Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Scoping Twelve Broadcasting and Community Media Debates



What, and where, is community film? In this, the first of three blogs on this topic, I want to explore the big, top-down dimension of broadcasting. Does it have a thriving, retreating, or merely a residual community dimension?

When I was growing up in Great Britain in the 1970s there were 3 or 4 TV/film channels to choose from: BBC1, BBC2, ITV and (later) C4. Only wealthy people had access to video cameras and/or projection equipment. How life has changed since then! The explosion and proliferation of ‘choice’ since the 1970s has been remarkable for many people.

There has been a rapid and bewildering growth in the production and consumption of moving image media. But it’s not just a story of quantity and quality. As I suggest below, it’s the interrelated of group and media that needs further analysis for community media enthusiasts.

A key realization is that the yawning gaps between making, broadcasting and consuming have narrowed beyond recognition in the last decade. The internet has added millions of hours of opportunities to make, comment, and to watch, through platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo. ‘They-think’ is being replaced by ‘We-Think.’

Does the mind-boggling growth of moving image media mean that there is now more space for creativity, for special interests and collectives, for non-profit collaborative production, and for the community sector as a whole? What is that sector, and where is it in the wider media landscape?

What does our current situation mean for the relationship between the local or the regional community and the community media sector? What’s happening to ‘community’ and ‘community media’ in the bigger commercial and state-owned sectors?

Idealists celebrate the ‘progress’ indicated above. Pessimists point to the glorification of mindless celebrity; the demise of regional TV production that reflected, in former times, the real lives of local communities; the worthless frivolity of uploaded video which drowns out creativity, quality and impact.

What, and where, is community film? In this, the first of three blogs on this topic, I want to explore the big, top-down dimension of broadcasting.

Here are some of my thoughts, composed in Birmingham UK, as the snow falls, and normal life grinds to a halt with the approach of festive holidays.

1. Major production companies have not entirely abandoned the local and the regional. Commercial production has arguably fallen back since the innovative and award-winning work of British companies such as Granada and YTV in the 1970s. News and magazine-style  regional programmes still reflect the lives and preoccupations of a locality or region. Dramatic productions which include soap operas dealing with contemporary social and community issues also create a space for the representation of life in the North, South, or the capital, as well as showing urban and rural perspectives.

2. In news and magazine programmes the obsession, with one person / one story tends to undermine the complexity of networks and community-links. The community situation and narrative seldom emerges from the ego-driven soundbites and video-wink. Arguably soap operas permit the leisurely exploration of issues and narratives, in contrast the fragmentation of the news media. For the pessimist the soap opera turns hard issues into frivolous entertainment and creates fictive parallel worlds of thriving pubs, vibrant local markets, loyal family relationships.

3. Whereas the news story is grounded in novelty, in the instantaneous, and the momentary, community issues tend to be intractable, unfinished and recurring. Even documentary approaches to community life have difficulty exploring historical contexts, unless there is a pre-determined and tidy narrative of elegy, celebration, or loss. History and struggle is comfortably assimilated to heritage and fancy-dress re-enactment. Postmodern approaches collapse past and future into a simulated but vacuous present.

3.  The realities of good news about community life is under-represented, or gleefully over-celebrated, undermining the ongoing challenges that communities face. Arguably, charity work (which is excellent), gives the sense of a public sector in need of rescue, or failing to cope with the demands upon it. Voluntary sector aspirations and achievements are admirable, but they are in reality a tiny percentage of healthcare provision. A distorted and disproportionate media representation helps to exaggerate the quantity and quality of provision that voluntary and community groups can or will deliver. That in turn leads to a disenchantment with both the volunteer-led groups and the public sector, thereby paving the way for corporate or private solutions. It is also worth noting that private and profit-led education, health and housing are seldom interrogated in the media by the communities that they include and exclude.

4. Class interests are played out in the preference for benefit fraud stories which are better news than tax fraud and avoidance. Corrupt trades people are better news than bungling professionals. The lives of ordinary people are often served up for the delectation and disgust of their social superiors. Accordingly we have a diet of culturally impoverished inadequate parents and runaway children. The cycle of perceived community decline and degeneration is played out with voyeuristic delight.

5. Let’s admit that with the exception of a weekly dose of Panorama-style documentary, a strong political or campaigning message is largely absent. Single-issue programmes run the risk of bias; but by accommodating opposite sides as equal they run the risk of distorting the balance of feeling in a community. Outlooks and interests are seldom balanced in real communities. Nor are community interests as static as a unique broadcast event or packaged product might suggest. The one-off documentary product therefore runs the risk of undermining the processes at work, for better or worse, within a community.

6. Community leaders are featured as pundits and enlightened observers, and in preference to anyone who may have a switch-off political agenda, no matter how valid or representative in electoral terms. Colourful extremists are usually preferred to milder voices. Conversely, radical opinions and solutions are presented in the most glaring colours as a descent into violent insurrection, community collapse, and the need for more effective systems of policing and punishment.

7. Despite a degree of scepticism, I suggest that community ‘portraits’ whether based around exploring our heritage, or exploring our coastline, are a vital component of community identity and pride. I’d suggest, however, that we see far more of the rural idyll than the rural issue, and far less of the urban issue. The urban tends to be represented not as dialogue and debate, but as a window on crime, drugs, drunkenness, policing and late night streets. The urban is seldom represented as a site for fulfilling work, pleasure and community engagement, which it is the happy reality for the majority of its residents.

8. Major production companies sometimes feature short films made by ordinary people, supported by equipment and training. Video competitions are another angle and opportunity for wider participation than top-down ratings-led production. Professional standards and approaches create a culture of excellence for new participants. Aspiration and amateur or not opposite words in vibrant communities.

9. Major production companies have invested heavily in web-based interactivity. It is important to realize that viewers are not passive receivers of broadcast material; that soaps are susceptible to critical commentary in the workplace, home, or social forum, by commenting online, or creating your own blog. The critical community is growing daily and should not be underestimated as effective dialogue and interrogation.

10. The work of major production companies is now frequently re-presented on other platforms, in other media. Parody, satire, and lampoon are effective approaches to undermining privilege and pomposity. There is a lively participatory and deliberative amateur workforce, often loosely collaborative, or disconnected.

11. The existence of a thriving critical and creative community means that the output of major producers cannot be contained by its intentions and restrictions. The commercial and aesthetic assumptions or major producers is constantly slipping within an unstable media environment.

12. With the wider availability of free and inexpensive video tools more individuals and group or community interests have the opportunity to refashion the top-down diet.
Supported by remixes and mash-ups, corporate and state legality and decency are gaily abandoned.

