The film industry has faced many obstacles since the start of the pandemic, especially with screenings of independent documentary films. To help guide and support filmmakers who have struggled to market their documentaries, Gwendolyn Alston and her team at MocaMedia have developed the “Nuts & Bolts of Impact Producing” workshop to provide hands-on advice and outreach strategies for films with social, environmental, and spiritual impact. Nectar News spoke with Gwendolyn (virtually) to hear about the origins of MocaMedia and the impact she has helped create through their projects:
Nectar News: Thank you for joining me today. Can you start by describing your agency, MocaMedia?
Gwendolyn Alston: MocaMedia is an outreach and impact agency for documentary films and other creative content. I also refer to it as a marketing agency for people to better understand what we do because marketing is certainly a component of our agency. But, outreach and impact are really the core of our work for documentary films. Through outreach, we engage the greater community and partner with organizations to become stakeholders in a project, like a documentary film, that has a mission and a message. Through impact, we focus on crafting specific goals for the film and achieving tangible results. These films aim to have an impact on society and culture in a particular way so we utilize this in different ways, whether that’s partnering with NGOs or with corporations. Filmmakers who want to run an impact campaign want the film to not just promote an idea or raise awareness about a subject, but to engage people and encourage them to take action, whether that’s changing their habits, changing their votes, or signing petitions. If the film can contribute to pushing through certain legislation, or saving someone’s life, that’s a big part of it. Those have been the actual effects of a couple of films that we have worked with.
NN: Since you do work with documentary filmmakers, are there other kinds of content creators who also utilize your services?
GA: Yes, we have also worked with authors. In the past, we’ve worked with a book called Battle Rattle: The Last Memoir of WWII. The book is about a veteran with PTSD. It is the personal memoir of someone who had fought in World War II, wanting to raise awareness about the subject. This book went out to the veterans’ community, whether it be from World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, or Iraq and Afghanistan. We are working with another book right now called Whole Body Prayer: The Life-Changing Power of Self-Healing by Yan Ming Li, which is also being made into a film. It will be published on April 30th and is currently on Amazon presale. It’s a memoir by someone who grew up in Maoist China and is now based in the United States. While growing up in a repressive and impoverished situation, he discovered his ability to heal himself and others through a practice that he developed that’s closely related to the Qi Gong method, which is working with internal energy. After learning Qi Gong from a master in China, he became a master using his own method, the whole body prayer practice, which he wants to share with the world to help people learn through his teachings to heal themselves and to heal others. In addition to documentaries, we have also worked with narrative films.
NN: With your focus on outreach, engagement, and impact, what kind of plans do you implement with your clients?
My colleagues and I sometimes work with a team while doing one aspect of the social media marketing, or just the outreach to organizations and inviting them to become partners and stakeholders in the project and campaign. We might also design and execute a full-on campaign, and the logistics of that include growing or developing a database. We can’t stress enough that the contact list is the backbone of the assets that a filmmaker or content creator needs in order to keep going with any of the works that they bring into the world. Developing and cultivating a database and connecting with the people on that database is key. Those people are really going to be their advocates moving forward.
We also advise on the website design and content, develop and grow the social media accounts, and actively reach out to organizations that are either already partners, or potential partners, as well as educational institutions, when appropriate. We define the film’s core audience, find organizations that share a similar mission, and reach out to propose a partnership so they can use the film as a tool in their own events or partner with the film to promote and support theatrical, educational or community screenings. There’s a lot of research that goes into approaching the different organizations. Depending on the organization’s size, it can be a very agile and immediate process, or it takes months, if not a year to get a response and develop engagement. Then we help organize the events, whether it be screenings, theatrical releases, or a full-on event online or offline. We organize a Q&A portion and a panel to invite the partners to speak or participate.
I think one of the most rewarding aspects of this work for us, aside from achieving the goals made by the filmmaker or content creator, is how much we learn with every project. We do have a system of how we work, but we also adapt to the individual project and its idiosyncrasies. Every subject has its specificities. I get to learn every day, about something completely new, perhaps some whole new geography, or individual or policy. It’s very stimulating for us because we get to learn and go in as deeply as we can on each project and subject. Then we get to share that enriching aspect of our work.
