In association with the Film and TV Charity, We Are Parable developed Momentum, a three step approach to helping Black filmmakers get their work seen whilst simultaneously supporting them with mentoring and the ability to navigate their mental health through a challenging industry. We spoke to We Are Parable co-founder Anthony about the initiative, its impact and scaling it up.
How did Momentum come about?
During last year, during the height of the pandemic, and seeing the death of George Floyd spark Black Lives Matter protests around the world, was the moment that led to a bit of a reckoning in terms of the fault lines in our society and systemic racism that occurs throughout. Across different industries, across the country, across the world, I think it really made us think and look at our industry.
At the same time, the Film and TV Charity did a lot of work looking at that disparity and found that 3% of all jobs within film and TV were occupied by Black, Asian and other ethnic groups, which is a ridiculously low number. Coupled with that, prior to us getting involved in Momentum, we looked at the confidence of Black audiences returning to cinemas at the time. We did that around May/June of last year, and saw that Black people were four times more likely to die from Coronavirus. So we wanted to ask organisations and institutions, what was being done to make sure that these audiences felt safe when cinemas reopened? Then we found out that not much was happening. So again, we thought we had a responsibility to communicate to our audience, and find out why audiences weren’t confident going back to cinemas.
Why does the programme matter?
Using results from that survey, we then start thinking about filmmakers and the mental health issues and challenges that they might have – the challenges of getting their work seen, the chances of getting meetings with the right people to get their work made.
We just felt that we had benefited so much from this industry with where we are, in the position that we’ve occupied in this space, and we thought there was an ability to help filmmakers.
How did the programme work?
We thought of an idea of supporting filmmakers across three different pillars.
The first one was around mental health. We partnered with a psychological therapist, to create a series of closed zoom sessions, where psychological therapists would host a 90 minute session with 10 filmmakers – talking through some of the best practice mental health, mental wellness approaches that they could take to help them navigate, not only a global pandemic, but the challenges they face in the industry.
The second pillar was using our reputation, and the relationships that we had built with distributors and studios to find mentors, who could mentor emerging filmmakers. So initially, we were down to help 10 filmmakers, we had 10 mentors and then as word got out about us doing this programme, we found another 10 mentors, and we were able to offer the programme to 21 filmmakers in the end. It was an eight week programme, where mentors would meet with their mentees once a week for eight sessions between November and January. And they talked about some of the challenges they were facing, some of the things that we don’t know about the industry. For example. the sales market, and how to distribute a film – like PR and finance, that just gave them a better footing within the industry.
The third and final pillar was working with Rich Mix Cinema to create online screenings for free for emerging filmmakers – to not only screen their work, but also contextualise their work in the Q&A.
We put that together, as one package. We had three different films and three filmmakers talk about their work. It was just a really nice way to show them that we cared about these emerging filmmakers, and that we want to support them.
What we are trying to do now is to stay in contact with the filmmakers – we’re having a meet up in the next couple of weeks where things open properly, just to really see how they’re getting on. And as we move forward into 2021, we want to introduce a new cohort to the Momentum scheme, hopefully scaling up and offering it nationwide to filmmakers.
Was there anything in the survey or even while delivering the programme, that surprised you?
I was expecting some level of engagement from the filmmaking community, but in terms of how much it was shared, in terms of how big the project ended up being, that really surprised me. I just didn’t think there was going to be as much take up as there was. We only designed the project to help 10 filmmakers, and we had twice as many in the end. I think we had over 100 applicants for 10 spaces to begin with. The level of demand really, really surprised us. What was also interesting was the willingness of studios to get involved. They were showing a real willingness to help filmmakers continue conversations with them even after the Momentum project finished. Park Circus are showcasing some of the filmmakers that they mentored, and offering them opportunities.
What was the regional reach like?
It was mainly in London, and again, mainly because of resources. We had a small budget to work with. We’ve recently partnered with Channel 4 to promote their Black to Front Campaign, which is essentially a takeover of all Channel 4 programmes. That is going to be Black talent in front of and behind the screen. We’ve already had around 10,000 applicants and as we’re doing this, Who We Are is a nationwide project, we’re going to be speaking to a lot of regions all over the UK. What we want to do with Momentum is to really try and capitalise on the fact that we’re going to be in different regions, and communicate what we did in London, and try and extrapolate that to the rest of the UK. That’s the next level growth for the projects.
When it comes to a new initiative, and mental health, how do you measure the impact a programme like Momentum has?
We conducted a lot of qualitative surveys. What we tried to do was look at how people were feeling prior to them going through those sessions and how they felt afterwards. It’s not as empirical as perhaps what we would like it to be – it’s something we can try and bake into the next iteration of projects. But I think what we tried to do is just look at attitudinal ideas about how people were feeling, and how much the project helps. We gave people the opportunity to write their feelings down, and tell us how they were. We’ve got a few testimonials from people who were part of the mentoring scheme, which tell us that they didn’t know much about how to market their films, or how to finance their films, but they now have that knowledge and are able to go forward.
As we start to scale up the project, we want to introduce some robust measuring methods so we can see where a Black filmmaker is now and where they are after they’ve gone through the Momentum process. It’s worth saying, the project was only three months long. We’re trying eventually to maybe have a six-nine month incubation period with a cohort of filmmakers that we can really start to see how they develop within the industry.
