Today we went to the Saltaire Arts Trail. The arts trail is wonderful and captures the spirit of creativity and craft skills on which the city of Bradford was built. The houses are opened up as art galleries and organised as a trail. This event is deeply associated with the identity and history of Saltaire.
If you don’t know, Saltaire is in Bradford West Yorkshire and was a village built in the mid 1800s by Titus Salt. Around the mill he constructed housing for the mill workers along with a school, chapel and hospital. Salt took care of the needs of hundreds of workers and managers who were dedicated to the manufacture of textiles – including a worker and poet named James Waddington. Titus Salt imposed strict moral standard in his domain including the prohibition of alcohol.
I really can’t imagine what life was like being so dependent on the vision and benevolence of a single mill owner but it does seem to follow a pattern of paternalistic landowners and industrialists who generated their wealth by owning the lives of the working class.
Up the road at Samuel Cunliffe-Lister’s mill there was a different approach. He was one of the richest people in England but had a reputation for treating his workforce poorly. Through a period of unrest at Lister’s mill the roots of the trades unions and labour party began to form – quite a legacy! My entire family history is tied up with this industry. My mother’s side is linked to the Lister empire and my dad’s dad was co-owner at Dean Clough mill in Halifax. My great, great grandfather is on the far right of this photo, John Dean Waddington.
Many thanks to All Saint’s Church in Otley for their hospitality last night. We were talking about communications and in particular social media. The church would like to reach out to the local community. They are planning a church re-ordering programme which will involve architectural changes and more importantly a re-invigorating of church life.
In this post I want to capture a few thoughts about the need for the organisation to become comfortable and confident about its own identity, to understand the needs and perceptions of those they want to reach, and to organise opportunities for response.
Communications is a complex topic and so I think it is important to pin down what the purpose of the communications from the outset. Social media can build relationships between individuals across the community in a very organic way, and/or can be used to support a single corporate identity? Communications can be a functional exchange of information in the short term or a highly creative crafting of perceptions over time, maybe through story telling.
I think the communications challenge we were discussing was to help form a clear identity for the church, to challenge perceptions of what church is about and to encourage participation and membership.
I think these three things come in a logical order. Firstly we need to be clear about who we are as an organisation. If we don’t have that clarity then we can’t hope to connect with the outside world. Once we are comfortable and confident about our identity only then can we embark on the task of changing perceptions. Having changed perceptions and won the argument for belonging we then have to make opportunities for people to actually participate. This last step is where the more functional aspects of communications kick in – creating events, offering invitations and managing the volunteers. But it all starts with confidence of identity and common purpose.
Once we have been through this cycle we begin to generate stories which then help to support our corporate identity and the cycle then begins to feed itself. I repeat that without clarity of identity and purpose we won’t ever get off the starting block.
In the world of corporate identity and brand building, in which I was absorbed at the BBC, single mindedness is very important. There is frankly no point in shooting off in all directions when we are dealing with communications. The way to have impact (or any impact) is to focus a single most powerful message and on an audience you can clearly identify.
To this end we discussed four questions which I think show promise. The four questions come in two pairs. The paired questions are related to each other.
The first two questions are as follows:
1. What is the most outstanding thing we do and have achieved? (part of identity) 2. What single thing are we bursting to tell the world? (our most important message)
The second pair is:
3. To whom must we deliver our single most important message? (specific target audience)
4. How will we reach them? (medium appropriate for audience)
Then when we have the answers we are then able to set out the challenge in a couple of sentences:
We want… (audience), to believe that… (message), by showing them… (evidence to support message).
We will do this by…(creative ideas for reaching them).
So for example you may end up with: We want young parents to believe that our church is a safe place to bring up children by meeting our trained and caring staff and seeing what they do. We will arrange a special children’s event at which they can talk to parents and show them our activities. This event will be advertised on the popular local parenting website.
If all this sounds like hard work then so it should be. It may also sound a bit corporate and like running a business but I think we should reflect on some of this. The task of maintaining a consistent and focused identity is something which the whole community should share and get behind. This requires vision, leadership and organisation. In my experience vision and leadership can be found but the organisational aspects are where it often comes unstuck.