Subsequent blogs will examine community versions of industry structures; examples of media democratization; community media literacy; participatory and education engagement with film as a tool for social change and cultural enrichment.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Civil Society Groups and Volunteer Film Projects

Film: Breaking the Silence

Volunteering and Film

In this blog I’ve tried to move beyond the tired discourses of PR and Marketing and Management Science, to explore what really happens inside a charity, group or social enterprise when volunteers have a leading, structured and valued role in a film project. I argue below that a film project unlocks creative potential, and that it is an excellent tool for evaluation and improvement.

What happened to the outputs?

It is tempting to see a film project as something driven by the need to promote your work or your organization; to raise funds, or to increase public awareness. These are solid and worthy objectives. They are also measurable in terms of immediate impact. 

If you are successful in your film product then improvements in these areas are likely to result. But many films often just sit on a shelf after the debut screening; there is a sense of deflation and perhaps unfulfilled expectations of being a big hit on YouTube, or a life of red carpets and celebrity. Perhaps your film did not unlock the hoped for a stream of funding, sponsorship and donations. Many expensive public service films also fall into the category of the Great Unwatched. Dull news derived from dull brochures makes for dull films. Film is never a solution in itself; nor is it just a translation of existing media.

Why Participation beats commercial promotional priorities

A key point is that there’s a big difference between making a film as a collective, or working with a social media facilitator, and having a film made for you and about you – an outsider looking in. Most film production companies have very limited experience of the participatory approaches which are becoming more common in civil society. Commercial promotional film makers will not want your volunteers playing with the equipment. They might do some damage, or tell the truth as it is, or slow down the efficiency of a ‘proven’ business model. Effective participation takes time and confidence building but its good effects are cumulative and part of a distinctive fine-tuning of your message and impact. We are not inventing civil society; we just need to be better at doing it!

What are the benefits of working together with ‘film’ technology ?

I’d suggest that when we examine the film production process we are sometimes so focussed on one category of outputs and outcomes that we miss the added value secured by a communal approach to a set of issues. The creative doing, trying, and risking, can be a richly rewarding collective exercise on its own terms. We also tend to undervalue the sustaining improvements in critical and creative communication that may have rewards across a medium and longer term period for a group or an organization. Film can allow us to overcome barriers and blockages; it helps us to be more reflective and responsive to repressed issues and to emergent agendas. Collaborative participatory film production employs the skills needed by members  of a diverse and constantly changing society.

Volunteers will be able to move from less to more technical roles if you employ a negotiated and a flexible approach to production. In fact there are so many roles that you could incorporate in your production that it makes sense for people to have multiple and shifting tasks rather than fixed job descriptions.

Are you allowing enough time to engage in strategic thinking ?

Volunteers can also be paired in similar work such as directing, sound, presenting or scripting. We are looking for dialogue not singled minded egotism and vanity. Having multiple and parallel roles is not commercially the most efficient approach as time will be spent in discussion and negotiation. Perhaps you will find your film, like your group, pulling in opposite directions. This situation provides an excellent opportunity to debate strategic issues such as where we have come from and where we are trying to get to; what are our priorities; who is our target market?

Volunteers know best

A confident volunteer team will cut quickly to the most relevant issues; they will inject a freshness and vigour into a film project; they will trash the jargon and officialese and pomposity that besets institutions. Crisp, critical, clear, confident creative – these are the qualities that engaged volunteers deliver to project work. And remembers that there are dozens of roles in film production: technical and non-technical; in front of, or behind, the camera. From costumes to researchers, to sound worlds, to discussion and dance...

Moving beyond talking heads …

The simplest film consists of a recording of someone expressing their views, head and shoulders, in front of the camera. Recording opinions and outlooks could be the beginning of an evaluation of staff, service-users, volunteers, funders, trustees, etc. But it doesn’t take much imagination to take your project further. Think about place and location too.
Where is the film set?
What’s inside the frame / view-finder?
Is there any self or group-censorship going on?
Are there any ethical issues? Are we taking enough risk?
Is there a fear of participation? What’s the underlying cause? How can it be addressed?
Is our film essentially an internal or external evaluation?
A celebration or a satire?
Has the film become a story that holds your attention?
Is there a creative angle?
Are there solutions to problems presented?

Perhaps most significant is the effort to find a quirky, distinctive or even a humorous angle. Volunteers should be proud of their film production and product, and not all community films have to be a dreary mini-tragedy. (Nor, for that matter, a 2 hour epic!)

So many questions?

I’m much more interested in working out typical questions rather than trying to fix the answers. But I do believe that the positive engagement of volunteers, fully supported by their community group, are part of the solution. Given a chance, volunteer-led creative participation is a powerful tool for change.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Some Useful Sites for Community Film

A Scene from Te Whare (The House), Dir. Richard Green

 Please comment below if there are other sites that you have found helpful for your fim and community work

The International Community Film Forum and Facebook Site offers general support and advice for community film makers and participatory video.

FilmAid engages communities to shape the messages most needed for their survival and strength. We work with communities to create films and videos in their own voice, and to show these films in the most impactful and appropriate settings. FilmAid screenings range from intimate discussion of 40 people to large outdoor screenings, reaching thousands at one time. 

Culture Unplugged. Watch films (documentaries, short films, interviews) at this online film festival. Discover film-makers and their voices. Learn about social issues prevalent in the modern world. Vote for the art & entertainment that is evolved and exists for transformation towards new future. Promote consciousness about humanity & environment - our culture, nature & life driven by the spiritual state, individual and collective.

MFDI’s motto is that a video is only as good as the number of people that see it. Over the last 15 years, MFDI and its sub-distributors have distributed many thousands of videos, mostly into Africa, and had hundreds of broadcasts on African (and other national) television stations. http://www.mfdi.org/

Video Volunteers’ vision is a global social media network, which provides solutions-based media for marginalized and poor communities around the world. http://www.videovolunteers.org/

In 2002 the World Bank asked 60,000 people living on less than a dollar a day to identify the single greatest hurdle to their advancement. Above even food, shelter or education, the number one need identified was access to a voice. Hear that voice on http://www.ch19.org/


WITNESS uses video to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. WITNESS empowers people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change. WITNESS envisions a just, equitable world in which all individuals and communities are able to defend and uphold their human rights. 

10 tactics provides original and artful ways for rights advocates to capture attention and communicate a cause. It includes a 50-minute film documenting inspiring info-activism stories from around the world and a set of cards; with tools tips and advice, for you to work through as you plan your own info-activism. http://www.informationactivism.org/

Campaigners and the media have a complex relationship. This section explores how to work positively with the media. http://www.campaigncentral.org.uk/know-how/using-media

Friday, 29 October 2010

London River (and Transnational Cinema?)


