Inspiring kids into TV production – a hard task!

I was asked recently to talk about my chosen career in two separate education settings, of course I was more than pleased to take part.

The first was an event called Inspirational Women at the Thomas Alleyne Academy, a comprehensive secondary school in Hertfordshire where “success is expected, achieved and celebrated”!

The Inspirational Women event paired year 9 pupils with around 50 local women in industry & business in a speed-dating style set up.

There was the usual mix of incredibly enthusiastic girls asking intelligent questions and those that wouldn’t make eye contact and yawned while I was talking (about something I thought was fantastically  interesting, but obviously not!)

With one particular pair I shared how I’d started at the bottom, firstly doing some weekend work with a local Newspaper and later opening bags of post on BBC1’s Watchdog, working late into the evening to clear the studio and sometimes getting up really early to drive to pick up a director ready for a day’s filming. All of this I recounted with enthusiasm as I remembered how I’d felt taking on these small but important responsibilities – if no one picked up the director there wouldn’t have been a shoot, and if no one opened the post, there wouldn’t have been stories to follow up. But “Didn’t you feel exploited?” one of the teenagers retorted “I wouldn’t have done it, I’d have walked out, you can’t be treated like that”. The girl was one of the confident, and enthusiastic ones. Ok maybe TV production isn’t for her, but no I didn’t feel exploited. Conversely I thought it was an opportunity to show I could achieve something, even if it was only following some directions to get to the director’s house without getting lost.

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The second opportunity came when I was asked to take part in Arts & Culture Week at Gothic Mede Academy, a primary school in Bedfordshire. I was to be introduced as an example of someone who actually works within the arts. So with small groups of year 4 pupils we explored the concept of Documentary and how to get information out of an interview situation. Each group got to have a go using the clapper board (much fun!) and do a Jeremy Paxman style interview with a classmate. Of course these children are much younger and perhaps cynicism will creep in with age, but just as I was beginning to reflect on whether they’d understood the concept of a career within the arts, (given that they weren’t very good at understanding the most important rule of being on a film set is to be quiet!) one of the more timid ones came up to me at the end and asked, “when will you be coming back?”

If school children are being brought up to believe that success is expected and achieved, then I hope it is clear, that success is defined by who you are and how you feel – and that every responsibility no matter how seemingly minor, is important. Because frankly if no one wants to do them the end result will be failure for everyone. The girls who thought I’d been exploited hopefully had their eyes opened to the idea that success starts small, and the quiet girl who asked when I was coming back achieved something last week, and I hope both days, despite it being a hard task inspired a least some of the children and got them thinking about documentary film!

Thoughts from the airport

Late August 18 years ago I found myself alone in Heathrow’s terminal 4. I was 18, it had been a great year so far, Arsenal had won the double for the first time in 25 years, I won 50 quid on France winning the World Cup, I’d finished school and was about to got to Australia to live and work and learn about life. But I found myself feeling lonely and a little bit scared, or perhaps apprehensive would be better. To put those feelings to the back of head I used the public pay phone in the departure lounge to call the only person I knew who was guaranteed to pick up, and that was because they were the only I person I knew who owned a mobile phone. Rob O’Reilly. He answered, he was playing James Bond on the Nintendo 64. He wasn’t hugely interested in my chat about feeling lonely. And I only had about 50p for the pay phone anyway. It was a short chat.

Today I am again sitting Heathrow’s terminal 4 awaiting a flight to Kathmandu, there are no phone boxes, I’m charging my very own mobile phone and writing this on my wifi connected lap top – I didn’t even own a computer that time I was here! Its also been a good year, Arsenal haven’t won anything, but team GB have done well at the Olympics, Oliver is starting school and Minty Films seems to be motoring along quite nicely. But I do feel a bit lonely and apprehensive. Lonely because I’ve left behind my family, which I’m feeling terrible about. Oliver has given me one of his cuddly toys, so security have scanned “Carrot Bunny” and took a second glance at my Tupperware box of breadsticks which were lovingly snuck into my bag by the 4 year old.

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Carrot Bunny and I enjoying depart lounge!

And apprehensive because I’m going to meet some desperately poor children, surviving conditions Oliver could not even imagine. And that of course that is the point of the trip. Not to educate Oliver specifically, but to make a film that highlights some of the issues facing those in deepest poverty.

People have wished me a good trip and told me to have fun. I don’t know that being away from your family (which makes you feel pretty bad) and then being immersed with those living in the most shocking of conditions is going to either be “fun” or “good”. But its an important trip, and similar to that trip 18 years ago, its one I never thought I’d do.