NN: It sounds very rewarding. When was MocaMedia founded?
GA: We started in 2007 with just my sister and me, and now we have Lisa Smithline, the cofounder of Brave New Films, who has been working with us for six or seven years now. We subcontract people to work with us depending on the type of project, and if we see that someone else with certain expertise can be a good contributor. Through another agency, we have people who work with us as administrative assistants and graphic designers.
NN: Were you inspired to create MocaMedia because you noticed a need for this service in the industry or were there other factors?
Honestly, it was by chance. I had been working in publishing for many years, and I quit because I wanted to live in a different way. I already had a business concept in mind with two partners, which was a bilingual dating site both online and offline. We partnered with local cafes to organize the dates so that there would be guaranteed safe first dates. We also used this idea to highlight each cafe and what was interesting about them and partnered with them to organize events. So there was already a seed of what we’ve been able to do with MocaMedia that started there.
There were certain circumstances that kind of changed my focus, one of my partners died suddenly and the other partner went back to Canada, so I decided it was a good time to do something else. My sister Angela, who is trained as a filmmaker, had been staying with me in Spain at the time, and she showed me how to use a camera. I thought, ‘Oh, wow, this is so cool. What if I make videos of people and businesses and post them on a website to highlight and market their businesses?” It was also a great way to inform people in a new way and to use video for marketing. This was just when YouTube appeared on the scene. But I was using another platform to upload and share the videos because the quality on YouTube at the time was atrocious. I had a dedicated database because of my previous business, so I used that same database and expanded on it. I had already shown my audience these cafes, but now I wanted to highlight cafes, restaurants, businesses, museums, activities, artists, and so forth. I eventually worked with a crew and was starting to get hired to do corporate videos and that’s when the business actually started to develop. Back in New York, my sister got hired to do an outreach campaign for a film. There was an opportunity for a cut of that unreleased film to go to a very important climate change conference in Barcelona. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it was perfect for that film. Since Angela was based in Brooklyn, she convinced the filmmakers to hire me and give me a 20-minute cut to take with me to Barcelona and create partnerships for the film. It was a great experience because the conference included 8000 organizations from around the world at the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress, with a conference specifically about climate change. This film raised awareness about ocean acidification and its effects on climate change. I got some great partnerships out of that, including branches of the IUCN. Following that, we managed an 18-month campaign with that film and it was screened across all continents around the world. The filmmakers won multiple awards at film festivals. It really did have an impact in carrying forward the discussion about ocean acidification and care for the oceans.
There wasn’t any inspiration behind setting up MocaMedia. Angela and I ran this campaign with the filmmakers, and it went so well that our film outreach business just continued from there. Right after, we got hired for another film and then another, being referred by our clients and those who saw our work. I had to make a choice between producing my own videos for my vlog, growing the corporate video part of the business, and running campaigns for well made films with important messages and missions that coincide with my values. We were getting hired constantly, so I scrapped the other business and continued with what’s become MocaMedia.
NN: You highlight a lot of films about social, environmental, and spiritual issues. Is that a common theme with all the projects you take on?
GA: Yes, there are three areas. We initially started focusing on environmental issues. Sometimes there are trends with the films, such as the spiritual material we’ve been working with lately. Sometimes there has been an overlap between how the environment and spiritual issues work together in a film, while other times there has been an overlap in the social issues with looking at religion and how that impacts communities. We’ve just worked with two other films, one called Aware, which is about different kinds of meditative practice and raising your consciousness. The other film called Infinite Potential explores the idea of spiritual consciousness with science and physics through the work of the physicist David Bohm. Those have been the most recent themes.
NN: Tell me a little bit about your upcoming workshop, Nuts & Bolts of Impact Producing, what does it entail for the filmmakers in attendance?