Do you feel like it’s important to have lived experience when you deliver something like this?
Yeah, I do think it’s massively important. I feel like, as a Black person living in this country at that time, it felt like, so many pressures on you at one particular time, it felt like everything has just been exposed at one time. Because we were going through a global pandemic, it was hard to create, it was hard to find inspiration, and to look for your fellow filmmaker, to give you that boost that you might need. Trying to create a community in that time, was really important. The only way that we were able to create is to speak to our wider community and make sure that we were connected with people. So I think understanding how we all felt as Black people and understanding that we could do something to help was massively important, because what I don’t want Momentum to just be is a box ticking exercise, it came out of a place of pain of seeing a Black man having a knee on his neck for nine minutes, it came from a point of seeing Black people being four times more likely to die from Coronavirus than white people, it came from a place of seeing structural racism being laid bare, it comes from a place of seeing a government completely deny institutional racism, so it comes from all these places. I feel the anger and I felt a responsibility to try and help filmmakers and support them getting their dreams out. I don’t think I’m ever going to be a filmmaker but what I’d love to do is help facilitate that process because I love watching films, I love exhibiting films, I love bringing films to new audiences. And I think the only way that if we go back further through that process, the only way that we continue that pipeline of new films and new artists coming through is by giving them the tools they need to take that step in their career. And I think that is what Momentum does.
Momentum was delivered during a pandemic, what obstacles and opportunities do you think that offered?
I think the main obstacle was that we couldn’t meet, we still haven’t met half of the mentees and the people who were involved with Momentum, and sometimes some things can get lost in translation when you’re doing it over Zoom. So that was a little bit difficult, especially with the first 30 minutes of the mental health sessions – they are always going to be a bit tricky. The psychological therapists were saying: “Okay, well, what you think about this?” and people were still quite reluctant to share their thoughts. That was an obstacle that we eventually got over. Having that real world, tactile experience was missing which became quite difficult when it came to conversations like that.
The opportunities were that we were able to reach a number of mentors, who were happy to give up a couple of hours a week to mentor more filmmakers than we had initially aimed for. We were able to speak to the VP of paramount, who is an extremely busy person, but he gave up his Wednesday evening to talk to our mentors for like two and a half hours about his experiences in the industry and answered some really intensely detailed questions about the industry. You would struggle to get that that level of commitment from him in normal times. So I think that opportunity was something that we really capitalised on – and that the filmmakers got a lot from.
Were there things that you felt like you couldn’t deliver, and had to get help to deliver in the programme?
We always knew we wanted there to be a mental health component, so we really wanted to collaborate with an organisation who were doing great work. We went to Inside Out, we spoke to the psychological therapist, who runs that organisation, and we explained what we wanted those sessions to be. And essentially, we try to say that with the filmmakers – they might be feeling a sense of rejection, dejection, and that the whole film industry is shut down. They might have to start exploring a completely different career, and who knows when they can go back. So there’s that, it’s that fear of the future. There’s so many specific feelings when it comes to filmmakers, and the experience that they were having at that time. So we explained all of that to the psychological therapist, and she was able to go away, and create the session, the 90 minute session, which really enabled her to talk about those specific things, and offer a platform for filmmakers to come back and respond to her about how they were feeling – and she was able to build from there. That was really important for us to communicate exactly what we felt was important for filmmakers to cover in their sessions.
Do you have a specific example of an outcome that you enjoyed seeing?
The ongoing relationships that a lot of the mentors are having with the mentees. I just got off a call with someone from Altitude actually, and she’s still very much in contact with the mentees, which is great. The project finished four months ago, and they’re still in conversation, still getting advice, I think she’s connecting them with other people in the industry, who could help them in their further endeavours. Just having the access to people who perhaps they might have struggled to get access to, and continuing that relationship and building those networks is something that I’m super proud of and that we’ve been able to make happen – that’s certainly a source of pride. That’s why we want to stay close to our cohort of people who went through that process, because we want to see what they do – not only do we want to see what they do, but we want to see how else we can help them.
And what do you need to deliver this again and to scale up?
We do need resources to to scale this up. That’s something that I’m currently speaking to a number of organisations about. I would love for an organisation in film or TV to be a main sponsor partner of Momentum moving forward, so we can go out and really start to help filmmakers, writers, producers, directors, because I feel like there is so much demand for it. I think we’ve shown a proof of concept in the small test run that we did in 2020 and what we are looking to do now is to scale up considerably. In order to do that, I think we need a partner who can offer us the resources, and potentially offer us mentors, who can have the name of a channel, for example BBC, Channel 4 or ITV, who can really add that that level of kudos that can attract a really wide cohort of Black filmmakers across the UK.
What would you do differently?
I think I would probably make the application slightly more detailed. What we did was just say: “Tell us in the 100 words why you would like to be included in this scheme.” What we needed to be is a little bit more categorical in the sense of saying: “Do you need help in these areas?” and then maybe have another section so they could talk about those areas. Then I think what we could do is better link them with mentees that were mentors that we had, because I think sometimes the mentee, felt that the mentor couldn’t really help them in the issue that they had. What was nice is that the mentor knew someone that could help. If we could be a bit more detailed in terms of how people applied for the role, we would be better able to match people with mentors more effectively.