Last time, I wrote about the process of transitioning into my new job and the motivations behind the work I am now doing. This time, I’d like to share a bit about the most recent project I am working on: a promotional video for a conservation NGO called Neotropical Grassland Conservancy (NGC, www.conservegrassland.org).
The NGC is a small organization that provides funding for students and researchers working in grassland ecosystems in the Neotropics (i.e., the southern part of the New World). You might be wondering why Neotropical grasslands are so important and the answer lies in their importance for people and biodiversity. In addition to their importance in agriculture, neotropical grasslands offer critical habitat for numerous species (many are grassland specialists/endemics), play an important role in storing carbon (which is an important component of greenhouse gases), and provide essential ecosystem services such as water purification. Worldwide, grasslands occupy a large extent of the earth’s surface, but they are often given lower priority in terms of conservation action because they don’t necessarily exhibit the high biodiversity of other ecosystems (such as tropical rainforests).
Now let’s go back to NCG… This organization funds many kinds of research, and these range from ecological studies of particular organisms, to large-scale valuations of ecosystem services, to projects dealing with sustainable agriculture. There are only two requirements for a project to be funded: (1) the work must have some direct relevance to grassland conservation in the Neotropics, and (2) the applicant must be a citizen of a Neotropical country. Both of these requirements are important, since researchers working in countries ‘south of the border’ have a more difficult time obtaining funding for their work than their North American counterparts.
NGC was founded by a colleague of mine (and fellow Cornellian!) about ten years ago. Since then, I have periodically volunteered my time to the organization, mostly trying to promote it during my trips to Bolivia and reviewing student proposals. A few months ago, NGC’s board of directors approached me about creating a video to step up their marketing and fundraising efforts. I brought a few of my Habitat Seven teammates on board, and we are now in the process of creating a 2-minute video that highlights NGC’s successes and the importance of the work they do. As the ‘scientific advisor’ to the project, I am working with our creative team to make sure that the video is not only visually engaging, but also scientifically and factually accurate.
You might be surprised to hear that the NGC video will not have any actual video footage in it. Since NGC is small and on a tight budget, they don’t have the funds to fly our videographer down to obtain footage in the field. Instead, we will rely on NGC’s large library of photographs taken by board members and funded researchers throughout the years. Our photography editor will animate the photos with color and movement, essentially ‘bringing them to life.’ We will also create our own motion graphic animations from scratch.
My role in all of this is to work closely with NGC staff so that we understand the specifics of the message they are trying to relay. I work with them to come up with relevant examples of research projects to feature in the video, and try to come up with compelling and creative ways to portray the research in a way that most people would find interesting and engaging. My training as a conservation ecologist is a huge help in this endeavor: I can quickly understand the research to be conveyed, and I can offer up suggestions of how to ‘frame’ the message in both a compelling and scientifically accurate manner. Ultimately, our goal is to weave a story that not only inspires potential sponsors to donate to NGC’s efforts, but also inspires a new generation of scientists in the Neotropics. For this reason, we will produce the video in four languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French.
We are just getting started on the project, but once we have a video ready, maybe I’ll share it with you. You could be our ‘litmus test’ of whether the video achieves its goals. Making these videos is always a process that involves multiple trials until we get it right. Feedback from many potential audiences is crucial. Any interest in helping us get it right? If so, stay tuned for more!