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Creating a crowdfunding project video: the adventures of the “In the footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab” project – Part 1

(Version française de ce texte)

Hello all,

For several weeks, oups! For almost three months now, I have been developing the “In the footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab” project description in order to apply for funding through a crowdfunding plattform. This source of funding should allow me, I hope, to raise the funds necessary to return to Paris to continue research on the events surrounding the death of five Labrador Inuit in 1880.

For this application, I must prepare a project video. Although this video is not mandatory, the various financing platforms are unanimous that it is a most valuable asset. So, I thought I would share with you the steps I took in order to create such a video. Maybe one day you too will opt for this method of financing in order to carry out a project dear to your heart. Great if the story of the making-of is useful in some way.

This text also aims to recognize the many contributors. As you will discover, it was a remarkable team effort. I could not have done it by myself. I am still stunned to see how the stars were perfectly aligned in order for me to be able to gather all of the pieces needed.

I must confess that, initially, I was not at all enthusiastic at the thought of having to make a video. I prefer by far being behind the camera rather than in front. This task was therefore at the bottom of my “to-do” list. Then, on November 2, 2012, during a meeting of my photography club, there was light! Bill Pratt, a nature photographer from the Ottawa area, was presenting AV shows of his travels across Canada and to Antarctica. The first one he showed started with a series of aerial photographs of the Torngat Mountains in Labrador, Abraham Ulrikab’s homeland. The minute I saw Bill’s photographs, the idea came to me to do an AV show to tell the Inuit’s story. It would include photos of Torngat Mountains and Nunatsiavut, excerpts from Abraham’s diary followed by photos of Paris. Preparing an AV show rather than a video also meant that I would not need to appear on camera. That thought was a relief!

Aerial view of the Torngat Mountains. Photo by Bill Pratt.

Aerial view of the Torngat Mountains. Photo by Bill Pratt.

As Bill’s photos were flashing before my eyes, I remembered that just a month earlier, I attended a performance by two fellow photographers and musicians, Gilbert Troutet and Louise Tanguay. That evening, Louise played one of her own musical compositions on the piano. The music had touched me and I told myself “One day, when we make a film about Inuit’s story, Louise’s music is the one we should use.” At least two of us had a similar thought because, as soon as Louise played the last note, the lady sitting next to me said loud and clear: “This is a movie soundtrack!”.

Bill’s photos and Louise’s music! For sure, it had to be a winning path. The result would be visually striking, would show the majestic landscapes of the Inuit’s homeland and highlight the contrast between their place of origin and the city where they died. I had a feeling that Louise’s music would be perfect to touch people’s emotions and heart.

Less than a week later, I met with Bill to explain my project in more detail. Enthusiastically, he agreed to see his photographs used for the purpose of telling this tragic story. However, the photos of Hebron’s Moravian mission buildings that Bill or I had seemed too recent. This emblematic building has been undergoing a facelift for a few years now and it no longer reflects the appearance it had in Abraham’s days.

Moravian Mission, Hebron, Labrador, 2009. Photo by France Rivet

Moravian Mission, Hebron, Labrador, 2009. Photo by France Rivet

A call to master photographer Hans-Ludwig Blohm was all I needed to solve that issue. In 1993, Hans traveled to all the uninhabited fjords along the Labrador coast north of Nain and he brought back photos of Hebron showing the original construction. “Yes! Yes! France! You can use any of my photos!”, Hans eagerly replied. We both looked through his images and made a selection of photos taken in Hebron and along the coast.

