“Porch” A Documentary on How Three Ordinary Women Did Something Extraordinary

by steven schwartzLeave a Comment

“Porch” is a documentary that tugs at the heartstrings.

It's a story about three stay-at-home moms who decided to do something to help their less-fortunate neighbors.

The emotional connection is hard to put into words, but this video activates strong emotions in an audience – the hallmark of a powerfully-told story.

Lucky for us, Producer/Director Greg Dixon shares the step-by-step process he used to ensure that the film achieved all its goals.

In addition to the pleasure of watching a well-made documentary, Dixon gives some great insights on storytelling and how to manage your client relationship.

The Porch concept is brilliantly simple and the documentary shows how giving to others makes a lasting impact on everyone involved.

As I watched the documentary unfold, I saw how the volunteers and the recipients became connected. The goal of “Porch” was to motivate the audience to support Porch's program or to help start a local version and in this it succeeded admirably.

For those who see video as a medium to contribute to support positive social change, read on to see how one filmmaker hit a home run!


Making the “Porch” film

From Greg Dixon:

Late last year we were approached by a local non-profit organization called PORCH to produce a video for their web site to help promote their organization. PORCH started when three stay-at-home moms wanted to help people in the community who did not have enough to eat. People donate by leaving food items at their front door on a designated day each month and volunteers collect these items to be sorted then distributed to local food pantries and directly to recipients in need.

Although it seemed like a fairly straightforward request at the time, it soon became apparent to me that this was no ordinary charity nor were these three founders ordinary women. Usually client motives for a video is more about ‘keeping up with the Jones’ ‘ or it’s ‘the thing to do’ however the directors of PORCH had a very clear business objective for what they expected the video to yield. Wow! They get it!

Let me explain …

Business Objectives

PORCH had numerous business objectives:

1. PORCH believe they have reached a threshold in size and impact. They want a video to be the basis of moving them over this threshold to the next stage by:

a Being able to use it for local publicity (press, media, web site etc)
b Use for local Government, regulatory bodies and other potential interface organizations to garner and/or increase support and commitment
c For the community at large to generate more awareness, interest and commitment to PORCH
d Open the opportunity to plant parallel PORCHs in other communities, counties and states
e Generate buzz (through the video's launch)

2. They spend a lot of time talking to audiences about PORCH. The right video will help scene set and explain the basics so that these audiences will be much more productive.

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 Greg Dixon shares the step-by-step process he used to ensure that the film achieved all its goals. Share with your twitter friends! 
"Porch" Production On Set

“Porch” Production On Set

The Discovery

I know we’re tired of the now cliché “it’s all about the story” but it’s as much law as Newton’s laws of physics. But our challenge was that we knew nothing about the organization, or charities in general. What kind of a story did we need to develop here? So now began the hard work and the real ‘investment; needed. We had several very long meetings with the clients to the point they began to question the need (by which time we knew it was about enough!) but we wanted to know everything:

• For the three Founders/ Directors: Why did they do it? What drives them as individuals? How do they interact? Their motivation, their history … ?
• For the Organization: What is its history? Its scope, the numbers, the issues, the challenges, the successes, the processes, what works, what doesn’t … ?
• For the volunteers: Why? Why PORCH? What is it that makes PORCH different, the same?.. ?
• For the Recipients: Why do they need assistance? What is their feeling to PORCH? How are they also involved? … ?

What made this process special is that it wasn’t just discovery. By challenging those I was meeting with, it also enabled them to discover and rediscover as they questioned themselves. This added benefit by building our credibility and re-igniting the flame of passion within those we met. This helped increase the enthusiasm and commitment to the project overall.

Because of the exhaustive nature of this process, we were able to get beyond the initial stated goals to uncover multiple other, subtler goals and message opportunities that could be woven into the story. The beauty of video and the responsibility we have as storytellers, is to be able to do this without confusing the audience with too many storylines. For example: elements such as the food being more than just a relief was achieved in the fresh food ‘chapter’ when one of the recipients explained how fresh sweet potatoes wasn’t just for special occasions anymore; organizational governance was less spoken about and more demonstrated through structured food sorting, orderly distribution etc.

The final communications objectives then were these:

Primary: Become emotionally and physically committed to PORCH through showing:

• The need
• The reward
• The cause is poverty

Secondary: To understand PORCH brings Community through showing:

• Part of a community of support organizations & NGOs
• Inter-related with other organizations
• Process relationships
• The Karin Community becoming self-sustainable

Tertiary: Build trust with the high integrity level of PORCH through showing:

• Feasibility
• Impact
• Extensibility

It was important for us to start establishing the audience emotional response goals at this point as well in order to ensure as we mapped out the story flow, we didn’t miss these. The stronger the audience emotional response, the memorable and successful the film will be.

"Porch" Production On Set

“Porch” Production On Set

Establishing Trust

We also recognized that asking a small non-profit to make a prioritization decision on whether they should spend money on our project versus something that is arguably much more important. Money is always a resource of scarcity! Therefore it was imperative we built trust quickly. With trust comes credibility then (hopefully) a quicker decision & commitment.

