I got a phone call a little over a year ago. On the other end of the line was a man who identified himself as Howie Kafka. He said he runs a nonprofit organization and was looking for a video campaign. He explained that he runs an organization called Kids of Courage for terminally ill children. The goal of Kids of Courage is to give these children – whether it’s going to Disney World for a whole week or visiting different amusement parks – a trip of a lifetime once a year.
Howie was looking for someone who could capture not only the essence of that trip, but also the intrinsic beauty in what they are doing and why it’s so important. They are giving these sick kids hope to hold on to life and fight for the lives they do have.
I knew this would be a daunting task because we here at Hoffman Productions are wired towards growing brands, right? Howie said just randomly that he wants to use the film for fundraising at a dinner. But I quickly found out that their marketing is more of a bootstrap operation. KOC is Howie’s life. He lives and breathes his mission. Not only that, but pretty much the ENTIRE staff is made up of volunteers. These are people dedicated to working 24/7 to help these kids smile. I was really inspired.
What Kind of Film
After a few days of considering, I agreed to come on the trip and see what I could find and produce.
I knew I didn’t want to produce a piece that is just a regular promotional film full of yelling kids screaming how happy they are and how wonderful the trip is. Because that would not capture the full essence and experience of what these kids go through. But I also didn’t want to make this a sappy tearjerker from the start that portrays these kids as “miskenim,” or “nebbuchim.” Furthermore I really wanted to show specifically how the KOC experience impacts the lives of these children. So, I decided to do a new format. I’ll call it DOCU-PROMO. It’s kind of a promo in a way that there is a goal in promoting the organization, but through the storytelling of a documentary.
What it does is it gives the viewer more room to breathe in the experience and travel together with the protagonists and get a real glimpse of what they go through on a daily basis. Basically I want the audience to bond with the characters, and to show their transformation. Because, as always, people donate based on emotions. So we really wanted the audience to relate to the protagonists. Because when we analyzed KOC and what moves donors, we discovered that it’s one thing: The struggle of a young kid or teen and how they overcome the struggle and grow stronger by coming on the KOC trip.
One Man Band
So, during August, I went for 8 days on this trip and was the one-man film crew. That helped me to be quite unobtrusive and catch some real fly-on-the-wall moments and get really personal in a way I wouldn’t have been able to had I had a film crew with me.
I have to tell you, this experience was indeed one-of-a-kind. I wish everyone would get a chance to spend time with people who live a very different life because of what G-d gave them as a living condition. I found this to be one of the most inspiring trips; I got to see young people who cope with some really tough medical and social issues that life could possibly throw at them.
How To Capture Emotions
So, the question is how do you capture the essence of something bigger than life itself?
My approach was, instead of making a story about as many kids as possible, which is what most organizations would want, I wanted just a few people for the viewer to really relate to on a deeper level. We did something similar for Camp Mesorah a few months ago, and the result was what some have called our best promo yet.
I decided to follow 4-6 KOC participants for a day. From waking till sunset I accompany them through their struggles, challenges, and also victories. There were many throughout each day.
This film is an homage to G-d and to people. Because we can’t understand why G-d does this to people. But it does something great. This film is hopefully a glimpse of this truth in our world.
I knew that my number one goal was to capture that essence. But I wanted more. I wanted to portray those kids as what they are: Life’s Heroes. I knew if I could connect to that then everyone who watches it would too.
Grateful Despite a Life Threatening Illness
Those children are the people who WE need to inspire US, to remind us that this is an awesome world. If Oshri, who has muscular dystrophy, expresses that he is so happy with his life and disease even though his chances of growing old are slim then I have to ask myself, “What am I grateful for, and do I live a full life?”
The end goal is that people are so touched by these stories that they feel in their deepest insights that there is no choice but to donate to KOC. I hope that KOC is using the film and promotes it like heck. The work they do is what creates a better world and brings tikun olam.
I’m so grateful that I was able to experience this. May Hashem help them raise double the money so that many more children can find hope, and are shown that it’s worth it to fight to live and to wake up in the morning to a beautiful day.