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Using Stories to Change the World

Videographer, photographer, and storyteller Jon Zaugg on working with nonprofit groups around the world.

Right after I graduated I started working for the Evangelical Free Church of America. I travelled to 12 different countries, producing videos for missionaries. I’d fly into a country, shoot for 2 weeks, try to tell their stories, and edit while I travelled to the next place. It was chaotic. I tried to edit everything either before I got to the next place or as I was leaving so I didn’t have things piling up.

A lot of nonprofit groups have a hard time showing the world what they’re doing. Their gifts aren’t usually in communication, so I wanted to come alongside some of those groups and try to tell their stories. And also try to teach them how to do it a little bit on their own. Show them how to take better photos and produce better videos.

When I got back I started my own company, Zaugg Productions. I did a lot of weddings. They’re a good way to make money, and I enjoy them. In 2009 an opportunity with ESPN opened up, shooting for Sunday Night Baseball. I worked 6 games in 2009, 12 in 2010, and 26 in 2011. And then I started getting asked to shoot All-Star games, World Series games, Super Bowls.

It’s been a great learning experience. I’m being mentored by people who’ve worked with media technology for 30 years. They’re the best of the best. Shooting sports is much different than filming missionaries. But at the same time, it’s building stories. Starting wide, working your way to a close up.

I met my wife at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. We hit it off right away. We were both working the games, and my sister was on the USA hockey team, so I was watching her play. My wife is Australian, so when we started talking about getting married, we knew she couldn’t work in America right away because she wouldn’t have a Visa. And I couldn’t work in Australia.

That’s when we partnered with Feed My Starving Children (FMSC). I pitched the idea that my wife and I would travel around the world for a year, producing videos for the different groups that worked with FMSC. 

We left in April 2012 and traveled to 20 countries in a year. We worked in Swaziland, Kenya, Tajikistan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Philippines. My sister-in-law is a missionary in India, so we worked with her mission, and then we were in the Maldives for a month working with some tourist/missionary groups.

It was absolutely incredible, experiencing culture that way. We’d stay with these partners or missionaries for 2 weeks, up to a month, so we got to see their lives and go in and not just be tourists. We went to a lot of places we never would’ve gone otherwise.

In every location, there was a moment when we realized we were getting to know the people we were filming. They were letting us into their lives. And it was very powerful and humbling for us. In Tajikistan we worked in a leprosy colony. We met a guy there, he was 80 years old, he was a physics and biology professor at a university. Then one day he found out he had leprosy, and the government sent him to this small community and said ‘You can’t leave. People can’t visit you.’ But he told us he wouldn’t change it for the world, because he became a Christian after he found out he had leprosy. Being able to film his story was amazing.

We tried to communicate with our partners as much as we could before we arrived in a country. We never knew what kinds of stories we’d find before we got there. So it was a lot of being aware of what was around us and searching for those stories. And explaining what we were doing and how we were working. Video takes longer than people assume. So we had to explain that we were filming for 2 weeks, and the result would be a 4-minute video. After they saw the final product they understood, but it took a little bit.

You shouldn’t get so focused on a project that you forget the people you’re working with. It’s easy to do. But, ultimately, relationships are all that matter. You need to have a game plan, but you also need to be flexible and be willing to change it. To produce great work and tell authentic stories you have to know the people you’re working with. It’s much more powerful when people speak from the heart. Trust is key.

Bethel gave me the freedom to dream. Producing videos for nonprofit groups, helping them tell their stories, was my dream job. And Bethel gave me the self-belief, and encouraged me to go ask people ‘How can I make this happen?’

If you want something, search after it, and keep moving forward.

More info about Jon

Business Marketing & Media Communication

College of Arts & Sciences

Eagle River, WI

Travelling, learning about the world and other cultures, surfing, wakeboarding, camping, hiking, trying new things, hanging out with friends