This World Social Work Day, we released a short film showing the life-changing work that social workers do every day. Frontline fellow, Julia, acted as an advisor on the project. Read on to find out how she found the experience.
I was just painting the last tentacle-arm on my cartoon octopus when my phone rang. It was Frontline. This surprised me as I made the exceptionally difficult decision to leave social work for a while at the beginning of last year. I moved to Barcelona to work in a social documentary production company and was taking an afternoon off to paint pottery.
The voice at the other end of the phone was from the Fellowship team. They offered me the opportunity to act as an advisor on Frontline’s new short film about social work. I was thrilled, as I had promised that if I left social work to be a filmmaker, my films would have to be based around social themes and help vulnerable people.
I was flattered that the Fellowship team, who I had never met, had identified my two biggest passions and decided to offer me this opportunity. Two weeks later, I was on a plane.
From the outset, Frontline were keen to make use of my social work knowledge. They sent me the script and the shot list, which were powerful. I felt strongly that the film needed to be authentic and not gratuitous, so I was pleased that Frontline had taken this approach. I felt that the film would be most powerful if it was simple. It was important that the fictional family were not particularly different to your family or mine.
Filming days and holidays are the only times when I am excited to wake up before dawn. I has presumed my role on set would mostly just be to observe. Frontline, however, had a much larger role in mind. I was immediately put to work dressing the set in a believable manner. My other key responsibility was instructing Jason, who played the social worker, how to give an appropriate and authentic performance.
Filmmaking is rarely glamorous. We got freezing cold, frustrated with time and tired, but I was captivated and excited throughout. A highlight of the shoot for me was sitting in a community hall watching the director construct a ballet scene, surrounded by toddlers in tutus. Their role was to sit on the chairs and watch the lead child actor dance. However, they felt that the scene would be very much improved if they were to take centre stage instead.
It was during times like these that I learnt the most from the director. In particular, how to expertly balance all the competing pressures and demands. Despite us being under a huge amount of time pressure, once we had secured the shots we needed, the children got a moment to dance.
Apart from my fictional work, most of my film experience has been for commercial projects. Although fun, it’s hard to get massively motivated over a film about how to switch the central heating on in a new luxury apartment block.
This film was different. Firstly, it would help recruit people who wanted to help vulnerable children and families. I also believed this film could portray the challenge of neglect, that many families face. I wanted people to know that there is hope and help, and what that support might look like. Social work is rarely portrayed accurately in the media and this is something I want to tackle. I think we were successful in this.
On the shoot days I met many talented professionals and learnt a lot from them. For example, the production crew were hugely knowledgeable and many of the acting team have been in the West End. My time spent on the project will definitely help my own development as a social filmmaker.
After everything was complete, I expected to continue with my filmmaking in Barcelona as before. However, the film reminded me why I entered social work in the first place. The shoot seemed to reinforce my passion and determination that, although I left social work, my filming will always be shaped by the desire to help children and families.
Whether you’re a social worker in direct practice or not, you will always find opportunities to make an impact if you look for them. Frontline, and the Frontline Fellowship, are a great place to start looking.