One of the services that we offer to filmmakers, especially during the peak pandemic, was our consultancy. They weren’t sure what to do with their films, suddenly, as they couldn’t go to theatrical because there was nobody going to in-person events while not ready to go into a full-on campaign. In turn, we started offering just consultancy and light research to give some ideas for what they could do to move forward with their film. Lisa, Angela, and I realized that combined we have about 25 years of experience with all this information and all these contacts. We thought, why not share that in a workshop that’s a relaxed environment, but with a small group of filmmakers so that they’re getting intensive attention from us while able to work with each other to provide feedback and insights. It is really stimulating to see what someone else is doing and where you overlap or where you don’t, where the differences are, and how that can enrich your own viewpoint.
We have worked with a wide range of films and now we can share our experience in a different way that’s also more accessible for people who don’t have a campaign budget but do want to be able to get started. That’s why we call it “Nuts and Bolts,” filmmakers get the basics so they can take it from there. They can work with us or they can go work on their own or with someone else, but at least they have the basics to build a campaign that has a certain strength to it and a foundation.
There’s so much production out there and there are so many good films. Filmmakers end up putting energy, years, and all their money into making these spectacular films. But, in terms of what follows, that’s where they can wallow. So we’d like to catch them and help them envision how to move forward, but in a way that is accessible to them. We want to help before they’ve expended all their energy and funds into the film’s production but once they have strategized about what to do with it.
NN: So how many filmmakers are able to take part in this workshop? And what is the duration of the workshop?
GA: We put in a maximum of eight filmmakers. It’s a two-month-long workshop that we’re planning for this coming fall with eight sessions in total. Between each, there’s outside work and research activities including communication with the filmmakers. We were planning to set up a group on Facebook, on a Telegram channel, or a similar forum to create a specific space where participants can also communicate in the interim, between the sessions.
NN: Based on how this workshop goes, are you hoping to put on similar workshops in the future?
GA: Yeah it would be great to make this a regular event. We would like people to be able to count on that and say, “OK, well, I didn’t make it to this one. But it’s coming up again so I can make the next.” And by then, we will have honed our skills even further. We are always refining what we do, so we think that it’s great for filmmakers to see these types of resources available for them. And we’re not the only ones to develop these programs, it’s great to be part of a very large impact producer community where we also communicate, help each other, and support each other’s work. There are some excellent professionals in this community that are also organizing different events and workshops. This means that the filmmakers are getting the education that they need to understand how to get their film out into the world and connect to the right people.
NN: What are you hoping that filmmakers can carry forward from this experience as they create future films?
GA: We’d like them to leave this workshop with the beginnings of their film campaign, even if that’s just a layout of how to move forward with an understanding of how to reach the audience that will connect with the subject. We also want them to be able to find the potential partner organizations that will benefit from partnering with the film in order to organize specific types of events. Ultimately, we want to provide them with the tools to create a strategy and how to implement that.
NN: That’s great. For filmmakers and content creators that cannot attend a MocaMedia workshop, what other ways can they get connected?
GA: If they want to work with us, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or they can submit a contact form available on our website. We’re also on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as @MocaMedia. We welcome any kind of interest, whether a content creator is looking for help with support on their project or because they want to work with us in another way.
NN: Are you currently working on any other projects you would like to share?
GA: I’m working on a podcast called Grokchain Conversations which I developed to elevate the voices and share the expertise of the participants. Anybody who’s really into science fiction might understand the Grok reference, from Robert A. Heinlein, while chain refers to our focus on blockchain technologies. The podcast features a group of international legal, economic, and developmental experts in blockchain and cryptocurrencies. We want to contribute to educating legislators and regulators across jurisdictions on the intricacies of blockchain technologies. There are so many opportunities to uplift and evolve with our society if we have a better understanding of the value and uses of blockchain technologies. The more we all learn about it, the better, so I’m glad to provide a space for people who are knowledgeable and immersed in the subject to share their expertise.
NN: Thank you so much for taking the time to share about your work.
To learn more about MocaMedia and their projects, go to: https://www.mocamedia.tv/. For those interested in the Grokchain Conversations podcast, they can find it on all available podcast streaming platforms and visit the Twitter account, @grokchain.
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