(more) Learning Moments

Learning Moments

(under construction  #repair_links)

tips / a broken link? let us know

IFC 09 Dublin, Workshop report: CREATIVITY AND POVERTY

CREATIVITY AND POVERTY

A WORKSHOP FOR THE EBU INTERNATIONAL FEATURES CONFERENCE, DUBLIN CASTLE, 9-14 MAY 2009

“Tough economic times mean that everyone, public broadcasters included, have to tighten their belts, cut their budgets, reduce their costs. So what does that mean for programmes?  And for the inventive spirit that both comes up with the ideas and then makes them happen excitingly differently?  Ideas cost nothing, but poor morale can sap even the most inventive programme-maker’s resolve.  In a practical hands-on session, we aim to energise your thinking and offer some real solutions to making features with less or almost no cash.”

The session plan was developed by Simon Elmes, Creative Director, BBC Radio Documentaries, in consultation with Pat Connor, Head of Vision Development, BBC and Richard Addy, Chief Adviser to the Deputy Director-General, BBC.

CREATIVITY AND POVERTY

A WORKSHOP FOR THE EBU INTERNATIONAL FEATURES CONFERENCE, DUBLIN CASTLE, 9-14 MAY 2009

Report

The 35th annual EBU International Features Conference for radio documentary was held this year in Ireland at Dublin Castle, under the auspices of RTÉ. It consisted of five days of programme playbacks and group review sessions, with in addition three 90-minute workshop sessions and three plenary sessions.

The workshops were:

(i)    Creativity and Poverty (on documentary-making in a recession)
(ii)    Music Perhaps? (the use of music in features)
(iii)    The Power of Sound (creative sound capture and use in features)

The Creativity and Poverty workshop had the following rubric for delegates:

“Tough economic times mean that everyone, public broadcasters included, have to tighten their belts, cut their budgets, reduce their costs. So what does that mean for programmes?  And for the inventive spirit that both comes up with the ideas and then makes them happen excitingly differently?  Ideas cost nothing, but poor morale can sap even the most inventive programme-maker’s resolve.  In a practical hands-on session, we aim to energise your thinking and offer some real solutions to making features with less or almost no cash.”

The session plan was developed by Simon Elmes, Creative Director, BBC Radio Documentaries, in consultation with Pat Connor, Head of Vision Development, BBC and Richard Addy, Chief Adviser to the Deputy Director-General, BBC.

Aims
The overall aim of the workshop was to offer the groups tools and techniques which would enable them to think constructively and originally when faced with the inevitable consequences of the economic downturn – budget reductions, severe production time constraints, limitations on production travel, departmental cuts etc. We were not aiming primarily to offer direct answers to the question ‘how do you make radio documentaries for less money?’ but to equip delegates with the thinking processes that would, we hoped, unblock the rigid lines of default thinking about ‘how documentaries are made’ in order to explore different and hopefully cheaper solutions.
The session consisted of two practical sections.

Section 1
The first was designed to get the group working and thinking collaboratively and to demonstrate in a very practical way that there are many ways of telling a story – both of which messages underpinned the intent of the session.  For this exercise we used a picture-card storytelling game, working with two big groups.

How did delegates get on?
The process was quite magical on each occasion. Left simply to free-associate with the cards, there was on each of the three performances a moment of nonplussed hesitation, and then a realisation that delegates had to sort their own way through it.  The picture-cards, when arranged in a particular order, tell a sequential story simply through images, in which one picture is a close-up detail from the previous one.  Teams needed to decide where the sequence began and ended, and also whether they were going to ‘obey’ the inherent sequence.

On each of the three performances, within moments, the groups were noisy and collaboration was happening.  In some cases, without even prompting, groups had started laying out the cards in an order, and – pleasingly – there were some non-linear storytelling options proposed in which a team produced deliberately out-of-sequence runs of cards.  Whichever way they played it, all really seemed to enjoy the process, and the messages of collaboration and different storytelling seemed well understood.

Section 2
The second half of the session began with a more focussed application of these collaborative and other-storytelling skills on the methodology of radio documentary production. We kicked off with a plenary brain-dump to determine the main components of the radio feature-making process. These ranged from the abstract (imagination) to the intensely pragmatic (interviews). Captured on flip.
The point was generally accepted that most if not all the abstractions carried no cost, but that the practical components were more routinely cost-bearing.