Film Review:
London River (2009)

It was an aesthetic delight to experience the work of Sotigui Kouyaté in his highly engaging last film London River (2009) which won him a ‘Silver Bear’ at the Berlinale Filmfestival. Interviewed in 2001 he explained how he felt about his roles as an African and a storyteller:

Let’s be modest. Africa is vast, and it would be pretentious to speak in its name. I’m fighting the battle with words because I’m a storyteller, a griot. Rightly or wrongly, they call us masters of the spoken word. Our duty is to encourage the West to appreciate Africa more. It’s also true that many Africans don’t really know their own continent. And if you forget your culture, you lose sight of yourself. It is said that “the day you no longer know where you’re going, just remember where you came from.” Our strength lies in our culture. Everything I do as a storyteller, a griot, stems from this rooting and openness.

Sotigui Kouyaté was a Malinese actor and storyteller who sadly died in Paris on 17 April 2010. He began his theatrical career in 1966 at the age of thirty. In addition to twenty or more film appearances and roles he has worked with the legendary ‘intercultural’ world-theatre director, Peter Brook, in the adaptation of the Indian epic The Mahabharata (1983), which came to Glasgow’s Tramway in 1989.

London River finds Sotigui Kouyaté working brilliantly with Director and writer Rachid Bouchareb in a film whose story unfolds in the context of the terrorist bombings of London on 7 July 2005. The 9/11 bombings appalled the world and have been subject to a variety of literary interpretations and layers of cultural reconstruction, as well as dubious projects of commercial exploitation. The London and Madrid bombings have been less well covered and are less well understood. But Bouchareb’s moving and poetic film is less an attempt at documentary retrieval of the facts than an opportunity to reflect upon the awkward colliding relationship between an African-French Muslim and a white Guernsey-Christian, who come to London in search of their missing children. As Bouchareb states in the interview reprinted on this site, his film was ‘first and foremost a human drama.’ Prayer and religion is a major theme for the film, but it does not organise the subject matter. Rather, we follow the performances of Sotigui Kouyaté and Brenda Blethyn as the painful necessity of intercultural dialogue and communication emerges through their conjoined destinies. Loneliness and despair alternate with hope and redemption in a film that never collapses into cliché or easy emotional effects. I’d recommend the film and the interviews to anyone interested in contemporary society or postcolonial themes, and would also hope that the film reaches a wide audience beyond the arthouse circuits and smaller indyfestival. The themes that London River presents are global issues; but they are also a call for local interaction, dialogue and conversation, here and now, on our doorsteps. As Sotigui Kouyaté elegantly says in his interview:

“The theme of the film doesn't just concern Africa, but the whole of society. That is, it is about the crisis of communication and the problem of identity. This is particularly relevant to Africa. I believe that every African has a duty towards Africa, since every African carries Africa within him. But Africa is terribly misunderstood - by others and by itself: the word 'Africa', itself is such a superficial term, given the diversity of nations and peoples. African is 3 million metres squared - that's the size of Europe, the States, China and Argentina all together! We can't talk of it as if it were a single entity, there's more to it than that. One of the interesting things about Rachid's film is that he shows an older African travelling abroad to find out what Africans abroad are like, what motivates them. Many films show African-Americans going back to the old continent to discover their roots, but this film shows the reverse of that.”
This, for me, is the first time I've seen that on film. But while I am African, and always will be, what matters most to me is humanity. In any story, if the human being is not at its heart then it doesn't interest me. London River is about the problems that life poses for mankind. It has to do with the attacks of 7/7, and it also talks of Islam, but these subjects are not at its heart. Rather, it wants to show the difficulties people have in accepting one another, the fear they feel. It is a film about how we react to things, and this is what interests me. It teaches us that when you meet the other, don't be scared to look them in the eye; for if you are brave enough to do so, you will finish by seeing yourself more clearly.”

London River is now available on DVD

For further information, please see the London River website

http://www.londonrivermovie.com/home

Friday, 15 October 2010

Postcolonial film networks


Having worked as Director of the International Community Film Forum since 2006, I’m delighted to be serving as one of the Film Editors with the Postcolonial Networks website. We would welcome posts on a variety of topics - from film reviewers and critics, to amateur and professional film makers. The posts from members are an opportunity to share your creativity; to stimulate new conversations and to foster critical dialogues.

As a reviewer you might be interested in offering a subversive or experimental reading of mainstream blockbuster films. Perhaps you want to produce a cross-cultural reading that the intended spectator may not have experienced. You may have relevant personal experience that challenges the tired stereotypes that populate our screens. It would be inspiring to read appreciations of film work that has a spiritual dimension; that promote greater understanding between faiths; or that explore the relationships between the material conditions of being and the associated postcolonial forces and theories that appear, or fail, to be relevant.

We are also keen to have questions, notes, and queries. Someone ‘out there’ may know how to find the answer, or where to find it. Also don’t be afraid of being categorised as theologian or cultural theorist – remembers that we want explore connections and overlaps as well as being honest about perceived limits and boundaries.

We would be delighted to have posts which reflect the full range of world cinema and transnational film. If you have favourite directors we would love to hear what you value in their work. You might provide supporting contextual information that will help to introduce their work to new audiences and again we value work that promotes dialogue and debate.

If you have been involved in film making here is an opportunity to write about your experiences. Whether you’re a director or a runner; a scriptwriter or an actor; an editor or a sound engineer you experience will be valued. Film involves ideals, compromises, setbacks and defeats. Sometimes this situation is caused by money and resources; sometimes its poor decision-making or taking the right risks. But we can learn from our successes as much as our failures. A collectivist of communal approach is the underlying principle of a networked group. Accordingly, we celebrate posts that are considerate, creative, critical, crafted and constructive.

Finally, I’d suggest that we don’t frighten ourselves into silence by fearing the orthodoxies of postcolonial theory. Theoretical discourse is more of a willing servant rather than a brutal master!