Moravian Mission, Hebron, Labrador, 1993. Photo by Hans Blohm

Moravian Mission, Hebron, Labrador, 1993. Photo by Hans Blohm

Next challenge: obtaining electronic versions of the photographs of the Inuit taken in 1880. It was unthinkable to tell Abraham Ulrikab’s story without people being able to put faces to their names. The photographs of the Inuit that were known to me belonged to the Moravian Church in Herrnhut, Germany. However, my e-mail sent to their archive department (Unitätsarchiv) remained unanswered. “Contact Ragnhild”, Hans told me. “She’s my niece and she’s the one who published the German version Abraham’s diary in 2007. She will certainly help you. ”

Indeed, Ragnhild volunteered to dig into her archives and trace the Inuit’s portraits. In no time, the photos were in my inbox. Surprise! They were followed a few days later by an email from Dr. Kröger, the Unitätsarchiv‘s Archivist, who was just returning from sick leave and was also sending me a high resolution version of the images. Woo Hoo! I could now make use of them with peace of mind.

One photo was missing though, that of the young man Tobias. I knew author Kenn Harper (author of “Give me my father’s body: The life of Minik, the New York Eskimo”) had one in his collection. Having met him only a month earlier in Washington, D.C. during the 18th Inuit Studies Conference, Kenn told me that he had found this photo by chance on the internet. Kenn replied to my email by telling me that he was on the road but would send me the photograph immediately after returning home. And he did.

Now convinced that I would be able to collect the photos necessary to ensure a captivating AV show, I contacted Louise about her music. Louise immediately expressed interest. However, her composition was still all in her head. It had never been written down on paper nor recorded. Since Louise had to leave to give a photography workshop in Hawaii (lucky her!), she could not devote her time to this undertaking before a few weeks. Luckily we were under no drop-dead deadline and my aim was to ensure that we get the best! So I would use these few weeks to continue the research for the right photographs, edit the slideshow, have it reviewed by peers, adjust it based on their comments, etc. If everything went well, when Louise would be back we’d be ready to incorporate her music.

The visual story was progressing well but I was missing an image to represent Inuit’s story in a glance. Where could I find such an image? “Ask and you shall receive”, right? Well! Shortly after, in an email exchange, Professor Hans-Josef Rollmann from Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, sent me the poster which was used in 1880 by Carl Hagenbeck’s Thierpark to advertise the Inuit’s show. Hans also sent me a document published in Berlin in 1880 containing various illustrations of the Inuit’s journey. As quick as a flash, my wish had been granted!

1880 poster used by Carl Hagenbeck's Thierpark to advertise the Inuit's show in Hamburg. (Hans-Josef Rollman Collection)

1880 poster used by Carl Hagenbeck's Thierpark to advertise the Inuit’s show in Hamburg. (Hans-Josef Rollman Collection)

I was now at the stage where I needed to describe Inuit’s stay in Paris. I did not want to include photos of the Eiffel Tower since it hadn’t yet been built in 1880. I had a few photos of the Jardin d’Acclimatation, where Inuit were exhibited, but I did not have enough. That’s when a name flashed in front of my eyes: Manon! Manon Francoeur, a fellow photographer from the Club de photographie Polarisé de l’Outaouais who now lives in Paris. Manon responded to my email by agreeing to find a timeslot in her schedule to go to the Jardin d’Acclimatation. Luck would also have it that the time of year was perfect. We were a few weeks before the end of December, the time of year the Inuit stayed in Paris, and the temperature that prevailed was gloomy and cold. Exactly what Abraham reported in his diary in 1880. A week later, Manon sent me her photographs and told how much she enjoyed her visit of the Jardin d’Acclimatation, a place she had never been to before. But, had every intention of returning to. (Note: I would not be at all be surprised to hear that participants to the next photography workshop Manon is organizing in collaboration with Louise Tanguay (in French) will visit the Jardin.)

 Jardin d’Acclimatation, Paris. Photo by Manon Francoeur

Jardin d’Acclimatation, Paris. Photo by Manon Francoeur

In early December, the first draft of the slideshow was finally ready. The first two people to take a look were Bill and Hans Blohm. Their first reaction was that the text displayed on the screen was disappearing too quickly, they did not have time to read all of it. Bill suggested that it would possibly be more efficient to have a narrator. Perhaps I should also hire a writer to help rewrite the sentences more succinctly? But, before going further, Bill suggested to show it to a few photography friends that were coming by that evening. What a great opportunity for me to get the impressions of people who knew absolutely nothing about the project.

