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The Power of Pro Bono Production: Studio Z Films and Ronald McDonald House

Studio Z Films' Steve Zugelter describes the evolution of his work with Ronald McDonald House of Greater Cincinnati over the last four years, the techniques he's used to produce increasingly intimate and story-driven films for them, and how this recurring pro bono project has benefited the local nonprofit and further established Studio Z in the River City.

Trust and Access

The keystones of the 2011 film were the trust and access Zugelter got from the family that was its focal point. In the first interview with the family, we see that the parents had shaved their heads in solidarity with their daughter who was going through chemotherapy—then we see the indelible moment of the daughter shaving her father's head. "That's the kind of stuff that, as I was filming, I couldn't believe I was getting that kind of access. The family was incredibly gracious to make it all happen, and they opened up at a point when they were extremely vulnerable—their child is going through chemo, and the prognosis may not be good—and they lay it all out there, because they know that it is for the good, what the House does and what they do."


Ronald McDonald House: Rosemarie's Story from Zug Media on Vimeo.

The 2012 film focuses on a single family whose 11-year-old twin daughters were born 12 weeks prematurely with severe respiratory issues and not expect to live past their first 12 hours. One twin's breathing issues cleared up immediately; the other required a tracheostomy for a prolonged period, and has needed recurring treatments each year since then. In this case the latitude the production crew got from the hospital proved key to producing the film. And as with the 2011 film, Zugelter had about 2 days to capture the footage he needed, all b-roll included.

Chronicling the family's return visit to the hospital this year, Zugelter says, "The hospital let me go into the room and the dad was actually holding his daughter in his lap, holding the gas to her face, essentially gassing his little girl to sleep. This is one of the greatest shots I think I've ever gotten in my entire life." And while capturing such powerful human moments and telling a meaningful and important story about a real family is a worthy goal in its own right, Zugelter is quick to point out how this factors into the project's overarching goal of sustaining the essential service Ronald McDonald House provides: "Things like this make people open up their wallets, which is essentially the goal. We want people to be impacted, feel emotional, and then feel compelled to donate. We want to create something that educates and also motivates."


Ronald McDonald House of Greater Cincinnati: The Watts Family from Zug Media on Vimeo.