This May is National Foster Care Awareness Month and one organization, One Simple Wish, is raising awareness and support through a unique web-series that came to life pretty much by accident. A group of seven volunteers and one filmmaker set out in a cramped RV on a cross country mission to meet, affect the lives of and grant wishes to some of America’s 400,000+ Foster Children. The full 12 part series is available on YouTube now, but it was a long road to get to this point. Documentary filmmaker and editor of the series, Zachary “Ziggy” Gamble, recalls the unexpected journey and process from start to finish and how he accidentally made a dramatic, road trip web-series about Foster Care with almost no money.
“The Ultimate Wish Tour” Web Series as experienced by Ziggy
When I was initially asked by One Simple Wish to go on a little road trip and film some interviews of foster children, I thought it was a pretty good opportunity to get out of Philly for a bit and take a nice, long, relaxing vacation. Plus, OSW is an amazing organization that grants wishes to foster children all across the country. So of course I said yes. How hard could it be?
The journey ended up being something else altogether. Coast to coast in a packed RV is not an easy trip. There were children depending on us at every stop, the stakes were higher than I understood and I was not fully prepared for the emotional weight that we would have to endure throughout. Because we had a strong team in One Simple Wish and at home in Expressway, it all worked out.
My vantage point for most of the trip.
As an editor, I naturally enjoy spending time with as little people as possible in a small room that is dimly lit [if at all]. Suddenly, I found myself trapped in a cramped RV with 7 other people and absolutely no personal space whatsoever. Why did I agree to this?
It became apparent rather quickly that there were many different personality types in the RV, which I found interesting, so in addition to filming the interviews with the foster children and covering the events, I also found myself rolling on day to day activities and interactions amongst the crew. A huge amount of this footage is really boring and terrible. But some of it turned out to be compelling.
Which leads me to the “accidental” part of this blog post. The Ultimate Wish Tour was never supposed to be a web series. It was also never supposed to be a documentary. The only videos I was supposed to be filming were foster children profiles which would live on the Ultimate Wish Tour website so that people across the country could see that One Simple Wish was out in the real world, solving real world issues and helping real children get what they need. So, that is what we did for 40 days, through 27 states from New Jersey to California and back.
The RV’s dining room table could be folded into a bed which served as my DIT/editing station and sleeping quarters. I had to sleep diagonally so I could fit.
When I returned from the 6 weeks on the open road and back to my safe place of being mostly by myself in a dark room, I realized that in addition to the kids’ interviews, I had filmed about 70 hours of additional footage. Oops…
For me, this journey had just begun.
Danielle Gletow, our fearless leader on the tour, and founder of One Simple Wish, expressed interest in producing a feature length documentary with the footage, which would delve even deeper into the issue of foster care in America and raise support for the children we were trying to help. We were going to film additional interviews with experts in the field, do follow up vignettes with the children we met along the way, and somehow come up with a storyline that people would want to sit and watch for 90+ minutes. This proved to be extremely challenging for many reasons that are not unique to this project, but to most documentary projects I think.
- Specific to this project, I had not filmed any of the tour with the intent of it being included in a long-form piece. So with the existing footage, we were lacking certain integral parts for an overarching story line.
- Limited funds and scheduling conflicts became a major hinderance in producing more content. Although we had big plans and great intentions, this was a non-profit project and it was ultimately and wisely decided that fundraising would be better spent directly on the children.
- We really wanted this to be great, but with the content we had in the can, we didn’t feel that we had enough for a strong, traditional, feature length story arc that would be entertaining enough to make a difference.
This is where our producer James Madison had the bright idea of condensing the story down into bite-sized episodes in a short-form series. With the format of the tour, with the road trip aspect of the journey, we felt that the content lent itself very nicely to an episodic format. There wasn’t the backbone for a feature-length storyline, but we definitely had enough to do mini arcs and lean on the road trip theme from location to location. Every episode has its own story and we used the end destination to pull the series through. Los Angeles was the overarching mission and each episode gets us one step closer. Now we had a story that would work, with enough drama, emotion and excitement to engage a broad audience from episode to episode. It is through that engagement that we’ll be able to educate people on these issues and show them that this is content worth caring about, and just as important, content worth sharing. We knew this was it and we got to work.
Many miles and many peanut butter sandwiches later, the series was finished!
Thus, the Ultimate Wish Tour Web Series was born. It took quite a while to really nail the plotlines down which involved countless revisions and brainstorming. Developing the character arcs was really important as well. The characters have stayed true throughout this process, but sometimes, communicating adequately their role in the mission was an interesting task since I had not been shooting for that initially. It was a great exercise in creative editing and storytelling.
We spent over a year in post production, completely unfunded. There’s no special sauce in how that gets done. You just roll up your sleeves if the content is important enough and you grind it out. We took it upon ourselves to dig in and craft the story in the best way we could.
So, we finished the series. It was uniquely engaging and informative. Everything we had hoped for. Now we just needed to launch it. But that also proved to be difficult (No big surprise there). Our initial plan was to release during November 2016 for Adoption Awareness Month. As it turns out, this was the worst time in the history of the internet to try and introduce America to yet another social issue. Our November release strategy was overwhelmingly Trumped by the 2016 Presidential Election.
We persevered, we pushed on and here we are. We are very excited to finally get this web-series out into the world so it can make a difference. Hopefully by presenting the issue from a different angle, we can raise awareness and change perceptions. Incidentally, because of our push to May, we picked up the support of ABC Disney and their non-profit organization, FosterMore, who we are proud to call a collaborator and contributor to the series. This has been a long road, no pun intended. It may not have been our intention from the onset to create a web-series, but it has been an eye-opening experience and the end result may prove to be the most effective outlet for the content. Everything happens for a reason and that is why we accidentally made a road trip web-series about Foster Care.
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month. Watch and share Episode 1 now and support the over 400,000 American children in Foster Care:
Written By: Ziggy – Director / Editor / Expressway’s Most Eligible Bachelor
Contrary to popular belief, Ziggy does, in fact, enjoy being outside. When he’s not spending hours in a dark editing room, he’s usually out riding his bike dangerously fast to compensate for all the chicken nuggets and peanut butter sandwiches he eats.