video production, victorian, mini-series, documentary, maths

Case study: Maths in Motion mini documentary series
Chloe Edgley gravatar avitar

Case study: Maths in Motion mini documentary series

Author: Chloe Edgley | Posted on: 9 July 2018

Ember was recently commissioned by Index Fund Advisors to produce a really exciting project: a mini-documentary series about the Victorian genius, Sir Francis Galton, and the significance of his work in mathematics. In particular, the series focuses on the ‘Galton Board’ a mathematical device with a lot to say about the way our world works.

The Galton Board is a 7.5” by 4.5” probability device that visualises the statistical concept of normal distribution. When you flip it on its axis, a flow of steel beads drop through the pegs below, bouncing left and right with equal probability until they settle at the base. Somewhat surprisingly, the beads naturally fall into the same shape every time: what’s known as a bell-curve. 

This curve accounts for all sorts of naturally occurring phenomena, from the average population height to the average number of yeast cells needed to make a pint of Guinness. It’s all about the order that exists behind the seemingly random.

After some discussions about the concepts involved and the project’s goals with IFA, we decided that a documentary-style would be the best fit for the series. It would bring the clarity we needed to explain the complex mathematical concepts involved, and the educational approach would help to demonstrate IFA as thought leaders in their field.

Documentaries are an often overlooked format by businesses looking to produce videos, despite the fact that they can be really useful communication tools in these sorts of situations. I sat down with the project producer, Ember’s Sam Willet, to chat a little bit about the unique benefits of the format, and why it as a perfect fit for this series:


Chloe: Why do you think a documentary style best suited this project?

Sam: We needed to be able to use the expertise of academics and their enthusiasm for the Galton Board, as well as seeing the board itself being demonstrated. Because the subject is mathematics, a documentary style allows the viewer to be taught by the academics, whilst incorporating on-screen graphics and demonstrations in order to make it as clear as possible. 

Also, Francis Galton is a historical subject too, so the documentary style lent itself to looking at the past, allowing us to use locations in keeping with Galton's time and feature footage of the original Galton Board, as well as archive stills of Galton himself.

Chloe: How do you think the series helps to demonstrate IFA as thought leaders?

Sam: The great thing about working for IFA is that they are real geeks (in a good way) when it comes to investing and related topics. I think it's fantastic that Mark's (Hebner, CEO) interest spreads beyond investing to probability and applied mathematics. The fact that they'd produce a series like this with us, and create a product like their new Galton Board, shows off their strong grounding in academic evidence. If I were looking to invest with them I would find that very reassuring.

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Chloe: Were there any particular challenges that came up on the project, or that are inherent to the documentary format itself?

Sam: Good contributors, and particularly locations, can present a budgetary challenge. We spent a while hunting for the perfect location for our presenter's pieces to camera, and settled on the Victorian workshop you see in the video. At that stage we didn't have the budget for it, but after showing our client the photos and explaining the cost, they were happy to increase the budget accordingly - I'm so grateful for this as I think it looks brilliant and really lifts the finished result. 

Chloe: How did you go about explaining these complex topics in a way that would be accessible for viewers?

Sam: You do rely on your interviewees to an extent, so we were careful to choose academics with the right background who would also be good on camera. I think it was important in this series to get a sense of history, of things that were important in Victorian times still being relevant today, and I think we did that with our choice of location and archive footage. I think that makes it more accessible as it's not totally about the maths, so you don't have to be mad on maths to get something out of the series. 

Also, the graphics make a huge difference. Because I was reviewing the various drafts I can say that a lot of it was much harder to understand before the graphics were applied. A lot of people are visual thinkers, so that's really important.

Selecting the right format to fit your project is crucial to getting the most out of your production efforts and budget, so make sure you put some thought into all the options out there. You could try testimonials, homepage videos, explainers, 360 degree tours, event videos, FAQ series, product overviews…or maybe even a documentary series all of your own.


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Author: Chloe Edgley

Chloe Edgley gravatar avitar
Chloe is our copywriter here at Ember Television. Her interest in telling stories led her to study English with Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham, where she developed a specialised interest in screenwriting and digital media.
Case study: Maths in Motion mini documentary series



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