Can Producing a Short Film Be Part of a Digital Strategy? We Think So.

Recently, the National Gaucher Foundation made a short film called “One of Those Dates.” It’s funny. It has memorable and relatable characters. It’s about a first date that goes wrong, and then takes an unexpected turn.

The foundation has used video as part of its communication strategy before, mostly short documentaries about people who have been impacted by Gaucher disease. These videos depict impactful, personal, and emotional stories. But a scripted “dramedy” is new territory for them.

The idea emerged from ignite: action’s partnership with the National Gaucher Foundation. “Prior to initiating any video campaign, I meet with the ignite team to discuss the goal of the campaign, the key messaging, the target audience and the measurable action items. From there, we begin to think creatively,” says Amy Blum, COO of the National Gaucher Foundation.

We know that one of the foundation’s goals is to increase education and awareness of Gaucher disease among a broad audience.

We wanted to find a new way to achieve as much broad-based awareness as possible. We looked at different data points regarding what content people tend to consume, when, and where. A large audience is watching entertaining, often episodic, videos online. People watch Netflix at home, webisodes on their commute to work, short videos on Facebook at their desks. People enjoy bite-sized pieces of video content, and they consume a lot of them.

How could we use this to the foundation’s advantage?

A documentary has a specific kind of appeal to a certain audience. A light, entertaining story has a different, and in many ways broader, appeal. We felt that a narrative that provided entertainment with an imbedded message about the disease could reach people that the foundation had not reached before.

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“In this instance, we chose a light and funny communication strategy, a fictional narrative, to best relay the educational content,” says Blum. “We wanted an approach that would best engage a younger audience and a ‘dramedy’ seemed to be an ideal manner to engage as well as subtly educate, and perhaps leave people wanting a continuation of the storyline.”

Gaucher disease would be part of the story, but it wouldn’t be the main focus of the storyline. Instead, Gaucher disease would be infused into the film, like a product placement. But the goal of the film itself would be to make people laugh and connect with the characters.

When we shared the idea with the leadership at the National Gaucher Foundation, they were enthusiastic about the idea. They agreed that it is important to take risks sometimes to achieve the best results.

Together, we came up with a few different possible storylines. Once we knew what direction would be best, we brought in a production company from Israel called Double I Productions. The production company did the casting, pre-production, filming and editing.

“This process was very different from a strictly informational video as it involved writing a script with developed characters,” says Blum. “We actually crafted a short film. The longest part of the process was ensuring we had characters and a scenario that would keep someone watching balanced by the educational information we sought to deliver. There were several versions of the script as we refined all of these aspects.”

Noa Osheroff wrote the script and Itai Segal directed the film, which was produced by Itai Amidor. Throughout the process, both the foundation and ignite: action collaborated with the production team to make sure the film was the fun and exciting story we’d envisioned.

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“The entire team, including the film directors, grappled with the characters. Were they relatable or offensive?” says Blum. “And, most importantly, the educational content: did the script convey the information in a manner that was simple? Was it sufficient? Did it leave the viewer with just enough understanding and curiosity to want to learn more?”

Our hope was that, as people watched the film, they’d be curious to learn more about the disease. The next time they heard about it, maybe they’d remember they’d heard the name before. In a conversation about genetic testing, hopefully they’d remember that Gaucher disease was something to test for.

“The film was premiered at the NGF’s Annual Patient Symposium in New York City at the end of October,” says Blum. The theater was filled to capacity with an audience of more than 200 people. The producer and director traveled from Tel Aviv to talk about the film. The response of the crowd was wholehearted; people laughed and cheered.

“There were lots of laughs and buzz after about the characters and how it brought Gaucher disease into an everyday conversation in a very real and meaningful manner,” says Blum.

The premier was a success, but the audience at the annual meeting was one comprised of doctors, patients, and allies. How would a general audience respond?

When we launched the video on Facebook, we didn’t know if people would be willing to watch a 12-minute film on the platform. We’d subtitled the film so that people could enjoy it without sound. But it was a more involved viewing experience than a 60 or 90 second video.

Pretty much immediately, it became clear that people were willing to watch 12 minutes. Our goal had been to reach 1 million people. But we reached 2 million with the Facebook post.

During the campaign, 270,000 thousand people watched the film in its entirety and approximately 1 million individuals watched a part of it. Thousands of people went from the video to the website to learn more. Many people commented, some positively and other negatively. But even those who left negative comments still learned a little bit about Gaucher disease.

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We consider “One of Those Dates” a total success, and a model that other organizations should consider. It proves the effectiveness of the user-centric approach; it helps to think about what the end user of your content wants and needs, not just what the organization wants and needs.

We delivered a great movie and we were able to incorporate messages related to the organization, but we thought about the viewers first.

“The film has been just as well received digitally,” says Blum. “It seems to be that the scenario of a crazy blind date resonates with many. So much so, that it also seems as if people are interested in knowing what may happen next!”