Lead Artist Jody Gabriel reflects on lessons learned during our project, 'Learning Through the Past,' funded by The Heritage Fund. This is a bit wordy, but has a lot of detail that maybe helpful to other groups doing a similar thing.
13 different people with learning difficulties participated in film-making sessions learning and developing a range of skills. 5 of these people concentrated on it for their whole time at the project. Over 46 half-day sessions we interviewed 30 different people, including 27 of these in edited films. We developed and practised skills including:
Setting up and using the video cameras, tripods, microphones, lights, light diffuser and reflector, positioning the subject and the cameras, framing the shot, communicating between camera operators to get the best shots when using more than one camera, being quiet on set, setting up the lighting using LED primary panel with diffuser and secondary lighting, getting the most out of natural light, studying different styles of documentary and chat show style interviewing, preparing questions, practicing using open questions, listening and responding appropriately, making people feel comfortable, working as a team and co-ordinating sound light camera and interviewing, editing film using iMovie application, editing by listening to extensive speech, holding this in your head while making decisions about what should be cut and what should stay, and piecing it together with other segments of film.
We faced many problems along the way and there has been much to learn. There was much value at the beginning of the project in setting up a film crew. There was a lot of joy and energy in feeling professional and adopting different roles. There was value in being able to improve the quality by setting up the equipment and making adjustments and improvements, except unfortunately this level of professionalism didn’t help get the best out of people being interviewed. Having a large film crew and kit meant at worst that interviewees felt intimidated by the set up and at best cases tended to make them tight and stilted. When we had a discussion around the big table about childhood TV and passed the cameras around without tripods the discussion was free and natural, but the camera work was so shaky that we had to edit using still images grabbed from the footage. It was difficult to find a balance.
Editing film is a difficult thing to do. You have to listen to complicated extensive speech, hold this in your head while making decisions about what should stay or be cut, then you have to operate the software to make this happen on the timeline. CoActive members applied themselves really well to this challenge. Working in small groups some mastered the keyboard shortcuts in imovie, while others were able to gain in confidence to make editing decisions. iMovie was good for us because there is a very simple uncluttered look, but lots of functionality via keyboard shortcuts, rather than intricate use of mouse or trackpad. It was very worthwhile for project members to be involved with editing. Feedback told us that individuals felt that they learned new skills with editing, and made them feel ownership over the work.
We were able to set up three editing stations working at the same time, with three MacBook pros all operating from external hard drives. In theory this should have meant that all the separate iMovie libraries on each hard drive should have been able to be interchangeable and each hard drive could back each other up. We encountered extremely frustrating technical problems, which caused disruption to our work and made many of our sessions unproductive. Three main things happened:
We intended to release films from the project as we went along, but this happened only once. Being involved in the editing many got to see their work being formed which gave feedback and enthusiasm, but it was a real shame that we couldn’t finish and publish more films during the course of the project. Getting that hit when you film, edit and get it out quickly would have added more to the project in terms of generating energy, enjoyment and learning. Things that stalled this progress included:
If we were to extend this project or do work like this again, we would like to look at using tablets and phones to do this work. This would represent a change in values. Less energy on high quality cinematics and more emphasis on being able to work quickly and more simply, and see and publish the results immediately. There would be far less editing capability, so instead of leaving cameras running and then gathering the golden moments, we would need to know in advance what we were trying to capture to a much tighter degree. Maybe the films would be much shorter if this was the case, with just important points being made. There would be much more up front time needed with the thing being story-boarded maybe and planned in advance. For sure, we have started developing a range of approaches for different situations and needs.
Problems with memory, confidence, and sequencing speech into something that someone else will find engaging is implicit to varying degrees to people with learning difficulties. We achieved greater success when for example involving Barry’s Mum with his interview. With having such a deep knowledge of her son, she was able to structure his story with him, bring photographs, remind him of things, and bring her point of view as well, which led to much deeper and interesting story.
It has been a very ambitious project to achieve the outputs we promised, while involving people with learning disabilities and autism in all of the work to get there. For example it was really important to look after the humanity and care of each person and to form us as a group, so we would share news every morning, so everyone could get off their chest the stresses and joys of the day, to in turn help to focus on the work. This always took a good chunk of time that wouldn’t have happened with just professionals focusing on the task.
