A registered social enterprise operating in the U.K., the Community Film Unit is a group that offers graphic design, filmmaking and music production services for social good. In the words of Marshall McLuhan, "the medium is the message" and since youth are arguably the most in tune with digital media and film, speaking their language is essential in telling stories and creating positive social narratives that have grassroots effects on lived experiences.
Here, SocialBusiness.org talks to some folks over at Community Film Unit: Matthew, Project Co-Ordinator; Jon, Director of Music; and Alex, Director of Film. Together, they discuss inspirations, the CFU business model as well as their social objectives of promoting change within communities, raising awareness of local issues and creating educational opportunities for youth.
Questions with the Community Film Unit
1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
Matthew (Project Co-Ordinator): The Community Film Unit came about through initial support from Surrey County Council's Youth Development Service. Employed through Surrey CC on short-term 6-month contracts, with a remit of "community development," our skill set allowed us to pursue an idea of Community Filming. Since this initial 6-month period, we have been able to open up public services and become a self-sufficient, independent social enterprise. Since becoming self-sufficient we have been able to enhance our human resource, expand through the South of England and recently had one of our films broadcast on national television. We have developed a model which is both sustainable and ethical, and makes film more accessible in financially challenging times. We wanted to make film more accessible and our model now allows us to work on both a national and a local scale, whilst always giving opportunities to young people eager to gain experience in the industry. The Talent Development Scheme (TDS) is an exciting aspect of our model and will be formally launched in January 2012. The TDS will involve skill workshops, after school clubs, holiday camps and co-producing films with young people.
2. How did you decide to join this sector?
Matthew (Project Co-Ordinator): On our first ever day of filming we interviewed a group of young people who were young carers. We were left speechless by their message: their responsibilities, level of maturity and journey that each individual young carer had gone through was inspirational and after this I think we knew that this was the route we wanted to go down. We are in a fortunate position whereby the work we do really benefits society and influences change within communities which is really rewarding. When we found out about the Social Enterprise Mark, we saw it as something that would confirm our ethical approach, open up networking opportunities and help us achieve our community driven aims and objectives. Research suggests that this sector is thriving in difficult economic times, therefore it is something that we saw would help us become self-sufficient.
3. How do you get your inspiration?
Jon (Director of Music): I think we're lucky in that we often work with organizations who are achieving inspiring things. We've all had moments in the last 18 months, when working with young carers, foster children or other vulnerable people in society who have said something that's really resonated with us all. Experiences like that reinforce the potential value of the work we do, and our capacity to bring about positive change in people's lives is inspiring. Being the mouthpiece that promotes the incredible work of some of these organizations is, quite frankly, an honour and a privilege.
Alex (Director of Film): I agree with Jon that we are very lucky to be able to contribute to society in the way that we do, offering a mouthpiece for organizations not in public eye, particularly organizations such as Surrey Young Carers. However, we are a creative multimedia company so I feel that we should bring an air of creativity and fun to our work. You can be inspired by anything in life, and one example that comes to mind was a project which involved filming a conversation between two young girls. After mulling over the nature of project, I decided to stage the "actors" across the table from each other, and then began to shoot the scene using camera positions and composition taken from a conversation at a restaurant between Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in Michael Mann's film 'Heat.' The overall result was affective, and was good fun for everyone involved.
4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
Jon (Director of Music): It's important to remember that in any creative process, there are always multiple ways of doing things. So it's vital to be able to discuss ideas openly and in our office, everyone's opinion is equally valued, no matter what the subject -- and this goes all the way down through the company, so our work experience editors have input into the music and graphic design projects led by the company directors. It's a good way to avoid getting stuck in a rut and churning out repetitive, uninspiring content.
Alex (Director of FIlm): Rituals aren't something I go for personally, getting up in the morning and appreciating that I am very lucky to be in the job that I am is enough for me.
As for reseting, at the end of each project I review each stage of the production that I have led, often filming and editing, and work out how I could have been more efficient, learning new shortcuts on Final Cut Pro is normally the stock way of improving but also looking back on the ways interviews were conducted is another way of understanding how to garner better answers from subjects. I draw upon a lot of what I have already seen in television, film and documentary, and therefore when approaching any project I reflect on this knowledge and try to replicate similar techniques that I know have been successful in the past and then add my own take on this. Since the birth of nu-documentary (Michael Moore, Errol Morris, Alex Gibney), the conventions of documentary have shifted and new pioneering techniques have been creating for non-fictional storytelling.