savvy, charming, and opinionated. I could understand how this former military man climbed the foreign policy ranks so adeptly and certainly wouldn’t bet against the success of his new company.

All the World’s Scientists Speaking With One Voice?

Today, we interviewed Bob Watson at the World Bank Group. Coincidentally, this is his last day on the job before he moves back to England to assume three different positions in the academic and policy worlds. It is also the last of 12 people Dan and I have interviewed all over the country (10 cities, 7 states) for this film about the struggle to save the ozone layer. In Watson, we may have saved the best for last. Having spent the past 15 years or so at the World Bank Group, Watson may be the world’s foremost expert on the interface between sustainable development and environmental issues. Mack McFarland told us that Watson basically invented the notion of the international scientific assessment, which united the voices of scientists everywhere so they could have more credibility with politicians. This process, refined during the 1980s, was critical for reaching scientific consensus and political agreement on how to deal with ozone-depleting substance. Today, the process is even more mature—and with regard to the climate challenge, is the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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