Analysing the story environment

How do we get from the medium to the message? To understand more deeply how a film might drive change, it's worth considering the environment the film is entering.

We have found that whether an issue is relatively known or unknown and whether there is strong and organised opposition or little resistance, are both key in determining which kinds of films succeed and also in defining what success looks like.

FRESH: unknown issue (to your target audience) and little or weak opposition. They favour films that dramatically REVEAL what''s going on.

FAMILIAR: known issue but still little or weak opposition often call for films that can not to put the SPOTLIGHT on a tired issue.

HIDDEN: unknown issue (to your target audience) but strong and organised oppositional forces may require your film to prove the case, to INVESTIGATE.

ENTRENCHED: known issue (and so possible fatigue from target audience) and strong opposition to your story and campaign, often need no more new facts or assertions but simply to to HUMANISE the affected communities.

Have a look at each quadrant in this diagram to think about this further.

Weak Opposition

Strong Opposition

Unknown Issue

Known Issue

FRESH: REVEAL

Unknown issue (to your target audience) and little or weak opposition. They favour films that dramatically reveal what's going on.

FAMILIAR: SPOTLIGHT

Known issue but still little or weak opposition often call for films that can not to put the spotlight on a tired issue.

HIDDEN: INVESTIGATE

Unknown issue (to your target audience) but strong and organised oppositional forces may require your film to prove the case, to investigate.

ENTRENCHED: HUMANISE

Known issue (and so possible fatigue from target audience) and strong opposition to your story and campaign, often need no more new facts or assertions but simply to to humanise the affected communities.

In some FRESH environments, where people are unaware of a problem and no one is fighting against you) success is causing a sea change in public opinion, triggering new laws to be written, compelling companies to publicly apologise. But this isn''t always possible given the external restraints, no matter how brilliant the film and campaign. In ENTRENCHED environments, moving the dial just 1 degree is a huge achievement and worth all the effort. Rome isn''t always built in a day. We will go into this in more detail in a minute.

This section will help you reflect on the idea that certain kinds of films work better in certain environments than others. You get you to consider what environment you are operating in and what that means for your definition of success and adoption of tactics. To unpick this further, here are four studies to consider.

The Invisible War
(2009) helped to REVEAL and start a revolution on policy and attitudes to rape in the US military. Directed by Kirby Dick, produced by Amy Zierling.

Bully
(2011) shined a SPOTLIGHT on high school bullying and made it a national priority. Directed by Lee Hirsch.

Gasland
(2010) led many communities to INVESTIGATE and reject fracking for shale gas. Directed by Josh Fox.

Budrus
(2009) helped to HUMANISE the narrative on nonviolence in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Directed by Julia Bacha, produced by Ronit Avni, Rula Salameh & Just Vision.

And whilst many documentaries investigate, reveal, spotlight and humanise – they tend to have a dominant emphasis. Set that against the environment into which they are releasing and you can gain insight into the kind of change they can hope to achieve.

We can analyse it like this:

Reveal: The Invisible War

The Invisible War came into an issue space with almost no credible opposition possible. Nobody is in support of rape in the military. And beyond the victims themselves, the issue was almost completely unknown in the wider public. The Invisible War was able to reveal the truth in a way that it could no longer be ignored. Very strong facts – such as that 1 in 4 female soldiers are sexually assaulted by their own colleagues. Facts which would resonate deeply and all the way up the command structure of the US military.

Another example is Blackfish.

Spotlight: Bully

Bully by contrast came into a space where the issue has been on the radar since formal education began – but that itself was the problem. Ingrained belief that bullying is a matter of 'kids will be kids' has allowed the issue to embed and become normalised: a tragically inappropriate mindset that Bully was able to spotlight in the US public eye and force people to confront. This bold approach tried to create a cultural moment across a whole nation, to unite and rally a movement of kids and teachers in every city and in every state.

Another example is Bag It or The House I Live In.

Humanise: Budrus

The Israel-Palestine conflict could not be better known but unlike bullying, the barriers to genuine progress run far deeper than a need for a shift in attitudes. People's minds are often made up and their positions supported by intransigent community leaders, press and lobbyists. But Budrus has been able to achieve something by humanising the issue. There are no new facts, research or and data with such an approach – simply people and story – helping to shift the dialogue.

Another example is Marc Silver's Who Is Dayani Cristal?

Investigate: Gasland

Gasland explained the new technology of fracking to the American public and urged citizens to use the law to oppose it coming to their communities. Because the filmmakers were taking on a powerful industry - oil and gas - they had to expect strong opposition and they would be face counter-claims of their depiction of the negative environmental effects. So their challenge was to investigate and prove their case.

Another example is No Fire Zone.

What does this mean for you? As a very simple first exercise think about which impact films do you most admire and where would you place them on this axis?

Now, thinking about your current project:

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