9 July, 2013
A GUEST BLOG FROM AMAZON’S PARTNER INSIDE JOB PRODUCTIONS
Think you know film?
Your campaign needs some serious exposure? Commission a cheeky 90-second film, distribute via social media and hope it goes viral.
Fundraising needs a bit of oomph? Find some articulate case studies and get them talking about how your charity made all the difference.
Training a bit lacklustre? Develop an innovative drama format to engage and inform your staff, thereby saving you thousands on trainers…
Now I’m the first person to champion all of these approaches and more. But there are other, equally exciting and perhaps less well-known uses of film that make the most of its ability to engage people, to record insight and to communicate findings.
The use of film for research has been around almost as long as the medium itself (Robert J. Flaherty’s 1922 documentary Nanook of the North is considered by some to be the first ethnographic film), but current practitioners are finding it a useful tool to uncover a deep understanding of health and social issues, and to frame policy recommendations.
Twenty-first century ethnographers (and market researchers) Ipsos-Mori used film-makers to carry out participant observation with the parents of children with renal conditions for NHS Kidney Care. The contributors were filmed for ages, with all daily interactions and activities captured, often exposing the contradictions between what people say, and what they actually do.
Footage and transcripts were analysed for individual and more general themes and insights which informed an NHS report, as well as highlighting individual success stories to learn from. And edited versions of the film footage – ethnographic case-studies – were also used to disseminate the findings.
At Inside Job Productions, a media production company using film to address social and environmental issues, we’ve opted less for the ethnographic approach (with its historical ambiguities around the impact of the observer on the subject) and embraced the participatory approach. Working with the Howard League for Penal Reform’s U R Boss project, we ran participatory animation workshops where young offenders in custody and in the community explored their own experiences in the criminal justice system, identifying areas of concern and their own suggestions of how to address these. Working with professional animators to develop narratives, create storyboards and record voice-overs, the end result was a range of animations that not only informed the Howard League’s report, Life Inside, but were then used in the launch and subsequently on the project’s website.
The use of participatory film as a form of action research raises some interesting questions about the production values of the finished films. There are no right answers: it’s always a balancing act between privileging the process and the product, and sometimes the wobbliest of camerawork is unimportant in the context of insights gained through the process of filming.
In the case of the Howard League films it was the young people themselves who determined this balance. In the development stages we showed them animations that had been entirely produced by other young people in custody – to our surprise they hated them. As sophisticated consumers of media they wanted something altogether slicker, which gave the eventual participants of the project some interesting roles – those of producer and commissioner working with professional animators, rather than direct film-making. Roles which, perhaps, gave them transferable skills as useful as film-making (or more so?).
In practice the process of creating the films had a remarkably empowering effect on participants. And the films were very successful in identifying and communicating insights to audiences who responded strongly to the pictures they painted of the young people’s worlds, as well as the specific policy insights they revealed.
Film eh? You can see why I love it…
Naomi Delap, Managing Director, Inside Job Productions