Listen to Us: Black Survivors in the Mental Health Care System

In few days the Black History Month will finish and Spectacle is contributing to this important event by republishing an old and powerful documentary about institutionalized racism in mental health care. The documentary “Listen to Us: Black Survivors of the Mental Health Care System“, collects experiences of mental illness and the impact of institutional treatment on black people’s lives.

The trailer:

Unfortunately the experience of unlawful detention in mental health care institutions and the effects of the stereotype of being “black and dangerous” is still relevant today. We hope this document from the ’90, will raise awareness and contribute to make mental health care better.

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Listen to Us: Black Survivors of the Mental Health Care System

This powerful and emotionally distressing documentary tells the story of black former mental health patients caught up in a psychiatric system reputed to be institutionally racist. These black patients became increasingly vulnerable to unlawful treatment and discrimination once The Mental Health Act (1983) permitted patients to be detained against their will.

These brave survivors speak out about their personal experiences and describe what it means to be black and mentally ill. You get the feeling that these people were misunderstood, misdiagnosed and racially stereotyped as “black and dangerous”. Furthermore, the disturbingly low lack of patient support for black patients also denied them the comfort and security of which they were entitled.

Their stories examine the harsher side of a typical mental health institution, in relation to the measures of control used upon patients. This includes factors concerning higher doses of medication, seclusion, control, and constraint.

In this documentary, former patients speak out about their life before, during, and after their incarceration. You follow them through their journeys of confusion and turmoil. Firstly, their struggles to understand their illnesses, and how they cope with the side effects of medication. Then secondly, their attempt to rebuild their lives and overcome their dreadful experiences that they suffered.

Listen to Us, filmed in the late 90s is an insightful and important viewing, and its a topic still widely relevant today. Little has changed within the last decade which indicates that the problem hasn’t gone away. However in spite of this, treatment received by various black ethnicities is continually less widely reported.

Statistically black people are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health problem, and are three to five times more likely to be diagnosed or admitted to hospital for schizophrenia than any other group. Also when it comes the populations of prisons and secure units, black people are again over-represented.

There is still a way to go before this group can get the support and understanding they need to secure successful treatment. This documentary highlights these points and demonstrates that their voices still need to be heard, as the title Listen to Us indicates.

Rent or buy the full film on our Vimeo on Demand page

Buy Listen to Us on DVD click here

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Commissioning Poverty and Creative Authorship

Poverty in the Media – Commissioning Priorities

Poverty is a problem faced by both individuals and society.

Societies commentators are an exclusive group, selected via a hierarchy and instated within a system, how representative can their voice be of the individuals who, because of the restrictions of their experience, do not rise through this?

The stories that find there way into the mass media produce a profound impact on the public subconscious; all mediated by the editorial chain, with whom the conditions are set and must be met to be accepted. The commissioning editors of both BBC and Channel 4 documentaries present similar priorities in their commissioning guidelines: Their requests come in loaded language – requesting proposals to match.

Hamish Mykura, Head of Documentaries for More 4 lists ‘harrowing’ ‘obsessed’ ‘extreme’ and ‘compelling’ in the descriptions for previous successes, the titles of which are equally charged (Eight Minutes to Disaster, Killer in a Small Town).
Alternatively, there is a focus on the ‘cheeky’ (BBC3) or the BBC4 equivalent ‘witty’, with both seeking ‘onscreen talent’ just as Channel 4 emphasises ‘presenter-led’ documentaries; encouraging programmes that are less focused on informative or critical worth and more (as requested by BBC3) the ‘entertainment values in their DNA’.

None of these criteria are detrimental in themselves but with this blanket approach to issue based programming, there is an obvious conflict of interests, the end point of which is arrived upon by Mark Raphael.

“I want to make ‘Risk Taking’ films that shed light on subjects we thought we already knew. ‘Provocative’ films that stir controversy, and ‘Popular’ films that thrill and excite large audiences.”