A Christmas Dinner Message

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Lemn Sissay is a poet. He is the chancellor of Manchester University, he has an MBE. But perhaps most importantly he grew up in care and I expect it is this that has influenced and shaped his life, and it is this that motivates him to put on this incredible event.

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Here he is being a Poet
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Here he is at Manchester

I don’t know Lemn personally but I’ve been privileged enough to be ever so slightly involved in an amazing project he has been running for the last few years.
He has put on a Christmas Dinner for care leavers. To understand what that means and why such an event is needed, just close your eyes, rid yourself of all family memories and imagine for one minute you have no family. No Family to go back to, the idea of going home for Christmas is alien. I’m 35 but every single year (except for the one spent in Kuala Lumpur Airport, and the one spent in a very strange restaurant in Bermuda, oh and the one where the cows in Auckland came to listen to the brass band playing carols on the veranda) I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to go home for Christmas. And even those ones abroad have been spent visiting friends or travelling with family.
Now, not all of us want to go home for Christmas, worse sometimes we have to go to the in-laws, but all this is a familiar comfort and we wouldn’t be without it. But what do you do if you’ve never had that. Perhaps you grew up with various foster families or in an institution – what on earth do you do on Christmas Day and who cooks your turkey and stuffing?

Well this year in Manchester, Leeds and Hackney at least, there is a huge family of volunteers putting on a fabulous Christmas dinner at exclusive locations (not some chilly dank scout hut that’s been given up for free) for young adults in exactly this scenario.

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Volunteers at the Manchester Christmas Dinner (photo from Lemn Sissay FB page)

Lemn is friends with Sally (Abbott), she lives down the road from me. Sally is a writer, you may have seen her name crawling up the credits of Eastenders, Casualty, and most recently The Coroner. – BBC1’s new original daytime drama of choice, and many more.

Sally has been helping Lemn collate Christmas Greetings from those in TV & Soap land. The messages will be played at the Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day.
Now Sally is a script writer and Lemn is a poet. What does a script writer and a poet do with this footage? Well its obvious of course. I edit it, turn it into a little film of Christmas joy. No messages from men on the moon, no fancy graphics, no mogs, nothing too flashy. Just a simple editing job and one I’m very happy to have been part of.

 

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If you think you’d like to be involved in organising or donating towards a Christmas Dinner next year then get in touch with Lemn now!

Merry Christmas.

PS I can’t share the film here because it has been especially created for those at the Christmas Dinner, but I hope you enjoyed a few of the screen grabs from it above.
Photos of Lemn from his FB & Twitter pages other stills from film.

Spot the difference

Its no coincidence I publish this today, World Aids Day . And before I start I’d like to reinforce – “kissing and hugging don’t spread HIV, ignorance does”.

Today The Food Chain launch a film I made for them. Its already debuted at a gala dinner in London, which raised over £12,000 for this small yet essential organisation.

I hope the story of one young man, Luke, conveys the soul and the empowerment the work of The Food Chain gives to those living with HIV.

I’m not going to lecture you on the importance of their work, or praise their continued valiant commitment to the services they run. You can look at their website and watch the film to learn more about that. Rather I’m going to share with you what I learned about client relationships and managing the delicate balance between all stakeholders… No don’t go, it really did throw up an interesting conundrum.

Challenge 1 – representing the boring.

The Food Chain asked me to make a film that showed the impact of their work. The impact is kind of obvious when you meet their service users, but from a film making point of view I didn’t see them in their “before” state. And there wasn’t the resources to follow a new service user through their complete journey (if ever such a journey is complete).

Importantly the film should also show an example of each of the services they provide. The most boring, visually speaking, of these services being grocery deliveries. Yet, its one of the most essential and expensive services they offer. We all know what a Sainsbury’s lorry looks like turning up at your house with some bags of food in – and to be honest the importance of this is quite obvious too.

Challenge 2 – Funding verses ideas

The other detail to understand, this whole film making project is funded by The City Bridge Trust as part of a scheme called Telling Your Stories, facilitated by The Media Trust.

The Food Chain specifically wanted the film for their fundraising event and then for public launch on World Aids Day. The running time didn’t matter, the content did. As part of the deal with City Bridge Trust, Media Trust produce a compilation of the Telling Your Stories films for the Community Channel and for a screening at the Barbican, their brief has a strict running time of 3 mins per film.

A quick bit of maths (not my strongest subject) 3 services to cover, at least one case study and some vox pops (all content requirements from The Food Chain) led me to realise its going to be tricky to fit it all in and retain the all important impact.

