Changing the World: One Film at a Time

–with Josh Hayes, Founder & Executive Director of Visual Anarchy

What’s unique about your nonprofit?

I don’t imagine anything we do is specifically unique but It is necessary. Though I’ve never checked to see what other video producers are doing. Simply put, I think we all have some skills we can share to help others. It doesn’t matter how little or big it is. Just that it’s something we know, and we should be trying to help people, the environment, or anything else that deserves justice or our efforts to help.

I think a lot of us are very fortunate to have our health and live where we live, and a lot of things we take for granted, and the least we can do is try to help out those who are less fortunate.

My team and I know video production, so that’s how we can contribute. Personally, if I’m being honest I don’t do nearly enough of it, but I’m working on it.

When did your nonprofit launch and what’s been your biggest challenge?

I launched the nonprofit in 2015. My biggest challenge has always been the same thing for my entire career both for documentary filmmaking and for the nonprofit. I don’t know anything about raising funds for our projects, so we’re always under-resourced in that capacity. For The Invisible Class, we had probably $26,000 for 11 years for a film that needed about $750,000 probably. For Visual Anarchy, we’ve never had more than 4K of funding in a single year. We use our abundant energy to do our best, but we are consistently without resources and have been from the very start.

There are some positives that come with that. You have to learn to be really resourceful, you’re constantly humbled, and there’s no end to challenges. But having to say no to help an organization because you can’t afford the plane ticket and luggage fees and can’t find a free place to couch surf gets old, and in the film’s case for example you can’t afford to pay to advertise so people know it even exists. On The Invisible Class, there were never more than 2 of us at a time because there was almost never a budget to pay anybody. But when we had somebody help or the few times we had a budget to bring someone on, the project is always better for it.

Any noteworthy surprises or ‘A-ha’ Moments along the way?

Not really. Though I’m constantly reminded of something I learned at the beginning that isn’t intuitive at first. When you find an awesome organization that needs help, it’s important to ask them what they need, not tell them what you want to create. It’s often less glamorous than the amazing dramatic idea you had, but more helpful, haha.

I went into producer mode and suggested finding a person of color in need, shadowing their lives for a few weeks and their families. Home and in the hospital. Really get into the reality of the situation.

I’ll give one of many examples. In 2010 I learned about the National Bone Marrow Foundation and Be The Match Foundation after hearing a story on NPR. It was about how desperately they needed people of color to join the bone marrow donation database because it literally saves people’s lives if you can donate when the time comes. So I reached out, and they said they’d love the help. I went into producer mode and suggested finding a person of color in need, shadowing their lives for a few weeks and their families. Home and in the hospital. Really get into the reality of the situation. Inspire the people watching to want to save a life! And they were like, “dude we love that idea, but kind of have that” and need someone to go to Washington DC with us and film our annual day where we talked to Lawmakers and try to pass legislation to help more broadly. So it was filming meetings, some fun things before and after but it wasn’t a dramatic Hollywood film like I had naively imagined. And it was much more helpful haha. Lesson: Ask what the nonprofits need before anything else.

How would you describe your typical day?

Get up, stretch (though I’m only 38 I’ve done/do a lot of exercise throughout my life), start my work.  I skip answering emails (or looking at them) for the first 2 hours of the day and just jump into it. It’s nothing sexy. I balance out being a freelance camera person and editor, that pays the bills when I find work. Then I do all things nonprofit. Then I do all things film. Then it’s exercise time. Then it’s back for more of the same, and then trying to unplug from every device as much as possible when my girlfriend comes up.

What about your “social impact/outcomes?”

If we’re talking about 2020, clearly it wasn’t our average year. The world kind of ground to a halt in March and did start to pick back on our end until around August. It impacted every part of my life as a video producer.  For The Invisible Class, most of our screenings were canceled, and we were scheduled to be the film for the Housing First Partners Conference which is big in the homelessness community, but that was canceled as well. For Visual Anarchy, many of our pro bono activities were pauses as well while everything shut down. Having said that, we did continue outreach work with Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, we worked with and produced Webinars and Group Roundtables for HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for People With Aids), and started our collaboration with Camp Okizu which is a year-round outdoor nature camp for children with Cancer.

