During my time in academia (and specifically social anthropology), I was often preoccupied by a sense that academics were “missing a trick” when it came to communicating their research. Social anthropology is arguably the broadest academic discipline, encompassing as it does both the natural sciences and the humanities. Think of a subject, stick “The Anthropology of…” in front of it, and you have a legitimate (probably already extant) field of study. I’ve had colleagues who’ve studied street art in Madrid, gambling in Papua New Guinea and sex communes in San Francisco, to name but a few. But while such topics are almost universally fascinating, the manner in which they are communicated is generally less so. For various reasons (including my own shortcomings as a scholar), I decided to leave anthropology proper and return as an “anthropological filmmaker”. I would become, in effect, a kind of benevolent parasite or pollinator, feeding off the work of others and, in the process, casting its seeds far and wide.
David filming for his ethnographic work
At its loosest, making an academic documentary is an act of translation: from the esoteric verbal language of a given discipline to the manifest visual language of film. At Studious, the first stage is to familiarise oneself with the subject matter, which means liaising with academics and reading relevant works. From here, one can begin to sketch out how a particular Collection (say, Introduction to Social Psychology) will be broken down into constituent videos, such as Explainers, Case Studies and Feature documentaries.
Studious academic interview in progress
Features are Studious’ flagship films; we’d expect to do one for each Learning Track within a Collection. So for Introduction to Social Psychology, we have Features on Prejudice, Persuasion and Conformity, among other things, since these are foundational concepts within the field. Once the topics for the Features have been agreed, I’ll write a treatment for each video followed by a voiceover script, both of which will be reviewed by our academic vision editors. We then enter the production phase, during which we’ll film interviews with key academics and other relevant authorities, such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission (on the subject of Prejudice) and advertising executives (for Persuasion). This affords an applied or “real-world” perspective on what are otherwise fairly abstract theories. With filming complete, a temporary voiceover (scratch track) can be recorded, and editing begins.
David’s home office set- up
Together with script writing, editing is the most creative part of the process. It’s where you get to set the tone, quite literally, for the film as a whole, sourcing music, footage and images that will convey the essence of the subject. My own habit is to eschew kitschy stock footage in favour of more abstract imagery. I’m particularly drawn to archival ephemera – bits of old adverts, newsreels, public information films. Repurposing these seems somehow truer to the accretion of ideas within academia. It’s a kind of bricolage (to borrow a term from anthropology) – creating novel meaning from whatever’s at hand. Once I’ve got a first cut, I’ll pass the film on to our animator, Chris, to fill in any expository gaps. Finally, we’ll drop in the professional voiceover, sand down any rough edges, and we’re good to go!
You can check out an example of a Studious Feature here.
12th May, 2021
In our digital age, engagement is a top priority when delivering online content. Think about your own experience: how many times have you stopped watching a YouTube video midway because the presenter wasn’t getting to the point, or clicked on a recipe and scrolled through the writer’s long introduction to get to the actual recipe? […]
19th Apr, 2021
Thursday the 12th of March 2020 was my last visit to the UCL Bloomsbury campus, the last time I enjoyed face to face interactions with colleagues and students. Literally overnight teaching went online, my last two weeks of the teaching term represented my first experience of full online teaching, it was not how any of us would […]
22nd Mar, 2021
Animation is a highly effective tool for delivering an engaging learning experience. I could write at length about its value in education but there is already plenty of evidence to support this. So instead I will provide a brief insight into how we approach the pre-production phase of animation at Studious. I was recently introduced […]