Planning a Video Production Boot Camp That Sticks

Irene Valez and Yashin Lin set up for video interview

This blog originally appeared on LinkedIn

Way back, 100 years ago in February 2020, I was getting ready to fly to Ghana to conduct a learning activity with a few colleagues. My goal was to train two technical managers from our Strategy, Evaluation and Analysis practice, Irene Velez and Yashin Lin, to build video production skills so that they could return from a trip through western Africa with the material needed for me to edit videos upon their return. The final products are videos to promote learning from Tetra Tech’s USAID-funded Western Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA-BiCC) project activities.

My main challenge was to overcome their traditional approach to data collection associated with written reports, and to get them thinking and acting as storytellers. This was a tough ask because, a) it was their first time making videos, b) they also had reports to produce, and c) they would be flying solo.

I did as much in-person training as I could prior to leaving and provided some written guides. Most of this related to following a basic checklist to setup the camera, test the audio and get rolling. It was basic, needed reinforcement, and I knew it wasn’t going to stick without something to make it all gel.

Anyone who has ever tried to abstractly learn a complex design tool, like Adobe After Effects, understands how difficult it is without a project or context to frame and connect the lessons learned. So, as my trip got closer and closer, I was struggling to find a way to make the training connect. I didn’t want to end up teaching my colleagues to make videos exclusively by the hotel pool, despite the colorful variety of lizards sunbathing daily.

Then I had a thought: “We’re going to be in Ghana, where we work with the USAID Mission to strengthen health systems, and implement the Ghana Evaluate for Health project (EVALUATE). Why not see if there’s a story we can tell on their behalf?” USAID is our prime client and there’s nothing lost in proactively collaborating with a Mission that we have a good relationship with. Also, this was the “real” context I was looking for.

Ambulance in Tema municipality, Ghana

We reached out to our contacts at the Mission, and seemingly overnight, we were a-go! We arranged for a car to pick us up, swung by the embassy to grab our friend Aimee Ogunro, Health Development Monitoring and Outreach Specialist with USAID/Ghana, and headed to the Tema Municipality, about an hour’s drive from Accra.

Over the next four to five hours, we filmed interviews and contextual footage (b-roll) related to MSI’s support of the USAID Evaluate program, which contributed to substantially reducing the infant mortality rate in Tema. Thanks to our friends at USAID, with almost no pre-production, we were able to speak to professionals on the health systems side, the hospital administrators and maternity ward staff, and even Charity, a mother. Charity provided relevant perspective as a mother who had given birth at the hospital multiple times, recently and before the donor-funded improvements.

It’s not easy to walk into a hospital and film, even with planning. With little to no planning, it’s almost impossible. However, we pulled it off. At the end of the day, our sweaty ragtag crew was content knowing that we had pushed it – we took the learning as far as we could while doing something meaningful with and for our client.

While our video is by no means perfect (are they ever?) it provided the framework for practicing and improving the basic skills introduced over the prior week. Most significantly, it built the confidence of Irene and Yashin, our burgeoning filmmakers. Indeed, after the workshop, they went their separate ways in Africa and pulled off their shoots and interviews with flying colors.

Group photo of video production team

I’m proud to share this short video, produced by Aimee Ogunro, Irene Velez, Yashin Lin and me, and I can’t wait to share the gorgeous videos of Liberian beekeepers and coastal mangroves that Irene and Yashin shot over the following weeks in western Africa. I also look forward to continuing to work with people around the world to blur the lines between data and storytelling.

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