With the world continuing to trend toward video media, freedom-oriented organizations don’t want to miss the bus. Getting on board can be easier said than done, however. That’s where Atlas Network’s Lights, Camera, Liberty training comes in. This four-day in-person course tackles the issue of video media and helps our partners answer the why and how of starting, growing, and maximizing a video program. From man-on-the-street interviews to animations and documentaries, Lights, Camera, Liberty equips aspiring and established producers and filmmakers to hone their skills and tailor their craft to fit their organization’s needs. The most recent training, held April 7-10, 2022, gathered 43 participants from 14 countries in Los Angeles, California, to put on their director’s hats and advance liberty through compelling visual storytelling.
Broken out into eight main sessions, Lights, Camera, Liberty kicked off with a question central to many filmmakers at young or small organizations: how do I start a video program? A deceptively simple question, but it’s one that must be accounted for in full if a program is to be successful. Presenters Tyler Anne Lowe (Return on Ideas, U.S.) and Scott Barton (Pacific Legal Foundation, U.S.) explained that you probably already have the most important piece: a good idea. From there it’s a matter of defining what you want to achieve through your videos, identifying the tools and skills you have at your disposal, and learning through doing. “Learning is the currency of a startup,” they both agreed. Lowe and Barton worked with participants to think through and find solutions to the specific challenges they face.
“[Lights, Camera, Liberty 2022] brought out from within me the solutions I was looking for,” said Alessio Cotroneo (Istituto Liberale, Italy). “This Socratic method doesn’t give direct answers but helps you build an individual path to your goal. I came back to my country with a completely different new vision, and I can’t wait to share it with my colleagues.”
What if you already started a program and are looking to expand your audience and reach new ones? Sessions two and three, “Growing a Video Program in the Liberty Movement” and “Defining Your Audience,” drew on the expertise of Daniel T. Richards (Return on Ideas, U.S.), Sean W. Malone (Foundation for Economic Education, U.S.), and Vale Sloane (Atlas Network, U.S.). Trainees got answers to their questions on defining who exactly their video program is meant to reach, cultivating their existing audiences, and finding new ones. Experimentation is critical in this effort, the presenters said. If data on what your chosen audience likes isn’t readily available, find it yourself, they said. Utilize methods like a/b testing to hone in on what your audience is looking for. Often, scaling up a program requires additional funding, sometimes from sources who want to make sure there is a clear return on that investment. Sloane recommended responding to those concerns with understanding and by setting clear expectations for stakeholders.
“My experience at [Lights, Camera, Liberty] this year was wonderful,” said Camilo Guzman (Libertank, Colombia). “As executive director I am responsible for making decisions regarding the strategy and funding of the videos we make at Libertank. Understanding in depth the importance of defining an audience, making good storytelling, selecting the platform, and also knowing the whole production process behind a good video will help me to be more creative and flexible when making decisions and thus have more impact and success in each of the videos we publish at Libertank.”
Patrick Reasonover (Just Add Firewater, U.S.) and Sloane tackled “Messaging for Your Audiences” in session four, while Lowe, Jaclyn Boudreau (Pacific Legal Foundation, U.S.), and Claudia Murray explained “Storytelling for Your Mission” in session five. Whether you’re making a documentary or an animation, at its core, video media is about telling a story. That story needs to be compelling for your viewers to keep coming back for more. In these sessions, participants learned not only how to craft a story but how to make sure it is the right story for their audience. Deciding when not to tell a story can sometimes be as important as finding the right one to tell.
“Awesome program. In four days it feels like you were in a diploma course,” said Mussa Sango (Liberty Sparks, Tanzania). “The style of presentation was amazing, and a new thing to me [was] experiencing the lectures in a panel discussion mode. Panelists talking to each other made it casual, while the trainees felt the ownership of the content. Thank you, Atlas Network, for such an opportunity to sharpen our knowledge. ... Keep doing good work.”
