You Are Awesome – The Making of a Video Tribute

On July 5, 2012 we released a video tribute to all those housing workers that are working tirelessly to end homelessness. The making of the tribute is the focus of this blog and a lesson in how leveraging social networks can help define the message.

Since January I have been taking 5-10 second clips of video on my iPhone in various locations throughout North America. Anytime I saw a word or phrase or image that I liked, I recorded it. I didn’t know how it would possibly be used. I just kept shooting. I ended up with over an hour of material. That’s a lot when you consider that each clip is very short.

About a month ago, I started the experimental phase of the project. I selected three people in various areas of North America that were friends of mine on Facebook. I asked each one, using only social media, to find out which phrases they had heard me say in speeches I had given in their community really resonated with people in their social network. A couple of points here: none of the “friends” I asked via Facebook were close friends in the more conventional sense; and, I knew full well that not everyone in their social network would have heard me speak. Anyway, through this process the text phrases that appear in the video were selected. The only thing I added was the “You are awesome” tag at the end of each one.

I record many of the speeches that I give as part of keynotes or training or lectures or briefings to elected officials. I do this so that I can learn how to make my public presentations better. This is an important back-story for the next part of the exercise. Sending a direct message to 7 other friends on Facebook, I asked them to work their friend list to isolate parts of speeches that they have heard me give that they thought were particularly impactful. I then assembled audio clips from their feedback. Because I had given more than one speech in some of these communities, there are actually pieces of 9 different speeches included in the video. Some parts of those speeches are in the foreground. However, if you listen really closely to the mix (especially with headphones on) you are hear parts of other speeches in the background.

The last piece of the spoken word component was for me to send a message out on Facebook to everyone on my friend list, and a note on Twitter, asking people to audio record “You are awesome” in any way that they wanted to and to email it to me. I also asked people to have people in their family do it as well if they wanted to do so. Almost 10% of everyone on my friend list did so. Every single one of these is in the final compilation. Some are louder than others. Some are more frequent than others. But all of them are there. Who knows, maybe the quieter ones have a subliminal power?

I set myself a five minute limit for the tribute. The first thing I did was assemble the video images and text. If someone paid no attention to the audio, I still wanted the video to have its own key messages.  The second thing I did was organize the sequence of the audio clips so that the messages in the foreground would sound like one continuous speech.

Feeling something was missing, I took some clips from an interview I did with a formerly homeless gentleman last year. I liked all of the background noise in the interview. I thought his eyes and other facial expressions were very emotive. The clips with him became the inspiration for the music composition.

Then I went about composing the music for the video. This was the most time consuming part of the project. In some ways it was like scoring a film…using music to help drive the emotional attributes of the video images. In some ways it was like putting together a music video…it had to work as a stand-alone piece of music. The toughest part was having a beat to work as a backbone, in line with the tempo of the speech pattern, and one that would “drive” people through the journey of the video.

And then I finally worked the “You are awesome” word messages into the mix at various times as part of the final editing process.

The whole video, audio and editing was completed in my “spare” time – late at night or on airplanes when I was too tired to read or write reports. Other than the music and “You are awesome” phrases, the whole video was created using existing materials that were put together in a new way. It was social media that assembled the crowd of people that had input on the phrases and text that resonated most with them in different communities. What I liked about this was that it provided a strong voice to how others have interpreted our work and messages rather than me providing solely a self-assessment. Some of the content recommended, honestly, is different than what I expected. For that I am grateful.

Once the video was posted on YouTube, I let people know via Facebook (personal page and corporate page) and Twitter. The fascinating – and unexpected part – in the first couple of days is that people in housing and homeless organizations started dedicating it to their staff or to each other.  I also got direct messages relative to parts of the messages or the text that people wanted to know more about. All in all, it turned out to be a really interesting result.

As I write this, only a few days after the tribute release, it has already reached almost 300 views on YouTube. If the power laws of the internet are true, I suspect that this number will increase quite a bit in the coming months. I hope and trust more people on the frontline working their butts off to end homelessness see this and know how much that all of us at OrgCode admire the amazing work that they do. They truly are awesome.

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong