NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Community Voices

By Dr Tom Young — While often Screen Production students aspire to work in the film and television industry; community and corporate video production provides an opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge. Many recognised filmmakers, including Flinders University alumni Scott Hicks, worked their way up through government, corporate and community video production.

The Community Voices Program is an ongoing collaboration between the Flinders University Department of Screen and Media and the State Government Office for Volunteers, who funds production and video advertising costs. It inspires students to produce online video ads and short documentaries that promote, celebrate and recruit volunteers in South Australia. The ten volunteer organisations which are selected annually to participate use these videos to promote their organisation, fundraise, attract volunteers and raise general awareness about the work they do in the wider community.

The program is taught as two 3rd year topics in the Bachelor of Creative Arts (Screen). The first semester topic focuses on online video ads and the second concentrates on short documentary production. Students work independently with real-life clients to deliver videos that are exhibited and distributed widely.

For most students the Community Voices Program is the first time they will work with a client, and it is also the first time many clients are involved in a video production. As the program coordinator and lecturer I have developed a number of ways to ease students and clients into this video production environment. Before the start of each semester the client induction covers the history of the program, aims and objectives, the production process and strategies for working with students. In the first week of the semester students receive similar information as well as advice for working with clients. In week two, students and clients are introduced and from this point I encourage both parties to work together independently of me.

To mirror commercial expectations, students are required early on to become accountable and take ownership of their project. They work with the client to script, storyboard, location scout, schedule, film, edit and deliver the production. Students also meet outside of class to develop, film and edit the videos.  I encourage and empower the students to make the significant decisions that affect the outcome of the project. Mentorship and guidance is often required as the students struggle to interpret the client brief while having to justify their own creativity. Intervention is rarely required but both students and clients appreciate this safety net while having the autonomy to work independently.

I aim to prepare students to work collaboratively. Similar to many work environments I do not allow students to pick their colleagues so every student works in an entirely new group each semester. This may create friction between different types of people, but can lead to greater diversity in the overall creative process. To ensure a successful program for all students I take the time to address every concern, discuss possible solutions and review the situation at a later date. Ultimately I teach that working collaboratively and problem solving are paramount to a successful video project.

2016 is the tenth year the program has run and, by the end of the year, Screen Production students, in partnership with volunteer organisations, will have produced 100 videos. Since commencement more than 200 students have participated in the program.

The Community Voices Program is a win-win for everyone. Students are provided with industrial training while still at university, and with these skills, graduates are capable of finding employment or becoming self-employed. The volunteer organisations each receive a video, which often they could not afford otherwise, and the videos produced help these organisations to better serve our community.

Every video produced, as part of the Community Voices Program, is available online through the YouTube channel: CommunityVoicesSA

Dr Tom Young is a university lecturer and film producer. Tom has extensive experience in short drama, documentary and television commercial production. In 2013 Tom completed his first feature film, Double Happiness Uranium. Tom recently completed a PhD looking at innovative approaches to producing low budget feature films. As a university lecturer Tom runs the Community Voices program, in which students produce online video ads and short documentaries for volunteer organisations in South Australia. Currently Tom heads up Flinders Creations, a video production company serving the education, government and community sectors.

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