At the end of day two’s sessions, buses departed for Sony Studios, where Lights, Camera, Liberty attendees got to tour soundstages, learn about the art of Foley, and see one of the world’s two acoustically perfect recording studios. Day three opened with the Film Pitch Competition, wherein pre-selected contestants had a short few minutes to explain their planned video project and answer questions from judges. They competed for a special grant from Atlas Network, which includes support from Just Add Firewater for every stage of the production process.
Lowe, Boudreau, and Murray took the stage to explain “Putting Everything Together.” Managing a project to completion can be daunting. How do you pull together the creative, the financial, and the analytical and end up with a product you’re proud of? Building a skilled team can help you get there, but you also have to know how to manage them effectively. The panelists dove into details like how to make sure everyone is on set on time, how to create mood through music, and why it’s important to have someone serving as a script supervisor.
Session seven featured Matt Wood, Viktorija Hill, and Ben Gaskell of Just Add Firewater further exploring “Technical Decisions: Thinking Like a Director and a Producer.” From breaking down the daunting flowchart of roles and titles in a video production program, to answering questions on what kinds of cameras work best in different situations, this panel helped attendees look at the big picture of managing a project. Along with that comes a better understanding of how each of them fits into the process. Not everyone has to be the creative, after all, and a video production team needs all kinds of expertise, as long as everyone on board knows how they can best contribute.
After session seven, participants had the choice of four focused “Mastermind” sessions. “Producer Mastermind: Building a Rockstar Team & Process,” “Storyteller Mastermind: The Heart & Soul of Liberty,” “Technical Mastermind: Developing Your Craft,” and “Marketing Mastermind: Being an Impact Producer,” each led by presenters from main stage sessions, created forums for creative problem-solving and targeted brainstorming. Trainees brought their projects to the table and evaluated them in a new light, looking for ways to improve in view of their new knowledge.
“If we were to attempt to arrange the educational materials and coordinate the experienced professionals on our own for our own staff’s training it would likely cost us tens of thousands of dollars,” said Greg de Deugd (John Locke Foundation, U.S.). “We couldn’t do it. The networking and one-on-one help is just invaluable. I left the event inspired and energized to create more and better products for my organization.”
The Lights, Camera, Liberty Live Screening and Awards Dinner capped off day three with a presentation of the three films that won last year’s production assistance grant, as well as a question-and-answer time with representatives from each organization. Attendees enjoyed films from Libertas Institute (U.S.), Center for Anti-Authoritarian Studies (Serbia), Goldwater Institute (U.S.), and Pacific Legal Foundation (U.S.). This year’s winners of the Film Pitch Competition and its accompanying production assistance grant, which includes start-to-finish support from the experts at Just Add Firewater, were Better Cities Project (U.S.), Libertad y Progreso (Argentina), Libertank (Colombia), and Istituto Liberale (Italy).
The final day of Lights, Camera, Liberty opened with Jo Jensen (Iron Light Labs, U.S.) and Daniel T. Richards taking the stage to cover “Marketing Your Films & Measuring Impact,” a critical part of any video-based endeavor. While this was the last session of the training, it is essential to begin planning your impact strategy at the very beginning of your process. How you plan to distribute your film and how you want to measure success will guide many of the storytelling and even technical decisions you make along the way. If you want to release on Netflix, for example, you will need to adhere to Netflix’s rules for graphical definition.
Lights, Camera, Liberty 2022 closed with a presentation from director Chris Mortensen, who showed participants how good storytelling, even a brief television advertisement format, can change the perception of a product for a generation. Mortensen marked the closing of another exciting training as participants left energized and excited to take their projects to the next level.
“[Lights, Camera, Liberty] 2022 was my favorite yet,” said Jennifer Maffessanti (Libertas Institute, U.S.). “This is my third time attending this training, and I always find it valuable. That said, there was something particularly special about this year’s programming. The vibe was very open and creative. People were constantly talking to each other between and after sessions about creative ideas they have. It felt like such a breath of creative fresh air. Well done!”