Amen Corner: Your Skills Needed!
Posted Aug 1, 2008

In pursuit of a little "down time," away from technology, my oldest daughter suggested that I accompany her on a trip to Acapulco, Mexico, this summer to help with a construction project at an orphanage. Actually, I had to go since she’s still a minor, but it was an easy choice: It was a rewarding way to spend time with the only teen I know who’s wanted to start an orphanage since she was 8.

What I found when I got there, though, was that my video and computer skills were in great demand. It turns out that almost anyone can move a brick or shovel dirt (which I did plenty of), but few people can set up a wireless network or upgrade computers that the children of the orphanage need for their school lessons.

While I was hoping to take a break from those skills, it wasn’t to be. It turns out that the orphanage had been trying for 4 years to find someone to tape a promotional video.

With the help of an older single-chip MiniDV camera and a 5-year-old digital still camera—both of which were available on-site—I was able to craft a basic video on my MacBook. Yes, I had it with me, but only because I had to go on to the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference right after returning to the States.

In the midst of the video work, I met another videographer on a mission. Melody Warford, who spent 17 years as a graphics designer in the Washington, D.C., area, has an idea that I’d like to share in this column.

A few years ago, Warford went to Uganda to help missionaries with their graphics and printing needs. Her work is both international and interdenominational, and she found that many missionaries had a need for videos to describe to the folks back home what they were doing. In many circles, it seems, missionaries have to travel around their home countries raising funds to cover their work overseas. To do so, they must stand up in front of many houses of worship and present their work, which requires good speaking and social skills. It turns out, though, that many missionaries aren’t good social speakers, or they have ministries that are difficult to describe in words.

"The average length of time to raise funds for a 4-year mission project for a U.S. missionary," Warford told me, "is about 2 years, during which time they also have to work to cover living and travel expenses since not all churches will cover the cost of travel for a missionary’s presentation."

So Warford turned to video work, taught herself the basics of Final Cut Pro, and acquired an old but sturdy Sony professional MiniDV camera. After 3 years in Uganda, she felt compelled to offer the service to missionaries in other countries, so she came back to the U.S. to raise additional funds. She raised the funds she needed and was in Mexico on a multitown/multiministry video shooting tour when I met her.

"My clients can’t afford to pay for the cost of badly needed videos," she said, "especially with the weak dollar meaning that they have to stretch their already tight budgets as some U.S. sponsors pull back on monetary support."

To that end, since she has the skills to project-manage both graphics and video projects, Warford came up with an idea that could help get the message out to houses of worships, using those who often already volunteer in their house of worship: She wants to organize teams of media professionals who are willing to go on a short-term trip, covering their own travel costs and supplying mobile acquisition and editing equipment.

For an idea of what Warford has in mind, what you might be getting yourself into, and how your equipment and the skills you employ day in and day out as a videographer and editor might be applied in this scenario, think Day In the Life meets Out of Africa meets crash edits and motion graphics.

The teams would travel to a particular country for a specific project (which often turns in to more than one project) and would be responsible for helping acquire, edit, and duplicate copies of videos—even posting them online if the missionaries don’t know how to create a streaming or downloadable video.

In talking to Warford, I found out that your house of worship may cover your travel expenses for you, leaving the only cost as your time and equipment. You might even find that your house of worship is already sending a team to places like Mexico, Haiti, or an African country, and would love to have you tag along to create a video that could both create future interest in your church and help the mission.

With Warford’s help, we’re creating two videos: one specifically for my church and a more generic one that the orphanage will use. Thank God for nonlinear editing!

"You must know some people who could help," she said, after finding out that I wrote this column for EventDV, "and I’d love to have help if they’re willing to dedicate the time to shoot and edit a 7–10 minute documentary-style video."I’ll bet I do, Melody. I’ll bet I do. Contact me if you’re interested in spending your "down time" helping out in the same way I did.

Tim Siglin (writer at braintrustdigital.com) writes and consults on digital media business models and "go to market" strategies. He is chairman of Braintrust Digital, a digital media production company, and co-founder of consulting firm Transitions, Inc.