29 Mar Fresh Eyes on Difficult Subjects
I recently made a short film called ‘Stronger’ about author Madeleine Black’s experience of being raped at 13 years old and the impact that it had on her throughout her life.
This film is the first in a series of short films that I am making about the challenges some people face and how they become stronger either because of an experience, or regardless of the experience. I don’t intend for all future films to deal with such difficult and challenging subjects but the opportunity presented itself and I grabbed it with both hands. Madeleine changed her life around from hating those two young men to forgiving them and it set her free.
As a filmmaker, one of my passions is highlighting how empowering embracing change can be for people who feel that they are stuck looking at the world through narrow perspectives. I love the narrative that most of my films embrace, which, in general, is that through taking control of your own life, by changing your perspective, by being proactive and taking care of yourself, especially when faced with painful experiences, you can have a better life. You don’t need to be trapped in the past.
I have made films in the past about suicide, being bereaved by suicide, self-harm, stress management, childhood sexual abuse, LGBT issues, the challenges facing the BME community in Scotland and homelessness and I’ve found each of those films challenging in their own ways. But I’d do them all again in a heartbeat. Because they made a huge difference to the lives of the people involved and to those who viewed the films. The films made a huge difference to me too in two different ways: I was inspired to deal more effectively with my own difficult life issues (we all have them!) and I now appreciate every day of my life because I know how difficult some people’s lives can be and I am grateful for my own life.
One of the most important life lessons that I’ve learned over the last 15 years as a filmmaker, as a storyteller, is that everything changes, nothing stays the same. No matter wether you want it to or not. Life moves on and by doing so it presents us with an opportunity, every time.
This series of films is a personal project that I will be working on for the next 3 years to create 13 short films, ranging from 5 – 20 minutes long, with the goal of sharing them on facebook, linkedin, youtube, twitter, etc. I want to make films that are about people who embrace change in a positive way and make a real difference to their lives and to the lives of people around them. I want to share diverse and engaging stories of ordinary and extra-ordinary folk who live within our communities, who have the courage to change their lives for the better.
I want to make films that inspire people to value themselves and their communities as much as they value their friends and family. These films will tackle a wide range of different challenging subjects with the emphasis on individuals sharing their own story, in their own words in a clear and accessible way.
I simply want to do something I am passionate about, which is to make films that might otherwise not get made because of lack of funding, or because they might be difficult or unusual subjects to support or to understand. For so long I have thought about making these new kinds of films, but I’ve hesitated because of lack of time, lack of support, lack of money and because I have been focused on attracting a different kind of work opportunities, which hasn’t truly been aligned with who I am. Also, for a long time, I haven’t valued my own voice, my opinion.
I will look for funding, collaborators and try to get the films seen and shared by as many people as possible, which is sometimes the hardest part because identifying and connecting with an audience is not always as straight forward as you might think.
I recently took time out this year to reassess where I am going, as an individual and where I want thirteensquared to go, as a business. While editing ‘Stronger’ in downtime over Christmas and New Year, I suddenly realised two things: this film was very powerful and Madeleine Black has a very strong and individual voice and she is doing everything possible to get her message out. Because she wants to be heard and more importantly, she wants people in a similar situation to her to hear her words and to inspire them change their own lives.
When I first heard about Madeleine’s story, I approached her about making the film. We interviewed Madeleine for almost an hour and a half and I was knocked out by her honesty and her compassion. What most impressed me was her openness and lack or embarrassment and shame when she was talking about being raped. It suddenly made me realise that, even just listening to her experience of being raped, I felt fleetingly embarrassed and a bit shameful, unsure how to respond or even how I could acknowledge what had happened to her. I was confused – was I embarrassed about what had happened to her or was I embarrassed that rape happens in our society and that we don’t talk about it? How come we live in a society where that is possible? As Madeleine says, “The shame isn’t on me. The shame is on the men who did that”.
It was then that I realised what I wanted to do with this film as a filmmaker: I wanted to get her message across as effectively as I could so that I could help tackle the stigma that rape victims felt.
After the interview, when I knew what the film was going to be, I started making the visuals for the film. Madeleine is a really active and bubbly person and I filmed her at the gym, lifting all these amazing weights with a real fire in her belly! She also invited me to her home for a large family dinner and I got some absolutely lovely visuals of her engaging with her mother, her daughters and her husband.
I went back into the editing suite and hit a brick wall as I tried to align the visuals with the heartfelt words she was sharing. It just wasn’t working. The visuals were distracting from her message and after trying several different attempts to make it work, I realised that the film worked best when stripped down to its core, when I embraced it in its simplest form – one person talking to another, sharing an inspiring story.
Madeleine’s film has been watched 1553 times, in less than a month, which, given the difficult subject matter and the fact that it’s 16 minutes long, is amazing.
That was a fantastic lesson for me, as a storyteller, because it made me realise, once again, that there are so many different ways to tell a story. It reminded me that I needed to consider all possibilities, when filming and editing. I usually place a lot of emphasis on creating beautiful, engaging visuals to add depth to the story, to show the viewer a deeper picture of what is being said, and sometimes doing it to make the story either more inclusive i.e. identifiable locations that viewers can connect to, or to soften the impact of difficult stories or concepts.
Additional visuals can be representative of what is being spoken about or metaphors for what isn’t being spoken about directly or they can simply make the film look better. Coming from a fine art background, I always want to make my films and photographs look the best they can possibly be. And sometimes this can be a weakness rather than a strength. I had to step back and ask myself ‘Is this the most effective way to get this message across?”
Taking time out this year has been hugely beneficial for me as a filmmaker and as a storyteller as I’ve stepped off the treadmill, I’ve looked at what other people are doing, sometimes in totally different fields, and I’ve got excited about what I saw. I’ve watched other people explore their passions and I’ve asked myself “what really gets me excited”?
I’ve also watched people collaborate in new and exciting ways and I’ve met people that really inspire me. I’ve listened, with a smile on my face. I watched lot of short films and I’ve fell in love all over again with the power of storytelling, of individual voices, individual stories, especially when they come together to collaborate in potent ways. And that’s the way I am moving forward, both personally and professionally.
As a result, thirteensquared is going in a new direction this year. We are going to make work which is clearer, more defined, more meaningful and far more collaborative. We are focusing on charities, social enterprises and the 3rd Sector. We are looking at the world around us with fresh eyes and we are going to do good things, make ambitious films that make a difference to people’s lives, and embrace change.
Madeleine Black’s book ‘Unbroken’ will be published on 4th April 2017.
About thirteensquared: We are an ethical digital video production company in Glasgow and throughout Scotland. Videographer Glasgow. Digital Storytelling at its best. Professional, creative, innovative video production company in Glasgow, Scotland. Our strengths are imaginative storytelling, high quality Corporate, Public sector, Charity and 3rd Sector character driven narratives. We use new technologies, timelapse, drone and aerial filming, inventive compositions to tell your story in the best possible way.