Storytelling with a Social Conscience

New initiative to offer hands-on industry experience in impact producing

Film Victoria has teamed up with GoodThing Productions to create a brand new initiative – the Impact Producer Placement – offering hands-on industry experience in impact producing with the AACTA Award-winning team behind That Sugar Film.

This role is believed to be Australia’s first state screen agency-supported placement created specifically to build expertise in impact producing across a diverse slate of projects. With applications now open, we chat with Anna Kaplan, who will oversee the placement, to get the lowdown on what impact producing is and why it’s gaining momentum worldwide. Anna tells us what motivated GoodThing to create this placement, shares what they’re looking for in a candidate, and reveals more about the four exciting projects the successful practitioner will be working on.

 Impact producing is a growing area, can you tell us a bit about it and why you think it’s increasing in popularity now?  

Impact campaigns are highly customised strategic plans that use the film as the catalyst to drive social change by encouraging, influencing and stimulating personal and societal shifts. The impact producer works closely with the key creative team to devise the impact strategy, fundraise for the campaign work, produce the campaign tools, secure key partners, execute or oversee the execution of the campaign, manage stakeholder relationships, evaluate the campaign and communicate the outcomes.

Until quite recently, the producer or director, often working with little or no additional resources, usually fulfilled this role. However, the success of numerous high-profile impact films in the past decade, coupled with the emergence of Good Pitch and the Documentary Australia Foundation, has put a spotlight on impact producing, helping filmmakers build coalitions of partners around their films and raise funding from outside the screen industry, often via philanthropy, to power their impact work. As a result, we are now seeing the emergence of specialist impact producers employed by filmmakers to develop and/or implement these impact campaigns.

How did you get into impact producing and what have been some of the highlights?

Like many other producers of social issue documentaries, I’ve been impact producing for my whole producing career. I just didn’t use the same terminology we use now and did it with significantly fewer resources than the campaigns I’ve worked on more recently.

Highlights include the campaigns for That Sugar Film and The Hunting Ground Australia Project, both of which catalysed national conversations, shifted community attitudes, changed behaviour and paved the way for policy shifts and increased funding for services. Another would be the avalanche of positive emails, messages and comments we received from audience members telling us that seeing That Sugar Film and engaging with our campaign had allowed them to take control of their sugar intake and changed their lives for the better.

What makes the Impact Producer Placement with GoodThing Productions unique? Are there others like it?

This placement is timed to span the release and first six months of our 2040 impact campaign roll-out, so this role will be a deep dive into campaign implementation as we ramp up in the lead up to the local and international release. In the latter half of the placement, the role will expand to campaign development for The Australian Dream and two other earlier stage projects.

I’m not aware of any other paid company placements created to build expertise in impact producing across a diverse slate of projects, so it’s terrific that Film Victoria sees value in building more capacity by partnering with us to offer this unique opportunity for on the job training.

What attracted GoodThing Productions to the idea of offering a placement opportunity, through Film Victoria? And why did you decide on the Impact Producer Placement in particular?

The motivation to get this placement up was twofold – increasing capacity within the company as we ramp up a large campaign, whilst also increasing the pool of experienced Victorian impact producers.

We approached Film Victoria to propose the placement because the agency had already been proactive in addressing the skills gap by funding the DAF StoryWorks program earlier this year. I also knew they were aware that Victorian documentary filmmakers are struggling to find experienced local impact producers to bring on to their projects, so we were able to build a pretty compelling case that the placement would benefit a growing Victorian screen business, while also creating employment opportunities for the successful applicant and building local capacity for this work.

Who should apply for this opportunity and what are you looking for in a candidate?

We’re looking for candidates who have a passion for documentary storytelling and social justice. They might have a background in documentary filmmaking or have worked in a distribution, exhibition or festival environment. They need to be a tenacious self-starter and a relationship builder who can balance the big picture with nitty-gritty campaign execution. They will be highly organised, process oriented, tech savvy and quick to learn. They communicate clearly in a professional manner, have strong writing skills and can distill information. They should be a rigorous researcher with an eye for detail and hold themselves to high standards of work. And they need to be comfortable juggling numerous tasks and navigating competing priorities. Other qualities we’re looking for are aligned values, a commitment to collaboration and a passion for driving social change through film and art.

What can the successful candidate expect from the placement and what will GoodThing Productions gain from this?

They can expect to work in a fast paced, dynamic environment alongside industry professionals who are committed to excellence, love doing purposeful work and enjoy developing and supporting emerging talent. They’ll be working in a small team and will get exposure to the whole spectrum of impact producing, so they should expect the work to be a mix of the inevitable quite mundane administrative tasks as well as more exciting, challenging work. This includes producing content, project managing, working strategically with partners on screening events and campaign activities, through to interfacing with audiences, spokespeople and advocates.

