In a beautiful gallery in Central St Martins, Wellcome recently held an awards ceremony for their newly revamped Photography Prize. Celebrating imagery that advances the language of photography while speaking to human health in all its colours, the awards were the culmination of a well executed creative and marketing journey. A journey I’m pleased to have joined for the ride, making three films in a multitude of formats to a very specific brief. Here, I thought it might be useful to share a little about my role in helping Wellcome bring this fantastic competition to life.
The Brief At the heart of every good plan, there needs to be someone with a strong vision. In this case, it was Marianne, or Maz, Dear, Creative Lead within Wellcome’s Comms team. It was clear from conversations that this year’s prize was aspiring to be different. Rather than celebrating beautiful scientific imagery - which often seemed to comprise of microscopic vistas in false colour - the aim was to celebrate genuinely excellent photography, featuring humanity and nature at both the micro and macroscopic scales.
As part of this reinvigorated approach, my role was to capture the judging process, from beginning to end and create three films that would take viewers on a journey from their initial reactions and thinking on what great health photography is, all the way through to their thoughts on the final winning images.
And it was clear we were trying to avoid cliches. I was shown numerous videos of other photography prizes highlighting what Wellcome did not want. They wanted ‘life’, ‘a non-corporate feel’, ‘lots of hands’, ‘reactions and interactions’, and so on. Observational filming is my favourite approach; natural, unstaged behaviour and it certainly felt that being right at the heart of the action was key to trying to capture these moments.
The Shoot It was a day and a half shoot - but apart from the interviews, I never used any footage from day one! Going with the flow, I introduced myself to the (genuinely extraordinary) array of judges and started doing what I do - quietly flitting around the room capturing shots, merging with the furniture as they started to relax both with each other and my presence.
I tend to find that, to start with - say the first 30min or so - it’s best not to move around too much with the camera - it raises self awareness in the people being filmed, distracts them, creates a sense of ‘being in the way’. So I tend to gently ramp up my movements over time as they gradually forget, or simply stop caring, that I’m there. And people always do - you can feel it happen and I love it, it’s like a green light.
Day one was fine but it was relatively static - at this stage all the judges were sitting around a table being shown the images on a projected screen. Apart from the technical challenge of low light, it was simply visually inert, providing little opportunity to create an exciting, non-corporate series of films.
Day two was the winner. We were in the same room but flooded with natural light as all the images that had been selected from day one were now physical prints on an array of tables. People were more relaxed with each other, moving, talking, shifting and lifting the images, scrutinising them, arguing over them, laughing and agonising – it was fantastic!
Having looked at the reference videos and aiming for something that felt progressive and fresh, it had occurred to me that we might never see the people in the films during their interviews - a ‘no talking heads’ policy. But to do this it was still important for the viewer to be able to identify which of the six judges was actually talking. For this purpose, I made sure I captured several shots of each judge, framed in a way that made it clear they were the focus of the entire shot. As each judge spoke within the film, it was then a simple case of using these shots, alongside a lower third indicating who they were.
This felt like it worked really well, especially within the context of such short films of 1-2min. Had viewers seen those interview shots, two things would have happened - the first is that the viewer would most likely lose interest in the static ‘talking head’ and two, it would have ripped the viewer away from the action of judging, the very subject matter of the film. By introducing each judge as they were actually judging, it helped create a stronger sense of being there, of the energy and human dynamism at the heart of the process.
Another stylistic choice was veering away from too many wide shots - with the best will in the world, these people were in a large room with wood panelling and strip lights that screamed corporate! So the majority of shots are close and medium, keeping us within the emotional heart of the action, which is where all the fun is anyway.
Outputs Despite the filming’s relative simplicity, this brief was pretty detailed regarding deliverables - a testament to the marketing plan. First we needed three main films, with a focus on the judging process, the shortlisted images and then the winning images. Each of these was required in both widescreen and square formats and each of these was required with and without subtitles.
A quick aside on the square format videos. When running a workshop for press teams about using mobile phones to make films, I always urge people to shoot widescreen as it gives them greater flexibility. Case in point, having shot everything in wide format (16:9), I then needed to make a series of square videos from the wide videos – but that’s not as simple as just copy/pasting into a square timeline. Almost every shot needs to be reframed, otherwise you may find that that wonderfully composed shot of one judge now has half their face cut off…
It was wonderful watching the Media and Marketing teams seeding these videos on their various social channels and a powerful reminder for everyone else out there who works with people like me to create content that has a solid dissemination plan.
Hope that was useful - I love what I do and enjoy sharing the behind the scenes. If you’ve any questions, just get in touch.