[Subsequent posts from me will be outlining useful books and online resources; exploring topics such as community film and participatory video; reviewing world cinema; interviewing film makers and researchers; thinking about ‘film’ theory; decolonizing film]

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Spectre of Community and the Big Society

The Spectre of Community
Rebranded as the Big Society, notions of citizenship and community are back in fashion. To borrow and adapt Marx’s Manifesto (1848), the spectre of the community (not communism) is stalking contemporary society. For some commentators it is feared that an army of community organizers are poised for subversive warfare. Alternatively, the force is an awkward spectre awakened from the vestiges of a tired capitalist system.
That’s one side of the argument. The other is that a nostalgic return to the community spirit is just a cover for cuts to public services. Furthermore, there are no plans to limit or democratize corporate economic power, or the private enterprise and management structures. Isn't Big Society linked to less global corporate power? Can a big Society really be forged by simply adding together thousands of local activities?
The semantic force of community is oddly resurgent, even as we begin to trace its loss: the familiar lament for lost ideals and a ‘broken’ society. Let's admit that Times of Crisis are also opportunities for hope, as well as for practical action. But slippery, 'broken' language keep tripping us up. ‘Broken’ is confusing and perhaps also politically misleading. Society is not broken in the same way that a painted china plate or a bicycle can be broken. And our newspapers often use ‘breaking’ as a positive force operating against collective action – as in ‘breaking the power of the unions.’
Perhaps by some strange psycho-social force the pressing trauma of community’s retirement breathes life into the old monster. Dependent on your point of view the civil-political reconstruction it is timely, or, the time is out of joint, and political ideologies are hopelessly muddled.
Initial positions in the debate suggest the urgency of slogans rather than deeper reflection. On a practical note again it’s difficult to identify in any of the commentary so far a basic understanding of the community development praxis. Big Society is vacuity or it’s a farce; it’s our last best hope; it’s the cruellest cut beneath a cheery mask.
Big Society appears to be a muddle without a middle ground. Or perhaps it just is the middle ground; a sufficiently flappy banner to accommodate two political forces, with a tweak here and twitter there - let’s celebrate a mixed bag of tricks rather than a systematic, or a totalising, philosophy.
In so far as there is a potential for hope in the hype, may I propose that we seek clarity in that richly contested old-fashioned word ‘community’; in its relation to commons and commonality; to collaboration and co-operation; even, for those with spirited visions communion ? There are veins of gold and iron running through the rock of community, and they will still be there when the Big Society is looking rusty.
An increasingly unpredictable future embraces an insecure and contested sense of the past. There is nothing new in that. But Mr Cameron has said that the he wants the Big Society to be his biggest legacy, bigger than slaying the Monsters Deficit and War. it is absolutely the present, and it is the future too. But does the ethical and political urgency of the Big Society excuse the bewildering confusion about where the Big Society came from, and where it is going? Seldom has commentary been so critical from trusted right-thinking people.
A survey of current ideas and opinion indicates widespread confusion and a lack of intellectual coherence about the meaning of the Big Society. The gaping holes in community life; the broken ties and weaker networks suggest a variety of remedies coming from unexpected sources. But in this case the source of well-being is Poisoned by Lucifer himself. Gerald Warner was an early critic, writing a blog in The Daily Telegraph entitledDavid Cameron's Big Society is a grotesque fantasy inspired by leftist subversive Saul Alinsky
That’s just the first rhetorical canon. There’s a familiar fear which Burke best expressed in his Reflections on the French Revolution, that an artificial and manipulative state-funded programme is at odds with the organic and local community structures of civil society. As Gerald Warner asserts “Real communities have the WRI, the British Legion, bowling, tennis, cricket clubs – naturally evolved organizations.” The proposed 5000 strong army of community organizers is one fear. Another fear expressed is that the “community organizing movement” has been linked to President Obama, that it’s secretive and manipulative (conspiratorial), even that it’s Satanic.
“If you ever doubted that, under Cameron, the Conservative Party has become ideologically and culturally de-racinated, has lost its political compass and is occupied by an alien clique that has disfigured it beyond recognition, here is the incontestable evidence.
For Gerald Warner it’s a farcical invention, “the whole Heath-Robinson contraption” Repeatedly, one is reminded of Burke’s satirical notion of an artificial (French Revolutionary) constitution; an innovative disaster, and a monstrous assembly of parts that do not fit together, divorced from Nature. The new constitutional proposals are likely further to test the monstrous direction of ‘democracy.’
The oddly inspiring figure chosen by the conservatives is Alinsky. According to Melanie Phillips, ‘Alinsky was a ‘transformational Marxist’ in the mould of Antonio Gramsci, who promoted the strategy of a ‘long march through the institutions’ by capturing the culture and turning it inside out as the most effective means of overturning western society.’ She shares Gerald Warner’s fears for the future, and is in state of disbelief:
“The British Conservative party has signed up to the revolutionary Marxist politics of Saul Alinsky and his seditious strategy of using ‘community organizers’ to turn the people against the state and against the bedrock moral and social values of their country – and it is almost certainly too ignorant, lazy or stupid to realize that this is what it means.
Unbelievable.” (2 April 2010)
For left critics, the Big Society masks our corporate emasculation. As Hilary Wainwright comments in The Guardian:
“But control over what? His idea of the "big society" is pitched at minimizing the power of the state, while doing nothing to give people the power to control the private, "free" market and the inequalities it produces.” (14 April 2010)
“In Britain today, just 947 people – the directors of the FTSE 100 companies – control firms worth more than £1 trillion. (And those directors paid themselves more than £1bn last year into the bargain.)” (14 April 2010)
The Big Society, for Wainright, becomes a kind of infantilism, more Big Toys than Big Society:
‘Cameron's invitation to join the government conjures up a toy-town democracy, a patronising attempt to divert our anger from the real centres of power.”
For Jonathan Raban, reviewing Red Tory: How Left and Right Have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix it by Phillip Blond, the rhetoric of the Big Society is
‘shot through with plaintive rural nostalgia for the small, self-contained life of the village; for a world where ‘frontline services’ are ‘delivered’ from within the community by the church, the WI and the Over Sixties Club, where no one dies unnoticed by his neighbours, the pub serves as a nightly local parliament, ‘ethos’ is reinforced by the vicar in the pulpit of St Stephen’s and ‘mutuality’ flourishes in the gossip at the shop.” (London Review of Books (22 April 2010)
The time is indeed out of join when oxymorons proliferate. Red Tory is a case in point.
Specific plans will need to build on community development initiatives already underway and will also need to fulfil the political requirement for novelty and innovation. The perceived problem is that social capital (another oxymoron) is very weak in just those areas of deprivation, where it might have greatest benefit. In that sense the Big Society is a spectre haunting no-go areas, crumbling high-rises flats, closed shops, factories and abandoned call centres.
The Big Society, if there is such a thing, or spirit, or programme, will most likely emerge from the evolution of community, and community development, rather than the ideological urgency of a cutback-driven Little State.
If it all sounds conceptually confused, perhaps it’s down to the marriage of spin doctors and late postmodernity. They lead us to the lair and lure of the Big Society and seek to displace the old politics of Big Brother Business and Big Brother Governments.


See also "Wasteland: Europe stalked by spectre of mass unemployment" By Alistair Dawber. The Independent. 16 September 2010.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

30 Tips to help you make an Award Winning Film on a Low Budget


In low budget and community film making a lot of attention is paid to the participatory process and less to what creates an imaginative product worthy of a wider public. But I believe that creativity and quality are essential.

