June 15, 2018 \ Geoff Birmingham
Filming Children

The mission of Reach Out and Read (ROR) is to incorporate books into pediatric care and encourage families to read together. For our first project with ROR a year ago, we filmed a series of videos with families that had children of different ages, from infants to toddlers. In our most recent project, ROR wanted to do another series but with children with different disabilities, including hearing loss, visual impairment, ADHD, autism and cerebral palsy.

The idea for each video was to do a role play of sorts, with a doctor and a different family, to show pediatricians how their colleagues introduce and encourage the idea of reading to family patients.

Goals for the video series

ROR wanted the videos to:

  1. Help recruit pediatricians into the program
  2. Present eight different families that included children with different physical and learning challenges
  3. Demonstrate strategies for collaborating with families to encourage reading with their children

Filming Approach

From a production perspective, the biggest question was how we were going to work with kids, who, of course, aren’t easily directed. ROR made it clear that several of the children – like those with autism or ADHD – might reach the point rather quickly where they would no longer want to participate.

Sure enough, the young boy above started announcing “Bye bye!” (indicating his readiness to leave) after about 10 minutes of filming! To prepare for these possible challenges, we:

  1. Used two cameras
  2. Took a flexible approach
  3. Kept things light and fun
  4. Had faith that we could “fix it in post”

Using two cameras gave a couple of benefits. Because we knew there wouldn’t be time for multiple takes, having two cameras running simultaneously allowed us to maximize the amount of footage we could capture in the least amount of time. Also, having two camera angles allowed us to cut back and forth between family and doctor more easily, so we’d be in a better position to edit around any hiccups that occurred during filming.

Because the circumstances weren’t totally under our control, having flexibility and rolling with the flow of things was pretty important. Film shoots can sometimes cause a little stress for all participants involved, and if kids are added to the mix, it just complicates things a bit further. If we had tried to assert too much control, that would likely have just ratcheted up everyone’s level of anxiety.

So we put our faith in the belief that the doctors knew what they were doing with their patients, and we only inserted ourselves when things got seriously derailed or when it was obvious the material we were capturing wouldn’t work for video purposes.

Finally, we knew that each video was only going to be a couple minutes in length. Our mindset, therefore, was that as long as we captured a good 15 minutes of material with each family before things got hairy, we would trust in our ability to extract the best moments from each visit and craft something short and effective.

Key Production Takeaways

  • Identify in advance of production what your vulnerabilities are – kids with a short attention span? tight schedule? possibility of bad weather? – and then either take measures to protect yourself (bring in an extra camera, in our case) or create a contingency plan.
  • Recognize that most productions have some element of the unknown – very rarely do things always go exactly according to plan.
  • But also recognize that just about all the rough spots that might occur during production can be smoothed over or hidden during the editing process.
  • Even if things veer a little off the tracks, it’s always better to stay flexible and positive for the benefit of everyone else involved.

Key Takeaways for Reflection Films

Families adjust. No parent wants their child to struggle with cerebral palsy or blindness, but life doesn’t work that way. All the parents, each in their own way, demonstrated their ability to embrace their child’s condition and also support their son or daughter as best they could. Though it wasn’t their intent, they proved themselves to be good role models for the rest of us.