A filmmaker talks about his love of film and how to create an emotional connection with storytelling
Documentary filmmaker Aaron Weiss has worked with over 100 organizations to tell their stories authentically through film. Here, MissionBox CEO and co-founder Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk talks with Aaron about combining his love of making documentaries and supporting the mission of nonprofits.
When did you first get involved with helping nonprofits?
I grew up volunteering for groups like PALS and the YMCA. When I discovered my passion for documentary film, I realized how the objectives of both are to create positive change. During film school, I chose to pursue documentary filmmaking and after graduating founded a production company that specialized in working with nonprofits.
Smaller nonprofits are discouraged from producing films because of cost. But the need for genuine storytelling and video content is still there. I recognized it and focused on filling that need.
What is the role of storytelling for nonprofits?
Being able to connect with the mission of a group all comes back to storytelling. As humans, we process events as stories with a beginning, middle and end. As viewers, we connect with a cause. To create understanding and empathy, you show their journey to an audience in a natural way and convey the real, kind of relatable raw emotion in a genuine and effective way.
Without those emotional dimensions, I don't think the call to action is as powerful or possible. It needs to powerfully trigger the kind of insight that compels an audience to act, or to feel or to connect with missions.
How do you use film to spur the call to action?
There is a case to be made that you can create stories just for awareness, but what you really want to do is create a call to action or create an opportunity for your viewers to do something that's tangible, whether it's making a donation, volunteering or doing something that creates a dialogue with the nonprofit.
A lot of organizations don't have the manpower to think creatively or devote time to a project with video or social media. Listening is a huge part of our process. We sit down with clients to really figure out the core elements of who they are and let that dictate how we figure the best way to communicate their mission. We really dive deep and try to avoid the obvious ways to tell stories.
Having those real voices and stories really helps these nonprofits connect with viewers and audiences.
What is a common mistake nonprofits make when creating videos about their mission?
The most common mistake I see is the classic talking head, sit down interview. Or maybe it's a cheesy melodramatic piece that intends to make an audience feel sad, rather than doing uplifting or more compelling stories. It simply is not a powerful, impactful way to get a message across.
I also do a lot of work in schools filming children and education and mentoring. And it just makes it more captivating story when you can actually show these children's stories to an audience. You don't need to necessarily show their faces but if you can hear their voices you can tell that it's coming from an authentic place.
What else would you like us to know about your focus on nonprofits and their commitment to social change?
I love learning about nonprofits and people doing things in their communities that are changing the path. I see how nonprofits are filling in the gaps that exist in our community where maybe governments can't always help. They help people who would otherwise fall through the cracks. Creating documentaries and helping nonprofits share their stories doesn't feel like work. And in the last 10 years, I haven't thought twice about it. I love working with all different size organizations to help them and their efforts.
I identify first with being a filmmaker, secondly a storyteller and finally a problem solver. And I feel compassion for those who are also passionate about their work.
Know another visionary leader or organization working for social good? Let us know! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aaron Weiss is the founder of One Story Productions, an Austin-based video production company that specializes in working with nonprofits all over the world. One Story Productions works with all types and sizes of organizations to help them convey their mission, purpose and services through the creation of documentary films. Learn more about One Story Productions.