Telling Stories That Matter: Q&A with Filmmaker Zeppelin Zeerip
Jordan P. Kelley, Content Director, Brand Storytelling
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As the quality and depth of brand filmmaking continue to evolve, so too do the quality and depth of the subjects upon which brands choose to focus. Reaching deeper to tell quality stories that get to the heart of meaningful ideas like social and environmental issues often calls for a widening of the gaze, pointing the camera and putting the focus on individuals and groups disproportionately featured at the center of these stories.
Ultimately, diversity in branded content should be obvious in its benefit to brands - no brand’s consumer base is a monolith - and yet, telling stories that feature people of varied sizes, shapes, colors, and identities aren’t as pervasive as you might expect. Fortunately that is changing with the help of filmmakers spotlighting equity, diversity, and social/environmental justice in impact films: films that call the audience to action and encourage them to get involved in the issue in focus.
Brand Storytelling caught up with filmmaker Zeppelin Zeerip, a director and impact filmmaker, to discuss the benefits of brands getting behind telling stories that matter more deeply to more people by putting marginalized groups in the center of the frame:
Why do you place your focus on impact filmmaking?
Given the myriad of environmental and social challenges we are facing it can be easy for me to get fairly down about the current state of the world. In many ways I feel not only inspired, but obligated to be part of the conversation and inspire action. Film and media is hugely influential, and through impact films I believe we have the opportunity to influence, educate, and change the narrative.
To you, what are the core tenets of an impactful story?
Before it can be an impactful story, it must be a good story. If the film sacrifices the fundamental elements that make stories worth watching, such as an arc, engaging characters, and a clear narrative voice, then it will fail at being impactful. If those elements exist, then it must be relatable, it must be culturally relevant, and it must bring the viewer into the conversation to be impactful.
One of the most important factors is defining from the very beginning what the desired impact is, and using that as a guide for decision making throughout all of production. Is the goal to encourage voting? Increase diversity in the outdoors? Encourage a new perspective? Having a clear goals not only guides production decisions, but enables the brand to directly measure the films effectiveness once it has been released.
Building upon that, the next core tenet is having a comprehensive impact campaign. Often times the focus is simply on the film itself, but if you’re inviting your viewers into a conversation then there needs to exist a place to continue that conversation, be it a landing page, speaker series, or social media campaign. My recent film The Ground Between Us launched alongside a nationwide series of screenings with NGO’s and colleges, offered a platform for voter registration, and provided additional resources for viewers to take action and amplify the conversation about America’s public lands.
Do you see diversity and impact storytelling as being intertwined? If so, how?
Absolutely. Some of the most important conversations we are having today center around climate change, poverty, mental health, and gender, and in every one of these discussions minority communities are front and center. Providing opportunities to BIPOC and minority filmmakers enables more accurate representation from those communities and ensures that their stories and issues get an audience. I’ve heard the expression ‘nothing about us without us’ lately and I think that rings particularly true for impact storytelling and branded entertainment. Ensuring that there is accurate representation from the affected community is paramount to a successful film.
Why do you think it’s important for brands to be telling these kinds of stories?
Throughout the world brands and companies are revered and celebrated for their achievements, products, and positions. Brands may not be the first to a conversation, but when they enter the room their presence is taken seriously. For exampled, before All Bodies on Bikes was released with Shimano, the was conversation about body inclusivity was gaining traction but hadn’t yet led to change within the industry. The support of a multinational brand allowed that conversation to be taken to the global level, changing the culture and conversations in the cycling world for the better. There are now All Bodies on Bikes chapters throughout the country, brands are making products for different body types, and cycling has become more accessible as a whole. This was a clear example of a brand having an outsized impact through the development of an impact film. Impact storytelling and branded content is particularly important in a society where consumers are becoming increasingly interested in the ethics and values of the brands they buy. Consumers want to know what brands stand for, if products are sustainably made, and want their own values to align with the brands they support.
What brands have you worked with to tell impact stories?
What positions brands to tell these stories better than traditional film and tv production companies?
Brands have a unique ability in the storytelling and film space due to the fact that the projects don’t necessarily have to drive profits and aren’t directly tied to sales goals or product launches. Traditional film and tv production companies need to sell tickets or sell ad space, which limits the types of projects that are able to find funding. Film and television has very strict parameters for length, format, etc., whereas brands have the freedom to support projects or films that may be better suited to a different format, ie. a eight minute short form documentary for Youtube, Vimeo, or festivals, versus a 80 minute film to be distributed theatrically or on a streaming service.
Branded entertainment also enables brands to align themselves with stories and projects whose values they share, It’s very much a show don’t tell style of advertising, and when done well the viewer should not be able to discern between branded content and non branded.
Do you think the amount of brands telling issue driven stories is trending in the right direction?
Absolutely, brands have woken up to the value of issue driven stories and across industries are joining the conversation. This is the golden era for branded impact films because as filmmakers we have a large pool of potential funders for our work and brands have a plethora of filmmakers and stories available to align themselves with.
See more of Zeppelin's work at https://www.fieldworkcreative.us/
About Zeppelin Zeerip
Known for his ability to showcase dynamic and layered characters across cultures, Zeppelin Zeerip has sharpened his skills as a director in a relentless search for stories that matter.
Calling Salt Lake City, UT home, Zeppelin has traveled the globe supporting groups at the front lines of the climate and social justice movements. His work in the documentary space has led to compelling branded content for companies looking to align with character driven narratives.
In recent years Zeppelin has directed and shot for clients including Shimano, Burton, REI, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear, and VICE. He is the founder of Field Work Creative.