I will reflect more on this, but organising creativity is something which less about control and more about framework and boundaries – much too difficult to reflect on here.
Here's a little sample of a video we made at a school in bradford. I have not done shadow puppets before but I was impressed with how this went. Of course in this context the process and what the children learn is more important than the product. Scripting, building a wooden frame and cloth, fixing up lights, performance etc.
There is a lot of teamwork and problem solving in this exercise. The children have to work together to figure out how the performance is going to look. For shy children there is some degree of safety behind the screen specially when they are in role play. This could be a great way of getting them to talk.
I'm enthusiastic to feature the voices of the children and to work on their timing, intonation and general delivery. For quieter children this is a great way to really listen to their voices and to enjoy the quality of voices that may ordinarily be drowned out by louder children.
This is one of my favorite films from the recent Keighley Creative Partnerships project. I like this one for a number of reasons but mainly because I didn't have much work to do.
The children came up with all the ideas, did practically all the filming and editing. In fact the basic editing was done in Windows Movie Maker and Audacity by one of the year four children. I helped a bit with the special effects under strict direction.
I also like it because it has some stories in it – and spooky ones at that. Whether you actually believe in them or not doesn't really matter. Frankly, I don't.
I've been reviewing some of the projects I have been involved with recently and thinking about how they could have been improved.
The conclusion I have come to is that most creative projects are to some degree chaotic and uncertain; You can't always predict how they are going to run. You have to be flexible and responsive to new ideas and directions as they come up.
That said, there is possibly value in at least attempting to structure the management of creative projects around tried and tested ideas. A creative project, like any other, has process steps and milestones. One reason why creative projects often fail is because not enough time is spent understanding the purpose of the project and refining the ideas around that purpose. Sadly is is all to easy to forge ahead with half baked ideas with no idea of why we're doing it!
Step 1: The brief
Be sure about the purpose of the project and why it has come about. You might call this the creative challenge.
Get down on paper a description of what you hope to achieve, who it is for and why it is important. For example – Encourage year four children to take pride in their town by revealing its glorious history. We're doing this because ……
Set out what you want to achieve, how you are going to approach it, who it is for and why it is important.
Step 2: Ideas
Once we have a brief we can set about coming up with ideas (in the above case for revealing the town's glorious history). Not enough time is ever spent coming up with ideas or evaluating them. I would say that this is one of the biggest reason for the failure of creative projects. The temptation is to settle on the first and most obvious idea you come up with. Often the crazy ideas are sidelined at the outset, and yet these are often the most interesting.
Make plenty time for coming up with as many ideas as possible, even the crazy ones, and evaluate them according to the brief.
There are many techniques for coming up with ideas – here are some. Thinking Hats for evaluating ideas, Mind Mapping with which I'm sure you are familiar, and a favorite of mine, The Creative Whack Pack
Step 3: Planning
Do you decide on the team and resources before you have an idea or after? I would say that it's sometimes better to come up with the idea first with a small core team and then pitch for people and resources once you have the idea. That way you'll get what you need rather than having to put up with what you have got.
Careful planning of the resources and the timetable, setting of realistic deadlines and getting agreements.
Step 4: Action
Well planned activity with a great idea behind it should be exciting. Any problems will be quickly resolved because of a solid commitment to the purpose of the project.
Step 5: Celebration
The positive outcome should be shared and celebrated beyond the immediate team. The more external praise and feedback the better. A public film screening, a party for those who contributed, a commemorative web page. The legacy of successful projects should be preserved so that the benefits can be made available to the greatest number of people for the longest amount of time.
Step 6: Review
A constructive examination of the project should always be part of its legacy. Did it meet the brief? What were the points of learning and so on.
This may all seem obvious – in which case I apologies – but I need to remind myself just how important these project steps really are and that to skimp on any of them will weaken the outcome.
Iconic filmmaking tools – meaningful objects – become the badges of the children's responsibility, and seeing them all together they actually look like a professional film crew. I think this is an important visual way of giving them a sense of their individual responsibility and belonging to the team.
