Every year in communities across the United States, children are bought and sold through a variety of venues including on the streets, through the internet, in hotel rooms, from semi-to-semi at truck stops or through classified ads.

Screenshot from ECPAT Core Video - What I Have Been Through is Not Who I Am
Screenshot from ECPAT Core Video – What I Have Been Through is Not Who I Am

These youth are either considered a commodity by traffickers or feel they have no other option but to trade sex for basic needs like food or shelter.

Their problems don’t end there. In many jurisdictions across the U.S., when these children cross paths with law enforcement, officers feel that they too have limited solutions to help these children and turn to the juvenile justice system where these children are arrested, detained and sometimes even prosecuted. In short, children who survive child sexual exploitation are often treated as criminals or delinquents instead of being supported as victims – and survivors – of a grave human rights abuse.

Our partner, ECPAT-USA (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking-USA), is working to change this presumption of criminality and ensure that sexually exploited children, in need of help, are wrapped in the web of services they need to succeed. We are currently in the post-production (editing) phase of our co-produced film entitled, What I Have Been Through is Not Who I Am. The film’s goal is to ensure state officials take a child-centered approach to help these youth.

Last month, as part of the post-production process, we screened the rough cut of this video to my colleagues at WITNESS, my partners at ECPAT-USA and special guests.  For me, the rough cut screening is one of the most daunting parts of the filmmaking process as it’s the initial unveiling of a project to your peers and the moment you open yourself and your work up to critique. But I also wholly believe it’s one of the most valuable steps in the filmmaking process as it’s only possible to better your project if you open your eyes, ears, mind and heart to the ideas of others.

To help guide our partners through what is likely their first rough cut review, WITNESS developed a guide and I’d like to share some of the key elements of that with you. First, I define a “rough cut” as: The first draft form of a video. The narration, subtitles, music, and text, are still “scratch” (incomplete or in a provisional form), additional media including archival footage and music are often missing, and fine-tuning on edits is still to come. During this review process, the focus is on the structure. Is it working or does it need restructuring?

We then provide the following to the screening audience: background to the issue, stated goals of the video and campaign, audience(s), target length for the video, reminders of what we’re not looking for feedback on and a set of key questions to help guide feedback further. Those questions include:

  • Do you get the message of the video?  What are the video’s themes?
  • Did the video feel the right length or did it drag? In which parts did it drag? Which parts held your attention?
  • Did the video overall make an case for protection of human rights?
  • Which parts were unclear or puzzling? When did you feel the story unfolding? When not?
  • Which people do you feel the strongest connection to? Why? Who held your attention most? The least?
  • Was there a satisfying alternation / variety of different kinds of material?
  • Do you think this will work for the target audience we have in mind? Why or why not?
  • Do you understand what action the video is encouraging the viewer to take?

And another key hint — I always schedule the ending time of a rough cut review to coincide with happy hour to either celebrate or drown your sorrows!

In addition to having staff present, rough cut screenings present an opportunity to invite advisors and special guests and gain their insights (and support) on the project before it is finalized. The rough cut screening was attended by very special guests the crew from the Pole2Pole Expedition led by Johan Ernst Nilson. Johan – supported by his team – has undertaken a daunting task. Over the course of one year, this team will travel by dogsled, sail, bike, ski and kite from the North Pole to the South Pole in the depths of Antarctica in a carbon neutral way (to learn more about our partnership on climate justice, click here). As part of this year-long journey, they are working to raise awareness for thirty different non-governmental organizations including ECPAT-Sweden – our partner’s sister organization.

Here’s what Johan’s Team had to share with us after the rough cut review.

The final cut of What I Have Been Through is Not Who I Am, is expected to be released this month. We hope you will come back, watch the video and support ECPAT’s work – both in the U.S. and internationally – to ensure that survivors of child sexual exploitation are given the chance they need.

In the meantime, if you have other helpful guidelines you use in your post-production process, especially for rough cut screenings, please share them in the comments section below.

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