Holding these thoughts, three groups (randomised and led by a facilitator) each were then given a pack of six cards with these main components (Interviews, Location recordings, Music, Presenter, Archive Recordings, Dramatised readings) and asked to decide together on the ‘most essential’ element. How would the group now cope if that element were removed?  A balloon debate process continued the forcing of new thinking with one more element removed in succession. A ‘Joker’ card which reduced the production-time allocation by half was played as the final step in the process.

How did delegates get on?
There was a little confusion – and some indignation – at the first performance at the idea of making documentaries ‘without interviews’ in order to save money.  This was of course not what was being proposed, and we needed to stress that it was just a brainstorming stimulus rather than a real production proposal!

As a stimulus though, the balloon debate format overall worked well and some ingenious and resourceful low-cost ideas emerged, including using amateurs, offering an outlet for doc-making to (unpaid) audience members, and using production members as informants. One person even suggested resorting to mimicry by team members to replace audio FX!  The teams certainly had fun, and the stories of personal hardship (freelance producers and community-based radio staff all had powerful stories to tell about how they made programmes for nothing) were memorable.

Although there were no answers on offer, I for one felt that the thinking methods that the workshop stimulated were well appreciated, and that the overall principle that changing the way you think to suit reduced circumstances can be creatively stimulating was well accepted.

 

 

 

APPENDIX – Session plan

INTERNATIONAL FEATURES CONFERENCE
DUBLIN 9TH – 14TH MAY 2009

WORKSHOP: “CREATIVITY AND POVERTY”

RATIONALE:
What happens to creativity when money disappears?

Need to drive down costs but not lose sight of the creative spirit in doing so – ideas are free and finding less expensive, low- and no-cost ways takes ingenuity, people and time, not above-the-line costs.

Suggested process of cracking cost issues (mnemonic CRAK)

Drive down

C ORE COSTS

R ETHINK basics

Find

A LTERNATIVE ways of achieving things

K EEP spirit alive

In more detail…

1    Need to identify core costs and find strategies to drive them down. (What is it that is costing so much in this programme – people x time? travel? studio / tech costs? format?

2    Need to find creative solutions to the basic premise of documentary. So – what is a documentary/what are the essentials of documentary technique?  Are there avoidable ‘inevitable’ costs? (e.g. documentary is predicated on a number of interviews conducted sequentially in various different locations one way of cutting out a lot of labour/time costs is to do all interviews in one location/timeframe – possibly as discussion?)

3    Alternative solutions – at the ideas level: ideas that take less time, simpler but powerful formats; using cheap and simple technology but making it inherently relevant (e.g. Don’t Hang Up – telephone-based feature where the phone was the appropriate medium, but also cheap).

4    Keeping the creative spirit alive. The worst-case scenario example of DR (Danish broadcasting) forced to close many of its production departments (including radio docs) because of spiralling building costs on the new Broadcast Centre.  Core radio doc presence kept alive in TV dept.  Alternative outside sponsorship found to recreate a kernel of doc production.

We should endeavour to make the session as fun and active as possible – not just a talking shop.

Simon very briefly to present Pat and Richard.

1    GROUP (APP 25) QUESTION:

“Who’s had budget changes recently?” – gather anecdotes, capture on flip. Get group talking… important particularly for Sunday session as they won’t have the habit yet.  Principle of ‘shared misery’, all under the cosh, this applies to us all. And if you haven’t had budget reductions yet, I’m sure that they’re coming down the pipe. How are you dealing with it? (Don’t want to harvest solutions yet, but they’ll want to say what they’re doing to remedy, so let them, but don’t let them go on and on)

Keep tight – 5/6 mins….

2    OK so what we’re going to be doing in this session is not answering your prayers – the IFC or the EBU don’t have the funds, sadly, to bail out feature-makers who’re broke.

We don’t necessarily have the answers, but Pat Richard and Simon have all spent a lot of time over the last few years helping people find creative solutions to all sorts of problems big and small.

