May 4, 2018 \ Geoff Birmingham
Case Study: Boston Medical Center’s NICU


The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Boston Medical Center wanted to create a series of videos to educate and also inspire families with children born prematurely. One of the NICU doctors was heading up the project on the client side, and, more so than other clients, she relied on us to help her through the preproduction phase of the project. This was because the project carried one or two extra layers of complexity.

Clarifying Vision

No surprise, having a child born pre-term carries extra stress and anxiety for parents, and so one of the BMC’s main objectives was to share the stories of other current and past NICU parents to say: “We know what you’re going through, but it’ll be ok. You can get through this!”

Along with this message of support and encouragement, BMC also wanted to share some practical information with NICU parents: the benefits of breast feeding, the value of nurturing babies skin to skin, and the importance of seeking out support from family and friends.

Part of our conversations with Meg was to help her think through the relative importance of each of these, recognizing that we wanted to keep the videos to a reasonable length so that parents would watch! We decided that the inspirational was more important than educational.

Long Wish List

Though the emphasis was on inspiration rather than education, we still wanted to hit some key points of information, albeit briefly. Meg had a longish list of things she thought would be worthy topics to address. Reminding her that our objective was primarily to encourage stressed-out parents, and then sprinkle in some tidbits of information, we helped her to identify the handful of topics that were most important to touch on.

Multiple Languages

An additional factor we had to consider was BMC’s need for all the English videos to have a somewhat equivalent version in Spanish. This required some discussion of cultural differences when collaborating with the Spanish-speaking families, and then preparing for possible contingencies related to that.

Sensitive Setting

Filming in a NICU on the subject of breastfeeding is a scenario, of course, that must be approached with some care! Like the work we did with Music and Memory, the key was to establish a sense of trust with our subjects. We discussed with Meg the various ways to communicate in advance with the parents to reduce any anxieties they might have about being interviewed and filmed with their babies. This made it easier for the parents to speak openly about their experiences as families in the NICU and to feel comfortable with strangers pointing a camera at them while they cared for their children.

Key Production Takeaways

  • review the goals for your video and prioritize; focus on what’s most important (in the case of BMC, inspiration first and education second)
  • recognize that video, particularly short video, is often better suited to driving emotion rather than transmitting deep knowledge
  • talk in advance with participants in a video about any cultural or personal sensitivities that might exist to help set the right tone for the production even before filming starts

Key Takeaways for Reflection Films

Spending two days in the NICU with parents and staff was a compelling experience for several reasons. We really appreciated hearing the stories of parents’ resilience. We observed how compassionate and caring the nurses were to the babies and to the parents. We were impressed by the technology in the hospital. And, perhaps best of all, we loved seeing the “graduates” of the NICU who came back to visit with us. Seeing those healthy children was life-affirming.