The Widening Participation and Social Mobility (WPSM) team at the University of Southampton have plenty of important roles. One of them is offering academic support to students who might be struggling with certain elements of their course. The service, operating out of the Academic Skills Hub, is amazing, but it can only have a beneficial impact on students who know about it. Without the knowledge of the service or the confidence to ask for help, students might miss out on potentially crucial support. The Widening Participation and Social Mobility team was not about to let this happen. They decided to make 2 films that would address the issue head on.
Their plan was to come at this from two different angles. The first approach was reaching out to students directly. They wanted to create a film that showed students what the Academic Skills Hub was and that it is an easy and judgement free service for them to access. This had to be very direct without being off putting. It also had to be appropriate for the audience who would be accessing the Academic Skills Hub. The hope was that this would not only raise awareness, but give students the confidence and know-how they needed in order to access the support on offer.
The other approach that the Widening Participation and Social Mobility team wanted to take was to reach out to academics at University of Southampton and have them become active proponents of the service. There was this thought that perhaps academics might not always be keen to point students in the direction of the hub because it was a part of their role as teachers. In reality, this service not only supports students, it allows academics to focus on teaching course material and not academic skills.
As well as needing to take these two different approaches, WPSM wanted a break away from their previous films. They wanted a fresh style and approach that would suit the vibrant personalities and broad skills of the people on the team.
First and foremost, we wanted to define a clear style for these films. Something that was completely different from what the team had done before. We set about having internal discussions, and quickly settled on approaches for each of the two films. For the student film we settled on creating something that was voiceover led, with each shot being carefully planned out and crafted. We didn’t want to just turn up at the uni and see what was there, we wanted to create something much more intentional than that.
Then, when it came to the academic focused film, we opted for a studio shoot. This isn’t something that we typically lean towards, but a vibrant and fun studio shoot just seemed completely right for the brief. It was a move away from the corporate talking head film which had been created before and a move towards showing off what wonderful, friendly people there were in the team.
Ideas signed off, it was time to set about pre-production. This was going take a little while because there was a lot to plan. Essentially, what it boiled down to was defining the story and shots we needed to create 1 film and figuring out the questions we needed to ask for the other. During pre-production for this project we created look books, storyboards, story plans, schedules and call sheets. This was everything we needed to communicate our vision for the films and to lay the groundwork for production. Our style was defined, our schedules were locked in and we were ready to start working on these films.
Production, as with everything to do with this project, needed two different approaches. One of the films (the student film) we wanted to be very smooth and flowy. The other we wanted to feel bouncy, handheld and energetic. This meant capturing shots in completely different ways with totally different set ups. On location we swapped between handheld and gimbal setups depending on what we were capturing footage for.
What stayed the same was lighting and aiming for polished images. Regardless of whether we were handheld or on the gimbal we did our best to light our scenes in a way that created the mood and look we were after. For our studio day we wanted to match the look of b-roll that we’d captured. As well as carrying forward the same bouncy, handheld energy in the b-roll we captured. Thanks to a lot of careful planning and a wonderful WPSM team, production went off without a hitch.
The post-production process for these films was pretty smooth. The student film was planned in such detail that it was just a case of executing that plan. The academic film was a little trickier. We had a story plan in place that was there to help us with the edit. That being said, you can’t account for when someone says something amazing that you haven’t planned for. That can totally change the direction of the film and we’re always very open to this. This is exactly why we transcribe our interviews. It made it so much easier to find what we needed in order to tell the right story. Then it was just a case of smoothing out the edit (whilst maintaining the pace and energy we had planned for) with the b-roll we had captured.
3 days of filming
The films will be used to encourage as many people as possible to use the academic support that is available to them. This is a goal that we as a team really believed in, so getting to play a part in making it happen felt very special. Not only are we proud of what was created and what it will do, we had a blast making it. The WPSM team were as fun, creative and friendly as we had hoped, which made every part of this project fun to work on.
The student facing film:
Neck of the Woods were such a fantastic team to work with on our project. The whole process from start to finish was incredibly enjoyable, from the initial contact to the final product. The team were incredibly friendly and put everyone at ease during the filming process - not an easy task when we were pretty nervous in front of the camera. Communication was really easy and the team responded really well to our input on the final film. Can't recommend them enough!