The making of this film provides a case study of a rather unusual collaboration. Increasingly, it is rare to find undergraduate students and academic staff working together on research. Although there are many excellent examples of institutional provision and support for undergraduate research (for example the Undergraduate Research Scholarship Schemes at The University of Warwick and Oxford Brookes University, and other similar projects elsewhere), the working relationship between students and academics normally involves the staff taking a supervisory role and the students learning from the academic's expertise. The Reinvention Centre has tried to develop alternative models of collaboration through the provision of a Collaboration Fund at Warwick University and by carrying out actual projects ourselves. Examples include the first documentary film, Universities PLC?; a collaborative inter-disciplinary project carried out in 2006/07 on Gender Transformations in Higher Education and ongoing research such as Reinventing Spaces and Spaces and Stories of Higher Education: a Historical Investigation.
Whilst we would not be naive enough to suggest that the staff and students involved in this film were all made 'equal' by the process, we worked hard to organise the planning and making of the film in democratic ways and were conscious of the different skills and knowledges which we all had to offer. We all began as relative novices, which meant that we all had a lot to learn.
This collaboration did not just involve academic staff and students but also administrative staff. Whilst people took on different roles and responsibilites as the film progressed, everybody had input into the film's intellectual story, its themes and concerns.
We began by recruiting students from within Sociology (and a Politics student also helped out for a while). Here is the original advert.
Once we had a group of interested students (some people dropped in and out of the process - others - the named film team - worked on it throughout) we began by meeting every week for discussion and planning. We would take it in turns to take minutes of the meetings and circulate these around to everyone via email. We would use these meetings to share ideas and to present research findings back to the whole group, so that the ongoing data collection informed the story. Some examples of these minutes, task lists and lists of resources are shown below. You will see that some of the early ideas came to fruition, and others did not!
The making of a story
The decision to focus on work was taken early on in the process, as it reflected the key concerns of the Reinvention Centre. However this was a potentially huge topic and so it took some time to focus the story. Tosin and Mike worked together on a number of iterations of the script, which changed shape according to the research others were doing. A lot of things got left out in the final script and the final edit. Much of the wider contextual research - for example the studies of student protest and activism in 1968 which Chernise carried out - did not get used in the final story. The direction of the film narrowed in the final stages to the localised context of the relationship between university and the paid labour market.
The research involved the following methods:
- Archival research, collecting text and images. This was done mainly at the University of Warwick's Modern Records Centre and the Trade Union Archives. There were many copyright issues to overcome in relation to the use of some of this material.
- Policy research, gethering statistical data and examining relevant policy reports in relation to education and employment. The reports which we used in the final version are listed in the Literature and Resources section.
- The reading, discussion and analysis of relevant theoretical literature (see Literature and Resources)
- Filmed interviews with experts
- Vox-Pop style interviews with individuals and groups of students at the Universities of Oxford Brookes and Warwick.
Filming and Interviewing
We needed as many accounts as possible from students and academics about the topic at stake - working and studying in Higher Education. Gaining the vox pop style interviews was quite a new experience for the researchers: Chernise talks about this in the film. They also required particular camera skills, and team work was crucial: these are not the sort of interviews you can do alone!
We also planned and carried out in-depth, semi-structured interviews with academics, university administrative officers, and people working within the media, about their views on current student life, the difficulties and challenges that students may face. Again, these interviews required team work in order to capture the image and sound as well as to carry out the interviews. This aspect of the research took members of the film team far and wide, visiting interviewees at their homes and places of work.
As well as the intellectual challenges of preparing interview questions and carrying out useful and ethically informed interviews with repsondents, this aspect of the research was challenging from a practical and administrative point of view. Often a lot of negotiation and planning went in to setting up the interview, and planning was required in order to get all the right people and equipment together in the right places! In some places, we had to get special permission to film. It was a steep learning curve, and of course, we were learning a lot 'on the job'.
Editing, Voice Over, Logo and Music
Producing a film requires a lot of things. People who know how to film, people who know how to edit, people who know how to do logos, people who know how to do music. We have already introduced you to our film team. Here we would like to say more about all the people who provided us with their work and skills and finally gave us sound and vision. We did some of the basic editing ourselves, and all learnt (after a fashion) how to use Final Cut. All the tapes of footage needed to be transferred safely to the computer. For the more complex and final editing, we relied on the help of Mark Scriven from Moonstorm Productions, who had helped us with the initial camera training, and Anne Fogan and Nick Walker from Talking Birds, a site-specific theatre company based in Coventry, who took our final script and our lists of which footage went where.
The logo was designed by Ross Clinch, a student, and went through several design stages until the film team finally decided on its current logo.
The voice over was read by Laura at Talking Birds' studio in Coventry in the very final stages, and as there were too many words in some places, she had to make some quick decisions!
As for the music, the film team had learned from the difficulties with copyright issues from the previous film Universities PLC? and aimed to find a band or a single musician who would exclusively produce the music for the film. Discussions and ideas about the potential film music and its style accompanied us for the whole three years of producing the film. Early ideas centred around Chinese industrial jazz. Later, the film team sent out a call for young student bands on Facebook who would be interested in producing the music. We wanted to have music which expressed the strains of the working world in all its facets whilst at the same time matching the flow of the film. Finally, these ideas were put into practice by Daniel Gutierrez Rivera, a postgraduate student at Warwick University, who produced and recorded a few piano themes for our film.
The various components of the film did not all come together until the very final stages. We all had to use our imaginations a lot before then if we wanted to see how the final thing might look, sound and feel. There were times when we thought we might never finish, especially when we needed to film more scenes and background material in order to bring the script alive.
Film team discussing the logo and script
Visiting The Square in London for interviews
Lucy and Marcus setting up camera and microphone for an interview
Elisabeth and Katy after having interviewed Polly Toynbee
Marcus and Lucy filming
Daniel Gutierrez Rivera composing