CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES
CHANGING THE WAY WE CARE
“The world needs to wake up to the fact that 80-90 percent of children in orphanages have at least one living parent and that they would be far better off in family care.” - Sean Callahan - President, CRS
Catholic Relief Services is seeking to change efforts towards helping families affected by poverty. Rather than continuing to pour money into orphanages, they want to redirect resources towards keeping children with their families. They are calling this effort Changing the Way We Care, as it alleges that orphanages often do more harm than good for children.
A proposal by CRS to shift orphanages into family support centers is a finalist in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100 & Change competition which will award a $100 million grant aimed at solving a critical problem of our time.
CRS approached Shine as a production partner to develop a video that would be a strategic part of their proposal. They wanted to tell the story of one child whose mother is forced to make the difficult decision to send her to an orphanage and show the harm this does to the family.
We knew that we had to achieve maximum emotional impact to illustrate the gravity of this situation. Filming real orphanages and orphaned children were not possible, so we decided that a narrative drama, using actors, real locations and killer production design would best serve our story. Having so many personnel in the field in developing countries, CRS’s internal subject matter experts would be our harshest critics in terms of authenticity.
Extensive research, including a location scout in Haiti to visit operating orphanages provided a wealth of visual source material as well as experiencing first hand interaction with the resident staff and children. We also scouted multiple homes so we could replicate the precise level of poverty in which our family would live. It’s interesting to have conversations about what level of poverty would propel a mother to send her child away. There had to be enough for there to be love and happiness, but lacking in basic needs like food, clothing and education.
While Haiti (above) provided perfect examples of locations, atmosphere and people affected by poverty, it couldn’t provide adequate production facilities or filmmaking infrastructure that would enable us to shoot there. We decided on Puerto Rico (shown below) for it’s strong production community and number of locations that resembled what we’d found in Haiti.
One gift we received in casting was finding an actual mother and daughter to play the same roles in the film. Their audition was one of those rare moments that gave perfect clarity to the parts and their greater shaping of the film in general.
The image here shows our mother and daughter getting into character during wardrobe fitting.
The skeleton of the story was developed by the internal team at CRS and fine tuned through collaboration with Shine. CRS wanted the film to be short so the concept had to be simple and expedient. The key messages were that this family was happy but firmly in the vise of poverty. There is not enough food for all the children, their clothes were falling apart and they were not in school. We chose to cast each of the negatives against the image of a loving family, so that the mother’s decision at the end would have more impact. To avoid becoming too literal in these depictions, we crafted the mother’s scene to feel like a projection of her internal thoughts. The result is powerful.
The high level of production on a narrative film was a departure for CRS, as the bulk of video they produce is smaller budget journalistic work. There was great concern among stakeholders that the message, authenticity and tone of the video strike the right cord. Once finished, it was privately screened up the ladder to establish confidence and ensure buy-in. Reports of tears were common, as was astonishment at the quality of production and storytelling. In the end, the organization rallied behind this film and, most importantly, their presentation won the second round of judging in August and qualified them as semifinalists for the MacArthur grant. Final decisions will be made in December.
From CRS on the internal responses:
“We showed her (the CEO of Lumos, a partner agency in the project) the 30 second version first and she was ecstatic. The narration was spot on. We then showed her the full version and she was in tears. Said she has to keep her emotions in check when she’s out in the field but she kind of let her guard down watching the video. Our VP was effusive in her praise and Philip from Maestral was asking about continuing the story. So they are all-in.”
Reports on the social and ad campaign were strong as well. They launched the longer form and a :30 second teaser.
“The video performed really well on social media when we released it. Always helps with JK Rowling retweets so I think it’s been the most viewed video we’ve done at CRS.”
“The ad campaign that we did during the month of August (targeting the board members) did extremely well, went way beyond expectations. And the video was a top performer. In fact, it was viewed to the end 62% of the time it was looked at. That is an incredible response for a regular video, let alone a :30 pre roll with a skip button.”