Challenge 3 – collaborative creativity

The Food Chain themselves had their creative hats on and had come up with an idea to solve the boring grocery delivery problem –

-An abstract talking fridge-

Yes they had nailed it so they thought. I listened with interest. How on earth am I going to do this. Limited equipment, no lights, no real drama background (a bit of re-con on Crimewatch doesn’t really count) limited time, no art director, no prop store and a client wedded to the idea.

Well you’ve got to give it a shot, right? I didn’t have any better ideas and the point of doing this sort of project is for a challenge outside the constraints of the day job.

I revisited the section of my brain where A level theatre studies is stored, (arguably not my best subject either) what would Mr Kane do? And honestly it felt a bit like this, as I set up a scene in my building-site of a kitchen to create a dilapidated sad looking fridge. I visited my local pharmacy to buy some pots of pills and hid all the Waitrose branded products that lived in my fridge.

With little clue of how this was going to look I set the camera rolling.

Several scenes of the same fridge to denote the passing of time and grocery deliveries gradually filling it up – and then the money shot, the bright sparkly new happy fridge full of lush fruit and veg and nutritious gold! Yes It was going to be great.

In the edit, I panicked. It looked like an A level theatre studies project, a clever idea by a teenager, (Mr Kane would have been proud). But not a glossy charity promo – on reflection I began to feel a DoP with more style and experience would have been a better choice for this project.

But somehow it got the message across. It served as a punctuation mark between the documentary style sections. Although technically and stylistically I find it a little cringeworthy, there’s something about it that is a bit mysterious, its almost purposefully amateur, and I sort of like that.

With great apprehension , I sent The Food Chain a rough cut. They LOVED it. I was relived.

Media Trust however, did not. It was too abstract, and of course it was too long. Cutting the fridge scenes meant the film would run exactly to the three minute brief. Deep down I knew the fridge was frivolous. It would never make the final cut , what on earth had I been thinking. I’m not an artist or a dramatist or a stylish DoP. I should have stuck to what I know.

I’m happy with the three minute version, it will look good when its screened at the Barbican and it shows off what I’m good at, talking with people, listening to people and story telling. And it shows off what The Media Trust are good it, and next time I make a film with them I’ll know – no talking fridges.

But the version that’s on The Food Chain’s website today? And the version that helped them to raise over twelve grand? Yes you guessed it, the talking fridge.

Which cut do you prefer?

With Fridge

Without Fridge

Films produced, shot and edited by Jodie Chillery with Media Trust & City Bridge Trust for The Food Chain.

 

What is Minty Films?

Minty Films is a collection of stories, about people, about life, about human nature, captured on film.

I’m not an academic, nor am I an artist, or analyst, but I am a person, privileged to have met a wildly diverse bunch of other “persons”. I’d always assumed this privilege came to me primarily through the course of my day job. But circumstances have ensured I do a bit less of the day job now, however I still seem to encounter odd, inspirational, joyous and not so joyous people and their narratives when I have a camera to hand. So, here I’ve tried to collate some of these films, past and hopefully future, I’ve produced outside the conventions, or maybe that should be, constraints, of mainstream film making. This blog serves no purpose other than to share these stories and contain a portfolio of my alternative work and contributions in one happy compartment.

But, why Minty Films? One of the first films I made outside the constraints of the day job, on a Sony handy cam with only the in-built mic for sound on the camera, could be described as self portraiture, semi autobiographical even. But in truth it was home movie with a target audience of 2, intended for display nowhere other than the four walls of my own home.

Yet part of that film made it to the television screens in thousands of homes across the other side of the world. The original film captured the very personal adventure of life in a 1958 VW campervan called Minty, in which we travelled to the glacial peaks in the south, and the bubbling geothermal lakes in the north, of New Zealand in 2010-2011.

Then, somehow through some internet wizardry, Volkswagen happened across my very intimate, somewhat embarrassing – technically speaking – little film.

And so impressed they were, they used, (with permission) some of this footage in a television advert aimed at celebrating VW’s 60 year existence in New Zealand.

And so it struck me never has the phrase, adopted by photographer Chase Jarvis, “The best camera is the one that’s with you” been so apt.

VW long ago washed their hands of any direct links to actual manufacture of camper vans but the legacy of their imagery and its inextricable link to the VW brand hold a value that would be imprudent and rather foolish to shake off. If VW had commissioned me to shoot some material for their modern day ad, my approach would of course have been wildly different and would have definitely lacked the intimacy, spontaneity and character that made it so attractive, so useable.

Here the advert VW created using hundreds of clips from individuals with archive just like my original Minty film.

So to me, Minty Films seems a right and proper title, the Minty Film experience sums up nicely my intention with this site, it’s a collection of stories, filmed or recorded for reasons not always obvious and not always conventional and not always intended for broadcast. But important in their own right and worth a share I believe.