Mass appeal and commercial viability, are not criteria that encourage varied and responsible reporting. Industry checks may happen but if the material never leaves this sphere, pre-public release, there can be no dialogue. Fact checking, largely to avoid any potential legal repercussion, only happens to concrete information, not implication and is far more perceptible in specific rather than abstract cases. Where backlash does happen, it tends to pass more quietly than the impact of the broadcast programme.

When RDF went head to head with the Queen (A Year with the Queen, BBC, 2007) the BBC placed all blame with RDF, whose misleading editing meant producer, Stephen Lambert’s, head rolled. Now he’s back (as Studio Lambert) with Benefit Busters and RDF are free to continue with programmes, Wife Swap and The Secret Millionaire. It is not the representation, but the victim and resource with which they can respond, that affects the reaction – but the personal harm and perceptual effect is no less dramatic for those without recourse.

The power the media wields in propagating and reinforcing hegemonic ideals has long been recognised: The veil of entertainment and pretext that responding to audience choice, removes the onus from the media, only highlights the need for institutional change.

This is just one of the issues that Spectacle’s ‘Poverty and Participation in the Media’ project seeks to address; finding alternatives, opening up discussion and challenging what is seen to be the authoritative voice. The project was commissioned as part of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s ‘Public Interest in Poverty Issues’ campaign, and project content can be viewed online at:

The storm… after the calm.

Para leer este blog en español pincha aquí.

The day starts early for us, but the excitement charges our batteries more than the first coffee of the morning. The Director, 1st AD and Producer Assistant all meet in the office. We pick up the props and head off to North London.

Surprisingly, we get to the location too early. Its miraculous, London transport has for once worked perfectly. We meet the 2nd AD and the director of photography and go to knock Karim’s door. He’s the landlord of the location and wants to give us some instructions: where the actors are allowed to smoke, where we can put all the furniture, the safety measures that we have to keep in mind…

The actors wait upstaris having a chat

The actors wait upstaris having a chat

Some of the actors arrive really early too. They were also concerned about the usual transport surprises and prefer to arrive too early than not arrive at all.  They make themselves comfortable upstairs and get to know each other.  It will be a long wait. The beginning of the shoot is hard to get right. It is the key moment when most of the lighting has to be set up in the proper place.

The actors come downstairs. We start shooting all the “above the glass” shots. Mark Saunders, the director, give some directions and Claire Sharples, the 2nd AD, tell the actors where their initial position is. We still need more time.  We crowd all together around the monitor to see how the shot will look. The overexposed effect is great, but we find several dark “stains”: the edge of one small bulb in the ceiling, one of the rubber tops of the tripod’s leg… we cover all the defects with white tape and eventually we see the clapperboard in front of the camera: Roll 1    Scene 1    Take 1

All together around the monitor, checking the framing

All together around the monitor, checking the framing

Some feelings characterize the first hours of the shoot, perfectionism and optimism. This is not bad, but it can entail some problems: we can easily run out of time.  We all need to focus. The lunch break keeps being put off and people start getting nervous. Finally, we take the break and everybody seems satisfied with the job done so far.

First directions of the day

First directions of the day

The moment arrives to shoot the takes that made us to come to this location: the ones around the glass ceiling. The extras exchange contact numbers and leave the space.

Shots from “under the glass ceiling” work perfectly. Nevertheless, we are using some extra time that we haven’t contracted with the landlord, so we call him asking for one more hour. Costs start to rise, but we can’t let the pressure to drive us to take hasty decisions that will lead to problems in editing.

We move upstairs to shoot from “above the glass ceiling”. Lights are ready, camera in position, actors prepared… and suddenly, without prior warning, the camera switches off. We are already using a second extra hour. Karim, the landlord, arrives to the location. “We are having some technical problems”, how many times has he heard that excuse? Fortunately, the camera starts working again and we are able to take the last shot of the day.

