"Rancho Cielo: Anthony & the Judge" — A Case Study

In the foothills east of Salinas, California, Rancho Cielo transforms young people's lives by surrounding them with adults who believe in them. To build support for that mission, Boots Road produced this video.

This case study discusses how we created the video, why we did it that way, and why it's been successful. Click to watch (seven minutes), and find our notes below.


This video doesn't tell you facts, it tells you stories. There's a lot of data about the value of Rancho Cielo — the programs it offers, how many young people it's served, how much it costs, its rate of success. As important as that information is, almost none of it is in the video.

That's because information doesn't move people, stories do. In fact, information often reduces impact. In a study of "Compassion Fade," Paul Slovic and others found that donors give more after learning about just one child in need than about two, or ten, or a million — donations drop off.

One child is a story. But many children — even though they obviously represent a greater need — become statistics.

We can regret that this is how the human mind works, but it is. If our mission is to help many people, we'll do better by telling stories.

In the video, we tell the story of how Rancho Cielo changed the life of Anthony Turpin, one of the many graduates the Ranch has helped. We tell the story of how it changed the life of Rancho Cielo's founder, retired Judge John Phillips. And we weave their stories together.



Aesthetics matter. Too many videos for organizations are done in the "institutional voice:" factual, proper, anonymous. To make people feel something, we have to use the language of feelings. In a video, that means, among many other things, the composition and focus of each shot, the way they're linked together, the expressions on people's faces, the lighting, and the sound.

On this project, our director was the Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated Elizabeth Thompson, whom producer Spencer Critchley first met working on her PBS documentary "Blink," (which won the Emmy). Hear she is shooting a scene with Judge Phillips, award-winning cinematographer Vicente Franco, and award-winning sound recordist Doug Dunderdale:



Scores of individual shots, filmed over two days, went into making this seven-minute piece. We shot on the ranch property, from the air, and as you see here, in the Judge's truck, next to his pal Otto:



Even the sound involved more than 30 different tracks of audio. That was needed because sound tells a story, just like the visuals do, which means carefully capturing and mixing voices and background sounds: horses, cows, birds, a squeaky gate, footsteps, construction machinery, music, and more.

In the end, by telling the stories of Anthony and the Judge, we told the story of Rancho Cielo.

And that has helped make a big difference: thanks to the work of many people, and what Rancho Cielo achieves, donors are being moved to contribute far, far more than the cost of this video.

Ultimately, the reality of Rancho Cielo is what matters. But to make people experience that reality — and what it means?

You have to tell a story.