WHERE TO INVADE NEXT: A Case Study in Tackling a Social Action Campaign that Addresses Multiple Issues!

                And engaging with organizations in ways that are meaningful and long lasting for the movement.

Tackling a social action campaign for a Michael Moore film is a daunting task. As the most successful documentary filmmaker of all time, Moore’s films have spawned movements long before terms like “impact producer” and “social action campaign” entered the everyday lexicon of the independent film world. Fahrenheit 9/11 changed the 2008 election and the effects are so far reaching that even today’s presidential debates address the implications raised in the film.

Sicko arguably planted some of the first seeds of Obamacare. Bowling for Columbine brought gun control into the national conversation. While it’s unfortunate that we are still having that same conversation, the film helped inspire the movement for gun control and has certainly made an impact on many social issue documentary filmmakers and impact producers.

So, how do you create an impact campaign for a film giant like Michael on his latest film Where To Invade Next?

Put the power in the hands of the people making the change.

Michael Moore said it best himself,  

“The first thing I want to do is for you to have felt the film was a good way to have spent two hours. I want you to enjoy the movies. At the very least you were entertained. Entertainment can mean that it was thought-provoking, you laughed or cried, or maybe you even got mad. If 10% of the audience commits themselves to doing something about this, that would be huge. I don’t expect that from everyone and I don’t demand it.”

Even if only 10% of viewers take action, that’s still a significant amount of people, given that it’s the largest grossing documentary this year and Moore’s second largest film opening ever.

Our goal and challenge is to provide concrete ways for that 10% to be inspired and take action. Rather than reinvent movements of our own, we decided to collaborate with the issue area leaders to use the film as an engagement and mobilizing tool for their work. We established partnerships with dozens of organizations that are aligned with the core issue areas in the film, including gender equality, political mobilization, voting, mass incarceration, criminal justice, drug reform and education. We also developed more extensive partnerships and specific initiatives related to the following initiatives.

Student Debt

In the film, Michael invades Slovenia where attending a university is free-even for Americans! In Slovenia, there is no such thing as a student loan. When you graduate from college, you have the opportunity to choose any job you want- your true passion. In the U.S., recent graduates often feel forced to take a job because of the insane amount of debt they have. Since this is such a big issue in the U.S., we partnered with Student Debt Crisis to co-brand and launch their #WithoutStudentDebt campaign. WithoutStudentDebt.org is now a place where people around the country can share their vision of what life would be like without student loan debt. We encourage you to visit the WithoutStudentDebt.org wall to tell us what you would do #WithoutStudentDebt.

Gender Equality

Where To Invade Next created an opportunity to start a national and serious discussion on gender equality in the U.S., a right we should all demand. In order to build national awareness around the fact that women in the U.S. do not have equal rights under the Constitution, we designed a one question quiz that simply asks,

“Do men and women have equal protection under the U.S. Constitution?”

In our experience, interactive content​, like ​quizzes and polls, ​add a​ more engaging​ ​and participatory ​dimension to ​our ​“word-of-mouth” marketing and advocacy​ efforts​. ​By pushing this quiz through more diverse​, social​ channels ​to people outside our normal partners,​ we further​ enticed​ people to ​join the campaign and share their thoughts and results on social media.

The quiz not only created widespread awareness on the fact that men and women are not guaranteed equal rights under the Constitution, but also generated substantial buzz in the week leading up to the film’s release. We worked with over 40 women’s groups and leaders, including the ERA Coalition, NOW, Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem, who were all excited to use this quiz and the film as part of their efforts to raise awareness about the Equal Rights Amendment.  

Hammer & Chisel Awards

In the film, we see how the small actions of one person can lead to monumental, generational shifts. We sought to honor those courageous individuals, currently working to undo injustice and make America a better place for all. Coinciding with the release of the film, we established a partnership with the Huffington Post culminating with a blog series from the award recipients. The “Hammer & Chisel Awards” honor individuals who are working to make life better for the working class and working poor in our country. Not only did these recipients feel empowered by the award, but they also became active partners in promoting the film.  

Additionally, we coordinated a selection of word of mouth & influencer screenings to build public support and awareness around the film’s release. We managed to build out screenings with the following institutions:

  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Innocence Project
  • Spotify
  • United States Congress
  • New America

The legacy of the impact campaign will exist beyond the film’s six month marketing window. The Hammer & Chisel awardees have national recognition for their work, the ERA Coalition has better educated people and fostered an email list of people ready to mobilize, and Student Debt Crisis has a storytelling tool that visualizes debt.

At the end of the day, working with an enormous celebrity like Michael Moore can get organizations’ and activists’ attention, but that can only get you so far. They might agree to a phone call or a video conference to discuss a partnership, but it is up to us, as campaign directors, to build these relationships from the ground up and create meaningful initiatives so we have total support from these organizations and their members.  

The results of the impact and influence of this film are yet to be seen, but change does not always happen overnight. We can measure our progress quantitatively in the form of reach and awareness, and qualitatively in the depth of the relationships we’ve developed with our partners. We know the film broke records opening weekend. We know thousands took the ERA quiz and our messaging on equality reached millions of people. We know that the time we spent working with the organizations on the ground will help ensure that the initiatives we built around the film will continue to make an impact long after the box office closes.


Darcy Heusel: SVP, Impact Campaigns @darcyheusel

Darcy’s expertise in impact film stretches from social media and online engagement to film marketing and distribution. Her projects at Picture Motion include Fed Up, American Promise, Bully, The Crash Reel, and Herman’s House. Previously, Darcy was the Director of Programming and Marketing at Constellation.tv where she oversaw business development, client relations, social media and digital strategy. While there, she also directed new media events for The VowMagic Mike, and films from the Criterion Collection. Prior to Constellation, Darcy was Director of Acquisitions and Marketing at Screen Media Films where she acquired and oversaw distribution (Theatrical, DVD, VOD, Digital and more) and marketing for over 50 films. Darcy serves on the advisory board for the Minority Independent Producers summit and volunteers in her free time with Ghetto Film School NYC. Darcy graduated with a BA in political science and writing from Washington University in St. Louis.

Julie Kohn: Campaign Director

Julie comes to Picture Motion with a strong background in engaging and activating audiences and driving social impact across film, television and corporate campaigns. Prior to joining Picture Motion, Julie was the Director of Business Development at branding and marketing firm DeSantis Breindel, where she used her expertise to help clients build and maintain corporate reputation and effectively communicate corporate stories, values and missions. Previously, she served as an Associate Producer on the documentary A Place At The Table, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and examined the hunger and obesity crises in America. After three years of working on the film side, Julie moved to documentary programming at the Tribeca Film Institute and coordinated screening events at A&E IndieFilms. Julie graduated from The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, where she received her B.A. in International Affairs and Geography. It is there that she honed her interest in public policy and social justice and worked on several political campaigns as well as at the United Nations.