Making an awareness-raising music video on a zero budget

Posted in Interviews Opinion

Making an awareness-raising music video on a zero budget

Charity Choice’s Margaret Davidson interviews Fundraiser editor Jenny Ramage about her campaign to raise awareness of a rare form of cancer.


Two years ago, Fundraiser editor Jenny Ramage underwent ‘The Mother Of All Surgeries’ to rid her of a rare, one-in a-million cancer called PMP. Now, as part of a drive to raise awareness of the disease, she has created a music video featuring PMP patients from around the world - on a zero budget. Margaret Davidson finds out how she achieved it.  


Where did the idea for the music video come from?


Since I was affected by PMP two years ago, I’ve been thinking about ways to help increase awareness of the disease. I really wanted to do something collaborative; something which would allow other survivors and supporters to get involved in a fun and positive way. I could have got people together for a one-off event, but I wanted to create something that had longevity and that would carry on raising awareness long into the future. So I decided to bring people together to create a music video, and to publish it on YouTube.  


How did you get so many people involved in making the video?


If you’ve ever heard Eric Whitacre’s incredible ‘Virtual Choir’, you’ll see how easy it is to gather contributors together from all corners of the globe. Thanks to a patients forum on Facebook, I had access to an international network of PMP survivors, carers and other supporters. I put the word out about the video, a healthy number of people responded and I ended up with around 25 clips. Around 100 people in total took part - a mix of patients, friends and other supporters.  


How did you choose a song for the music video? 


It’s much easier to get people to perform a song they know well than one they have never heard before. And I think generally a familiar song is more appealing to an audience, too. So rather than write a song from scratch and ask people to learn it, I decided the music video should be an adaptation of a well-known song. I chose Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, as it’s iconic, memorable and widely loved. I updated the lyrics, and recorded all the music and vocals. I kept the chorus the same, so that my contributors only had to film themselves miming the familiar words, and send me their clip. 


What was the biggest challenge you faced along the way?


Well, I'd never made a music video to raise awareness of a cause before. Undoubtedly the hardest part for me was getting the messaging right. It took months to figure it out. In the end, I called on a fundraising consultant friend to give me some advice, but I wish I'd done this much sooner so that I'd been clearer about the messaging from the start of the process, instead of it only properly coming together towards the end. I had to ask myself so many questions: What was my ultimate goal with the video? Who was it aimed at? What action did I want people to take on it? Did I want them to donate money, or just share the video to help spread awareness? How would I put that call to action across in the video? There were so many different ways to say it. With a bit of text? Some more video? At the start or at the end of the song?

Once I'd finally nailed the message I wanted to convey, I started on the really challenging part: the copywriting. How to condense the message into one or two short statements was a real challenge, even for an editor! I’d love to hear what readers think of the message I finally decided on, and would encourage them to leave feedback in the comments box.

Did you also encounter any technical challenges in producing the video?


The most complicated aspect was a legal one: I needed to get permission to publish my adaptation of 'We Didn’t Start The Fire', as the original is under copyright and my adaptation didn't qualify as an exception. If you’re going to cover or adapt a song, the only way you can be one hundred per cent sure it won’t get pulled down by YouTube’s third party content bots is to obtain an official licence for it. It took many months of corresponding with the song’s publisher, and it created a hold-up in getting the video published. If I’d known beforehand just how long the licensing process would take, I would have started it much earlier!  

Another challenge was explaining to contributors how to record their video clip. While on the one hand it’s simple - all you need is a camera phone, the internet and the song lyrics - on the other hand, if you don’t show people how to hold the camera, what sort of lighting and backdrop to use, how much footage they should capture, etc, then you are likely to end up with a load of unusable clips. I put together a set of written instructions, and it was a delicate balancing act between supplying enough information to ensure I’d get good-quality clips, and not putting people off with too much detail. It worked out OK and I only received one clip I was unable to use. But in retrospect, I should have made a video showing them how to make their video! 


How did you go about sharing the video?


The video was published on YouTube and shared on Facebook and Twitter. Having 100 people invested in the video meant that when it was finished, I had 100 people ready to help me share it!  

I also approached my local press and secured some coverage that way too. Furthermore, thanks to a contributor sharing it with her contacts in Canada, it got a special screening at a film festival there.  


How did you manage to spend absolutely no money on the video?


I did originally spend £25 on a green screen so that I could film the ‘newsroom’ scenes and put some other cool effects in the video, but afterwards I sold it to my friend who kindly offered me the full amount for it. So that put my costs back to zero!  

The music licence would have cost £250, but after explaining and showing the video to the publisher, the fee was reduced to £50 and eventually waived altogether. 

As for other potential costs, admittedly I already had access to the technical equipment I needed to record the song and edit the video. But many people these days will either own this technology themselves anyway, or will have a friend who is happy to let you use it.  

I also employed the technical skills of a video editor - a good friend of mine who was very happy to help out. Again, go to your networks and you’re bound to find someone who is willing to donate a bit of their time and skill.  


Are you pleased with the result?


I made the video in my spare time and it took around four months in total - much longer than I’d anticipated! - but it’s been very rewarding. The video is a true celebration of survival, with everyone singing and dancing and looking like they’re really enjoying themselves. It shows that you can survive this thing, and that there is help and support out there for you. I’ve since been contacted by a number of people with a PMP diagnosis who said they saw the video and that it really pepped them up. I'm really pleased that it's helping people. 

The video has had around 3.5k views on YouTube so far, and that number is growing every day. My hope is that now and into the future, anyone given a PMP diagnosis and who goes online to research the disease will stumble across our video, watch it, and have their spirits lifted a little. Being told you have a very rare and serious disease can be a very scary and isolating experience; it’s nice to hear from patients that our video is going a little way towards alleviating that. 



Margaret Davidson is marketing and community manager at Charity Choice.



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