4 Things I Learned from Producing a Not-for-Profit Job

Jackie Steen / 9.5.2018

SNEAKY BIG was asked earlier this year to team up with Make-A-Wish Arizona to help make a wish come true for a young 7-year-old girl. We, of course, said yes and began to dream about how to make this experience the most impactful for her and her family.

Isabel’s wish request was to recreate the Meghan Trainor, “Me Too” music video. Being a production studio, we had all the capabilities to make this happen. Make-A-Wish solely relies on volunteers who are passionate to help heal a sick child by the joy their wish fulfillment provides– which now has scientific research to back this theory up.

This was a project that would be very unique to work on with its own sets of joys and challenges. Here are four things I learned from producing this not-for-profit project.


Isabel smiles for the camera before a take.

1. Start BIG!

Original Director and Executive Producer – Hannah Lux Davis and Brandon Bonfiglio.

If we were going to temporarily be in the business of granting wishes, I believed we needed to start at the top and work our way down. In my eyes, it starts with the director. I researched who represented the original music video director, Hannah Lux Davis, and introduced myself. To make sure that my email actually got read, I noted our mutual connections from my experience in the music industry. I presented the project over email, which I hoped would tug on the heartstrings and create interest to discuss further. To my immediate surprise, I connected the same day and they wanted to hear more. Once we connected with Hannah on the phone she was on board to make it happen! This set the bar for the entire project.  I knew Isabel would receive star treatment with Hannah’s direction.

Next, my goal was to someway, somehow involve Meghan Trainor as a surprise.  With a little prompting from our awesome director, Meghan’s camp got in touch with Make-A-Wish to be involved.  Meghan’s schedule was to attend the Teen Choice Awards the day of our shoot, so she decided to FaceTime Isabel that morning as a surprise. She spent 13 minutes on the phone with her and her family.  She also sent Isabel the same pajamas that were worn in the music video as a gift.  Isabel lit up and that was the motivational fuel for the entire rest of the shoot day.

Lesson learned: Start big even if you think it’s a long shot. Let your imagination go, and you might be surprised what happens!

2. Plan more time for preplanning.

If we’re lucky, we usually get a few weeks for preproduction on a big job. For this project, it actually took four months. Every crew member and person involved was volunteering their time, talent, and resources, so we had to work around schedules. I found that many people will want to be a part of what you’re creating, but not everyone can for various reasons and that’s okay. Due to the nature of it, you must count on dropouts if crew or vendors get booked on other gigs. There was a point a few weeks out when it seemed as if everyone’s plans were changing, and I had key spots to fill. I decided to let go of my expectations and to trust that it would all come together. Instead, I focused on doing everything I knew. The outcome was only so much in my control. It wasn’t until the day before the shoot that everything solidified. We had exactly everyone we needed.

Lesson learned: Allow yourself more time to preplan, count on changes, and trust the outcome will come together.

3. Band together.

When people band together for a cause, it brings a high and unique bond that is unlike other jobs. It’s a nontangible benefit of giving. We had a 45-person crew working on a 12-hour shoot day and many put in multiple days of work. I was hopeful but quite shocked by everyone’s generosity.

Isabel and her family receive a surprise Facetime call from Meghan Trainor herself!

We even had a Production Assistant drive all the way from LA just to be part of the project. When people are moved, they will move! Everyone gave up their agendas and weekend to help someone they had never met but only heard of.

We made sure to keep the energy of excitement going throughout the process.  Working with kids on camera, especially kids that are not trained to perform, can be quite difficult, but I had a feeling that this would not be the case with Isabel and her siblings.  They were such a delight to work with and took direction extremely well, which impressed everyone.

The feeling after we wrapped the last scene was amazing. Tears, laughter, and pride swelled the atmosphere. We knew we had accomplished something good together, and that we made a dream come true. I had so many people write me afterward thanking me for allowing them to be on this project – when I was the one that was thankful for them! I respect each person who was a part the team and made sure they were told how much they were appreciated.  Without them, we could not have accomplished what we did.

Lesson learned: The collective energy of people uniting together to give is powerful and should remain at the forefront of the process.

4. Create a buzz.

Isabel’s siblings help her get camera ready.

Doing something out of the ordinary, such as working with celebrities and A-list talent, especially not for profit, will create a buzz. It’s a special story to talk about that people often share on their own accord without prompting.  Therefore, it’s important to prepare what “the story” is in advance.  What is the mission, how is it accomplished, and what is the point of difference? The mission for us was to recreate the Meghan Trainor music video for a 7-year-old girl to help her healing process.  We accomplished our mission by banning together a large volunteer community of production experts. The point of difference was that Meghan Trainor got involved and the original director volunteered to direct it.  That was our story and Extra TV liked it enough to feature it on their nationally syndicated show, creating good press for everyone involved.  It made Isabel feel like a star, the director and Meghan received kudos in the entertainment world, our studio in Scottsdale got a shout out, and all the crew can add this to their reel/resume.

The light still continues to shine. Fox Theater Tucson has agreed to premiere the video using their theater at no charge. We will debut the music video and The Making Of video with a red-carpet welcome for Isabel, the crew and vendors, and Make-A-Wish supporters.  The hope is that once the video premiers online, it will go viral and will create another life of its own.

Lesson learned: Define the story prior. You will create a buzz that may continue long after the project concludes, so ride the wave!


Make-A-Wish, SNEAKY BIG, and many of the production volunteers gather together with Isabel’s family for a group photo post-wrap.

After months of hard work, the music video is completed. Check it out!