Making Films That Change Minds

“Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.” - Anonymous

Think, for just a moment, about a strong preference you have. Perhaps you’re an iPhone person and refuse to consider an Android. Or maybe you’re Team Pepsi and will never be swayed to Team Coca-Cola, no matter the state of their current formula. These ties that we create to brands, opinions, or parties are strong – occasionally even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Sometimes, the film you’re seeking to make is designed to sway someone away from these strongly held beliefs. Documentary films like Blackfish, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Super-Size Me are made with the goal of encouraging viewers to rethink what they believe they know about the topic at hand. But presenting these arguments can be incredibly difficult. Changing someone’s mind about something they believe in deeply – “Sea World is a fun place to go!” “I know McDonald’s isn’t the best for me, but I still like it!” – is a difficult task to place in the hands of a film, but there are some ways to do it effectively with little offense.

Our first instinct is to present a mountain of evidence – flashy statistics presented through infographics, expert interviews, or testimonials from those affected. But, because evidence can often be found to support both sides, how do we structure films that move beyond sharing facts that we hope will resonate with the viewer? Inc. Magazine presented a framework that we believe can be applied to the film conceptualizing and filmmaking process.

Step Zero: Depersonalize the Topic

Telling a friend about a book you enjoyed or comedian that you hurt yourself laughing at can be very personal, and it may be difficult to stomach opposition to that strong feeling you have. Films that position themselves this way  are difficult to watch for those who aren’t similarly passionate. One way to avoid the line between enthusiastic and overzealous? According to Strategy and Entrepreneurship professor Freek Vermuelen, “Adopting a third-person perspective helps you tap into an objective mode of judgment—one based on facts and an understanding of the consequences.

Step away from your enthusiasm about the topic, and go back to when you first learned about it. What would a newcomer need to know? Focus on the essentials, and ensure those are covered. Then, concentrate on ways to get footage that reinforces those main points, rather than the flowery details. From there, you may have an easier time turning the tide.

Step One: Agree

Just as the first rule in improv is to “agree” with your partner, the first rule in working to change someone’s mind is to agree with them. Without agreement, the conflict at the center of the decision cannot advance. Acknowledge your viewer’s mindset and the evidence they come to you with by addressing common qualms or well-known disagreements with your premise. Plan for establishing shots, quotes, interviews, and statistics that do this. By demonstrating that you hear them, viewers will feel heard and understood, and stick around to find out where your case is going.

Step Two: Reframe

Once you’ve recognized that you see their point of view, start introducing questions or additional interpretations of information they hold true. Films can do this well by featuring previously unseen interviews and testimonials, memos, or other content. Geoffrey James of Inc. believes that this makes your job of changing minds easier: “The other person no longer needs to defend his or her viewpoint, because you've changed the ‘view.’” A great example of this is the promotional campaign for ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series, featuring the iconic phrase “what if I told you ...” In addition to tying together the promos, it introduces the idea that the story you’ll be seeing is different from the one you already know. Seek a similar signifier that your film will differ from others of its type.

Step Three: Introduce a New Solution

Now that both you (as the creator of the film) and the viewer are looking at a problem newly framed for both of you, you have an opportunity. Now is the time to tell a story that provides evidence to prove not that the viewer’s thoughts were wrong, but that the new premise is correct. Introducing a vignette or reenactment in the film to illustrate this new idea can help them see how the new solution would play out in the real world. This demonstration that the new solution is sound is key in changing a viewer’s mind.

Step Four: Provide a Way to “Save Face”

Most people shy away from appearing wrong because of embarrassment; the individualized experience of watching something on a screen can lessen that a bit. It could benefit you as a brand or organization to provide ways for viewers to follow up. Are there sources you can cite they might want to look over? Could you create forums for viewers that may have questions after seeing your film? The more space you create for a conversation, the more trust you can build with your audience – the best relationships are built when discussion is encouraged!

A caveat here: When communicating with viewers, keep in mind the same steps that you used to conceive the film should be used when talking about the product. Acknowledge differences in opinion, reframe the premise, talk with them about an alternate solution, and then show grace as their thoughts develop.

The creatives at Trove are skilled in helping organizations, brands, and teams create films that inspire, provoke thought, and display their best assets. If you’d like help unleashing this strategy to make a film that captures the hearts of its viewers, please let us know—we’re ready and willing to work with you!