Welcome to Part Two of my interview with Rebecca Barry (to read Part One, click here), where we learn: story comes first, hosted screenings work and the successful distribution model that Impact showed itself to be when I am a Girl was released locally and internationally.
Rebecca is a filmmaker, impact producer and a principal, with Madeleine Hetherton, in production company Media Stockade: producers of The Opposition, Call Me Dad, I am a Girl and The Surgery Ship (and there’s more to come). Media Stockade has had true success doing what they do and in a relatively short time. With filmmaking: talent, luck, timing, relationships and an appetite for very hard work are all pre-requisites—and, as producers, ideally, you should have a nose for reading the times you live in, if you want to make work that resonates with audiences.
PJB: How did Media Stockade come into being?
RB: Madeleine, my partner in Media Stockade, and I started meeting out of frustration. We were both freelancing—she was working on Bondi Rescue, I was working on Undercover Boss, while making I am a Girl. We decided to meet up every couple of weeks and workshop ideas. But then our film The Surgery Ship got up at SBS and that was when we formed Media Stockade—that became the film to form the company—and again, a social issue based film. It’s about a huge surgical hospital on a ship that travels to a port where doctors and medical staff give attention to the poorest of the poor in West Africa. Then I am a Girl was finished, we had a wonderful launch which we organised with our partners. We had a release over two weekends—one in Melbourne and the other in Sydney, it was a complete sell out. We got picked up by Palace [distributor] to go national—and it proved to be the least successful part of our release.
PJB: So that must have told you that you were on the right track exploring other ways of getting your films to audiences?
RB: I see it as one big experiment because we had a ridiculous budget of $10,000 to release the film, and one and half people at that time… What were we thinking?
PJB: When was this?
RB: We released in 2013—
PJB: So a year before Good Pitch² Australia was up and running—
RB: Yes but in early 2014 we put a PayPal account up on the site with a “Host your own Screening” because we heard it was what some people were doing and thought, Yes! We want to do that. We charged people a public license to view the film and that was the most successful part of our campaign. We had 200 of those screenings and they continue.
PJB: In which way were those screenings the most successful?
RB: Impact but also financially. To be honest, we didn’t have a strategy at that point. We were in the “Let’s try this, let’s try that” phase. Now we’re very much about strategy—
PJB: Because you know what works—you’ve done the R and D (research and development) on the model.
RB: Yes, and we discovered through the process that the Hosted Screening had the biggest impact. Through word of mouth, the film was picked up by different communities, organisations working with girls, domestic violence, sexual exploitation and bullying—there was this really amazing pick up. In terms of impact we were measuring: How do people act, feel, think differently around the issue of gender inequality? Think and feel was very interesting but “act” was exciting to measure because we had a significant uptake from the communities.
PJB: What happened?
RB: We had people using the film to raise awareness and as a fund raiser. One community raised $500 to send books to Africa; a carpentry teacher in Victoria raised money to send apprentice carpenters to Cambodia to build a school; in Ballarat, a domestic violence refuge raised enough money to fund their art therapy course for survivors of domestic violence; the equity unit at one of the universities raised enough money to send two girls in Afghanistan to university for a year and just recently, the National Jewish Women’s Association had another fund raiser and they’re sending another girl to university for a year.
PJB: That’s wonderful. You’re bang on the zeitgeist too—films take so long to make you have to be ahead of it to land on time. If that film had been put out there at a time when there wasn’t an interest in, and awareness about gender equality (in the mainstream), it might have been different but you’d been thinking about it for years. You were ahead of the curve. I can’t help but feel because it was personal to you and had been ‘sitting on your shoulder’ for so long, and you’d had that traumatic life/death experience, when you did make it, what people were also responding to was the keen eye that comes from truthfulness, and clarity, behind the camera.
RB: Yeah and I think we are tapped into the zeitgeist—with I am a Girl and Call Me Dad—
PJB: And The Opposition. Post the PTSD, do you think it gave you a sensitivity to the injustices of life suffered by others, in a way that you might not have had, prior to that experience?
RB: I think I had elements of it but now what happens to me—I call it hyper empathy—I find it hard to watch certain films. I can be watching a documentary or program and it’s embarrassing because something big will happen, it’s usually to do with sound, something visceral—and I’ll have to stop watching because I have a physical response.