Have we got everything we need? We think so. We tidy up, clean everything, put the furniture in place again… and leave the location. We talk about the day on our way back home. We are tired and a bit worried about having used two extra hours, but this is a normal issue in film production.
The next shooting day will be at Brunel University. We will use their green screen. It will be a quieter day and every take will be more planned because every shot has to be from specific distances and angles. There is no room for improvisation. On the plus side we don’t have time limit to use these premises so there is more time to get things right. It seems that it will be a journey without mishaps, but we won’t count our chickens before they are hatched.

If you want to see the pictures of the shooting, click here to visit flickr.

If you want to see the first samples of the video, click here.

If you want to get more information about the project “Speak out against discrimination”, click here.

For more information about Spectacle, click here.

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Editing the Glass Ceiling

Deja tus opiniones en español aquí.

Editing has started and we need to know your opinion.

If you want to see the progress, you can see the first, second, third and forth edit in the project web site.

Any suggestion, opinion, criticism will be welcomed.

Giving shape to the project

Para leer este blog en español pincha aquí.

So what’s the conclusion from the director of photography after having visited the location with the glass floor? Does the CGI expert agree with this space? We now depend on these people to take the next steps. Once again we’re at a standstill and, considering that we’re running out of time, being unable to do anything is really stressful. The worst of all is to know that maybe the conclusion will be that we have to go back to our previous plan, forget about the location with the glass floor and order the perspex. This would mean that we’ve been wasting time that we don’t have just to end up going back to the starting point.
The day after the meeting, we receive these pictures from Mark Carey, the director of photography:

It seems to fit our requirements, but the CGI experts, Dave Barnard and Alan Marques, have the final say. Fortunately, after a few days, we receive some videos that make everything much clearer. They are the pre-visualization of the shooting in the location and in the studio. Alan has made 3D simulations of the shooting that are really useful. All the creative decisions now become technical decisions and the pre-visualizations wipe out the charm of the uncertainty, but I think we’ve had enough uncertainty so far, so we’re really pleased with these videos.

If you want to share in our happiness, download the videos from here:

Previs on location 1

Previs on location 2

Previs on studio 1

Previs on studio 2

Or watch them in our web site.

Thanks to this, we now know which lenses we need, the distance and angle of the shots… we even know how tall our actors have to be!

Finally, we can happily say that this is REALLY up and running.

Now we can go ahead and we all know that everything will speed up, but this doesn’t have to finish up in tragedy if we all know what we have to do and if we’re organized. We know which camera we need: the Red One; which lenses and lighting we have to order; which other props we have to get, like a black and a green cloth, a green rope, a window frosting film

On the other side, the moment has arrived to speak with the owner of the location, and that’s something that we’re a bit concerned about. We’re really enthusiastic with the idea of shooting the video in that place, but… what if he is not as keen on it as we are? What if he doesn’t like more than 20 people wandering around his house, with a lot of cameras and lighting and food? (yes, it’ll be a long working day and we all need to eat at some point).

We visit the location wearing our best smiles and promising to behave. We take the measure of the glass, try different lenses and angles… and speak with the landlord. It’s a tricky issue because this location is his house, and he’s had bad past experiences with big production crews, so he prefers small photographic projects. He’s concerned about the implications for the neighbourhood. We get to an agreement and he even gives us some advice regarding the catering. Things are looking better… or are they?

Mark Carey (director of photography), Mark Saunders (producer), Dave Barnard (CGI expert) and Karim (landlord) working

Mark Carey (director of photography), Mark Saunders (producer), Dave Barnard (CGI expert) and Karim (landlord) working

Dave Barnard relaxing for a while and then discussing some points with Mark Carey

Dave Barnard relaxing for a while and discussing some points with Mark Carey below the "Glass Ceiling"

Suddenly a dark cloud sets over our heads. The focus puller calls saying that he’s been offered a 3 day job in Italy. We’re just offering him a 2 day job in Clapton. Mark, the Director of Photography, asks us to sort it out, even to put off the shooting day. No, that’s not possible. We’ve already contacted the actors, the Council of Europe, the other studio… Mark trusts in this focus puller and thinks he’s a key factor in this project. We’ll use state-of-the-art technologies and he only feels sure working with this guy. Few people know how to work with these equipments. Once again we see how many important people there are behind a film, while all we’ve dealt with so far is a few actors.

If you want to get more information about the project “Speak out against discrimination”, click here.

For more information about Spectacle, click here.

Esto va tomando forma

If you want to read the English version, click here.

¿A qué conclusión ha llegado el director de fotografía después de haber visitado la localización con el suelo de cristal? ¿Qué opina el experto en infografía acerca de la validez de tal espacio para aplicar luego los efectos visuales? Cualquier decisión que tomemos ahora depende de lo que estos dos miembros del equipo decidan. Una vez más nos encontramos inmovilizados y, teniendo en cuenta el poco tiempo del que disponemos, resulta estresante no poder hacer nada. Lo peor es pensar en la posibilidad de que la conclusión sea que tenemos que volver al plan anterior, olvidarnos de la localización con el suelo de cristal y encargar el plexiglás, porque eso significaría que hemos perdido tiempo del que no disponemos para acabar volviendo al punto de partida.

El día después de la reunión en la que decidimos apostar por la localización, Mark Carey, el director de fotografía, nos envía estas fotos:

Parece que se ajusta a nuestras necesidades, pero todavía no está todo dicho: la última palabra la tienen los expertos en infografía. Afortunadamente, tras unos días de espera, nos llegan unos vídeos que arrojan un poco de luz sobre el camino a seguir. Se trata de unas previsualizaciones del rodaje en la localización y en el estudio del chroma key. Alan Marques, uno de nuestros infógrafos, ha generado unas simulaciones 3D del rodaje que son infinitamente útiles. Realmente podría decirse que esto atenta contra la esencia del cine como la fotografía digital lo hace contra la analógica. Todas las decisiones creativas se convierten en decisiones técnicas y en previsualizaciones que quitan todo el encanto de la incertidumbre, pero creo que de incertidumbre estamos bien servidos, así que no podemos recibir estos vídeos sino con mucha alegría.

Si quieres compartir esta alegría, puedes descargarte los vídeos aquí:

Previs on location 1

Previs on location 2

Previs on studio 1

Previs on studio 2

O verlos online en nuestra web.

Gracias a esto sabemos qué tipo de objetivo necesitaremos, la distancia y ángulos desde los que deberemos filmar… prácticamente sabemos incluso cuánto deberían medir nuestros actores.

Ahora sí, por fin, podemos decir que todo está en marcha DE VERDAD.

Por fin podemos avanzar, y todos sabemos que ahora es cuando todo se acelerará, pero con calma y organización esto no tiene porqué acabar en tragedia. Ya sabemos qué cámara nos hará falta: la Red One; qué lentes e iluminación necesitaremos; qué otros accesorios tenemos que conseguir, como una pieza de tela negra, otra verde, una cuerda verde, un papel adhesivo que proporcione al cristal un aspecto empañado…

Por otra parte, ha llegado un momento que hemos temido desde la última reunión: tenemos que hablar con el dueño de la localización. Todos estamos muy entusiasmados con la posibilidad de rodar allí el vídeo, pero… ¿y si a él no le emociona tanto la idea? ¿Qué pasa si no está de acuerdo con que más de veinte personas se hagan con su casa y la llenen de cámaras, luces, comida…? (sí, al fin y al cabo será un largo día de trabajo y todos necesitamos comer en algún momento).

Visitamos la localización con la mejor de nuestras sonrisas y prometiendo ser buenos. Tomamos medidas, barajamos distintas opciones respecto a ángulos y objetivos… y lidiamos con el dueño del lugar. Se trata de un tema particularmente delicado porque de hecho esta localización es su casa, y ha tenido malas experiencias pasadas con grandes equipos de producción, por lo que siempre prefiere ceder su espacio a pequeños equipos de fotografía. Se trata, sobre todo, de una cuestión de respeto de cara a sus vecinos. No hay problema, accede a nuestra petición y nos informa además de cómo podemos organizar el catering para el día del rodaje. Las cosas no podrían ir mejor. ¿O sí?

Mark Carey, (director de fotografía), Mark Saunders (productor), Dave Barnard (infografista) y Karim (dueño de la localización) trabajando

Dave Barnard, relajándose un poco, y discutiendo el rodaje con Mark Carey bajo el Techo de Cristal

De repente nuestras expresiones se hielan. El 1er asistente de cámara llama diciendo que le han ofrecido un trabajo de tres días en Italia. Nosotros sólo le ofrecemos trabajo para dos días. Mark, el director de fotografía, nos suplica que encontremos una solución a este problema, incluso que pospongamos el rodaje. No, no es posible. Ya hemos contactado con los actores, con el Consejo de Europa, con el otro estudio. Mark confía ciegamente en este 1er asistente de cámara y considera imprescindible su colaboración en este proyecto. Usaremos una tecnología muy nueva y sólo se siente seguro si trabaja con él, ya que pocas personas conocen estos equipos. Una vez más se demuestra cuánta gente realmente imprescindible hay detrás de los vídeos, cuando realmente la cara que vemos es tan sólo la de unos pocos actores.

Para obtener más información acerca del proyecto “Speak out against discrimination”, pincha aquí.

Para obtener más información acerca de Spectacle, pincha aquí.

In a nutshell

Para leer este blog en español pincha aquí.

Everything seems to be on the right track: we’ve found a studio and we’ve decided to get the perspex structure. The studio also offers some extra services that will save us time researching camera and lighting equipment. Perspex has also some advantages compared to the glass: it’s easier to get it and we just need to order it a couple of days in advance (whereas we would need to order the glass with at least 15 days in advance). Summing up: we are all really pleased and “relaxed”. It’s a good time to start working hard on the shoot schedule.

We get hold of the breakdown, we group the shots depending on the actors and on the technical requirements in each of them. It would be perfect if we could work just one day with all the extras and another day with the main characters. Then we could save some money as we wouldn’t need eight extras working during two days when their role of strolling in front of the camera, even if it’s crucial, can be done in one morning. By  “technical requirements” I meant the shots will need the perspex structure. Fortunately, both of the factors are compatible: the shots where we need the extras don’t need the perspex structure.

So we get to the next “ideal” shooting plan (when I say “ideal” I mean “very optimistic”):

  • First day. Morning:

8 extras + main character + 3 background characters (let’s say B, C, D)

Green screen shooting.

  • First day. Afternoon:

Main character + 3 background characters (let’s say B, C, D)

Green screen shooting.

  • Second day:

Main actor + 2 background characters (let’s say E, F)

Green screen shooting and perspex structure.

We are already so familiar with the project that everything seems obvious, but it’s hard to explain with words each shot, so there’s no point in trying to do it. It’s much easier and intuitive to download the shooting plan so you can get a literal view, with color, design, and all that stuff that makes things more user friendly. A picture speaks a thousand words. So if you want to see the first draft of our shooting plan you just have to click here.

If these plans go ahead it will also mean that we would be saving circa £1000 in our casting. But this doesn’t mean that the company would profit; it just means that the money is moving from one point of the budget to another. In short, it’s not bad news, but it’s not excellent either.

Good, good, it looks like the project is up and running. Now we “only” need to book the studio, get the actors there on time, order the perspex and start hiring technical staff. That’s nothing!

If you want to get more information about the project “Speak out against discrimination”, click here.

For more information about Spectacle, click here.

Looking for studio for 13 people. Click here to reply to this ad

Para leer este blog en español pincha aquí.

When you are working on an audiovisual project there are a lot of overlapping issues, interdependent decisions to take, and this makes things difficult. While we are looking for actors, we are also looking for a studio to shoot the video. This is not easy. We have to remember we will need a green background, for the chroma keys, or an infinity cove, to get that white non-discernable atmosphere. We must also decide how many days we will need, where the studios are, which further services they offer, any possible discounts we may get…

Let’s take it step by step and just grab the telephone- a producer’s best friend. We have to be down-to-earth: our English can be a handicap, and our lack of experience doesn’t help. The best thing to do is to know what information we need to get:

  • Hiring price
  • Dimensions
  • Is it possible to paint it green? How much will they charge for this?
  • Is it available in the shooting days?
  • How many days in advance do we need to book it? Do we have to pay a deposit?
  • Discounts

Eventually we have a list of studios scattered all over the city. As we have a very tight budget we have to focus on to the most affordables ones. Once again we are working with words, suggestions, ideas… everything is too abstract. We need to go and see the studio and decide if it fits our requirements (if we really know which our requirements are!).

Oyster Card is popped in the pocket and we set off to Norh London. There we meet the CGI specialist. Coffees, decisions progressing, decisions going back, redesign of some shots… “We should shoot this with a chroma key. No, this one is better with a white background”. Scribbles, deletions, drafts… This video is constantly changing and sometimes it is one step forward and fifty steps back.

It is midday and we head off to the first studio hoping to find the answer to all our questions.

Its too small! Sometimes it seems that we will never shoot this project and all that we are doing is wasting our time, but we cannot get demoralized.

Hopeful, we go to another nearby studio We haven’t made an appointment, but the studio are professional and friendly and answer our questions.

Things pick up, it seems that we have a place to shoot our video. On our way home we write down which shots will need chroma key and which won’t, so we can make the shooting schedule and give them a time and date. We must take the right decisions in order to optimize time and money. We don’t want 13 actors strolling in the studio for 2 days when most of them can do their role in one single morning.

So, what else do we need? Yeah, right, the glass of course…

If you want to get more information about the project “Speak out against discrimination”, click here.

For more information about Spectacle, click here.

Shoulders to the wheel!

Para leer este blog en español pincha aquí.

So now that we all know what we are doing, we need to know how to do it, and that can be a whole other kettle of fish.

Talking is easy, but putting it all together and making it work on the screen is completely different. We all understand what we’ve been talking about, but we’re interpreting the visual concept in a different way. If we want to work as a team we need to visualise the project, so we all know what we need and what is our aim. Some storyboarding would be useful…

Ok, so we need a lot of people (mental note: have an audition!), and we need a studio (start making phone calls), AND we need a big glass ceiling (Do we need a greenhouse?). This starts to look difficult, but we love challenges, don’t we?

The storyboard has been an important step forward for the project. We’ve realised how important the CGI (Computer Generated Images) will be and our meetings with the specialist in computer graphics have revolved around the storyboard. Meetings… this reminds me that evening in March when the director said: “Welcome to the night shift!” Long evenings in the office and early coffees in Camden around a table plenty of drafts… The best thing about this is that no one loses their optimism, there’s always someone able to put a smile in your face even when everything goes wrong.

Eventually, we’ve realised that we need to make some changes. How can something that we created to help us turn against us? We’ve been too obsessed with reproducing an accurate version of the storyboard, and that’s the problem. We can adapt the storyboard to our necessities, so let’s try to start with the creative thinking and redefine the shoots.

First of all, we still have some problems visualising the proposed video. We’re used to moving pictures, and a piece of paper doesn’t help too much.

Lets move it!

Making this has helped us notice that we’re missing some really important stuff, the sound!

Now it’s time for some decision making. First of all our actors. But that’s a different problem…

If you want to get more information about the project “Speak out against discrimination”, click here.

For more information about Spectacle, click here.