The idea for ‘Transitions’ began with a meeting Safe Ground had with Writer/ Journalist, Nana Ocran, to discuss how she might bring her craft and experience to a prison setting and produce something tangible that would have legacy. At the same time, part of Safe Ground’s marketing and communications strategy was to involve the organisation in filmmaking again, to grow our roots in local communities and also introduce Safe Ground to a brand new audience. Our Commercial Manager, Obinna Nwosu, then had the idea to somehow merge creative writing, scriptwriting and filmmaking as part of a project.
The arrival of Sally Plumb as part of the Safe Ground team marked the next step in the evolution of the project. Sally’s background as a filmmaker, facilitator and tutor, as well as her experience with Wandsworth Borough enabled several things to happen. She was able to add the necessary detail and structure to the basic outline of the project, and what was a good idea became very quickly a substantial educational course, deliverable and will real outcomes. Sally also brought to our attention Wandsworth’s Widening Participation Fund, and alongside Obinna led in a successful bid for its funding. So, with a rather modest budget what was now called ‘Transitions’ was ready to roll.
Safe Ground does a lot of its work in prisons and wanting to work locally, HMP Wandsworth was a natural venue for our project. Also HMP Wandsworth is very significant part of Safe Ground’s legacy as it was where our two keystone programmes, Family Man and Fathers Inside, were first developed and also where are first and enduring forays into film occurred. The film shorts ‘Ryan’s Choice’ and ‘Blinda’ were both shot at the prison with the help and participation of serving prisoners and prison staff, and are still part of the training material used on Family Man and Fathers Inside courses.
The original aim of Transitions was to engage men who had recently completed Family Man in that transitional two week period between education blocs. Because of the full time and intensive nature of Family Man it had been remarked upon several times by prisoners and prison staff across institutions that men often felt at a loss at the end of the course, with no outlet for the creative energy that had been generated and for the reflectivity and numerous they acquired along the way.
Phase One: Transitions students would learn creative writing skills which they would then use to write a short story each. With further tutelage the men would turn those stories into scripts for a film short.
Phase Two: The intention was that 2-3 of the strongest scripts would be made into an actual short film, budget permitting, which would be screened back in the prison.
How it happened:
Phase One: HMP Wandsworth – Writing
Safe Ground managed to secure the prison as a venue due the persistence of Eleanor Robertson, our Head of Programmes and the diligence of Sharon Norey, Education Officer at HMP Wandsworth. Both Nana and Sally were contracted to deliver the teaching phase of the Transitions project, respectively the creative writing and scriptwriting elements. The course was to be delivered over just three days at the end of October 2012 (29.10.12 – 31.10.12).
The participating group was, in the end, made up of men who had done courses other than Family Man, but all in the beginning were sceptical about what could be achieved in such a short period of time. However, Nana, Sally and Sharon and in particular the students worked hard with patience and focus to produce what was needed for the course. The men decided in the end that they all wanted to be part of the final product and so took the initiative in coming together to fuse ideas, characters and themes into one script that reflected them all.
The script that emerged this creative exchange and round table negotiation was called ‘The View’. You can read the original script here.
Also find a collection of the different ideas that eventually were merged here.
Phase Two: Wandsworth Community – Filming:
Sally Plumb was also contracted as project coordinator for the second stage of the project which entailed getting a film short shot, edited and ready to screen at HMP Wandsworth before end of the year. As part of funding agreement with Wandsworth Council we also had to engage a group of young people and provide training and mentoring in filmmaking. So in November 2012, Sally auditioned and cast the film, hired the crew, secured locations, hired equipment and video editing facilities, organised and oversaw rehearsals, organised catering, provided tutorials and co-directed the film. The film itself was shot in just three days (18.11.12, 24 and 25.11.12).
Sally’s efforts were matched by the passion and commitment the cast, crew and key staff at Safe Ground had for the script and the project, most of whom had no filmmaking experience whatsoever, working long hours in the wind, rain and cold, learning new skills on-the-job, multi-tasking and patient and generous whilst under pressure of time. Most significantly this group championed the voices of the men in HMP Wandsworth, believing that they should be heard and their words depicted as authentically as possible. The view that emerged over the making of the film is that there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ – we are one community.
What the project produced:
One of the main aims of Transitions was to produce a film that we could take back to HMP Wandsworth, to show the students the fruits of their labour, and to be able to screen it in the community and to wider audiences. So it is with some sense of achievement that Safe Ground proudly presents:
Written by Darren, David Carlon, Gus, Thangia, Ali, Carlos, Bruce, Steven, Henry and Aaron, Students of the ‘Transitions’ course October 2012
‘Transitions’ was successful because a course was delivered, skills learned, short stories and film scripts written, a film made and screened several times. All of this was achieved within six weeks with modest resources and so Safe Ground could take large satisfaction for a job well done. However, the real success of this film was connection formed between the Transitions students of HMP Wandsworth and the people of the local community who made up the cast and crew of ‘The View’. For the men inside it was important that their voices be heard and their perspective given air to breathe. It was equally as important for the community counterparts that the film be as true to the vision as possible; at the cast and crew screening every editorial decision was scrutinised and questioned thoroughly.
See what cast and crew thought of the experience in a series of interviews recorded by Obinna Nwosu in
Views from ‘The View’:
The two groups became one at the two screenings that took place at HMP Wandsworth on Tuesday 18th December 2012. Members of each composed the Q&A panels that followed the screenings and it would be fair to say that common ground was found. The consensus amongst the Transitions students was that the film made represented them with authenticity, which had been their greatest concern.
The final word should rightly go to the Transitions students. Gus, one of the scriptwriters, in response to the experience composed this:
Let me set the scene. I’ve just been brought back to my cell B2-023. 6 x 10. Eastenders is showing, a cup of coffee and a cigarette smokes in the ashtray. (punk).
I’ve just watched a short film that I helped to write. WOW!!!!!!! People liked our work?!
Maybe 10 total strangers, guys, males, criminals, innocent, each here. HMP Wanno SW18 3HS.
A week before Xmas one of the most stressful times for prisoners and their much loved families.
Total strangers, Sally, Nana, Obinna and Charlotte, before October 2012. entered an institution, 1851 how long Wandsworth prison has been built.
They gave us a brief and we went with it. All with different thoughts we got into groups, gangs, goals (gaols/jail) achievements. Sally made a film from our ideas. Nervous (all of us I think), Notes, New Creative Writing Skills. Communications. TERRIFIC??!! TRUST.
Listening to the positive feedback. Our morals with a message, twist and turns. Mistakes, proof of a good person, good people. Gwan live good don’t die. Respect to your fellow man and women. Negative to Positive. The light needs both to shine.