By offering this placement, GoodThing hopes to develop a long term working relationship with a practitioner committed to building a career in impact producing who brings skills, insights and perspectives that complement those of our existing team. We’d love to see lots of diversity in the applications and encourage practitioners from underrepresented and minority communities to apply.

Tell us about the four documentaries the Impact Producer Placement appointee will be working on. What are the key topics, themes or inspiration behind them?

2040 is a hybrid feature documentary that looks to the future, but is vitally important now. It explores what the future would look like by 2040 if we simply embraced the best solutions already available to us to improve our planet and shifted these solutions into the mainstream. It’s a positive, aspirational film that presents an alternative narrative for humanity and our planet.

The Australian Dream is a theatrical documentary that uses the remarkable and inspirational story of AFL legend Adam Goodes as the prism through which to tell a deeper and more powerful story about race, identity and belonging.

Like My Brother is a feature documentary about ordinary girls with extraordinary talent on a quest to play footy for real. Our Safe Haven tells the story of Kosovar refugees sent to Australia in 1999, seen through the eyes of those who worked with them.

You worked with Damon Gameau on That Sugar Film, which was heavily impact-driven, educating people on the effects of a high sugar diet on a healthy body. What was your measure of success in terms of impact both within Australia and abroad, and what learnings from that film are you bringing to your four new documentary projects?

There are many metrics that you can measure success by and That Sugar Film hit the sweet spot of commercial success and achieving our main impact goal of changing people’s relationship with sugar. The entertaining stylistic approach spoke to a mainstream audience of kids and adults alike, which helped the film break out and kept it on cinema screens for months. During the theatrical window, we had extensive coverage across every major Australian media outlet and key international ones, which sparked a broad national conversation about the impact of sugar on our health and wellbeing.

Another key goal was to take the film into schools and local communities, particularly in regional areas. The tools and resources we created to support audiences to change their dietary habits have been widely shared and adopted in several settings. We’ve seen an impact in a broad range of community groups including in schools, universities, hospitals, medical and dental practices, sport and recreation facilities, youth services, arts centres, community halls and libraries, prisons, churches, conference centers, mining camps, health retreats and corporate offices.

On the policy front, we rallied our community to amplify existing campaigns for changes to school canteen guidelines and tighter regulations for marketing junk food to kids. In the UK, a parliamentary screening and Q&A with Damon helped pave the way for Jamie Oliver’s successful campaign for a Sugar Tax. And following our New Zealand parliamentary screening, the Health Ministry imposed a blanket ban on the sale of soft drinks in public hospitals across all 21 District Health Boards, both of which were terrific campaign outcomes.

The other really pleasing aspect of the That Sugar Film campaign is the longevity. More than three years on from the initial theatrical post-release, our team of 30 Ambassadors across Australia and New Zealand continue to spread the message deeper into their local communities, working with the public, with schools, special interest groups and businesses to change our relationship with sugar.

While every film campaign is different because it has to be tailored to the film, the issues being addressed and the available resources, the work we did on That Sugar Film has informed every campaign I’ve worked on since. With 2040, we’re really upping the ante and building our global partnerships much earlier on this time around. We’ve learnt that we don’t have to try to do everything ourselves, so a big focus with the new projects is collaboration with key players in the existing social movements that are already addressing the issues the films are exploring.

Social media is a great tool with helping to achieve awareness and engagement with issues. How important is social media in your overall impact strategy, and how do you work with the film director to identify social media opportunities?

Social media is a blessing and a curse. It’s amazing to interact with your audience in real time and the instant feedback loop allows you to test, calibrate, rework and pivot your ideas. But it’s also a huge undertaking and requires significant resources to keep generating content and moderating your channels. Damon was very hands-on with That Sugar Film’s social media comms and it can be incredibly draining. We definitely learnt that it’s worth investing in recruiting and training a team of community moderators, so that the director and impact producer only step in to manage tricky situations.

The other issue, particularly with Facebook, is the goal posts keep moving as algorithms get tweaked to prioritise different kinds of content or pages. If you have the resources to do so, it’s much better to engage a social media strategist who is on top of these changes and knows how to work them, who can also plan out a content strategy that can be supplemented and tweaked as required.

What are the challenges of impact producing and where do you see it heading in the future?

Being under resourced, under time pressure and managing relationships with numerous stakeholders with differing agendas and expectations. We’re often trying to do way too much with not enough time, money or staff to achieve the best possible outcomes - just like producers, we’re expected to do more with less!

As for where it’s heading, I’m optimistic that the screen industry and philanthropic sector will continue to recognise and value this work, as well as the impact producer role, because it ultimately helps films reach the audiences that need to see them; it fosters cross-sector collaboration and it’s a model that’s been proven to work across a range of issues areas.

The deadline for the Impact Producer Placement with GoodThing Productions is 22 October. Follow the link to find out more and to apply.

Image: Anna Kaplan, GoodThing Productions.

Published 12 October, 2018