A Conversation with Catsnake – Stephen Follows and Edward Dark
Paul Skinner: We recently met Stephen Follows and Edward Dark from the video production company Catsnake. We are speaking to them today because they have recently had some very successful films in the Charity sector that are connecting messages to audiences in a different and unique way and because we are collaborating with them to offer a pro bono film competition to our member causes.
Can you briefly introduce yourselves?
Stephen Follows: Hi, I’m Stephen. I’m a writer and producer. In the past I’ve produced a couple of feature films, a few web series, some radio comedy and a bunch of other film projects. My writing started slowly and so by trade I tend to refer to myself as a producer although the writing side is far more fun!
Ed Dark: I'm Ed and I’m a director. Stephen teases me that I try to push everything one step bigger, further or better. It all started when I made a short film a few years ago and I decided to shoot it on IMAX rather than a more normal format. The film was called 'Chasing Cotards', it starred Andrew Scott (Moriarty in BBC's 'Sherlock') and it did quite well. Before becoming a full-time director I worked on numerous Hollywood productions ('Inkheart', 'Harry Potter' series) and BBC Drama.
Stephen: I’ve never said your drive to make everything bigger is wrong, just funny.
Ed: True. More recently we’ve been working together to focus on videos for the charity sector.
Stephen: Because of our background in narrative film we focus on stories and characters rather than marketing slogans or flashy concepts. And this is what viewers want from video online. We feel quite fortunate that we’ve come into the sector just as everyone is seeing the power of online video.
Paul: Why should a charity consider using online video?
Ed: It is the most powerful communication method in making people care, beyond directly talking to people one at a time. It’s easier to motivate people using a video than a poster campaign, direct mail, radio and email.
Stephen: If you’re comparing it to television advertising then it’s a no-brainer! The production costs are normally much less and it costs almost nothing to get it out there. Last year we worked with a client who spent £½ million pounds making a TV advert and then £10 million broadcasting it. And now that campaign is over his ads don’t run anymore. With online video your work is there for as long as the internet exists. They live forever.
Paul: Why do you say it connects better than other media forms?
Stephen: When you watch a video that doesn’t appear to be a campaign film then you’re watching it as a form of entertainment. It feels like a movie or TV. Your guard is down and you’re willing to watch. If you receive a leaflet through the door giving you a list of facts about a cause (a) you may not read it as you instantly regard it as boring and (b) you immediately have your emotional guard up.
Ed: The Internet is full of millions of people looking for a distraction from what they should be doing. Charities can harness this to grab people’s attention and then to use it to make people truly care about the message/cause.
Paul: What’s the trick to getting lots of views for a video?
Ed: Make a good video. (laughs)
Although there are ways to ‘buy’ views they are a huge waste of money and usually don’t achieve the aim of the campaign. It’s not about having x number of people view your video its about people genuinely connecting with your message and taking whatever action you want them to take.
Stephen: The point of what we do is not the video; it’s the result – the communication of the message and the call to action.
Paul: Do you have to do lots of work sharing the video?
Stephen: Yes and no. Of course it helps if you have links with journalists, bloggers and people sympathetic to your cause. But at the end of the day you should be putting your focus in making something people want to watch. That’s the only way of truly breaking out of your existing circle of supporters and reaching new people.
Ed: When you’ve enjoyed watching a video you want to share it. It’s like retelling a joke you’ve just heard – suddenly you’re funny! The internet has a whole array of ways people can share something they like from Facebook and Twitter to blogs and email.
Paul: Give us an example.
Stephen: We recently worked with ‘Friends Of The Earth’ who asked us to make people to want to recycle. So we made a two minute love story between two milk cartons.
Stephen: (laughs) Exactly. When people come to watch it they are not expecting it to be a campaign film. By the time they reach the end of the video they have a strong emotional connection to recycling.
Ed: The film has been a huge success for ‘Friends of the Earth’. It’s had over 1 million views online, won various awards and was even tweeted about by Stephen Fry.
The end result is that audiences all over the world are emotionally connecting with recycling and this was our brief.
You can watch the film here:
Paul: What is the most important thing a charity can do when planning a video?
Stephen: Know why they’re doing it. What’s success and what’s failure?
Ed: If your plan is ‘to make a video’ I can guarantee you’ll achieve it! But what’s the point in that? You need to have a defined, measurable objective.
Stephen: Otherwise how can you tell during the process if you’re making the right video or not?
Paul: What sort of budgets do you work with for these videos? Because they look like they would be very expensive (a luxury not all charities can afford)
Ed: It definitely costs less that you think! However, it all depends on the video and the campaign we are trying to get across to the audience. For example: you could have 3 helicopters fighting in the middle of a war zone and that would cost close to £500, 000, or you could have a monologue by a great actor to camera in one room and that would cost close to £500. What we ask the Charity to do is tell us early on how much money they have allocated for the video. That way we know what limitations we are working with – we will then create a brief that works with that budget in mind.
Paul: Why do charity videos fail?
Ed: They’re boring.
Stephen: And they only appeal to current supporters who already agree with you. It’s a waste of money to use a video to try and convince to those people – they already agree and you already have their email addresses!
Paul: Many charity videos seem to use shocking or nasty imagery but you don’t. Why not?
Stephen: I completely understand why some charities go straight for shock – their causes are shocking. But it doesn’t automatically follow that the best way of converting new audiences to your cause it to shock them. If you can inspire people they will connect with you on a deeper level that shock can ever achieve.
Ed: When was the last time you shared a video about a boy being abused or a girl being raped? I never have because I know my friends won’t want to see that on my Twitter or Facebook page. What they will want to see is a video that connects with them emotionally.
Paul: Even for a topic that can be pretty brutal, like Road Safety?
Stephen: Google ‘Embrace Life’. 15 million views and it makes me feel amazing every time I watch it. Not a shattered limb in sight!
Ed: I love that video.
Paul: At this point in our interviews we usually ask our guests to pick one of our member causes and give them some advice or ideas - but you are going to do much more than that - would you like to share the plan with our readers?
Ed: Yes, we're looking forward to this one!
Stephen: We're going to make a video for an organisation via Pimp My Cause for free.
Paul: Totally for free?
Stephen: As much as we can. We'll work entirely pro bono and the company won't take any payment/overhead, although there may be some minor external costs according to what the cause wants to see happen in the film. These costs can include things like props that will be featured in the film - they will be agreed in advance and we'll do our best to minimize them as much as possible.
We always write to a brief so if part of that brief is a budget of almost nothing then we'll make sure our ideas are appropriate. Obviously the more money we have to play with the more creative possibilities open to us and the further the video is likely to travel.
There is an application form where we ask people what their budget is for the film would be (under £500, £500-£1,000 or above £1,000) but this won't affect the selection process. We'll be picking the winning idea based on need and how much of an impact a video can have. We just need to know the budget range so we can create relevant ideas.
Paul: So how can our member causes apply?
Stephen: Fill in the application form here and make sure it gets to us as soon as possible (email it to firstname.lastname@example.org). The final deadline is the 21st of September, but the sooner applications come in the better the chance they will have as it gives us longer to develop ideas for the,.
Ed: We're looking for which organisation has the most compelling need for a video. So this might be linked to a particular upcoming campaign, to combat current misconceptions or to introduce themselves to a younger, more internet- savey audience. Don't worry about how hard the brief is – that's something we're good at. The harder the brief, the tougher the problem, the better!
You can see more of Catsnake’s work at their website:
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