In this regard, some ‘tips’ that worked well for us were:

• Be emotionally invested. It’s impossible to fake sincerity (at least for me!). Our energy and enthusiasm is what sold the project.
• The basics of good business discipline: On time, on budget, no surprises, do what you say and vice versa. Same for our freelance crew
• Involve the client. Especially in the pre-production phase. We asked their opinions, considered their input, worked collaboratively. Nothing builds trust faster
• Make it our business to know their business: respectfully of course!
• Project manage efficiently. We made sure the client saw us taking charge and managing things not allowing things to manage us.
• Scope. We built in an element of flexibility against a ridged stop. The last thing we wanted was scope creep that would eat into whatever hard-earned profit wehad remaining. At one point we were asked to change the scope but this was dropped after it was clear there would be incremental cost. There was no complaint however since this was spelt out very clearly in the proposal.

The Proposal

As always this was thecritical piece of the project. It’s goal is to establish what the expectations are, what and how will be delivered and the process for working together. Our proposal for PORCH included the following structure:

Background of PORCH –This demonstrated we understood their business and their business & communication goals.

Objective – The stated purpose of the project
Deliverables – What will be delivered and by when (what video(s), distribution etc)
Administrative – Roles & responsibilities, legal (e.g. talent release, licensing)
Production schedule – What will be done by when. Includes the client’s expected activities (e.g. milestone sign off dates)
Creative Outline – Storyline summary, treatments, audience emotional response targets
Production Administration: Interviewee contact list, shoot location list, task assignment
Sign-off – including revision history

Sign-off is critical; not just for legal purposes but it ensures everyone understands and agrees to all elements of the project

"Porch" Production On Set

“Porch” Production On Set

Who was the client?

Obviously our client was the one paying the invoice; or was it? We realized that if the clients’ clients weren’t also delighted, enthusiasm would have been short lived. We were mindful that the project isn’t just about making someone happy, but it is also about generating future leads and repeat business.

The Execution

In executing (production & post), I played a combined producer/ director role. Handling two jobs wasn’t easy:
• As Director: I want to make sure we are getting the right shots; The shot list is being fulfilled; opportunities for extra-ordinary or complementary, unplanned shots do not escape
• As Producer: I’m taking care of logistics, interfacing with the client, managing crew needs, equipment logistics, engaging with the interviewees, running the interviews
Obviously there is conflict with only one person doing both roles.
• So why then? Simple: money! The project and budget weren’t large enough.
• So how then? Through spending more time with the client, I was able to coach and work with them (and their deputies) to manage most of the client facing logistics. Not a perfect solution but for this project, workable.

Adding Value

After the shoot was done, we suggested to the client that we would produce a longer (10min) version together with the shorter, originally agreed ~3 min production. We also produced a short ‘out takes’ of the video, again outside of the agreed scope.

So why did we do this when we were so disciplined during pre and prod? Simple: because it’s incremental cost is marginal yet our goodwill mileage with the client huge: i.e. added value. Here’s the impact:

• We edited the longer video at the outset, pitched it to the client (who loved it), got sign off then completed audio design and color grading. Once this done we then ran a copy of it, edited it down, re-did the music bed and done. Total cost: a mere 3 hours.
• As the clips were being assembled for production, out-takes were quickly tagged then 30 mins to assemble.
Furthermore, we suggested that since they had this longer version, perhaps some kind of public launch might be in order. They loved the idea and within 3 days, they had a local theatre secured and 200 RSVPs.

"Porch" Founders with Producer/Director Greg Dixon

“Porch” Founders with Producer/Director Greg Dixon


Always the trickiest of subjects to a) define value and b) pitch to potential customers. We use a standard template to quote projects and because this client is a non-profit, we trimmed margins. The client determined they would obtain a grant to cover the cost of the project and not leverage public financial donations.

Lasting Memories

It was exceedingly motivating meeting and getting to know the founder/ directors of PORCH with the project taking on the project name of ‘PORCH three ordinary women’

I’ve spent a good deal of time in this post explaining the process but this was the means to an end and what a wonderful end it became. After the initial viewing, the clients remained in stunned silence before jumping up with tears running down their cheeks they threw their arms around us in appreciation. Days later we were still receiving textsstating how speechless they still are. They re-watched it 49 times on Vimeo before the launch with the City Mayor herself at the launch. That’s why we practice the science of such processes; that’s why we as filmmakers collectively, practice our art.

“Porch” Documentary Film

“Porch” Film Out Takes

More Information

PORCH (porchnc.org) is an all-volunteer, grassroots , non-profit hunger relief organization whose mission is to collect and distribute food for families going hungry in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro community. Through monthly neighborhood food drives, PORCH stocks the shelves of eight local food pantries with canned goods. Its Food for Families program delivers fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, ground beef and eggs directly into the hands of 230 local families in need. And more recently, PORCH provides each of the schools in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district with healthy snack foods.

More Information about the PORCH Project:www.slfilms.com/three-ordinary-women

Greg Dixon is a TV and Film Producer based in Raleigh, North Carolina. His Film Company: Southern Lantern Films (slfilms.com) produced the PORCH Movie.Southern Lantern Films is currently post-producing a project that followed vintage bikers from Lhasa Tibet across the roof of the world to Mt Everest. Stay tuned!

What did you think of “Porch” the documentary? Share your thoughts with others by commenting on this article in our forums!

(cover photo credit: snap from Greg Dixon BTS Stills)

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