So we’re going to explore some of the questions you might be asking yourself, and helping you to find within your own teams answers to some of these fraught questions.  This is your session!

And to begin with, we’d like to get you to do something together….

Richard/Pat intros card game.

3    STORY CARD GAME  (20 mins)

OK, what did you get out of that?  What was that about?  Why did we do this?  Did you learn anything?  About yourselves?  About your colleagues?

4    DRAW CONCLUSIONS:

a) Working together is more productive than alone (“1+1 = n”)
b) Teams thrive on shared purpose, tasks
c) There are many, many ways to tell a story

All of these conclusions are useful, I think, to us today. Because one of the difficulties when faced with a substantial new challenge – for example a big cut in the amount of money you’ve got to make your programmes with – is that you need especially imaginative thinking to get past the road block.

After all, what we’ve ‘always done’ is where we all start. Human beings are creatures of habit, and we know what we do and how we do it. Thinking up new ways to do it is hard work, takes time and effort …and imagination.

What it doesn’t take, generally speaking, is money.  Which is very useful, and it’s a principle that lies at the heart of what we’re talking about today.  Ideas are FREE

[One footnote, though. These challenges don’t have to be simply negative: the I Live in the Balkans project that we’ll be hearing about is a big creative challenge which needed a lot of imagination and organisation, and that sort of issue is just as susceptible to creative thinking as a real ‘problem’.]


5    GROUP DISCUSSION:

When you make a feature, what are the elements that cost money?
Capture cost centres on flip

For guidance
eg – above the line – (foreign) travel, high-cost star presenters, big-name freelance producers, (high-cost) writers, big casts, special commissions – poetry, drama inserts, music – actors, expensive archive (eg from US Lib of Congress), copyright costs, specialist equipment hire, sound engineer on location, presenter travel…

What about studio time? And production time?  (Both are often not factored into the basic cost lines of production by broadcasters outside the UK, but are very significant) Point out that if you’re making one programme for three months, you’re not very productive. If you spend three weeks composing your feature with a sound engineer in a studio you are tying up a lot of resources which might be better used somehow else.

Example: there used to be 50 studios in and around Broadcasting House in London, but since production was rationalised and digital technology simplified how programmes are made, there are now fewer than ten operational 2-box studios, and a range of small multi-purpose workshops.

Collect narratives of clever real cost-reductions, share and discuss.

So there are answers!

6    STIMULUS – BRAINSTORM
Objective: to prove that with imagination even the worst case scenario can be made to work and still preserve the quintessential feel of documentary.

What are the main ingredients of radio doc (cf above)
Presentation (narrator); (recorded) interviews; music; archive; location recordings and actuality; readings/dramatised inserts; silence

Break into three groups of 8 (app). Each will have a co-ordinator/scribe Pat, Richard, Simon…  Balloon debate style elimination of elements from list above, starting with the most important.

Components on A4 sheets on tables.

What is the one element in making a radio documentary that is absolutely essential (not technical – though one could be really radical and include recording materials!) ?

 

Budget cuts mean you no longer have access to this! (remove ‘essential’)

How do you manage to make a documentary without this ingredient? – force the thinking. The feel of the emerging programme must still be have some of the qualities of documentary/feature (eg not a talk).

Capture and review.

Repeat with next ‘essential’ – and carry on until too reductive…

Then one of us produces the JOKER for each table, a card labelled TIME (YOU HAVE HALF YOUR NORMAL QUOTA OF TIME)

Each table reports back – the radical solutions are captured, stimulate discussion.

CONCLUSION:

Creative thinking produces radical solutions?

7    REASSEMBLY

Having taken everything away, we now put the ingredients back, but offer tools to get them to think of different ways of reassembling them: eg REVOLUTION, RELATED WORLDS…

OVERALL CONCLUSION: ‘Impossible’ cuts become possible, open the door to radical (and probably beneficial) root-and-branch rethinking.  Using two (three?) ‘re-imagining’ tools and techniques, you can turn a disadvantage into a new opportunity.  As we said at the beginning, storytelling takes many, many different forms.

But make sure you do it in small teams, because 1+1 = n….

 

Advertisements

Write a comment...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s