Experience shows that there’s some core advice that could help you to produce a high impact and engaging product. 


With that in mind I’ve produced a short list of tips from my project notebooks. in order to help you to create an award-winning short film. 

If you have any other tips and advice or stories, why not share your experiences?


  1. We followed a 40 20 40 'Guide' for project time and resources: 40% Pre-Production planning / 20% Production Filming / 40% Post-production - editing, reflecting, promoting, screening
  1. We are close to the life of the people involved (by us, for us / inside out)
  1. We have a lively sense of where we live: place, environment, or locality = our grassroots, our heritage, our futures
  1. We explored relevant issue(s) (for participants making the film AND for viewers at screenings or online)
  1. We employ film ‘crew’ services, and trainers and facilitators who who have experience of participatory work and who are committed to our project aims
  1. A new take on an old question; re-framing, re-imagining a question
  1. An embodied concept – our idea grew hands, legs, feet, eyes and ears – it came alive
  1. Engaged and participatory exploration of the topic with research ‘answers’ from many angles. But more than just face-to-face interviews with experts (talking heads)
  1. Telling a story well – twists and turns, surprise endings, re-appearances, character work, setting and context
  1. We identify and discuss anchors for our film to hold it all together – place, person, topic, journey, object
  1. Smiling and laughter in the making. Not another miserable and hopeless and dreary community film…
  1. We seek out older and younger perspectives (avoid what do they know? / I’ve seen it all before!) – collide and overlap opinions, make them meet?
  1. Everyone works as a team and also gives his or her best as an individual
  1. We love and relish our detailed planning and development – who, what, where, when, why. It’s our roadmap to success
  1. We like the big picture: a sense of the whole visual environment (panorama) or soundworld
  1. We like the little world; zooming in on telling details (the part is a part of the whole story)
  1. We are sensitive to ethical issues and educational growth; to risk analysis; we have consent forms and use them; safety first.
  1. We analyze stereotypes and extreme positions (sensitively) and find the story behind the story
  1. Fact: Those who do great interviews are not always the most senior, best paid or most confident people
  1. We pay a lot of time and attention to sound recording and soundworlds because film is also about listening skills
  1. Compellling music can lift a film / soundtrack editing matters too. We like visual rhythm.
  1. Time-keeping and time-management – are everyone’s responsibility
  1. We make an honest and critical choice of the best footage throughout and enough we leave enough time for a good edit as a collective
  1. We review and reflect as we go along – are we getting what we want? quick n tight?
  1. keep it short – no windbags please ! not a 2 hour community film!
  1. We present real issues and people, not a Hollywood fantasy land !
  1. It’s not about the money, it’s time and commitment …
  1. We share our experience with other groups and learn from them
  1. we thought and did a lot about screenings, DVD design and packaging, online, publicity; we had a great product as well as a great time making it
  1. golden trophies? really ?

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Twelve Aspects of Postfilm



1. Postfilm is FREE. We are already bombarded by moving images, simulations and surveillance. We resist merely by volunteering our time and our dedication. We subscribe to Creative Commons. No restriction or ownership, please.
2. Postfilm is COMMUNITIES. Working with others we begin to disrupt a mono-cultural “Industry” that serves limited interests and false commercial tastes. By linking with other postfilm communities we combat shallow and deluded capitalist interest groups.
3. Postfilm is OPEN. We will not be asked to produce qualifications or college certificates; or guild, union, association, industry, or any other exclusive membership card. If you have one, throw it away.
4. Postfilm is a range of Co-OPPORTUNITIES for us to think outside the Box (Office)
5. Postfilm is an act of LOVE. We are enriched by a love for what we do and how we share it.
6. Postfilm welcomes MULTI-MEDIA, and TRANSMEDIA. We resist the strait-jackets of specialisation and creative alienation. We play, we interact, we participate.
7. Postfilm resists all hierarchies of study. We are MULTI-DISCIPLINARY. We promote creativity and critique. We think and we feel.
8. Postfilm brings JOY to its participants. We celebrate communication, enchantment, intrigue, dislocation, surprize.
9. Postfilm celebrates PROCESS and PRODUCT. We know that communal making and growth is an end itself. We shun premature and grotesque commodification. But we also know that what we make re-builds our communities.
10. Postfilm is its PARTICIPANTS. We refuse closed systems and a fixed manifesto. We reserve the right to experiment with concepts and practices.
11. Postfilm is the EXPRESSION of our real selves unrestrained by alienating capitalism.
12. Postfilm aims to create spaces free from the ‘white noise’ of the mass media which reduced us to privatized individuals. In this space we seek to create holistic and empowered communities.

A Postfilm Journey:



Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Future of Film Debate: A Short Summary

Thanks to everyone who has taken part so far for a lively and informed debate. There are as many points of view as there are contributors, but perhaps some common themes are emerging

For clarification, I'd offer several points:

'Future': are we thinking about what we will be seeing in 3 years' time or 5, or 10 ?

What aspect of the future are we thinking about? The history of 'film' accommodates and demonstrates swift and revolutionary changes, e.g.

technological such as sound and hand-held cameras, digital etc
educational: skills and training
(non-) commercial structures
distribution systems and platforms
creating new markets, niches, tastes, (sub)genres
etc

There is no reason to assume that the pace of change has stopped or is slowing, what will we see next?

How are we defining 'film' ?

Who will be making 'films' and what will they be making?

What will 'making' mean? For instance, will the market in moving image be much more dominated by transmedia and interactivity/gaming. e.g. many adolescents have spent more of their time gaming than they have in formal schooling

Where will film-making be taking place? How significant will be the shifts in production centres at local, regional, national and international level?

A “Summary” so far, and sorry if it appears to polarise debate (but see 3, below)

POSITION 1: (The Future of ) Film=

entertainment
popular/populist
stars, top-down model
Hollywood or Bollywood?
the industry
uncritical/untheorised
notfilmschool
the past = the present = the future
blockbuster
director-led
cinema-led platforms
bigbudget & rights management
international ambition
90-minutes

POSITION 2: (The Future of ) Film =

diverse participants
critical
minority
independent
non-commercial
unpopular
transnational
filmschool informed
anylength
anyform
transmedia
variety of platforms
low-budget, micro-budget
collaborative
amateur elements
Youtube and Nollywood etc
grass-roots, bottom up approaches

POSITION 3: Future of Film = elements of 1 and 2 (above)

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Radical Origins of the 'Big Society' ?



Saul Alinsky's 1971 book, Rules for Radicals has been cited recently as an influential source for David Cameron's campaign for a Big Society. The main themes are the importance of citizens as participants and opportunities for re-engagement and re-empowerment.

