How to make an emotive charity film without filming

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

_ The Saltways _

The Saltways specialise in making storytelling films for small charities.

You had it all planned. A fundraising event that was going to bring in your biggest income of the year. Then Coronavirus happened. Your event has been cancelled and you are desperately trying to pull together some digital content to make up the loss. Where do you start and how can you make a compelling charity film if you can’t even go and film? Here is how.

Photo credit: The Saltways

1. WHAT MAKES PEOPLE GIVE TO US? – So often we see charities make a short film to gain support and then wonder why it hasn’t been a success. This is because they have not communicated what is at the emotional heart of their charity and instead, focused on how the charity does its work.

Pick up the phone and have a chat with the people that are most passionate about your work and ask them why – what moves them. These conversations will give you clear and emotive messages to build your film around. Remember, don’t talk about the charity, tell the story of a life you have changed.

2. A STORY FOR THE MESSAGE – Now you have your emotive messaging about why people should support your charity, find a story that brings it to life. Who is connected to your cause that has a compelling story that can be captured on a phone? This doesn’t necessarily have to be a beneficiary – it can be a volunteer, a trustee or a front-line member of staff.

3. GETTING THE RIGHT FOOTAGE – It is very frustrating to get footage back that is bad quality, boring or the sound is unclear. Here are our tips on how to avoid that, by being clear in your brief to the person who is filming:

  • Explain what the film is for, what the key messages are that you are trying to convey and where it will be shown. Show examples of films that you like and what style you are going for.

  • Talk through the technical steps of filming on your phone, including checking sound and quality. Have a read of our technical tips here.

  • To make an emotive film, the footage needs to be as authentic as possible. Ask them to record lots of ‘natural footage’ that really captures their story – changing a feeding tube, making a cup of tea, playing with toys. If possible, have them talking through what they are doing. These bits of footage are far more powerful for building a relationship with the viewer. Francesca’s mum was amazing at this in our ‘Francesca’s Story film'.

  • Ask them to send footage they already have on their phone. We did this with ‘Henry’s Story’ as we knew we could not tell his story without including older footage from his time in hospital. This made it a much fuller story.

  • If they need to talk to the camera, ask them to talk naturally rather than write down what they want to say. A great tip is for you to write the questions and ask a family member or friend to read them out as an interview whilst filming it.

  • Ask for a few bits of footage to be sent over for you to look at before they film loads of it. Give feedback on what you like and what you don’t.

  • Get as much footage as possible, it is always better to have too much. When they are sending over footage, send it via email rather than WhatsApp so that the quality isn’t compressed.

4. THE EDITING - Watch all of the footage sent over in the context of the key messaging that communicates why people give to your charity. Build a story around that message, using text screens if needed to guide the viewer along the journey. Always add subtitles and a clear ask at the end.

There are some fantastic free editing tools such as OpenShot and Shotcut that you can learn how to use by watching YouTube. If you feel you need someone with more experience to help, there are freelancers who can be hired by the day. The Saltways works with a network of incredibly talented editors and we can also give our unique charity insight and support to maximise results.

5. BUILD THE CAMPAIGN - Your emotive film is ready, now its time to build the campaign around it. If you have time, try some testing on Facebook before you invest money on paid advertising. Post on social media, embed into an appeal email and ask your supporters to share. Don’t forget to thank the amazing people who have helped and feed back to them the difference that is has made.