Field Apprenticeships

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We would like to invite you to join us on our upcoming Social Documentary Workshop in Thanh Hoa, Vietnam as part of our newest partnership with joinFITE.  The organization has brought us on to produce two short films and still images that profile individual women Heroes to illustrate the ripple effect of providing microloans to women.   This is where you would come in.  Over the course of two weeks, we will teach you how to create media for nonprofits while actually producing joinFITE’s films in the field.

Production Details:

Location: Thanh Hoa, Vietnam

Date: December 1st-15th, 2012

Workshop Participants: 6

Workshop Leader: Phil Borges

Tuition: $2500*

Deadline to Apply: Nov 5th, 2012

In-country Partner:  Fund for Thanh Hoa Poor Women (TCVM)

Description:  Following Kiva’s traditional microloan model, we will produce two short films, each one telling the story of a female microloan recipient in Vietnam.

During the workshop media producers will gain knowledge in all aspects of building a compelling multimedia story in a collaborative environment; including pre-production, storytelling, capturing still and video, post-production and distribution.

We are also finalizing the details for a second workshop also with joinFITE in Africa in early 2013. We will release further information once we know the exact location and dates.

If you are interested in either or both of these opportunities, please complete our online application by Nov 5th.

About joinFITE:

joinFITE is an active philanthropy platform, powered by and championed by Dermalogica, that connects the public to women entrepreneurs who need a hand up. By providing women access to small loans, they are able to start or grow a business, bettering themselves, their families, and their communities. powers the joinFITE platform, and is a non‐profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.

*Workshop participants are responsible for travel expenses, lodging and food.


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“If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”
– Mother Teresa

Syreeta Studying at the Library

To gain empathy for a larger issue you must start with an individual personal story.

In our latest multimedia piece, we told Syreeta’s story to introduce you to how Foundation for Women’s microfinance programming is bringing women out of poverty.

A relatable character is key and one of the best methods to engage your audience.  The audience needs to see or imagine themselves in the character or situation.  A character can be human, animal and even an object or a location–anything that has the ability to take action or suffer consequences can be a character. However, since stories are created and consumed by humans, a character is always viewed from a human perspective.

People help us relate and emotionally connect to the story.  Finding strong subjects is one of the most important jobs of the storyteller.  This is why it is crucial to do your research beforehand and hold pre-production interviews. Watch for our next workshop tip where we will share some guidelines to consider when choosing your character.

Interesting in learning more about multimedia production and storytelling? Apply for Stirring the Fire’s Social Documentary Workshops here.

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The following is a guest post from our Social Documentary Training participants Michele Zousmer, Michael J. Costa and Sara Begley.

“Oh the stories I could tell you about Syreeta,“ Antoinette jokingly mused about her daughter. “From inviting every neighbor child in for dinner to the year she gave away the Thanksgiving turkey straight out of the oven to a homeless man, that girl has always been sharing.”

Syreeta at a Foundation for Women Meeting

You never quite know what you will find when you take on a project. The three of us, photographers Michael J. Costa and Michelle Zousmer as well as audio/interview specialist Sara Begley, became a team soon after beginning our ten-day workshop with Stirring the Fire. We were told the young woman from the San Diego suburb of El Cajon was beautiful and unique but we weren’t expecting to find the diamond in the rough that was Syreeta. When approached, she felt inspired to tell her own story of struggle in order to inspire women of all ages to find the resources for their own empowerment and success. There seemed no end to those struggles—abuse, illness, death, homelessness and unemployment to name a few. It made the way Syreeta eyes light up when she spoke of her “Big Dreams” all the more magical. With the support of her husband she became a licensed aesthetician and is determined to make a difference in the world of skin care.

Syreeta working with a client

“I guess it just makes sense to me,” Syreeta recalled. “I am still that little girl who wants to share even with my interest in skin care today. I never understood those in my industry who keep their talents and skills to themselves. How will any of us ever learn? How can we ever improve and grow?”

It is this concept of “sharing” that brought us all together for ten days in San Diego. As photographers and interviewers, we felt the desire to use our skills to make a difference and were led to Stirring the Fire. Phil Borges, an accomplished photographer and filmmaker began the company believing he could bring specialists in multi-media together with organizations committed to social change. That belief forged a partnership with Foundation for Women who are applying the Nobel Peace Prize award-winning Grameen microcredit model to help local women facing poverty.