If you're already questioning why the Conservative manifesto employed a guiding quotation from that book, you're not alone. One alarmed commentators was Gerald Warner, writing in the Daily Telegraph on April Fools' day 2010:

"David Cameron's Big Society is a grotesque fantasy inspired by leftist subversive Saul Alinsky"
"Yet the Conservative Party blurts out this admission in the launch document of Big Society. There is a pedantic debate over whether Alinsky was technically a Marxist, or by-passed Marx as old-hat. What is beyond question is his project to overthrow capitalist society and to do so through infiltration of political parties, institutions and, above all, by the use of “community organisers”. Anybody who thought claims on this blog of Cultural Marxism influencing even the Tory Party were exaggerated can now think again."

I've selected some quotes below from Alinsky's book which I hope readers will find useful:

"What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away."

"The price of democracy is the ongoing pursuit of the common good by all of the people. One hundred and thirty five years ago Tocqueville gravely warned that unless individual citizens were regularly involved in the action of governing themselves, self-government would pass from the scene. Citizen participation is the animating spirit and force in a society predicated on voluntarism. (p.xxv)

(p. xxv) Here we are desperately concerned with the vast mass of our people who, thwarted through lack of interest or opportunity, or both, do not participate in the endless (p. xxvi) responsibilties of citizenship and are resigned to lives determined by others. To lose you “identity” as a citizen of democracy is but a step from losing your identity as a person. People react to this frustration by not acting at all. The separation of the people from the routine daily functions of citizenship is heartbreak in a democracy.

"It is a grave situation when a people resign their citizenship or when a resident of a great city, though he may desire to take a hand, lacks the means to participate. That citizen sinks further into apathy, anonymity, and depersonalization. The result is that he comes to depend on public authority and a state of civic sclerosis sets in.

"From time to time there have been external enemies at our gates; there has always been the enemy within, the hidden and malignant inertia that foreshadows more certain destruction to our life and future than any nuclear warhead. There can be no darker or more devastating tragedy than the death of man’s faith in himself and in his power to direct his future.”

Beyond the Big Society idea, Alinsky's preoccupation with the combination of opposites suggests another discourse underpinning the surprise joining of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives:

Perhaps also welcome is the notion of open-ended. Alinsky quotes Niels Bohr, speaking out against dogmatic ideology “Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation, but as a question.” (4)

He further explores dualities such as ying and yang etc

“We know intellectually that everything is functionally interrelated, but in our operations we segment and isolate all values and issues.” (15)

He further quotes Bohr on complementarity “There is not so much hope if we have only one difficulty, but when we have two we can match them off against each other.”

and on p. 16 Alinsky quotes the philosopher Whitehead

“In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of a defeat; but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress towards a victory”

The jury's still out on politics, philosophy, radicalism; the Big Society Rulebook is yet to be written. I tend to agree with Alinksy at this point: there are more questions than answers

Have the subversives really taken over the Conservatives?

I look forward to reading your Toolkits and Action Plans. Look out for my forthcoming blog 'The Spectre of Community'.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Is it as easy as that? Your 3-minute film production guide

 
Making a film is an exciting project for any organisation, but what is involved is often poorly understood. But don’t be put off, it’s just a case of being clear about what you want to do at the outset.

A community film is a great way to bring people together because film-making requires a collaborative approach and a wide range of skills. The first point to consider is whether the priority is process or product.

A process led approach values inclusion, participation and engagement of the (initially untrained) target group(s). This approach values learning skills and everyone enjoying taking part

A product-led film leaves most of the work to a commercial company and the focus will be on a highly-finished glossy product. Stakeholders will be consulted, but most significant roles will be undertaken by staff who are very experienced and highly trained.

Some people would argue that the process and product distinction is not as clearcut as it first appears; but thinking about your aims and objectives will at least help you to clarify what you need to do.
  
The 3 Stages of film-making

(1) Pre-production is the planning and development stage: rationale, aims, scripts, budgets, locations, roles, timetables etc;

(2) The production or filming stage;

(3) Post-production involves editing and selecting from what has been filmed and the use of distribution formats such as dvd. Be prepared to spend 80% of your time on the first and third stages. You might also want to think about public presentations, screenings, discussions, online forums...

Defining a Rationale

Target? Who is your finished film for? Is it aimed at the general public (to be posted on YouTube)?

Or is it intended more for internal use - for staff or service users? Perhaps a limited edition souvenir DVD ?

If the aim is to document an event such as an activity day then the project is already time-specific.

Length?

Remember that only the most dedicated participants will want to sit through a 3 hour film. A 5- minute film could be much more effective and practical.  

Style? Funny or serious ?


Quality counts

A film can be very effective in shifting perceptions, in raising awareness and supporting your campaigning objectives. Perhaps the idea is to produce a promotional film that can be added to your website, or sent out as a DVD to your supporters. In that case it would be detrimental to end up with an amateurish product that suggests an unprofessional organisation. Shoddy communications will do more harm than good.

On the other hand real people talking about their experiences can be more powerful than the best actors! Try to think in terms of people and 'The Story' rather than idea and propaganda!

A job for everyone

If the emphasis is on process then the main resource will be volunteer time, people commitment and training, perhaps over 3 months.

There are as many roles as you have volunteers, and most of these will be behind rather than in front of the camera. Consider roles such as producer, director, camera operator, sound. Perhaps there is a role for a researcher and an interviewer (a community reporter).

You could also think costumes, make up, music-making, posters and publicity, ushers, refreshments …some people may have more than one role or job to do. So multi-skill to avoid boredom and lack of variety.

But the editing process can be quite complex and it makes sense to leave it to a small team or to one trained individual.

Fundraising and resources

With professional suport, you may expect to pay $1000 or more for a 1-day film shoot to produce a 3 minute film. In briefing a film company be clear about how you want to engage the real-life community most effectively and ensure that ethical issues such as consent are fully understood.

If you are buying your own equipment prices start at £80 for a very basic flip camera; expect to pay £300 for a good camcorder, and over £1000 for a second-hand semi-professional camcorder. DVDs printed with cases cost about £1 each and online upload on YouTube or Vimeo is free.

It makes sense to consider a do it yourself approach if you have time to experiment, or if you budget is very restricted. Sometimes it makes sense to have professional support initially, and then transition to a more independent approach.

© Dr Ian McCormick. But please do contact me if you want to use the TEXT of this article as a guest post on your blog. With attribution offered I seldom refuse! Drop me a line.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (2013) ... 
  also available on Kindle, or to download

Dr Ian McCormick is Director of the International Community Film Forum.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Celebrity and Community

Time to Fix the Environment: Manchester shows that Celebrity and Community is not a Toxic Mixture

Celebrity and Community are much-abused words.