I have been struck by how important is to have the cool looking pieces of kit in the schools I have been working with. Of course if you take a camera or a clapper board into a school the children are going to swarm around them and want to play. But there's much more to these pieces of equipment.
We have been taking small groups of children and training them to be a film crew. The specialisms break down something like – camera, sound, director, assistant, performer. One of the things we have to do is to determine which children are best suited to which task. At first they really don't know, but usually want to have a go with the camera.
After working together on a few small projects preferences begin to emerge. This is usually through a process of observing and encouraging.
An interesting strategy (once they've had a bit of experience) is not to allocate the roles myself but to let the children themselves decide. I tell them that I will not be making the decision, but they must decide among themselves who will be director, camera operator and so on. I give them 10 minutes on their own to negotiate. Once they have decided there may be one individual who has been sidelined; to the one who is sidelined I give the desirable task of being production stills photographer.
Once the team is assembled they take ownership of their specialist equipment – camera, fluffy microphone, clapperboard, tripod, clipboard etc.
I was very proud when a child who lacked confidence identified that using the clapper board was something he could do very well and announced this to the whole class.
The grizzly times of the Tudors and Henry's willy nilly habit of chopping off heads has a natural appeal for year four children.
At this school we wanted to combine music, writing, film, animation and the wonderful technique known as green-screen – or perhaps blue-screen; Chroma Separation Overlay, CSO if you want to show off.
This film takes some of the more unsavory facts about life on the Mary Rose as a starting point. We also wanted to involve the children in a variety of interesting ways – particularly to include some of the less confident and disruptive children. For example, some of the drawings we included may be very simple and not hugely demanding to create but we found a place for them in the finished piece.
There is a natural tendency for the professional film maker to be concerned about maintaining a high standard but this must not be at the expense of including less confident children. This should not just be a showcase for the most talented children but a way of unlocking talent and confidence in the least confident ones. Otherwise why are we doing this?
A mind mapping session to unlock all the facts the children had learned about life on the Mary Rose
Using Garage Band create a rap backing track
Listen to the backing track and practice writing and performing words to the rhythm of the track.
The children in their own time (and with the rhythm in their heads) all write their own rap songs
We select the best ideas from each of the songs to create a single rap to be used in the film
Tasks are introduced and allocated to the team – animating the ship, drawing pictures, operating the camera and lights, recording the sound, performing, setting up the green screen, finding images, directing etc.
Animating session. We filmed the ship against a coloured screen and created the sea out of rolled up coloured paper which we animated manually. Pictures were drawn, biscuits were filmed, flames and rats were scanned. The scurvy ridden faces were drawn.
The green-screen session. The screen was set up facing a large area of windows so we had a lot of soft natural light. This was a hugely popular activity. The children decided to call this set-up the magic wallpaper.
The backing track was played from a CD player. Jobs included director, camera operator, sound and performers.
Editing. The editing for this was too complex for the the schools own software so most of it was carried out off-site. However I think there is scope in future for sections of these films to be edited by the children.
I liked the wide range of tasks and skills that this project involved, it was very inclusive. It didn't just use traditional animation techniques but required a range of solutions. There was a high degree of problem solving particularly making the ship and water move – the children were fully engaged in finding their own way of doing this.
Some of the less confident children appeared in front of the camera and some of the more modest drawing attempts were used in the film – this was obviously appreciated by the children concerned.
We had some positive discussion about making mistakes – if something didn't work we called it learning and improving. A mistake in the filming could be an entertaining out-take.
The green-screen was such a success that I am helping the school set up its own permanent green-screen (magic wallpaper).
At one of the schools I've been working with, we had a team debate about project ideas but it was chaotic. Everyone spoke at once, there was no chair-person and no idea about what we hoped to get out of the meeting So, we came up with the idea of making the debate itself the focus for a film project.
To begin, we spent some time discussing debating styles and approaches – the role and skills of the chair-person, using your voice clearly, listening and picking up on points, including a wide range of contributions, sticking to the agenda and so on.
Next after a bit of rehearsal we filmed a wide master shot of the whole debate. During the debate we took notes of who spoke, what they spoke about, observations of performance, anything that could be improved.