Syreeta is committed to making a difference. She hopes to take advantage of the Foundation’s education and mentoring programs so that one day she can start her own business in skin care. But her big dreams don’t stop there. She hopes to give back to the community she loves by providing jobs and training for the next generation. Sharing, sharing and more sharing. We walked away from our experience inspired by what can be accomplished when we as individuals move past our insecurities and struggles and open up, looking to give back. Syreeta, Stirring the Fire and the Foundation for Women are determined to change the world.

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by Alissa Brooks

Assemble a team.  Gather media.  Edit media.  Distribute media. Change the world.

Sounds simple enough. Right?

Through this social documentary workshop all of us have learned that there is nothing simple about media production.  Today, after a presentation about distribution of media, we learned that even when the media is created the process is not over.  How do you reach an audience?  What is the best platform (or platforms) for engaging people?

The answer: hybrid distribution. Hybrid distribution combines both traditional marketing efforts (emailing, luncheons, brochures) and new media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.)  New media, also referred to as social media, is a platform for media that is exponentially growing.  The best way to tap in to social media audiences is to just dive in – make an account, network, and see the response.  Each social media platform has its own unique audience base.

Photo of the author.

As the social media expert of this workshop, I primarily focused on Facebook, Twitter, and blogging.  I, Alissa Brooks, have been behind many of the Facebook posts and Tweets, along with guest blogging for Stirring the Fire.  I am a recent graduate of Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio, earning degrees in English and Theology.  I begin graduate school next month at Brandeis University in Boston, Massachusetts, to study Non-Profit Management.

Social media is so much a part of my life – I’ve grown up with it.  Yet, understanding how to use social media for a non-profit business is different than logging into your personal Facebook page and posting about your day.  Effective social media involves using key words, strong visuals, timing, and engaged followers.  In all honesty, a business’s use of social media is dictated more by its followers than its staff.  What do you find interesting?  What are you interested in?  What inspires you to act?  That’s always been the point of social media – it’s for individuals to be themselves.

Thank you for your support of Stirring the Fire during our first workshop.  Thank you for taking time to read our posts and engage with our social media.  Keep spreading the word.  Keep reading and commenting.  Together, we can change the world.  One notification at a time.

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by Alissa Brooks

Nancy Farese, founder of Photo Philanthropy, in Vista, California capturing stills for the Stirring the Fire social documentary workshop.

Nancy Farese, founder of Photo Philanthropy and workshop participant, explains to me,  “One of the biggest challenges that we see is non-profits not understanding how to use digital media for cause advocacy.  Phil is a master of that.  He not only knows how to access effective media, but how to distribute it and use it for effective messaging.”

Photo Philanthropy is a San Francisco based non-profit organization that connects photographers with non-profit organizations to enable social change.  Nancy goes to say that at Photo Philanthropy “we often talk about harnessing the power of the still image and applying that power to social media and other digital platforms.”  This discussion is part of the brainchild behind this social documentary workshop.

Phil’s workshop is all about broadening the knowledge of media producers – photographers, filmmakers, graphic artists, journalists alike – to create a wider variety of advocacy media for social causes. One of the many things we have learned is that  understanding how and which digital platform to use is critical.  After all, you may create a beautifully inspiring film, but without a directed distribution plan, it may never reach your desired audience and therefore not have the desired impact.

As we have all realized this week, the media production process can feel quite sporadic.  Indeed, the only linear part of film making is the audio script that is laid down before visuals are added.  The constant communication between media producers and the non profit that will distribute the finished product is part of Stirring the Fire’s (STF) methods.  STF defines upfront what it hopes to accomplish based on the non profit’s need and desired audience.  This method works perfectly with the social documentary workshop model because of the diversity of backgrounds and skill sets that each participant provides.

“Phil is at the nexus of pulling media together and working closely with the non profit and defining upfront the impact and then backing into the production,” explains Nancy.  This is all done to create organization-specific media that will transcending the choir.  To do this, the media platform is key.  To appeal to a broader audience, it is important to connect the dots between powerful images and the power of social media.

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by Alissa Brooks

Post-production is in full swing here at the Foundation for Women offices in San Diego.  For the past ten hours our workshop participants have made storyboards, transcribed, selected quotes, edited audio … and the end is nowhere in sight.