The darker (or should we say glitzy?) face of celebrity is greedy, ego-centric people and their failing relationships; their multiple addictions; their constant see-saw between the need for high visibility and a hard-won private life. Occasionally, a token charity is endorsed, or a baby adopted – and that provides the living proof of the beating human heart.

For many people of modest means there is an objection to the cult of celebrity, and a system that permits awesome inequality. Is a footballer really worth a million times more than a nurse? It’s not the indvidual celebrity that we love or hate, it’s the systematic inequality that sanctions it. Perhaps we need to remember, however, that celebrity springs from celebration – coming together to share and endorse something. Pleasure not pain.

The word community has its own problems. First, we are beginning to doubt that it exists. People don’t know their neighbours, let alone trust them. Private pools, clubs, societies, cars, schools, property allow people to build a wall around their life, cut off from the ‘great unwashed.’ And the local community can be a prison house for ordinary people too; we find ourselves trapped in a concrete jungle without local amenities, or we just don’t share the same language, gang or subculture. A local community can also imprison with the dead hand of low aspiration and low achievement. We are told that in some communities social capital is undetectable. That said, there are often rich and nuanced linkages between people that the sociologists and policy makers are unable to quantify. And communities often unite around an issue, if they have the opportunity or the confidence

But when celebrity and community authentically meet few would doubt the benefits.

I would like to briefly note the work of a community media company based in Manchester UK who have worked with over 80 local people to write and produce a 40-minute film called Green Wave. It’s set in the year 2080 and deals with a range of ways that ordinary people can make a contribution to tackling climate change. the project was inter-generational, with a cast ranging from a baby to 87-year-old Ralph Wagstaff. Participants explored meaningful green actions and learned act for the first time.

Guest star appearances have come in the shape of John Henshaw (Early Doors) and Frank Sidebottom comic Chris Sievey. They will be joined by Danielle Henry (Torchwood and Survivors). Commensurate with the civic pride, the film’s premiere will take place at Manchester Town Hall.

The crossing of celebrity and community has gained publicity and esteem for the project, for the film company, for the participants, the stars, and climate change awareness. A virtuous circle and all-round winners !

A Note on REELmcr

“REELmcr is a dynamic, not for profit social enterprise, committed to giving a voice to the most alienated, deprived, under represented and vulnerable communities. We provide intergenerational community groups from across the North West, with the opportunity to gain experience of innovative media production and a chance to tell the personal or collective stories of individuals and communities, using filmmaking as a medium for storytelling, encouraging groups to focus on the issues that affect all members of their community, rather than their differences, cohesion is the goal that underpins all of our projects.”

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Real World of No Budget Films

In pure, that is to say, realistic terms, a ‘no-budget film’ is a myth. Leave no- budget-film to rich kids. And over-hyped websites.

For the rest of us, having a plan, and having a budget are essentials, not just media hype.

I’m tired of reading no-budget sites that begin the words  ‘whether your budget is $2000 or $100,000’ – that looks to me like a budget. 

It would be more accurate to speak about low-budget, non-commercial or volunteer-led film-making, rather than ‘no-budget’ film-making.

Let's also admit that a film can be made for next-to-nothing if you are living in an affluent country.

Let’s concede also that there are many ways to reduce costs, save money, and cut corners. Vision, versatility and sheer doggedness will get you a long way. But many of the 'costs' are simply transferred elsewhere:
  • by borrowing equipment from a government/ community organization, or from an individual, or a private, a charity or an NGO;
  • by sharing skills from those who have been taught or had the time to teach themselves;
  • by employing the time and commitment of volunteers.
It's social capital and social networks that provide opportunities for reducing the cost of film and allowing your film to get made. Also notice how important is the role of public institutions.

That said, 10 seconds of footage of human rights abuse, or a tsunami, or just an interesting POV - point of view, podcast or sound bite/ action shot on your mobile phone could have a significant impact and be sold by auction to a network, if you are in the right place at the right time. 

You can shoot 2 hours on a flip camera for $120 - but that's six months' wages in the poorest parts of the world, and you still need a means to share it, such as computer access for upload, or a suitable TV for a local screening. Cheap but not free.

Is there an ideology behind no-budget film? I don't think that any school pf philosophy has an ideological monopoly on people’s film, indy media, or low cost film – whatever you want to call it. Indy or independent films have a long tradition of showing the life of 'ordinary' people, but they are often director or auteur led rather than being community-driven productions. Globally the population with easiest and widest access to production equipment, post-production software and distribution platforms (dvd/internet) is in the United States and Western Europe. It’s material and media inequality on a vast scale.

It is also true that film-making is inherently collaborative but that doesn't stop it also being hierarchical. Even well-meaning community productions can end up being exclusive or selective at the post-production stage. Often it’s a case of time, skills and resources under pressure. So we have to think hard and realistically about participation and engagement. Are your volunteers just unpaid labour, or are they securing some kind of in-kind benefit from taking part? Are volunteers ‘extras’ or are they welcomed creative contributors and even co-creators?

Low-cost film-making is also about pragmatism and experimentation, about teaching and learning strategies. So just having a cheap camera and a 'philosophy' falls short of what I understand by community film as a participatory process. In this sense 'no-budget' may be a challenge, but isn't it also an insult, or a deception - concealing the actual costs? or failing to value the time and commitment of everyone involved.

(Maybe it's possible to be more eclectic and inter-disciplinary? I'm interested in deconstruction, postcolonial theory, pedagogic theory (Freire), (auto)ethnography, cultural materialism, situationism, performance theory (theatre in education), social policy, the grotesque, cybernetics ... )

For any low-cost community film-maker will be handling a toolkit of multiple theories and practical approaches. It takes time and thought to develop a conceptual toolkit; let's not forget that it is a precious resource.

But let’s just say this: the ability to make media such as film should be a human right, it's freedom of expression.

For participatory group work we often use the $120 flip camera - it's portable and convenient. Add a tripod for best results. It's ok for people and close up, but will not really give great sound or panoramic shots and has very limited zoom. I also like the Sony Handycams which use tapes and are about $200. An old one survived humid jungles on a 30,000 mile trip. For professional work I'd want to use the Canon XM2 and XL1, using dv tapes. These are about $2000 second-hand, or $80 a day to hire.

You can edit a film on a basic level in your camera or phone, bit it's a bit trick and clumsy. You can edit online on some sites when you have uploaded your clips if you have computer access. There's free software with MS Windows such as Moviemaker. That's very easy to use. For longer more complex films I'd use Adobe Premiere Pro for PC or Final Cut Pro for Mac. But these are very expensive so you would need a volunteer editor.

