We Are Deaf: Behind The Scenes
By Anthony Mowl
The video we talk about in this behind the scenes blog can be seen here: http://wp.me/p224SA-1Fa
It has been a stunning response. DeafNation is in its 10th year of existence. We’ve had many memorable moments including celebrating our 100th DeafNation Expo last fall, drawing over 26,000 people to our DeafNation World Expo in Las Vegas, and growing our Facebook fan base to nearly 40,000 people But nothing has come close to the response that we’ve received for our New Year’s Day video, “We Are Deaf.” And we’re entirely grateful.
In just two weeks, we’ve received hundreds of likes and comments on the video. Thousands of people shared the video with others, and we collected hundreds of thousands of views of the video, the one we call a “signature statement” from DeafNation. Countless people sent us emails and messages saying how inspired they were, how tears rolled down their faces, and how they too were “proud to be Deaf.” Believe us, we are too, and that’s where the idea for this video was born. It took more than six months to create We Are Deaf. Here’s the story behind the work.
It started when Joel Barish had an idea. With DeafNation’s 10th anniversary coming up, he began to wax nostalgia and reviewed the thousands of hours of video footage he had shot of Deaf people all over the world. Joel has visited more than 55 countries on behalf of his channel, “No Barriers With Joel Barish,” and has discovered Deaf people all over the globe. These individual stories and videos he shot had already made a considerable impact throughout the 10 years. But Joel began to wonder how, collectively if you were to piece them all together, what type of impact that would have.
The DeafNation team, Joel, Jed, and myself, began to brainstorm a variety of ideas on how we could make such a video. Our video had to be more than a montage of videos; it had to tell a story. We decided it would be neat if we could film Deaf people all over the world making a common statement, in their own languages, wearing their traditional garbs. We developed a list of signs that we would ask people to sign, and Joel began the painstaking process of contacting as many people as he knew and had met on his travels who would fit well with our video.
The reaction we got from the majority of the people we contacted was positive and nearly everyone was happy to be part of the project. But technology proved to be a major challenge. Not everyone we contacted had high quality video cameras, or maybe they didn’t have access to high speed Internet so they could send us high definition footage. While some videos were shot in HD, others were shot using iPhones or antiquated cameras. We dealt with a wide variety of video formats, and converting them all to fit a standard proved to be a huge challenge.
One of the decisions we had to make was whether we wanted people to sign their messages in Universal Sign Language, but we quickly decided against this. We decided that each country has its own beautiful sign language, and we wanted to recognize and cherish the individuality of every language.
Unfortunately, we did have to ask some people to redo their videos. In some cases, some individuals assumed that since we were American, we would prefer to have their video in ASL. Others did theirs in somewhat plain backgrounds, and we had to ask them (in some cases very nicely) to make the trip to a significant landmark that represented their countries. It took countless back and forth conversations, via email or on video phone, across numerous time zones. In almost every case, the results were beautiful and stunning. One by one, the video clips began to pour in, and in all, 27 different countries were able to participate, a number much higher than we had initially thought we could get. We quickly began to realize that we were on the verge of something really special.
One of the biggest challenges of the entire project was going through thousands of hours of footage, some dating 10 years back, and selecting the best, most diverse clips to be included in the video. It took countless hours selecting these clips, organizing them, and documenting what was inside the clips. We developed a spreadsheet that listed the lengths of the clips that we selected, the content, and some basic “tags” for each clip (such as art, food, business owner, etc.) Slowly but surely, we began a process of organizing clips and screening others out. After several months of work, we ended up with nearly 28 minutes of footage, still far too long for a video that we had envisioned to be only three minutes long.
We had difficult decisions to make, and we did our best to trim the clips as much as we could, and many outstanding people and footage ended up on the cutting room floor. We still had the issue of the clips sent in from around the world that was coming in, which totaled almost 20 minutes long. We had the daunting prospect of finding a way to put all of it together into a manageable length.