George Mark Children’s House from Upstart Media on Vimeo.

A large amount of it was ravaged in the California fires, and the infrastructure was pretty devastated. So we’ve been helping them with videos both to raise awareness and for an upcoming fundraiser. We also created an outreach video for WRAP (Western Regional Advocacy Project) which is our favorite organization with respect to homelessness issues. We did still manage to have several Community Action Screenings with: Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, Miracle Messages, Stepping Stone Emergency Housing, Andover High School,  Blanket Tampa Bay, and several of Downtown Streets Team chapters. Those resulted in 1050 more people seeing the film as well as new volunteers for those organizations and some donations. Andover High School put together an Impact Assessment Report from the screening for us (something I don’t know anything about) and it was an awesome list of upcoming ways folks will contribute to the homeless community. Pretty awesome. I did a few private Employee Training sessions with homeless organizations who wanted to educate their staff on housing history and criminalization with respect to homelessness as well.

What’s the next big thing/challenge for Visual Anarchy?

The next big challenge is the same thing I guess. Trying to raise some kind of funds to pay for monthly costs. We’re not even trying to get paid to do any of the work we do, I’d like to just not lose money on basic monthly needs like Project Management Software, Website costs, mailing list costs, social media management, and a bunch of other random monthly things I’m forgetting about. And the film’s costs as well. We don’t have insurance yet because it’s too expensive. Or Closed Captioning and such. It would be nice to have a budget to be able to advertise the film a bit too so we can get it on more radars of homeless service providers. Plus a bunch of other small goals. I’d love to double the organizations we can help this year, double the amount of Community Action Screenings in the homeless community, etc.

As a nonprofit leader, what’s non-negotiable for you?

Making sure that you actually rep the community you’re supposed to be serving. As a freelance camera operator for 15 years, and having run the nonprofit for 6 years, I’ve seen really good and really bad examples of nonprofits serving their communities. A lot of bigger nonprofits struggle with keeping it real, utilizing their budgets without waste, and staying connected to their clients. Maybe more simply put, always check in with your community and ask them how you’re doing, and if anything should be done differently. Even if it means inviting them to do so anonymously.

How can our readers learn more about/help Visual Anarchy?

They can visit Visual Anarchy. Though honestly, our job is to empower other organizations by making their videos for them, or teaching them, etc.. so we like to fade into the background. If we’re doing it right, you don’t know who we are I suppose. For The Invisible Class though, we need all the help we can get getting the word out about the film. We need to get it on the radar of as many homeless service providers (shelters, homeless employment programs, policy folks, soup kitchens, socially conscious churches, etc) as possible. I’m thinking of creating a petition and asking folks to sign it to get the folks at The United Nations or The White House to watch it. Maybe that’s too grandiose…. See our Social Media Links: TwitterInstagramFacebook and Join our Mailing List. And if you’d like to help us keep doing what we do, please DONATE HERE.

BONUS QUESTION: What’s something interesting that most people wouldn’t know about each of you?

I’m a former professional Mixed Martial Arts Athlete.

Dennis Pitocco
DENNIS is Founder & CEO & Reimaginator of 360° Nation, encompassing a wide range of multimedia enterprises, including BizCatalyst 360° —an award-winning global media digest; 360° Nation Studios —dedicated to reaching across the world in an effort to capture, produce, and deliver positive, uplifting messages via game-changing productions such as HopeFest 360°, and; GoodWorks 360° —a pro-bono consulting foundation focused entirely on providing mission-critical advisory services to nonprofits worldwide. Everything Dennis does is carried out "for-good" vs. "for-profit", reflecting his belief that it’s time for a renaissance of pure, unbridled wonder. Time to renew in both our hearts and in our souls more joy, more kindness, more compassion, more understanding, and that magical sense of truly belonging to something greater than the status quo. And time to bring the spirit of “humanity at its very best” back to the forefront. More about his "backstory" HERE. Dennis is also a contributing author to the Best-Selling Book Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational Change.