Essentially project members enjoyed taking part, having their shared stories valued, learning new skills, and giving others a voice. Project members have grown in confidence and have a greater appreciation of other’s experiences. People were allowed to get their hands on all the equipment and have a go, and also were allowed to make mistakes, which is a prime method to learn and take ownership of the project. There is now an online catalogue of our work, linked to the actual films streamed online, which shows a range of unique and interesting personal accounts in an accessible form. It records the voices of a diverse range of people, who would of been over-looked in the past.
We were invited to train as Community Reporters by Creative Minds at an event held at the Mental Health Museum in Fieldhead Hospital in Wakefield.
Community Reporters is a movement to encourage people across the world to share stories from their own communities.
We at CoActive encourage our members to develop a range of skills through creative ways from dance and drama to life skills, art and film-making, so we were excited to use our digital skills and train as reporters.
The course was held inside the Mental Health Museum which is full of artefacts old and new - which was a fitting place to be learning reporter skills through digital technology.
Rachael and Dan from CoActive’s steering group and Sophie who facilitates workshops on blogging, vlogging, film-making and journalism, all attended the two-day training course.
Here Rachael shares her experience of the training workshop:
Me, Dan and Sophie went to a course for two days The course was called community reporter training. We talked about about mental health and how it affects us and how we deal with it. We also filmed ourselves about creativity and how it helps us and makes us feel.
“Soft and Fluffy”
We also discussed as a group how often creativity is seen as “soft and fluffy” in the medical world when it comes to treating people with mental health problems. But actually, everyone in the group finds creativity a necessary tool to help their mental health.
The training involved an overview of what community reporters do as well as lots of practical elements for people to share their own stories through video and audio means.
Rachael also booked CoActive to return to the Mental Health Museum for a future session.
It was great to see how capable Rachael and Dan are of using digital technology. They both took initiative too to share the skills they have learnt.
The course also gave Sophie time out from delivering to realise how huge an impact creativity plays in her life and helps her mental health as well as other people’s health.
And we at CoActive have realised that using smartphones and tablets are a good way forward to create simple but effective content without the hassle of lots of cameras and gears all the time. We will still use cameras for different occasions but when it comes to evaluating and creating content often smart devices are the simplest tools to use.
We hope to be able to use our skills to train other community reporters as well as to keep sharing our own stories.
People used to say a picture tells a thousand words… but actually video can speak volumes.
The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded CoActive Arts with funding to help our group of adults with learning difficulties research what life was like for people with learning difficulties 120 years ago and to research how things have changed.
We did this by making films about people lives now, interviewing people with learning difficulties. We also found out about people 120 years ago by visiting the Museum, the Archive and the Library and then using drama to bring it to life.
Start of our Heritage Lottery Fund project
The group started by doing film interviews, and deciding what to talk about.
It was really useful, because we got alot out of it & when we showed our short films out in the public. We thought it would help out others to understand & learn about us.
The making of our film project
Everyone enjoyed setting up the cameras and lights but we soon realised that having too big a set-up could be intimidating for the person being interviewed. So we tried to film in a more informal way and used our group table time to discuss important topics.
Once we discussed general themes, such as school days & support. we then focused on individuals stories. we dedicated alot of time to individuals stories, and the editing process.
Editing our Heritage Lottery Funded film
Then came the longest part of the filming process - the editing!
We started off editing in big groups so we could all take part but we quickly realised this wasn't conducive and it was hard for everyone to follow.
So we started editing in smaller groups so that we could get more done and people could have more control and learn to skills.
How we found the project
We didn't just help others learn about what we did. but also we learned about knowledge we didn't know ourselves.
We hope others watch our films & learn about our own history.
By Dan and Dabion, CoActive Arts members
Our Coactive film-makers went along to mark International Women's Day in Wakefield.
As part of our Thursday morning session, where we work on interviewing techniques and filming skills, we decided to put our work into practice.
So we went down to Wakefield One in the city centre and met organiser Sarah Cobham of Dreamtime Creative...