We finally had all the video from people around the world. We cut down 10 years worth of video into 28 minutes. We began to think of the story, and how it would all fit together and presented. There were countless possibilities, numerous ideas. We wanted something that would create an impact. To decide what the story would tell, we first had to decide who our target audience was. We knew that we wanted to inspire the Deaf community around the world. That was always clear. But we saw a special opportunity to reach out to others too. We thought of parents of Deaf children who worried about their children’s futures; the boss who may be faced with a Deaf job applicant; the person who may have never met a Deaf person before; or the lone mainstreamed Deaf child, who might have never seen sign language, much less met another people like themselves.
We wanted to reach all of these people, and our message had to be clear. Because we wanted everyone to be able to enjoy the video, we made the decision that it would have to be captioned.
It took many revisions. Countless times we watched the video clip to shave precious seconds off the length. We made so many revisions to the captions and video that the first draft and the final versions looked nothing alike. We scrutinized every word, every phrase, and wanted to maximize the effect. One of the minor details that we obsessed about was how to make clear when the caption was captioning what Joel was signing, for instance, and representing a “voice over” when we ran through the montages of clips. At the very last edit, we decided to make the “voice over” caption yellow in color, and it turned out to be a huge difference. That minor tweak made the viewing of the video much more clearer and pleasant.
After much discussion, we decided that the basic theme of our video would be that everywhere you go in the world, there is a Deaf person. As individuals, we are doing so many different and wonderful things that collectively we emerge as a strong, diverse community. We organized our clips into several different main themes; Culture, Work, Art, Food, Entrepreneurs, and Inspiration. That formed the basis of our storyline, and we began to craft the specific words, the specific message that came out.
We Are Deaf
Even after months of work and numerous revisions of the video, we had a powerful message but it still lacked the “punch” we were looking for. More than that, we still lacked a good title for the video. After watching the rough cuts of the video dozens of times, and brainstorming lists of dozens of potential titles or key phrases, we finally hit upon what we felt summed the video up perfectly; We are Deaf.
The phrase worked for us on several levels; not only was it a literal interpretation and identification of all of the people in the video, but it also strongly signified pride. It was a proud statement and declaration, and it had the punch we were looking for. Immediately, we went back to the drawing board and rewrote the story so every word throughout the video would build towards the climax, the final statement that declared with pride, We are Deaf.
We finished the video just after Christmas, and we immediately couldn’t wait to get it out there. We were bursting at the seams just to be able to share it with everyone, and decided that January 1st would be the perfect day to post the video and show it to the world.
The response was swift, immediate, and beyond anything we had imagined, and it affirmed to us what we already knew. Within hours, the video had spun its way around the globe, and the reactions began to pour in, in dozens of different languages. Deaf people began to post messages of affirmation, “I am Deaf,” standing in solidarity with the video they had just watched. So many Deaf people are proud of their identity in the way that we are. But for every proud Deaf person out there, there is a Deaf person who may not be as sure of themselves. Those who may not be as comfortable as a Deaf person could finally see that there are so many other Deaf people in this world just like them, people who have accomplished amazing things. It’s one thing to be told you can do anything. It’s another to see it for yourself.
We truly appreciate the outpouring of support from everyone and we’re proud to be part of the Deaf community. We feel We Are Deaf sums up everything that DeafNation has stood for in our 10 years. It represents who we are as a company, but more importantly it represents who we are as individuals. Joel, Jed, and myself; We are Deaf. And we’ll always be proud of it.
We want to express our deepest gratitude to everyone who made the effort to make this video a success. Not only the Deaf people from the 27 different countries in the video, but the people behind the cameras in every video. We thank everyone in the video for being inspiring examples. We also want to thank Calvin Young, who participated in the editing of the video. Our friends and family, who gave us valuable feedback throughout the process. And finally, we want appreciate everyone who watched this video and shared it with others. We have a beautiful community, and everyone who was inspired by this video knows it.