Impact Producing

Agentic sponsored the VIFF Impact Award with Story Money Impact. This year’s winner was “Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story” from filmmakers Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer.

If it’s not apparent, we believe that storytelling can be a powerful agent of change. Despite being hit every day with provocative campaigns trying to change our minds, we believe documentary film remains one of the most effective persuasive tools for shaping opinion. Film is key for our social change community because of the way visual stories reach diverse audiences regardless of their geographic, educational or financial standpoint. Documentary films get communities together, and more importantly, encourage lively debates that can generate change.

That’s why we are excited by the filmmaking that the BRITDOC Foundation has dubbed “impact producing.” We think impact producing hasn’t been talked about enough, despite the fact that films of this sort have been emerging more and more in the past ten years. This is the first installment of our new series of interviews with veteran impact producers and industry professionals, and we aim to build upon many of the following concepts in forthcoming posts.

So what is impact producing, you’re probably wondering?

In theory, the answer is quite simple. In the words of Katherine Dodds, founder of Hello Cool World, and Director of Corporate Communications on The Corporation, “Impact producing is a project that is designed to have an impact with its point of view, not just tell a story.” Essentially, impact producing is a term that describes a film’s potential for creating real collective action and prompting viewers to take action for a desired result. But there is more to this important field of work. We’re looking at nuances of impact producing and what sets it apart from other forms of documentary filmmaking.

How impact producing works:

According to Darcy Heusel, Senior Director of Campaign Strategy at Picture Motion, in working with such projects as Fed UP and Bully, three central questions need to be asked when building an impact campaign.

1) What change can the film make?
2) Which grassroots organizations can the film partner with and how does the film align with the change that those organizations are creating?
3) How can the film be made accessible to its target audience and ultimately encourage audiences to create change?

While digital campaigns are increasingly important, Heusel maintains that social media tools must be recognized for what they are  merely tools. “They key to a successful online impact campaign,” states Heusel, “is building a community and maintaining those relationships. You can have a meaningful film, but online marketing tools have to be leveraged in a way that they move audiences to act.” When asked what differentiates the distribution process for impact productions versus generic Hollywood films, Heusel remarks that the tactics are very similar. However, in impact producing, the goal is to get people to inspire change. Yet, how does a film achieve this goal? Heusel’s answer is to become “an expert on those issues.” With unlimited access to information and resources online, an impactful campaign needs to be founded on partnerships with policy makers, an understanding of the opposition, and a very deep awareness about the film’s central issues.

Why does impact producing matter?

Our lives are becoming increasingly individualistic, and the experience of watching a film together is one where people can gather face to face and engage in dialogue. Katie McKenna, a producer and consultant who has contributed to documentaries such as the upcoming This Changes Everything and Inside Disaster Haiti, believes that the role of impact producers is to answer filmmakers’ central question of “how do I want this documentary to make a difference in the world?” Using film as the catalyst, impact campaigns have the ability to promote collaborative discussions that can help support organized movements. As Katie McKenna argues, “the nature of digital media is to make content shorter, faster and sexier. People feel connected to longer-form stories in film and our work in impact producing can take those connections that people build through film, and translate them into real world effects.” It’s about sharing these stories with audiences and giving them the tools to create change at the grassroots level.

Katherine Dodds argues that filmmakers need to think more like business people, understanding what stakeholders will gain from working together in order to generate successful impact campaigns. The film’s impact goals need to be clear right from the development stages, so that you recognize when you are successful, and to facilitate an exchange of knowledge between organizations and the filmmakers. Dodds feels that with the various social media tools we have at our disposal, the infrastructure now exists more than ever, for audiences to get involved in impactful movements sparked by a film. Impact producing involves a level of due diligence for audiences to pay attention. “Films have the potential to elicit powerful emotional responses but they should not just be crafted to advocate,” states Dodds, “it’s up to audiences to up the ante and to foster a climate where they can judge what they see what some degree of literacy.”

The bottom line remains that the only proven way to get people invested in a movement is by telling a great story. Stay tuned for our ongoing series of interviews with impact producing experts and film industry specialists, as we aim to further explore the uncharted territory of impact producing.


  • Author: Phillip Djwa

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