OverviewDo’s and don’ts
Related Tools

Digital video

Last edited: January 03, 2012

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Film and video can be powerful tools, appealing both to viewers’ minds and to their emotions. Over the last decade, digital video has revolutionized film-making, as it is accessible to anyone who can afford a simple digital video camera. Today, even mobile phones include digital video recording functions that can be used to produce compelling video material that is easily disseminated to a virtually unlimited audience of internet users. But it is still necessary to plan, direct and edit digital video as professionally as possible so as to promote the campaign message in a compelling manner.

Practical Instructions

The human rights organization WITNESS provides a set of guides for using video in advocacy.

The following instructions are adapted from these WITNESS tutorials.

 1. Preparation – questions to be asked

  • What are the risks related to producing the video?
  • What is your goal? How will the video fit into the broader campaign? It should be combined with other means of communication such as community action, lobbying, report writing or on-line dialogue.
  • Who is your target audience?
  • Message: what do you want the audience to do? How can your video motivate them to do it? What is the best way to convey the message on video? E.g. story-telling, compelling images and interviews with appropriate spokespersons. What is the story? How do you want to tell it? Where? When? Who are you filming?
  • What are the ethical principles that must be respected (see , e.g. informed consent and confidentiality)
  • What equipment do you need? A digital camera and access to a computer can be sufficient.

2. Key issues about filming

  • TELL A STORY: Where you are, what is happening, who is involved, why. Get the images you need – if possible, plan beforehand what images are needed to best convey your message, and monitor your plan while you’re filming. Build a meaningful sequence, keeping the purpose of the video in mind.
  • GET DETAILS: Move closer to capture the action – if it’s safe. Adjust the appropriate distance to the subject: wide shots convey context, medium-wide shots show what is happening, close-ups offer powerful detail. Get "telling" details - e.g. the shocked or aggrieved expression on someone’s face.
  • PRODUCE QUALITY IMAGES AND SOUND: Film stable 10-second shots (i.e. keep the camera on one item for a full 10 seconds). A well-chosen succession of still shots conveys the message strongly. Make purposeful camera movements, ensuring you are in a stable position (e.g. by keeping the elbows close to your body and knees bent for stability). Do not "hosepipe", i.e. wave the camera or cellphone around to capture “everything”. Get good sound, possibly by using an external microphone and limiting background noise. Be aware of lighting issues. The best light for filming is a cloudy day. When filming with a mobile phone, avoid any unnecessary movement, as images may become very unstable. Be aware of background noise and get particularly close for interviews.
  • SPECIAL SITUATIONS: In emergencies, e.g. when you chance upon an incident, protect your safety. After filming an incident, film witnesses who explain what happens. Filming secretly can be illegal and risky. Assess the risks carefully; if you decide to take them, practice secret filming until you feel competent.

3.    Filming people

  • People who tell stories are powerful vehicles to convey a message. Use eyewitness testimony.
  • Protect the people you film by obtaining their informed consent and respecting confidentiality if needed. There are different ways of hiding people’s identity on-screen: setting them up against backlight, shading their faces, filming them from behind or showing their hands only, or using editing programmes to obscure their faces. If footage shows people’s faces, store it safely.
  • In interviews, ask open questions, such as “why?” and “how did it happen”. Shoot additional footage to show what the interviewee talks about, but keep the camera focused on the interviewee while she/he is talking.

 4.    Editing and distribution

  • REVISIT YOUR STRATEGY: Has anything changed that needs to be taken into account when editing and using the video? Reassess risks: is it safe and appropriate to publicize the video?
  • In editing, LESS IS MORE: to convey your message efficiently, keep it short. You do not need to show “everything”, but create a meaningful sequence. When working with extremely limited footage, e.g. just 1 graphic shot, consider borrowing additional materials from colleagues or using footage with creative commons license.
  • ETHICS: Report truthfully and do not distort the chronology of events.
  • DISTRIBUTION: Use different venues to show the video, e.g. by posting it on different websites and at public events. Try to show it in the right place at the right time: look for a tipping point in a situation, e.g. a key vote in parliament. Special screenings can be organized for key members of the target audience.
  • TRACK VIEWERS: Check websites where you have posted your video for comments and react swiftly if needed. On all-purpose video platforms such as YouTube, advertisements that contradict your campaign message may pop up next to it, for example videos with gender-insensitive content. On-line tracking tools make it easy to monitor how many viewers the video attracts; comments gather feed-back that may contain useful lessons for future videos. On-line videos that attract large numbers of viewers may make it into the news, thus multiplying their audience and potential impact.

Illustrative music videos

The Bogota Mayor’s office of Culture, Recreation and Sport with support from UN Women, produced a video of famous music artists in support of the UNiTE to End Violence against Women Campaign in Colombia. Watch the video.

Breakthrough (India) produced a music video Mann ke Manjeere (Rhythm of the mind) portraying a truck-driving woman who has escaped intimate partner violence.  The music video ranked in the national “top ten” for six months.  

Socha Kabhi Naa (Pakistan) an EVAWG Alliance production by artists Khawar Jawad & Nouman Javaid was produced during the 16 days of activism 2011 for the Secretary-General’s Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women and Girls with support from UN Women.

Tools for digital video:

The international human rights organization WITNESS specializes in training and support for groups using video in advocacy. Comprehensive instructions and examples are available from its website.

NGO-in-a-box. The Audio/Video edition. This online resource developed by the Tactical Technology Collective in collaboration with EngageMedia is a collection of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) tools, documentation and tutorials that introduce NGOs, non-profits and media activists wanting to use audio and video for social change to the world of FOSS and low-cost technology (in English and Portuguese).

Breakthrough has developed a comprehensive power point presentation detailing different options for publishing/distributing videos on the internet (available in English).

Music for non-profit video, film and short projects can be downloaded free of charge at Mobygratis.