Finding the right partner is a little bit like falling in love… You need to know a few essentials…and they are mostly about yourself.
Firstly, read the info in the ‘community needs’ section.
Then ask yourself honestly, why am I doing this? Will it be fun? Can I sustain my interest? Am I willing to see this through?
In our experience, you will need 150% commitment to find the money [or time, volunteers, access to gear, talent etc] to produce successful media. And please note, at this point you don’t have to be very good at any specific skill (yet…), but you will need all your passion and commitment to find the right people to support your vision. Expert skill and artistry can be found later – it is your vision and unique way of seeing your world and telling your story that is most important now.
Once you have clarity about your own agenda and ambition, ask who will benefit from this story being told? Where can I align myself? Is there an organisation that has a similar focus, wanting to address similar issues?
For the documentary ‘Flow – Life Giving Land and Waters’ we were lucky to have a number of partners involved. The Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority wanted us to work with their media team, to continue to train them, the Ngarrindjeri elders wanted to have a documentary made about the significance of their lands and waters, politically, culturally and spiritually, and the Department of Water needed a documentary about the ecological significance as part of The Living Murray initiative. So we had to find a way to combine all these interests, while making sure that the Ngarrinjeri communities and their story would stay the main voice in the film.
Authentic, socially aware community media can send out strong messages, just like a good marketing campaign; but to ensure it truly resonates you need to explore how the stories will best entertain and connect to the target audience: is it relevant, of high quality, pertinent, emotional, clear, strong, intelligent, funny? And the best way to get your message out is to create a network of partners.
However, the process and end result will reflect the weaknesses of all your relationships, with partners, crew and participants, so consider your partnerships carefully.
The co-creative process is truly participatory: as the media content is made in collaboration with the community, and the community select external artists / mentors / co-creators where needed. Make sure you share this methodology with potential partners, and choose partners who support this ethos. As with most things in life – everything is negotiable, and addressing the power relationships, hidden agendas and expectations is a great way to learn essential production (and life) skills.
In every collaboration you will need to establish a respectful space for each party and later on for each individual to share their story and discuss the needs of their community and their organisation.
But be aware this process is risky – there is no safe space when creating art with others. Some arts projects advocate they create a ‘container’ where everything said stays in the room, but in media arts this doesn’t work: you want to create a story with a strong message that leaves the room and you need to have the clarity and permission from all to get this message out.
Media art production is usually not a therapeutic space. Yes, there is merit in telling personal stories, which can be an aspect of healing. But even if such an approach is requested by the participants and funding partners, you as a producer need to be clear that you won’t be able to take responsibility for what people say and how this may make them feel. This has to be addressed with your partners before you start any workshops or engage with participants or contributors in your project. Respect has to flow in all directions; all parties need to be aware that they need to take care of themselves. This goes for personal stories as much as public politics.
This is not a warning to become more risk-adverse, quite the opposite: Be aware of what you are getting into, assess the risks and then proceed with an open eye. Have a back-up plan. And keep an open channel with your partners to discuss what is working and what isn’t. If you think you can’t discuss your project honestly, perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it – or at least not with this partner?
Identify why you are unique, perhaps a set of dot points, so you can easily identify your value to potential partners, in correspondence, online and proposal documents. Most partners will want to check you comply with key strategies, but beware catch phrases, they might get a tick, but if you can’t deliver on your promises, it will backfire, so keep it honest.
For example, here are a few Change Media sound bites, they change as we do, but are a useful snapshot:
• We want to work with community and artists who are interested in creating engaging social justice media
• Communities can make their own media, for, by and about themselves (not mediated by someone else’s vision / interests)
• When invited we support them to get their message out
• We aim to remove ourselves from each step once they can do it alone
• We support groups to set up media hubs to continue sharing their voice
• We support groups to create real jobs in their community
• Communities can create engaging high quality social change films that audiences rave about it
• You can change your world, as change agents we co-create strategies
• We develop authentic, (tailored, asset & needs based) cross cultural collaborations
• We provide access to skills & equipment & networks and broker third party funding
• We share our entrepreneurial verve & know-how with each community
• We provide professional digital media training – it is in-depth, hands-on and achievable in a short time and involves immediately training others
• We keep it relevant; if you want change then you are the target audience – and the process should be intrinsically fun and appealing
• We are flexible as a team, with a small footprint; our budget focus is on delivery, not overheads and fancy offices
• Working in the context of social justice and community film making, we have learnt to make a lot out of little
• We laugh a lot –film messages are cutting edge and often use humour to resonate globally
• We aim to create a lasting ripple effect – ground level change for each individual, to their friends and family, within their communities, their region and across the world
• Life is complex: it’s not permanent and it’s all we have… Stay playful, reflective, inquisitive, humorous, fast, furious and try to address the fears in the room so they don’t take over. We believe this approach is essential when we live in a world in crisis.