“Reel Change” Series is Real Impressive

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Early into the film, “Who We Are Now – Joplin One Year Later,” it suddenly hits you. The people who you see on screen and who you first might think are “just like us” — are anything but. Instead they are survivors of a catastrophic tornado that hit this Missouri community in 2011, and whose stories are both an inspiration and a further call to action.

Produced by the Missouri Foundation for Health’s communications department, the film is the first in its 2012 “Reel Change” series, created to showcase its work to support the health and well-being of people throughout the state. As part of that effort, “Who Are We Now” shows how the foundation has been helping organizations and health providers work together to build a healthier community.

The film series is also an example of a strategic evolution for MFH Director of Communications Bev Pfeifer-Harms and her team that has been underway for several years. What began as a simple move away from producing traditional print annual reports has grown into a full-blown video storytelling effort that highlights different ways the foundation is supporting systemic change in Missouri communities. At the same time, the series is inspiring new kinds of collaboration between communication and program teams within the foundation.

MFH’s shift to visual storytelling began seven years ago when it was still considered a bold move to put an annual report online. Dr. James R. Kimmey, MFH’s founding president, made that request of Pfeifer-Harms on her first day of work. She and her staff were excited about this idea and reached out to the Communications Network for ideas on how to do this creatively. For their first effort, the department created an electronic annual report that took the form of a virtual road trip around the state, including “exit ramps” that led viewers to grantee stories. In subsequent years, MFH relied more and more on video to tell the foundation’s stories in its online annual reports. While the early videos were beautiful to look at, says Pfeifer-Harms, they didn’t tell enough of a story and didn’t get the visibility they deserved. Because they were buried within the other visual components in the report, people didn’t spend enough time with them.

Eventually the foundation decided to rely on video as the primary way to report on its grantmaking. The result was the 2011 “Reel Stories“ series, a set of eight films, each one highlighting a single, compelling story about an individual involved in an MFH-funded program.

Cue the entrance of MFH’s current president, Robert G. Hughes, and from him a request to focus on system change, not just individual change. “The last two videos in ‘Reel Stories’ says Pfeifer-Harms, ”show the beginnings of this shift. We were shooting and editing to focus on how the story exemplified systemic change, and not just the experiences of the individuals. “ And when it came to this year’s series, “Reel Change,” the story of Joplin was the perfect place to start. “The DNA of Joplin has changed,” says Pfeifer-Harms, “people there are noting how they never used to work together in these ways – that they are recreating Joplin in a way far differently than before.” Catastrophe has changed the way the health community, its outreach workers and caregivers collaborate together. The film, which showcases this shift, made its debut in June and will be followed by several more before year’s end.

Meanwhile, inside MFH, a shift in communication strategy is happening. “I’m no longer worried about finding just the right person for just the one story – I’m thinking broader. I’m thinking about video in all kinds of areas. I can use videos for website features, presentations, newsletters – it’s not just re-purposing, it’s that there are endless ways to shoot and use video,“ says Pfeifer-Harms. In fact, Scott Beck, MFH’s electronic publications coordinator, is redesigning a dedicated section of MFH’s website to better showcase its video productions. It also helped that MFH found a videographer to help their advance their progress.

Even program staff are on getting on board. Late last year, at an MFH board and staff retreat everyone was treated to a “film festival” from the 2011 series. Audience members were so moved that they began coming up with their own story ideas. “Some of our program staff are getting on board with how they can work better with Communications…they are seeing the story, seeing the possibilities, seeing that there is a way to get information about a program out in a way that excites people,” says Pfeifer-Harms. Noting that she’s even had a few program officers offering to do voice-over work, she says that her office’s focus on the creative possibilities with video has made her job an exciting, fulfilling experience in a whole new way.

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