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1 Month to Capture 28 Minutes of Emotion

Putting together a 28-minute long documentary is difficult.

As you can imagine. For the Easterseals Brighter Future’s Celebration project we had 3 stories centering on the concept of removing whatever barriers that may stand in a person’s way to the potential for employment. But not just any employment. Employment that they truly care about. As Pam Green, CEO of Easterseals, stated, “People look to work for purpose.” - Something that is truly aligned with their hearts. Something that gets them out of bed in the morning. That helps them outgrow the problems of the past, and embrace the hope for the future. The video was set to air on “Giving Tuesday” in November - so we had about a month to make it happen.

The topic of purpose in your work is difficult. Right? For all of us, that. is. hard. In this particular case, we had 3 subjects who, on the surface, struggled with employment. We would be hearing those stories for the first time as we filmed a stylized interview of them. The goal of the project was to raise money so Easterseals could keep doing the amazing work they do, and so that meant we needed to get to the heart of these stories, find the emotions and character of each individual, while removing the barriers to being on camera. That’s tricky.

For us, our purpose is finding a good way to tell that good story. So we asked ourselves this question: What barriers stand in our way, to developing a 28 minute long video - that will lead us to a good job? A thing that is mostly no bullshit. Telling a story that’s true, that people can believe in.

Only when a story is true, will people resonate with it.

We’re asking our subjects to sacrifice being vulnerable for half an hour, feeling that they are so complicated, dramatic, unworthy… on camera. We can’t take this lightly. In reality, we know they are the most relatable to viewers in those moments of vulnerability. Often the things they fear to say, are the things that draw an audience in. And if we can honor that, and nurture those moments, to structure them appropriately, then we have done our jobs as storytellers.

Their barriers are our barriers.

In most cases for a story, the hardest part is structure. When to say what, and why you should say it. This methodology can change even the most mundane journey into something interesting.

Posing a question before an answer is a great way to bring an audience along with you.

In order to find what’s important in these interviews, you must do a “first pass” on the interviews as a whole. To sit and listen, to digest, in its entirety in the edit. Warts and all. Because you never know what might be useful to structure the story correctly. You must let the whole character in as a content creator.

In the case of LeRon Davis, he was the most expressive, most open piece of the story we were given. In his interview, he provided a strong philosophical voice in everything from the very beginning. This allowed our opener to emerge… messy and intricate, heavy and uncomfortable. Yet so infinitely true. It wasn’t difficult for him to express his story.

“It is very weighing… You have a lot of pressure, to fit whatever image it is that you’ve created for yourself of what a man is… If you don't have a good example.”

And there lies not just one question, but many posed questions. What was that bad example? What does it even mean to “Be a man”? What happened to him? Etc.

The distortion of values hurts… Sometimes without even knowing what is hurting. Or why. Where did this come from? How do I walk through this? These questions are especially difficult to answer as a child, as a boy, a teenager, all the way through into manhood.

And these questions live uniquely through all of us, but a poignant thought that arose from LeRon in his processing and after-thought, was as follows:

“The reality exists where, sometimes, your past can make you cautious of trusting people.”

The lie your character believes is the central point to their story. The lie they believe is oftentimes the reason change needs to happen in that specific story. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be one. No conflict. No urgency. So what is the lie that this character believes? The lie that haunted him, and still haunts him? The lack of TRUST. It’s hard to move beyond our past. And this universal truth felt fitting as a hook to his story. LeRon has trouble trusting people, but despite that fear, that pain, what rings true for LeRon, and what is best for all of us to do, is to take a step forward… And try.

Everyone struggles in unique and personal ways. A very important step in life is to remember that we are not alone in our struggles. We can identify with people who may seem very different from us on the surface, but ultimately have deeper fears and ghosts that haunt us similarly. This identity encourages empathy.

Empathy allows us to listen, grow, and learn from each other.

This is how I felt about Stephanie, the next person we interviewed. She’s a single mom struggling to provide for her child and has a hope of becoming a nurse one day (spoiler alert, she becomes a nurse!). I may not understand what it was like to be a young girl, caring for a child while she was just a child herself, and to hope so strongly for something greater, but during the edit empathy takes over and you find a way to relate. The fact that she wasn’t ready to give up, the fact that she couldn’t stand to settle… THAT is the “why” to anchor on. Her motherly power to create a better future for her and her son. Stephanie allows for something more in the story. Not just the philosophy of a man struggling through image, but the heart of a mother, sacrificing her time, and taking on great lengths of pain and challenge for lineage. This is important and as a viewer you can relate.

There are some who have such unique and specific challenges for themselves that are hurdles we don’t often think about.

This was the case for Cameron Davey. A young man, wanting to work for himself. To live on his own and be independent.

Cameron is on the spectrum and was living with his parents before attempting to enter the workforce. It’s intriguing to imagine what the world looks like to him. Things that seem smaller, more digestible to us, may be huge and overwhelming for him.

A lot of people are different from me. A lot of people need to take smaller steps to build resilience against an overwhelming, fast paced world. To face it with pride and confidence.

A group who strives to guide people like Cameron to independence is Easter Seals and Project Search. They’re an organization built around the idea of the individual… The importance of 1 on 1 learning. This powerful way of mentorship at Project Search helped build Cameron up to go for his dream of becoming part of the workforce.

They are the guides giving him the tools and skills to go out into the world and chase his dreams.

To me, this is what’s important in storytelling - Allowing a pocket to open for these characters to express themselves. If you can find a way to open your heart and feel the empathy necessary for them… That’s step one. But the difficult step further is to focus on the details that matter. To trim the story down to its essentials. While still honoring them and structuring the journey to the best of your ability.

The hope is that everyone, no matter how different they may be, can see the struggle. And maybe they can see their own struggles, pain, sacrifices, joy, their own feelings in them. That way, we can all grow from the power of our empathy.

In the end, LeRon was able to climb out of those dark times. He was able to find pure and honest guidance through Easter Seals. Removing those barriers to not only employment, but to his TRUST. And fortunately he found a fulfilling career as a counselor and coach for people through Easter seals that have struggled with similar trauma.

Stephanie was able to get through school with Easterseal’s help, and ultimately fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a nurse. And with that, she left us with a beautiful statement:

“Before, I felt like I wasn’t someone my son could really be proud of. And, now… My son tells me “I’m proud of you.” so… It’s an amazing feeling.”

And Cameron, achieved his dreams of independence and of growing in a career path he chose. That is valuable. And these achievements do wonders for us collectively as people.It shows us that we can do great things together.

It takes work to listen, to allow the story to unfold for you. To not control it too much, or manipulate it into what you think it should be, to just simply open up to the story that it is,

how it unfolds, and why? To brainstorm music choices that feel not only right for you, but service the mood and tone of your characters and the subject matter at hand. This is vital to storytelling. It’s the difference between making a good video, and a great story.

To sum it up - this was a great story. One of our favorites. It did its job by honoring the subjects, and raising incredible support for the Easterseals organization.

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