Project Review: Udayan – Refuge from Leprosy (Part 2)


The purpose of this project was to document the activities of Udayan, an Indian non-profit, for their fundraising purposes.  It was not simply a description of what the organization does.  More importantly, through this project I wanted to create an emotional connection between the viewer and Udayan by showing how Udayan’s activities impacts the lives of people (in this case the children at Udayan and the parents suffering from leprosy who place their children in Udayan).


Was the final project a success at creating this emotional connection?  Partially.  In a perfect world I would have:

  • Before the Shoot: prepared my image & audio “capture list” on a storyboard (another post on my how I storyboard coming up)
  • Day 1: shoot & record audio, looking for breadth of coverage, context, and some start at the narrative elements (interviews, portraits, activities, etc) identified in my storyboard “capture list”
  • Evening 1: roughed out my story with images & audio that I captured, and identified gaps or areas that I wanted to focus on
  • Day 2: shoot & record to fill in gaps and flesh out the characters and narrative
  • Evening 2: Continued editing and refining content
  • Day 3 / Evening 3: same cycle

But it’s not a perfect world, is it?  Nope.  Given the logistical snags, I had just 1 day to shoot & record audio.  So I went for breadth – making sure I had something in each area I needed to cover: images of location & context, characters and activities; interviews with enough people so I could intertwine comments and interview segments with my narration; some audio recording of ambient sound that would help set the tone and tell the story; and a little video of some of my interviewees to introduce them during the slideshow.

If I had the luxury & budget to spend additional days at Udayan, I would have sought out an individual character or two guide the viewer through this experience.  I would replace my narration with their voices, and let them tell the viewer about the facilities, the school programs, and what it’s like to be tested for leprosy each month or to return to a leper colony to see your parents.

Udayan girl visits her parents in a leper colony

I would add some missing elements (e.g., I don’t have a good image or video clip of the facilities & grounds; I would love to show the children both at play and in the dormitories) and improve some transitions.  I would have gone back to some items to get stronger images & audio (e.g., get some close-up, detail shots and audio interviews with the children).  In a short period of time, you’re doing well to get images and sounds to communicate basic information.  With extra time, you can build up characters who will move the storyline forward – and also personalize the information.  That’s the better way to create an emotional connection because face it: no one is emotionally connected to raw information.

Lessons Learned

First, when you travel to a project site, make sure you have contact information for several people that can help you.  Don’t rely on just one person – you never know if they’ll end up in the hospital.  And make sure you can connect several ways: get a phone and email for each person.

Second, build in more time that you think you need for your project, especially if you go long distances to get there.  You probably won’t have time or budget to get back – so you’ve got to get the information you need for your story in the time available.  And things will undoubtedly go wrong to cut into that time.  Plan for those distractions.

Third, rough out an idea of the storyline and what you’ll need to craft that story visually and with sound.  Walk into your shoot with specific ideas on what you need to capture (images, video clips, sound).  Your storyline may change over time, and you’ll absolutely play with the sequence and pacing of various elements in your story, but knowing what basic images and sounds you need to capture at the front end will increase your odds that you’ll have enough useable material to work with when you leave.

Forth, keep the big picture in mind.  Painters usually sketch out the entire canvas before they drill into a particular area.  Get enough raw material to tell the whole story first, even in a rudimentary form, and put the images and sounds together in a rough sketch while you’re still in the field.  Then circle back and fill in gaps, and build up elements that you want to emphasize.


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