Long donates talents, time to United Way effort        

Volunteers for the Plainview Area United Way are not hard to come by. Businesses are highly involved in all aspects of the effort, from collecting packets and giving presentations to serving on special committees.

But Steve Long is a unique volunteer. His work begins after the year’s campaign ends and finishes when the next campaign kicks off. And while few see him working, many see the finished product.

Long, who works as assistant professor of mass communications at Wayland Baptist University, donates his time and talents each year to the making of the United Way campaign video. The video is used at the kickoff breakfast each fall, then again as businesses need it for presentations to their employees.

This year’s video represents the 15th year Long has been working on the project, a role he took on shortly after coming to work for Wayland.

“I came here in 1990 and joined the Rotary Club, where I met Don Dickson,” Long said. “United Way was doing slide show presentations then, and Don asked me about the possibility of using a video format. We started working on it toward the end of that school year.”

Since the first video had no precedent to follow, Long said it was the easiest to produce. He and Dickson came up with the creative ideas, using the Debby Boone song “You Light Up My Life” as a backdrop, then set out to film United Way volunteers and beneficiaries for the video. He and Dickson collaborated on scripting and worked together often on shooting video footage.

For the 1992 video, Long did a music video using children singing the song “Wind Beneath My Wings,” a challenging project that involved filming children singing on the wings of airplanes, sliding down the water slide and underwater at the YMCA pool. The next year, children led a tour using the Plainview trolleys, another video Long enjoyed.

“Children are often a focus because they have an emotional appeal to many,” Long said, explaining that agencies working with children often get clients on film.  “There are also some sensitive matters you deal with and some confidentiality issues, such as with the Crisis Center, so you can’t always use those clients.

“We like to use different levels of emotional input, sometimes from those who are impacted by United Way and sometimes from volunteers,” he said. “The video is about helping the average person see what their money is going toward.”

Work on a video begins with the year’s campaign chairman, who picks the theme for the year and works on a script that carries out the theme. Long then takes the script and works with PAUW Executive Director Mary Anna Self to coordinate the agencies to be featured in the video. Her help is invaluable, he says, in dealing with the sensitive issues and in arranging the logistics of the filming schedule.

Choosing which agencies get featured in each year’s video is difficult, he added, because all do worthy things. But not all make great footage, and with 14 agencies included, United Way has to rotate the groups around from year to year to keep the video from becoming too long.

Once a filming schedule is set, Long begins the shooting process, often taking along students from his mass communications classes for hands-on experience in the field. He prefers to do the bulk of the filming and editing in the spring semester while students are on campus, but if the process if running behind, sometimes those things don’t get started until late spring or summer. He’s even been known to wrap up editing on the video mere days before its debut at the kickoff breakfast.

As he films, Long said he encourages those on camera not to be too scripted.

“We really try to get them to speak from the heart,” he said. “Sometimes they will come in with prepared testimonies, and we film that, but when we begin asking questions and getting them to talk freely, we get the really good stuff.”

Altogether, about 24-36 hours of filming is involved in getting enough footage to compile for the video. After it’s complete, Long heads to the editing room, where he spends another 12-13 hours piecing together the footage. The narration must be laid down as well, having been recorded earlier in a studio.

Though the work is time consuming, Long does not charge the United Way for any of his services, considering it his service to the agency. A few years back, the agency purchased a digital editor for the university, in large part to make Long’s work with the video easier. It has cut the time needed to edit the video in half.

The finished product falls between 7-8 minutes typically, which Long believes is a good time for a video to be complete but not become too much for viewers. Though it doesn’t include every bit of information about all of the United Way agencies – and isn’t intended to – Long said he feels it always captures the spirit of the organization.

“When you finish seeing the video, it should say something to you,” he said. The point, then, is to touch people and make them realize the organization’s worthiness of their donations.

“United Way is a way to contribute beyond what your church contributes and it’s really how the local community works together for benevolence,” he said. “What they do couldn’t be done without United Way.

“I think that if everyone knows the message of United Way and how it’s affecting every part of this community, people have no problem giving their Fair Share. I’m glad to be a part of getting that message out.”