The next morning Bill called me to give me the verdict. The slideshow was interesting, photographs well chosen but it focused too much on telling the Inuit’s story while the goals of the research project were unclear. People did not know what was expected of them. They also confirmed that a narrator should be an option to consider. Their comments meant that I had to go back to the drawing board.

After half a day of watching the video of various crowdfunding projects that met or exceeded their financial goal, one thing became perfectly clear: I, the promoter of the project, had to be in front of the camera to explain my project. This was the common point among all videos without a single exception. Some videos were made at great expense, others were obviously not. But ultimately, the professionalism of the video did not seem to play a definitive role in the supporters’ decision since many projects with an amateur video exceeded their financial goal. This exercise made me understand that before contributing to a project, people want to see who the promoter is to determine if they trust the person, if there is passion in his/her eyes, if he/she appears credible, if the connection can be established,…

So I had no choice but to take the bull by the horns and face the camera. I put aside the idea to hire a writer because if I wanted to look “real” in front of the camera, I had to explain the project in my own words. Since Christmas was quickly arriving, I decided to take a few weeks’ break and let everything sink until the New Year.

In early January, over a period of five days, I worked to write the script, to edit it, to amputate it again and again in order to limit the length to less than 5 minutes. By dint of rework, it became clear that if I wanted to explain the project and tell the story of Inuit adequately, I couldn’t do it a single video of less than 5 minutes. These two aspects deserved that a separate video be dedicated to each one of them.

The project’s “official” video would be the one in which I explain the project and invite people to join the “Friends of Abraham.”

The “bonus” video would be the slideshow telling the Inuit’s story. Most of the original slideshow could therefore be salvaged. In mid-January, a new and improved version of it was presented at a meeting of my photography club. Comments from the twenty or so people present were very relevant. The idea of incorporating narration was raised again to address the problem of texts still running too fast. However, upon reflection, I came to the conclusion that such an undertaking would mean a considerable amount of work (and I had to find two narrators: an English and a French one). I was not convinced that the investment would be worth it. So I opted for a new series of adjustments to slow down the flow of images by eliminating non-essential texts and images, reducing the length of some sentences, lengthening the display of remaining slides,…

Time will tell if my decision was the right one but I am convinced that the AV show in its current format is more than valuable. I’m willing to bet that people who are sensitive to Abraham Ulrikab’s story will take the time to watch, despite the missing narrator.

I met with Louise Tanguay a few days ago to watch the show with her music playing in the background. The result is awesome! Louise even took the time to rework her music and adjust the pace so it follows the images. The only thing left is to record it in a studio.

I am really anxious to show you the result but, unfortunately it won’t happen today. Sorry! You’ll have to wait a little longer. I nevertheless hope that this introduction has sparked your curiosity enough that you will feel like having a look when it’s ready.

Ah! Before I forget! You may be wondering what’s happening with the other video, the “official” one. Well! The English version has been recorded but I’m waiting for answers from a couple of contributors to put the final touches. Then, I’ll have to face the camera again to redo it in French. I’m keeping the “making-of” description and lessons learned for next time 😉

A huge thank you goes to all mentionned above, Hans-Ludwig Blohm, Manon Francoeur, Kenn Harper, Dr Rüdiger Kröger, Bill Pratt, Hans-Josef Rollmann, Louise Tanguay and Ragnhild von der Linden for agreeing so graciously and enthusiastically to contribute to this project. You have all played a key role. It was a real pleasure to be the “conductor” who had fun gathering all your parts to make a masterpiece ;-).

Thank you to my parents, friends, members of the Club de photographie Polarisé as well as Bill’s friends who gave feedback and contributed to the quality of the final product. What a great team!

Good day to all. Take care! The adventure continues…
France Rivet

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