PJB: I get that… sound connects to the psyche, to memory… in a way that is immediate and unconscious.
… When people look at social impact documentaries, they sometimes think, understandably, that the issue leads the film i.e. the filmmakers find an ‘issue’ and search for a story to fit the issue, but that’s not how I see it working in Good Pitch. It’s not a literal or illustrative relationship with the subject—it’s emotional, existential, inchoate, aesthetic and narrative-driven. I don’t know that filmmakers, outside of those who treat a job as ‘for hire only’ can make the Good Pitch genre of films without a personal connection. In this space, there’s the Impact focus and there’s filmmakers who operate as artists…it’ not necessarily a conflict or that they can’t compliment each other but it’s two very different operating principles—a bridge has to be built between the two.
RB: I do an Impact Workshop with DAF for filmmakers who want to be in this space—to introduce them to Impact and the possibilities. I really love it because I see the power of it but it’s not for everybody. I’ve done a couple of the workshops now and we talk about that juggle between the artistic vision and the impact vision. It’s one you need to manage. For me, you have to serve the film. For people who become involved from an impact point of view, it’s important to understand that there is merit in supporting the artistic vision of the film. From there, there will be surprises you could never have imagined.
PJB: You said to me at the stakeholders meeting when I was asking you about the relationship between the film and impact campaign, “There is no impact without an artistically strong film.”
RB: Story is king.
PJB: I believe that too. Especially when it comes to connecting audiences to issues, throwing statistics at them and the lecturing voice doesn’t work so well. And statistics really can only be understood in a very specific context and can be dangerous unless they come from a rigorous methodology. There’s so many different ways to make a film but—
RB: If you look at An Inconvenient Truth, no-one doubts the power or impact of that film but the creative execution wasn’t given much of a priority.
PJB: It was Al Gore, at a moment in time; it almost functions as a historical document— it’s facts and figures brought to you by a highly respected former Vice President when the world was deaf to what was going on and that’s what was necessary then. However, in the canon of great filmmaking, bald statement doesn’t work.
RB: And for us, and the other directors we work with, it is about serving the creative vision; the execution of the vision is paramount because you want the message to be delivered in a way that is watchable and experiential.
PJB: That’s a necessary given for me. Or I don’t care. I don’t and won’t watch shitty films about important issues in which I’m preached at; I resort to monosyllabic and exclamatory yelling, like: DUH?!
RB: And we want to be engaged and entertained; all the things we love about cinema—
PJB: Are highly crafted.
RB: People watch a lot of material on devices now but where we see a lot of impact is when people are in a room together—cinemas, town halls, conference rooms—it’s where we see something happen with a group of people responding.
PJB: It’s the beauty of the cave— you’re in the dark, watching illuminated moving images, and how you read those images, and as part of a collective experience, is not the same as looking at your iPhone with other conversations going on around you or while breaking away to check messages, instagram, Facebook. It’s just not. People think and respond differently. Science has proven there’s no such thing as a brain multi-tasking—the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. So, It makes perfect sense that the film would have the greatest impact when people are sitting in the dark with others, engaging with an unfolding story .
RB: And we listen to our audiences—and that’s an important part of the impact.
PJB: How do you do that? It’s obviously not just about whether an audience likes the film, or not.
RB: We talk to people after screenings—that’s part of our evaluation process. With I am a Girl, after every Q and A, teachers would approach us and say: ‘We want to teach this, how do we do it?’ So we worked out how they could do that.
Because the film had done really well, DAF had facilitated us getting an Outreach and Impact Grant that focused on us creating curriculum specific educational materials. We’ve had 2,700 downloads of those study guides so far. We also created individual vignettes so the girl’s stories are broken down into 10-12 minute segments for classroom use. We’ve also got an “empathy exercise” on the website where people can send a postcard to the girls and we send it through to them. We’ve found an educational partner in the US that produce curriculum specific study guides and they are incredible.
…I just wanted to go back to school.
For the third and final part of this interview with Rebecca Barry, a sneak peek at the powerful investigative film The Opposition trailer and some unexpected drama, some click here.Tags: call me dad, hosted screenings, I am a girl, madeleine hetherton, media stockade, rebecca barry