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How to use drama successfully in 'training films'

Blog
13 May 2016

Chris Godwin, Creative Director, White Boat TV

Mention “training dramas” in polite corporate circles and you will probably discern a slight rolling of the eyes and inward groan.  The general perception being of a film with clumsy dialogue and obvious signposting. While they might tick boxes for the client they are unlikely to achieve any real behaviour change.

There is an analogy to bad product placement – as soon as someone takes you out of the drama to sell you something, you’ve lost them and the same is true of dramas when it comes to being taught something. 

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for drama to help people learn, the approach just needs to respect the power of good storytelling.  Like any good movie, if you immerse your audience in an emotionally engaging story it will inevitably prompt them to reflect on not only what they’ve just seen but also hopefully their own lives.

In 2012, we produced a short drama called Barbara’s Story. The film was commissioned by Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust with the aim of  changing staff attitudes to patients with dementia. 

The film entered into the horror and disorientation of a routine visit to hospital for an elderly person with dementia.  An evaluation by South Bank University demonstrated there was culture shift across the Trust and transformation of attitudes towards patients with dementia as a result of the film.

The Trust had achieved their objectives – but what wasn’t expected was the film had stirred the staff to push for operational changes that would help dementia patients, for example the re-configuration of reception areas to make them more patient friendly and the purchase of wheelchairs that were easy to push forward.

The film went on to win multiple awards and has been be used across the NHS as well as other countries across the globe – Barbara is big in Japan.

Fundamentally I believe the success of the film was down to a commissioner (Dame Eileen Sills, Chief Nurse at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust) who was brave enough to allow us to tell a great story, without smothering it with corporate messages and training speak.

Learning is so much more powerful when you work it out for yourself.

The success of this film has led to White Boat TV specializing in these films. We have tackled subjects as diverse as still-birth, child abuse and post natal depression.

We never call them training dramas – they might be for training, but they are essentially compelling short films. A fact borne out by $20,000 dollars won at the Viewster International Film Festival by our still birth film, the Deafening Silence.

All our films use the same technique of entering the mind of a patient, and seeing the world from their perspective, allowing the audience to 'walk in their shoes'.

As my cameraman, Jonny Dickinson, said to me the other day, they act like parables for the health service. I suppose it is quite an accurate description – stories with an underlying message of hope.



 


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