Travelers enter town carrying only an empty pot. Tired, weary and hungry, they cannot convince the townspeople to feed them. Instinctively, the travelers fill the pot with water and a stone. The “magic soup,” they explain, simply needs seasoning. Townspeople willingly add what they have to the pot, and quickly there is a pot full of delicious soup to be shared by all.
Many people know of this old tale with a message of cooperation and teamwork, but not many have based their company off of the lesson.
Stone Soup Films is a non-profit organization focused on supporting other worthy non-profits by funding and donating promotional films. Through the program, experienced professionals in the film industry donate their time in order to capture the stories and causes of local non-profit organizations while simultaneously teaching budding filmmakers valuable skills.
Liz Norton, founder and director of Stone Soup, is a former freelance television producer, having worked with PBS, MTV and as the research director for the White House Office of Communications during the Clinton Administration. She founded the organization in 2008 when she saw a need to fill an empty market.
“I saw a gap between the non-profits that were doing really important work and the awareness of the people that had the money or power to do something to help the organization and a real lack of sophistication of communications in the non-profit community,” she said.
Norton took it upon herself to not only identify the needs of the non-profit but also to contribute to improving the situation.
“I am going to start an organization that fills that gap and hopefully I’ll get a couple of volunteers that are like me who will help me do this,” Norton said of her original motivation for starting the program. “It’ll be great if we can make one or two films a year.”
From an initial goal of at least 10 volunteers and one to two films a year, Stone Soup Films has grown to 350 volunteers and 15 films a year. With budding plans of expanding beyond D.C., Norton has full confidence in the business model that she has created and the need for it in other markets.
Stone Soup has worked with non-profits such as SAFE (Survivors and Advocates for Empowerment), DC’s only 24 hour crisis prevention agency for domestic violence as well as Urban Alliance, which focuses on serving under-resourced youth by obtaining paid internships, mentorships and formal training. They have also produced for Bread for the City, which services Washington’s impoverished community, Teens Run DC, which connects at risk teens with adult mentors through long distance running, and Sinai House which helps homeless families get back on their feet. Collaborating with these organizations and their staff, among others, has helped them to tell their stories like no other outlet has.
Aside from being a means of support and promotion for local non-profit organizations, Stone Soup also makes it a priority to assist up and coming filmmakers.
“There’s a lot of people that are trying to get into this business, who are trying to get experience and build their reel,” Norton said. “It’s very hard to get into the door of a production company so we’re providing an opportunity to work alongside real professionals.
“So many people have gotten paid jobs from working and volunteering here so because of that I think it’s going to be very successful in other cities.
Working with and training budding filmmakers and producers is one of the most integral parts of the program. Boasting a team of former producers for ABC and CBS, as well as documentary filmmakers and executive directors at communication companies, Stone Soup obtains the support and knowledge of real industry professionals to not only help the cause but also to guide interested students.
“As an aspiring filmmaker, I was given a unique chance to use my skills in an effort to support the work of these organizations while contributing my own creative input in the shaping of each piece,” says Stephen Santayana, a former intern and graduate of James Madison University on the testimonial page of the Stone Soup website.
Stone Soup provides not only volunteer opportunities but also internships for the fall, spring and summer semesters. They are located at 1070 Thomas Jefferson Street NW DC, Suite 202. The organization’s volunteer and internship applications are available at www.stonesoupfilms.org.
Stone Soup’s goal is to not only change the exposure that the public has with non-profits but also the way the public views non-profits.
“This is not about ratings, or how many viewers, or am I coming in under budget,” Norton said. “The whole paradigm has changed. The focus is grassroots stories about people whose lives have changed because of this work.”
Working off of the old tale that the non-profit is named after the organization is centered around the idea that with the continued efforts of their team and the community as a whole they can make a huge impact.
“It is a total community effort,” Norton said of the organization’s ideology. “If everyone puts in a little bit, what they make together is so much greater than what they could have done individually.”