“Film is a team effort, but when you’re a photographer it’s a solo effort,” explains Michele Zousmer, one member of Stirring the Fire’s social documentary workshop.  Teamwork is essential to pull all the pieces of media together to make a coherent, consistent, and concise documentary.

Michele resides in San Diego but has traveled around the world with her camera, including to China, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.  In the past week, she has traveled all around San Diego with her team documenting a Foundation for Women hero who is not only an entrepreneur, but a wife, mother, and singer.

Michele says, “Being a humanitarian photographer, I tell a story through visual imagery, which is a powerful tool to tell a story. Video makes even more of an impact.”  Before that impact can be felt, all the photos, audio, and video must be whittled down.  The editing process is just that, a process.  Yet, once every clip is set in place and every image perfectly selected, the magic of the story takes over.  All this work is worth it when another people can see our work and connect with another human being – someone they have never met before – and, even just for a few minutes, begin to understand.

Michele Zousmer, humanitarian photographer who plans to continue to learn about film making.


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by Alissa Brooks

We’re starting to lose track of the number of days we’ve been here in San Diego, but today does mark our last day of filming, photographing, and audio collecting on location with Foundation for Women’s heroes.  The production phase has come to an end, and now the editing begins.

Phil says that audio is the backbone of any documentary.  Without good audio you’re sunk. Capturing sound bites is quite the process, as we have all learned first hand.  First comes microphone set up, then sound levels are tested and monitored, the interview is conducted … and then the “fun” begins.  Each interview must be transcribed, word for word, by someone so that it can be easily edited and the audio can be added to the film.  To easily pick out quotes in an interview is key to telling the person’s story.

Sara Begley transcribing an interview

“We are all walking around telling a personal narrative to ourselves,” explains Sara Begley, a workshop participant, “and they absolutely define who we are.  I think everybody wants to be heard and understood.”

Sara is the storytelling expert of the group.  A San Diego resident, Sara has made a business of capturing family histories through interviews, transcription, and printing.  While she has put her transcribing skills to good use here at the workshop, her ability to tell a compelling story has truly been her gift to this process.

“In this  documentary film making process, the story is organic – it’s them, it’s the person, it’s their life – it’s so easy to capture that, just get someone to start talking.”  The difference with this workshop is that the visual component is added to story. “Phil and his art take storytelling up a level.  Learning from him has been inspiring. I need stories, I crave them.  I’ve always been that way.  They carry me. And now I know that what I want to do for a living is possible.”

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“I am inspired by my mom.”  This is not the common thing we hear from twelve-year-olds when asked about his or her parents, but Diana is different.  Her mother, Nancy, is the recipient of a micro-credit loan from Foundation for Women.  For the past two days, half of our workshop team has been on location filming, photographing, and interviewing Nancy’s family.

The inspiration in this family does not stop with the twelve-year-old.  Nancy herself constantly tells us how much influence her own mother had in her life, “She would work an eight hour day and then come home, grab her merchandise, and go door to door selling wares to support myself and my brothers.  She was such a hard worker.”  Nancy has carried on the tradition of hard work, now teaching it to her children as she starts up her own cake-baking business.

Michael J. Costa, photographer and workshop participant

Inspiration is needed for small business work, families, and artists alike.  One of our workshop participants, Michael J. Costa, has been inspired for years by the work of Phil Borges, the workshop leader and founder of Stirring the Fire.  “I got into photography later in life, just like Phil, and I was always fascinated by his Dalai Lama photograph.”  It was while Michael was in school at the Academy of Arts in San Francisco that he got to interview Phil, his favorite photographer, for a research paper.  “I think Phil speaks for a generation of photographers.  He does what I want to do; he travels and captures people’s eyes and emotions in his photographs.  The social documentary part of his work really intrigues me.”

Phil Borges’ photograph of the Dalai Lama, 1994.

Here at the workshop Michael is a self-proclaimed sponge.  “I am soaking up all the information about pre-production, on location shooting, and post-production.  I feel so blessed to be here learning from my mentor, sometimes, it’s even overwhelming.  Yet, Phil makes us all feel like we are deserving, that we can move on, be professionals, and reach our goals.”

As each workshop participant works towards his or her personal goals, together we are all back in the office, downloading the day’s photographs and video clips.  This process of downloading helps each photographer review their work, edit, and find those images that truly inspire.