FILM MAKING WITH CHARITIES – PT 2 – advice from the charity side

Posted: March 17, 2013 in Charity stuff, Uncategorized


As previously mentioned, charities may be able to provide varying levels of support to film-maker. This may be through direct support, promotion, funding etc – or it may be through providing participants, information or stories supporting your story. But in order to engage with charities in any way, its best to consider your approach. Having been in a management role in charities for several years, and having been approached by several film-makers and production companies myself in that time, I have a few suggestions from the perspective of the charity.

Know the cause and their campaigns

It helps to be savvy about the charity you’re approaching- know their cause, and identify clearly how your film relates to that cause and could support or promote it.

Not only that, but be aware of what their current campaigns are at the moment. For larger charities, their focus and campaigns can change over years. For example, a housing charity had a campaign and programme focused on supporting children in temporary accomodation. Now, their more recent campaigns focus on the cost of rent risking the loss of one’s home; and very recent reports focus on the cost of rent pricing first-time buyers out of affording to save for a mortgage.

There’s a reason for this. Charities, particularly those focused on policy change rather than direct delivery, have to continue to make themselves relevant to continue to gain funding themselves – and this has particularly changed between the previous and current government. Charities are having to work hard at the moment to prove their relevance to this government, and even those charities focused on direct delivery are having to change the way they ‘frame’ what they do, to mirror changing funding priorities from local and central government.

As a result, if you want to be able to work alongside a charity, it’s important to know what their current campaigns are – and therefore highlight how your film may be able to help them with that campaign. Whilst many charities will have over-arching long-term aims and missions, identifying how your film highlights their key current strategic aims should help.

Working with clients

As a charity manager, for both large national charities and smaller local ones, I’ve a fair bit of experience of this side of the business – being approached by film-makers, cold-called in effect, who would like access to some of our clients. And, whilst I can’t speak for all charities by any means, I have to admit to always being a bit wary when approached by film-makers.

So, some things to be aware of;

1. Charities usually have some form of duty of care to the people they support- clients that are often vulnerable in some way- be it homeless, victims of domestic abuse, elderly, substance abusers, etc.

2. And they often also have confidentiality guidelines as well.

3. And whilst charities are often keen for the issues they campaign about to be further promoted- the last thing they would want to be associated with is something regarded as exploitative in some way.

On this note, even internally, charities can conflict between departments, and I have had experience of being in a charity where the marketing/PR department have promised media agencies access to clients, then the frontline workers that actually support those clients are less than willing to put them through that kind of exposure or potential exploitation.

More recently, I was approached by a TV company who asked for access to some of the hard-to-reach and isolated clients we supported to contribute to their forthcoming films. I’ll admit I was initially sceptical, but they already had a successful history in making ethical and politically strong television, so I was reassured, and was happy to support them in trying to find suitable participants. The TV programmes they asked us to support and provide access for were for programmes about young people and elderly people in poverty, and we weren’t able to provide suitable participants in the end (the young people programmes have recently successfully aired).

So- I find I am reassured by a film-maker that;

1. is aware of the sensitivity needed when working with particularly vulnerable people;

2. has an approach that is passionate and believes in the cause but

3. is not overly persistent, bullish, demanding or insensitive in any way;

4. understands the need for full consent from participants, and is able to explain clearly to those participants what is expected and what will be the outcome;

5. an awareness of how to work with vulnerable people, and is willing to spend some time before filming to get to know the participants – and make a real ethical decision about whether being in the film is suitable for the person, or whether it may risk anything for that participant. This is one thing that reassured me about the aforementioned TV company, is that their researchers would spend time with the participants, interviewing them, getting to know them, evaluating whether it was suitable for them to participate, BEFORE even mentioning there was the possibility of a TV programme.

6. has an idea from the outset about where the film will end up. For example, I wouldn’t want someone to promise to the charity and to the participants that their film would only be seen at festivals and then it ended up on the Beeb being seen by the participant’s neighbours. (Or, conversely, for someone to promise participants they would be able to see the film in TV and then be disappointed when it wasn’t aired).

These are just a few pointers on things to consider if you want a charity to consider working with you and supporting your film project. The next post considers other ways you can work with charities – including supporting them with their projects.


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