A decent tripod is essential - then there is basic sound and light equipment...

(Try working with a NGO/charity or a college/university to gain access to edit suites or to borrow equipment; maybe you can find a private business partner or sponsor?)

The distribution of non-commercial or low-budget films has flourished. Youtube is an obvious example. But how much of YouTube represents the interests of white middle-class Americans - in production and consumption? The specialist sites are much more interesting - see attached list of websites.

Many cinemas can now project dvds so that is having an impact on 'live' screenings too. What's more important is the distribution context - critical discussion and debate. I’m also very interested in cross-over activities e.g. a music concert or festival showing community films as part of their offering - it widens the variety or spectators and creates a new community of interest.

I was asked recently about going to Hollywood. Fat Chance. Yet your no budget sites appear to offer that horizon of opportunity for you. I just can't imagine what I would do in Hollywood, it has nothing to offer me. It's a bad dream factory and that's all it is. And I don't think that the alternative scene such as Sundance is accessible or really that relevant either. Are they really poor kids engaged in the transformation of their local community? For them community participation means buying the merchandise and brands associated with their work.

The documentary scene is much more radical and more interesting. I'm also really interested in how participatory video and (auto)ethnographic could be developed alongside the praxis of community development and engagement. It's also about watching and critiquing films as much as making them - you really can't separate these elements - they are folded into each other.

Film can have a big impact at negligible cost if they become popular online. But we also need to think contexts - associated blogs, discussion, debate, virals, search terms, facebook, twitter etc. Your film can enter a dialogue much more easily now, so someone with a drug problem in Los Angeles and speak to someone in Mumbai. And maybe do a deal too.

See also


http://cmactivist.blogspot.com/2010/02/8-practical-approaches-for-community.html


http://cmactivist.blogspot.com/2010/01/30-ways-to-put-community-into-film.html

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Film, technology, games and canapes

Lord Puttnam in Birmingham.
Screen WM Event at the Birmingham Hippodrome.
10th June 2009

It was reassuring to hear Lord Puttnam speak. What an asset he is for the industry and for those who care about film.

In particular, I enjoyed his emphasis on the social role of film. It's so easy to fall in with the prophets of technological progress, innovation, and digital skills, as though these are a worthy end in themselves; as though we could eliminate poverty through digital equality and having more gadgets.

(Across most of Africa 97% of the population is not online.)

Lord Puttnam reminded us of need for a prior engagement with community and citizenship which might be supported by the dream of improved communications; social connection rather than fascist exclusion.

Also resonant for me in his speech was the notion of global dialogues and environmental issues. He was looking to the new, younger generations to raise awareness and understanding. He appeared to be critical of the lack of adequate rewards for filmmakers and the poor system for distribution beyond the mainstream. Cheaper technologies offered astonishing opportunities, but we still need to learn the craft. It's one thing to give people literacy, another thing learning how to use it for social profit. Again, it's not just having technology, its the context in which it is materialised that matters.

He welcomed the 'gaming' community but appeared to question whether they had so far discovered a founding genius who would take them to another level.

The gaming panel explored also the social and educational aspects of gaming and opportunities that may exist for innovative collaboration. I feel that there is still a great wall here for non-youth non-specialists whose perception of gaming is boys and violence and bad role models and short attention spans and repetitive strain injury and ....

It was particularly helpful to hear about some of C4's 14-19 projects as a useful corrective against the demonisation of gaming. The evening concluded with credit crunch wine, canapes and networking.

The Oxygen of Free Publicity


Time to turn up the volume and press record. Let's communicate. Getting your message out may not be as difficult as you think. When we started our community film festival in Northampton we had few difficulties gaining the attention of local, regional and national media. The BBC spent a whole day with us; we had several radio appearances and multiple pages of coverage in the newspapers.
If we had paid for our publicity as advertisement we would have needed tens of thousands of dollars. As a small non-profit venture our project needed the oxygen of free publicity to make it a success.

In these cash-strapped times a well-crafted press release is an excellent source of free publicity and not as difficult as you may think. In our rush to digital we often forget the reach, coverage and the value of the existing traditional media.

In fact, local media are hungry for news items to fill their columns. National media and regional TV, however, tend to cover larger events of ‘national’ and topical significance. But they will lend and open ear, as we found, to worth causes and innovative projects.

(If you want to copy this item into your own newsletter please credit my name and blog
Community Media - Interactive World http://cmactivist.blogspot.com/ 

Here are some tips and golden rules for writing effective press releases:

Stick to one page of A4.

Less than 200 words is good and 50 words is even better.

Use short sentences and paragraphs. You are not writing an academic thesis.

Provide ALL the information that the editor may need.

A useful reminder is to interrogate your story or event with the SIX Ws:

“Who, What, When, Where, Why, hoW”

Who and What should be covered in the first paragraph; the other four Ws must be covered elsewhere in the story.

The first paragraph should catch the journalist’s attention.

After the six Ws, consider the ‘So What’ factor. What makes your event special or unique? have you invited a local celebrity to appear, or to endorse your event? Local politicians or celebrities will often send a message of support underlining the importance of your work to the community.

It’s advantageous to provide short quotations from people: staff, volunteers, and service users.

Local media are often more interested in the personal or individual angle of a story rather than an abstract issue or concept.

To write your own headline make it pithy, witty and short. Think of a keyword that sums up what you are trying to do; use less than 6 words.

Ideally you should ask someone else to read your press release - community is an activity.

Always use a spell check before submitting your work.

Your press release begins with a publication date or

--- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ---

and uses

---BEGINS---

and ---ENDS---

before and after the text that you want published.

Also include

---NOTES FOR EDITIORS ---

additional information about your group. The Editor may use the notes supplied if they have more space available on the day.

Finally include a section called

--- CONTACT ---

and supply all contact details an editor to follow up.

Ensure that the contact person will be available. Many stories do not appear because the journalist was unable to contact anyone after 5pm.

If you have a Communications Strategy you may be writing a Press Release once a month or more.

Sadly, many Press Releases are just sent out at the end of a project. Aim for a least three news stories for any projects. It’s more effective to build your local media relationships by involving the public in your story as it develops. Just think - all projects have a beginning, a middle and an end point - as well as challenges and setbacks that you can use to your advantage.

Use local surveys and face to face interviews to increase dialogue and interactivity. If you are using digital social media these functions will be easy and inexpensive to build into your work.

Announce successes but also appeal for help when you face challenges. Look out for milestones such as volunteering targets met, funding awarded, service user achievements, awards and endorsements.

After sending your news follow up with a phone call - voices build media relationships.


Dr Ian McCormick is Director of The International Community Film Forum and Festival, www.icff.info and works as a social media activist.