We have been working with filmmakers, editors, and activists for over 25 years. Here are some helpful guidelines for you if you are working on a video advocacy project for human rights. Not all of these tips will be the right fit for every project. We encourage you to tailor the guidance below to best meet your specific needs.

Before filming, it’s great to do a kick-off meeting with your editor. Below are some good framing questions:

  • What equipment do they have available? Will you need to rent gear for them? Who is responsible for damage to equipment of insurance?
  • Do they have a portfolio for you to look at? Links to finished work are preferred over highlight reels because that way you can see the final product
  • Who will own the final product and footage? Will the other party have limited rights to use/distribute the film or footage?
  • Who has creative control over the film? How will the organization collaborate with the filmmaker? How will the filmmaker give input? How collaborative will this be?
  • What systems does the filmmaker have in place for gaining consent? Are they open to using the organization’s consent protocols?
  • How knowledgeable about the topic or community is the filmmaker? What post-production skills do they have? Are they able to do graphics and/or animations?
  • Their rate: do they have discounts for nonprofit work?

Of course, there’s plenty that you should be providing the filming team as well.

  • A clear brief of the project — filmmaker needs to understand what exactly the organization needs
  • Overview of issues related to risk assessment. Are there any security measures that need to be taken for particular interviewees?
  • Directions if the project or a portion of it need to be deleted at a certain point in time
  • References for other videos or images that you’d like to emulate
  • Outline, background info, any critical interviews that need to be done
  • Any critical events that will need to be covered
  • Do you want graphics or animation? Be clear about what the filmmaker will need to do or find someone to help do
  • Target audience, length, and delivery platform
  • Languages (subtitles, voiceovers, etc)
  • Goal of the film
  • Duration, DEADLINES
  • Budget — ballpark budget is fine
  • How many shooting days are expected
  • Locations/travel
  • Any equipment (cameras, mics, computers) that you can provide the filmmaker — this can also drive down costs
  • In post-production (after the film is finished) expect 3–4 revisions, but there could be more (editors may expect 2–3).

Everyone who is going to provide feedback should participate in each round of drafts (not just the fine cut). Amount of revisions should be negotiated beforehand

  • Try to stick to timelines* — especially if they have an editor on board with limited capability and time

Creating a Memorandum of Understanding

A memorandum of understanding [MOU] is a type of agreement between yourself, your organization and any parties you choose to work with on a specific project. It outlines the common intention between parties and framework outlining how you intend to achieve your goals. Include the following in an MOU:

  • Budget and payment terms
  • Timeline and deliverables schedule
  • Description of all products to be delivered (including assets for social media. Examples: Versions, tech specs for masters, derivatives for different delivery platforms, graphics, project files, etc. Deliver all raw materials/footage AND the final film? Or just the final film?
  • Organization of products
  • How products will be delivered
  • Deadlines
  • Rights to footage
  • Editorial control terms
  • Defined roles: If voiceover is needed, who will be responsible for talent and recording?
  • Credits for film
  • Short description of product, duration
  • How footage will be preserved
  • How consent will be obtained. If filmmaker wants to work on the project beyond scope of contract, they will need to re-obtain consent on their own.

  • Whose responsibility is it to get rights for music or licensed footage?
  • Revisions — should there be more revisions outside of timeline, we will renegotiate payment or we will be able to compensate at this specified rate

In general it’s helpful to have a point person from the organization to act as a director/producer with creative control. It’s also helpful to have 1 single person who the filmmaker can contact for feedback and orders. Would be great for this person to also have media production skills so that they understand the process.

At rough/fine cut stages it is good to have a broader review by more folks.

In conclusion, some best practices we have learned along the way:

  • It’s best to establish roles between the filmmaker and the organization from the very start.
  • Have an initial meeting with everyone involved in the project at the beginning before the filming begins in order to establish roles, etc. and get everyone on the same page
  • Critical for the filmmaker to be realistic about the budget and have options to offer the org (i.e. I can do this for x amount and this for y amount)
  • When working with a younger or less experienced filmmaker, it can be helpful to pair them with a more experienced filmmaker who can take lead on producing the shoot
  • Helpful for someone in the org to have an understanding of the filmmaking and editing process
  • Helpful to create a Mini Video Action Plan and creative brief BEFORE filming

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