We looked back at the video and and had a conversation about how it went and anything that could be improved.
A re-run of sections of the debate to improve the behaviour. The camera position was changed to focus on an individual's contribution to the debate. This was scary for the individual but gave a real chance to iron out any performance or communication issues. We did this re-framing about four or five times.
The debate was edited together using the improved sections to look like a really slick and well chaired debate. Someone said it looked like a scene from "young apprentice" – hope that was a complement!
This was a very exciting and memorable process which gave the children a lot of new skills and confidence. They looked terrific on camera and everyone was very proud of how professionally they performed. Of course it was an edited sequence, but it demonstrated what was possible to achieve.
This is a great way to use video in school because it provides a little bit of fear, excitement and theatre into the learning. With instant playback you can address issues simply by showing them the video – often the facilitator need not say anything; show rather than tell. It's also a resource to show other children with some ready made role models.
The idea: One of the schools in Keighley wanted to gather memories of cinema goers in Keighley through a series of interviews conducted by the children. Alongside this research they were to work with Artist Amy Heild to create a scale model of the Keighley Picture House – the towns last remaining cinema. The model was to incorporate a small screen on which the interviews would play. We felt this was a great way of brining the artwork and the filmmaking together in one installation.
As well at the physical installation we were also to produce a film to show at the real cinema and so the plan was to use the model as the central feature.
Technology: Most of the filming was done using small flip cameras which performed very well. The children where given some instruction on how to use the cameras and to get steady shots with clear sound.
Learning: We felt a tripod would have been useful but not essential. It forces the user to think about where it will be placed and how the shot will be framed. The framing needs to be wide enough to alow for the interviewee to move about.
The maximum distance for clear sound on the flip camera is about one metre. Much better for the children to work in pairs – one acting as iterviewer and the other using the camera.
Other thoughts: Organise some practice sessions and break the interview session down into small tasks and objectives; setting up the tripod, briefing the interviewee, checking the light and framing, recording, thanking the interviewee afterwards etc.
During interview make notes of what supporting shots will be required – perhaps the guest is referring to an old photograph, in which case get some cutaway shots of the photo afterwards. Or if they are talking about a particular road or locatation plan to get some shots to illustrate what they are saying. This is a good reason to do the interviews early in the project to alow time for follow-up shooting.
If quality is not so much of an issue set the camera on a low resolution or you'll end up with huge file sizes (one school came back with 16Gb or material!). In any event, try to plan well and be economical in your shooting. Too much material will be difficult to manage.
We completed the Hidden Keighley discovery day yesterday. Six schools trekking around the town in search of boxes which had been transformed by the children. My role has been to organise the film making element in collaboration with artist Amy Heild.
The process of making a film is a fantastic way for the children to learn so many skills and build their confidence, even a simple interview has so many elements to it. Deciding on the most relevant location to film the story, observing & planning the shots, managing the equipment, problem solving, engaging with the interviewee are only a few skills needed. It's particularly rewarding to pick shy children to work in front of the camera or take a leadership role and see them rise to the challenge.
The brilliant thing about video is that you can re-take if things go wrong. We've had some wonderful conversations about the value of being able to learn from mistakes. At first the children get embarrassed when they make a mistake but soon they're able to have a laugh about it and move on to an improved attempt.
Bringing professionalism to the way the video is filmed and edited can be a huge boost to many children. They imagine that professional film makers have none of the problems they face – being nervous, tripping over their lines, wobbly shots and so on. Once they realise that there are some simple techniques to achieving impressive results they begin to feel so much more confident.
We've had a lot of discussion about whether the process is more important than the outcome – i.e. that a poor quality film is OK provided that the children learn something in the process. I'm sure that the end product is vitally important – especially for a product designed for public showing. The buzz the children get from achieving a film that looks like something they would see on TV or at the cinema is something they can be proud of and will remember for a long time.
This is the model of Keighley Picture House. Inside is a screen on
which interviews about of the old cinema play. Next week all the films
will be shown at the real cinema at a red carpet event for 300 children.
This is from the film Box of Sounds in which we take this animated Victorian girl to re-visit one of the local mills.