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NGOs & webdocs: The case of Urban Survivors. NGOs do already produce interactive projects. And there is little doubt that they will increasingly do so in the future. We thought you could be interested to learn more from an NGO POV. But as I talk too much (as always ;), let’s give the floor to Fabian Malaval, working in the department of video production @ Médecins Sans Frontière Belgium. He answered some of our quetions related to the strategy of an NGO when commissionning a webdoc. Link: URBAN SURVIVORS producers : Noor Images / Darjeeling Prod / MSF Matt - Fabien, thank you very much for being here. Could you tell us why a NGO like MSF is intersted to commission webdocs? For every project carried out by an organisation like MSF, the goal is first and foremost to highlight a humanitarian crisis. This specific project, Urban Survivors, is about the medical and humanitarian consequences faced by most of the inhabitants of the slums where MSF is actively providing care. We needed to find new ways to reach general audiences and get them interested in such harsh issues. The web documentary has several advantages: first it is hosted by and developed for the web, the only worldwide accessible platform, a capacity which television does not offer. Secondly, being

Webdocs. Survival Guide for Online Filmmakers

based on multiple, rich media sources, it can reach a broader scope of audience, such as: (1) those interested in online reading or audiovisual material; (2) the new generation of websters with a thirst for interactive experience; (3) people eager for information without falling into the video game syndrome, I mean , in terms of navigation , where the form get more important than the subject. Through the web, therefore, we are making the living conditions of human beings who live in slums and our activities to support them more visible to a wider web audience. The web documentary is definitely a great way to take the visitor on a journey into the slums, to see the realities that are becoming more and more present in the world’s cities, but that remain largely unknown to the general public. It also highlights the fact that nowadays, one in ten people in the world lives in a slum, that in many places the humanitarian situation is critical, that MSF works in over 20 of these slums, and that there are many factors - environmental, social, political and economical - that influence people’s health in urban settings.

The powerful visuals were taken by renowned Noor agency photographers, and the audio and the great work of Darjeeling Productions enabled us to recreate virtually five of these slums, bringing awareness of these issues to a greater number of people. Matt - Did you produce other projects before? Urban Survivors is our first real web documentary - at least the way we now understand it. We had two other big multimedia projects over the past three years that came close: “Condition Critical”; the first one, was a multimedia website launched in 2008, aimed at giving “a voice” to the people of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was mainly based on the work of Cedric Gerbehaye from the VU agency, and was updated regularly with news stories and videos. The other one, “Starved for Attention”, still ongoing, is based mostly on webclips, and aims to expose the neglected and largely invisible crisis of childhood malnutrition. In collaboration with VII agency, the campaign has had huge success over the past two years. With regard to your audience, do you have any figures about how many people have watched Urban Survivors in the first days after the launch? On November 23rd, the website itself was visited by more than 14,500 unique visitors. However, to that we must add the number of people who saw the embedded videos that were shared separate to the website. To illustrate with an example, on the Belgian daily Le Soir’s website, where the photo film «Johannesburg» was embedded, there were more than 7000 views in the first three days! The amount of viewers peaked in the first three days.

Webdocs. Survival Guide for Online Filmmakers

What was your strategy to reach the audience, your own members ? and others? Using the web as the medium was in itself already a strategic approach: we were hoping to attract a younger audience to the humanitarian problems in slums worldwide through a modern and interactive medium. To tease out interest before the launch of the web documentary, we released trailers, based on the photos from the project and questions about humanitarian slum-related problems such as hygiene, overpopulation, and living conditions. Then the idea was to secure major media partnerships such as with Radio France International (RFI), to embed the website on theirs, in order to get coverage from outside of MSF. AlertNet hosted banners which redirected web traffic to our website. The use of social media sharing tools was directly available within the web documentary. For example, via a fake Facebook “check in�; a way to re-use the concept of Facebook Places. This provided a deeper immersion for the visitor, allowing him to put in his facebook profile an indication on his virtual current location. The mini embedded version of the web documentary, as well as tweets and Facebook messages, also increased the viral aspect of the overall production. In parallel, the offline promotion strategy was of key importance. Events such as photo exhibitions are and will be organised in various countries, and we have key partnerships with various print media (for instance, a two-page article was published by Belgian daily Le Soir and another one in the Belgian daily De Morgen ).

Thiking about the DOs and DONTs, what the readers of our «survival guide» love the most ;) what should they carefully think when they work on a webdoc for a NGO? First, especially if they work for an NGO, they should not underestimate the heavy process of having a lot of people involved, and second, they should really think about the fact that a web documentary is not a regular documentary, which means you cannot count on normal procedures to produce it. It is also really important to try to find a way of pushing the audience to go back to your web documentary, because people won’t see everything the first time. The attention span for someone on the web is roughly five minutes – how can people look at five films, 20 interviews and 18 pages of text and animated graphics in this amount of time? Also, most importantly, the web is a graphic and virtual environment, so don’t underestimate the visual impact - it’s the first thing you’ll be judged on. The navigation and the art direction goes alongside each other, so you really need

Webdocs. Survival Guide for Online Filmmakers

to think about each choice you make. For example, Flash or HTML5? Bearing in mind that one system is old but well–installed, and the other young and not stable, but will probably be in use everywhere in a few months time.

Let’s talk money now ;) Seriously, on the finance side, Finance, Urban Survivors looks very good. How much does a project like Urban Survivors cost to have an idea? This project was made with a quite reasonable budget – and it was because of the commitments of the different partners that it became live. But if it hadn’t been for an NGO, it would have cost far more! A web documentary is not cheaper than any other audiovisual production when it comes to the regular circuit – web development and audiovisual investment can be very expensive. It is in several languages. how much does it cost (more or less) to add one language on a project like this one? Once again, the partners – here Darjeeling Productions -

made a great effort to keep the prices as realistic as possible. Also, a back-office tool made it very easy for us to create translated versions of the site.

Before concluding Fabien, what would you suggest to webdockers who want to pitch a project to an NGO like MSF. What is important for you? First, they should not come to us with the idea that we’ll be able to produce the entire project. We are pleased to gain visibility externally, but our money is to help people in distress, not to finance companies. That said, I think that as long as we are sure that the subjects or content of the web documentary will not jeopardise MSF’s neutrality or access to its beneficiaries, and the fact that the NGO has the right to stop everything that goes against these principles are two basic things. Then, if it’s creatively made, fully dedicated toward the humanitarian questions, it will definitely count. Also, having an already interested platform partnership is definitely an added plus. Productions: Médecins Sans Frontière Noor Images Darjeeling

Webdocs. Survival Guide for Online Filmmakers

Update #2 - NGOs & webdocs - Urban survivors  

urban survivors, by MSF. INterview with Fabien Malaval

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