One of the most exciting and rewarding video projects that we worked on in 2019 was a documentary highlighting the work that USE-IT! have done over the past three years in finding solutions to the social and economic problems facing parts of Birmingham.
I sat down with one of our producers, Sam Willet, to talk about finding the best way of telling USE-IT!'s story, the challenges of producing longer-form video content, and what he gained personally from the project.
What is USE-IT!?
USE-IT! was a project that ran from January 2017 to December 2019, which aimed to strengthen the relationships between local people and community groups, and bigger organisations and infrastructure projects. The ultimate goal of this was to grow the local economy and provide social benefits in relatively deprived areas of Birmingham, especially for those residents currently marginalised by the status quo (often recent migrants).
What did USE-IT! seek to accomplish with this video?
As the USE-IT! project was coming to an end, it was vital to demonstrate what the project had achieved, how it had been successful, and how it could be or was already being replicated in other areas. So, we had to show some of the most important activities being done as part of the project, and to tell the success story to participants, partners, and policy makers.
Perhaps most importantly, we had to show what the legacy of the project might be and highlight the changes brought about by the project.
So, how did you respond to these aims?
From the outset, it was clear that a documentary style of film was going to be most suitable, and so we set about organising filming around various project events and the key characters driving and participating in the project. It was also a requirement to highlight the four main activity areas:
1. Community Research;
2. Matching Job Skills with Demand;
3. Social Enterprise and Social Production;
4. Community Assets and Finance.
So, along with introducing the project and summarising its impact and legacy; from the start, this gave us a loose structure for the body of the film, and we knew we had to find case studies for each of the activity areas.
From the outset, we kept in mind that the audience for this film was very broad. It needed to be useful for policy makers, city councils, and people involved in other European projects in terms of clearly showing the benefits of the project and how it could be replicated, but it also needed to be engaging so that local people could watch it and be inspired by it.
So we knew that, as far as possible, we needed to look for emotional hooks when we were conducting our interviews, as well as keeping producion values high – as things like camera movement, interesting supporting footage, and a well-paced edit were important to make it interesting and watchable.
This video is longer-form than the majority of Ember projects, how did this affect your approach to production?
That's true, but above all we needed to focus on the subject matter. The project itself is quite a big thing to get your head around, and there was some jargon to navigate; so we had to make sure we were in constant dialogue with our client contact, Jennie Sandford, so she could effectively teach us about what had been going on. A turning point was when, in the early stages of the project, producer Christina Waider was able to attend a meeting in Birmingham with all of the key stakeholders. Just talking to different people about their role in the project gave her a much clearer understanding, and she was buzzing when she came back.
In terms of the production, it meant that we needed to do a lot of filming days based around people and events, often at short notice. We made sure to get a loose structure down and kept track of the masses of footage we were getting, so that we were aware of any areas where we still needed footage or – conversely – potential shoots which actually represented a duplication of effort. As we needed to stay within a modest budget for such a large project, it was vital not to waste filming days.
It proved very difficult to get the various stakeholders organised for filming opportunities, and as a result we did come under some time pressure towards the end. This meant, unusually for us, that we started the edit before we finished filming. We then had a clearer view from the editor about what kind of footage was most urgently needed to fit our vision for the film.
What was your favourite aspect of producing this video?
It's a well-worn phrase but, truly, not all heroes wear capes; and that really applies to a lot of the people involved in the USE-IT! project. During filming, I was struck by how much NHS staff cared about the people they were helping, and it was clear that the project was bridging social barriers between people who might not have met otherwise.
It was quite emotional speaking to Dr. Iftikhar, who'd had a really prestigious job in medicine and public health in Karachi, but after moving to the UK had been restricted to taking any part-time work in order to keep her family afloat. She just needed that bit of help to take and pass the English language exams she needed to access the career ladder in the NHS. I couldn't begin to imagine what she'd been through, and it was wonderful to see that she was getting that assistance and that she's now on the right track.
How did USE-IT! respond to the completed video?
We received this from Jennie Sandford (USE-IT! Brokerage and Communications Manager) shortly after delivering the video:
"It's had an amazing response. We have received so many positive messages about it locally, nationally, and from abroad. I think the 'heart' and also the production values have really made it stand out. We even got sent a link of the film from the National Lottery's Big Local as an example of good practice!"
In addition, Jennie also commented on how many people had made a point of telling her how much the film had helped them to understand the project, which was really nice to hear.
If you're thinking about commissioning a video for your own business, feel free to get in touch with us; and if you'd like to get a few more ideas, check out a few of our other case study blogs below: