Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Does Film Have a Role To Play In Shark Conservation?

Photo by the amazing Michael Patrick O'Neill

Marine Conservation is a pretty big thing nowadays, to the point where it regularly gets media exposure and every day on Social Media, I am being asked to sign a petition to do with some aspect of saving/protecting some form of marine eco-system or animal.

Once the preserve of the scientific community, Marine Conservation is now so mainstream that a phrase now exists for ordinary members of the community getting involved in Scientific research and studies, "Citizen Science." I don't really like that term though to be honest, science is science even if it's carried out by people who aren't actual "scientists" and the disconnect between the two is something I feel only serves to alienate the everyman further from the scientific community.

I'm interested in Marine Science and Science in general but more in its practical application and its effects in the outside world, I have no desire to sit indoors writing papers or any of that stuff, I like what it teaches me and I like how it helps me understand the world and without the people who actually want to do the paper shuffling and late nights behind a computer, I wouldn't have that so they are undoubtedly a valuable commodity.

However, more and more of the scientific community are now creeping out from the labs and classrooms into the social media world and utilising Twitter and Facebook to spread news of their work, take Matt Taylor, he of the ludicrous "Shirtgate" controversy in which he was the victim of a baying (albeit small) online mob of people desperate to be outraged by something who single handedly ruined his experience of achieving something truly, mindbogglingly incredible with his life and bullied him into a tearful apology on TV all for the heinous crime of wearing an awesome shirt. Regardless of all that, Taylor is clearly a cool guy, the opposite of what many think of when they think "Scientist." He's a rockabilly type dude, tattooed with a love for cool music and the esoteric, he's engaging, funny and clearly, astonishingly intelligent and because of all that, people who don't normally "like" science, like him and as such, it helps to inform "ordinary" people further about the work he and his colleagues undertake.

There are others of course, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye and so on, all of whom are proving a bit of a hit with Twitter, not only that, there is of course I Fucking Love Science with almost 20 million likes on Facebook. Some are, of course, better than others, more entertaining than others and most importantly, more engaging than others. Whilst there are those who stick to sharing their work, there are others who invite us into their lives and those who, through having a few Twitter followers are now actively courting the media as they attempt to grow their own perceived "celebrity" status.

With this growth in the use of Social Media outreach, has come more interest in using Film and Video as a tool to spread word of their ongoing research and this is something being embraced most by non-scientists and that is the point of this blog.


A Scientist and Film-Maker are two totally different things, Film is art and Science is the pursuit of knowledge. Facts are facts whereas art is a subjective thing in which reality can be manipulated, messages can be hidden and in which interpretation is something which may differ from individual to individual so how can the two worlds meet? How can something as "rigid" as science be presented in art which by its very nature is totally open to personal interpretation?

Well, it can and has been for centuries but it's not easy and is a scientist the best person to create art which highlights his work? Short answer, no, he is not, much like if my car broke down, I wouldn't ask an Opera Tenor to fix it.

Of course there are exceptions, Scientists who are skilled Film-Makers and Film-Makers who have an expert understanding of Science but with Marine Conservation Science, it's slightly different because it's all about hearts and minds, you need to get people to care about your science if you want it to be effective and simply grabbing a camcorder and telling people about your findings will not do that because your intended audience simply won't have an interest in watching it, you need to make them care and doing so in Film is very difficult and a skill not many people have.

I saw a Twitter discussion a while back where one scientist was asking others about "making a video" about their work, i.e. doing it themselves and at no point in the long discussion did anyone even think of suggesting they actually speak to a Film-Maker and get their advice. They've got a camera and iMovie so it's easy right? Wrong. Yes you could shoot something and cut it together but it being any good and actually engaging enough to reach an audience is another and although its all very well if your friends, family and other Scientists watch it, it's of no use whatsoever if your film and therefore message, fails to reach a wide audience.

There are also those, often lamented (rightly so) by the Scientific community who are making films about Marine Conservation issues and getting the Science completely wrong so therefore spreading a message which is at best misleading, at worst damaging to the cause as a whole.

All this highlights the single biggest problem, the Scientific and Creative communities just don't communicate with each other enough.

Mallorca Stingray Survey

Now of course, the big stumbling block is money, no professional worth his salt will work for free on what could be a long, arduous and time intensive Film project because, believe it or not, we have bills, rent, kids etc and we have to eat, not only that, we don't conjure up the thousands of pounds worth of equipment we use (and need) out of thin air. You don't work for free, why should we?

With that in mind, Science is not an industry where money is easy to come by and that brings me on to my next point, another recent Twitter discussion, that of crowdfunding scientific research projects. This is actually a great idea but if you're going to do this, first of all, speak to a proper Film-Maker with experience of this kind of work and discuss what you want from your film and most of all, listen, he or she knows a lot more about this kind of stuff than you do. When you have your idea, find out how much it will cost to make, don't offer them a figure you've plucked out of thin air, actually ask them. When you know, add it to the figure you need to crowd fund, don't do what so many others do, raise an amount then ask a professional to work for free because you didn't plan your campaign properly.

You may be planning to make the film yourself, after all, you have a GoPro and a Mac and you're a PADI Open Water Diver, that's all you need right? If you have £20,000 to spend on your wedding, would you get Uncle Bob to do the photos because he has a DSLR or do you hire a pro?...

If you're a Film-Maker with dreams of making a Marine Conservation film, talk to experts in the field and get your content rock solid and not just scientists either. If a Scientist is an expert on Shark Biology and spends their life in classrooms, labs, or on boats but barely, if any, time in the water, can they ever claim to be an expert on the shark behaviour in your location? No, they can't, speak to the divers who spend every day in the water with the sharks as well as others who can give you the expert insight you need. You may have seen a few documentaries and read a few books, that doesn't make you an expert, make sure to include those who are!

When I began my career as a Film-Maker I did it for two reasons, neither of which are particularly noble, I wanted to make myself happy and nobody was making the films I want to see so just figured I'd just do it myself. Overly dry and science heavy films bored me to tears and the hyper-sensationalist macho man/hippy chick films were equally as boring with the added annoyance factor thrown in, nobody was making films about real people and most importantly, where was the storytelling?

So can using film media help your cause? Undoubtedly, I know this from personal experience, A Ray of Light helped raise upwards of 80,000 Euros for Asociacion Ondine to fund ongoing grass roots conservation projects, of which I didn't take a single penny (I actually paid for that production out of my own money) and A Ray of Light II is proving hugely popular, most importantly with ordinary people of all ages who are now showing passionate interest in the marine animals in their own back yard.

 

A Ray of Light II from Scarlet View Media on Vimeo.

A Ray of Light II focuses more on the actual work undertaken by Asociacion Ondine so fits the style more appropriate for all you Scientists out there, the idea however, still being to engage the public through a story they can relate to, thus drawing them in to the actual research project itself.

The reason this was such a successful production was down to something extremely simple. The Research team (proper scientists) were left to do what they do best, I had complete control over the production of the film and the boat crew were in charge of running the boat. Much as I didn't tell the Research drew how to tag the Stingrays, they didn't try to tell me how to do my job, in short, the experts were allowed to do what they're experts at and the results are clear.



"Of Shark and Man" Teaser Trailer 3 (Letterboxed Version) from Scarlet View Media on Vimeo.

With Of Shark and Man which will be released this year, this is undoubtedly the most in-depth look at the Shark Reef story in existence and also the most comprehensive look at Shark Feeding on film certainly and probably anywhere else but that aside, this was always intended to be a hugely ambitious and complex piece of art, Marine Conservation inspiration delivered through absolute free creative expression.

Put simply, if you believe your Scientific work and credentials deserve the absolute best, do not scrimp on your film output if that's an area you want to explore and do not think it's something you can do yourself. Speak to Film-Makers with the appropriate expertise and if you're a Film-Maker, don't cut out the Scientific community, we should all be working together and remember, some people are made to be in front of a camera, others are not, if you have an ego, leave it at home, it won't do you any good in the long run.


2 comments:

Andrew Scerbo said...

Bill Bye the Science Guy and Bill Nighy (the actor) are very different people. Just a tiny oversight, but one that could be confusing to your readers.

Otherwise outstanding article and my sincere best wishes of luck for your upcoming film. What I've seen so far was outstanding and I eagerly await its release.

OfficetoOcean said...

I knew I'd spelled that wrong! Ha! Silly me :D I'll fix it when I get back to my PC.

Thanks also, feedback has been great so far!