How to Make Charity Videos That Get Hollywood Giving

Hollywood Charity Gala Videos - Illustration by Lars Leetaru -H 2017
Illustration By Lars Leetaru

Experts reveal three secrets for putting together a powerful event reel that will move even experienced filmmakers to support a cause.

A few years ago, Mike DeWitt was working on a gala video for The Gabriella Foundation, which funds dance instruction for underserved L.A. kids. DeWitt, whose Human Interest Films has done similar work for organizations from the L.A. Dodgers Foundation to the Saban Community Clinic, looked forward to feedback on an early rough cut from one of Gabriella's board members, Meg Kasdan, and her husband, Lawrence. But the Oscar-nominated auteur, stone-faced, told DeWitt the video "needed a lot of work."

As if the stakes for a charity video weren't high enough — the more powerful the reel, the more guests often give to the cause — in Hollywood, among those guests are likely to lurk some of cinema's most skilled storytellers. THR spoke to DeWitt and Scott Mauro — who's produced videos and events for charities from the John Wayne Cancer Institute to Operation Smile — about how to make a video that gets Hollywood giving.

Mine deep for material "On a piece for Julie Andrews, it was hard for me to cut the clips down — there was such a wealth of material," says Mauro, who nonetheless was able to surprise the legend with a long-forgotten clip of a cartoon she voiced as a kid. With the L.A. County High School for the Arts, he faced a different challenge — lots of heartwarming clips of students, but not enough star sparkle. He reached out to Josh Groban, who attended the school, to do a video from his dressing room, which Mauro combined with the footage he was given by the school. "There wasn't a dry eye in the house," he recalls.

Go beyond the usual suspects When Billy Crystal was being honored by the Cedars-Sinai Women's Guild, DeWitt recruited Rob Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg and Martin Short and also included Crystal's internist, Dr. Martin Gordon. "Billy's doctor is a close friend of his, so we set up in an exam room and he read a message he had written that was very heartfelt," DeWitt explains. "He's a serious guy, but as we were about to wrap I threw out a joke to him, and he agreed to try it. He delivered it perfectly deadpan, and it cracked up the room."

Balance gravity with hope "In many cases, the problem [a charity is working to solve] is a lot more serious than I am able to present. It is just too dark, it is too heavy — you have to bring everyone back up, leave them with a call to action." Still, it's emotion that drives that action: "Nobody is wiping away a tear if they haven't been profoundly impacted," says DeWitt. Which is how he knew he'd succeeded with his video for the Gabriella Foundation. After recutting the clip, he returned to show it to the Kasdans, "Again, no expression on Larry's face," he says. "But as it ended, I saw Meg wipe a tear, and Larry turned to me and said, 'That has to be the biggest comeback in Hollywood history!' "

This story first appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.