11 Jun 2024

The value of lived experience in film production

From the start of communications, authenticity has been the cornerstone of compelling storytelling. Whether it’s a bard sharing songs back in the day, or a high production film, audiences have always craves narratives that resonate with their own experiences, cultures, and identities. One of the most effective ways to achieve this authenticity is by incorporating people with lived experience into the production process. Using this approach not only enhances the realism of the narrative but also brings a depth of understanding and empathy that can transform a good film into a great one.

Authentic representation

When filmmakers include individuals with lived experience, they bring an authenticity to the story that is difficult to achieve otherwise. Whether it’s a film about a particular culture, a specific social issue, or a unique personal journey, those who have lived through similar experiences can provide invaluable insights. Their firsthand knowledge ensures that the portrayal is accurate, respectful, and devoid of harmful stereotypes or misconceptions.

For examples, films that delve into the struggles of mental health, like those our production trainees have been producing for Rethink Mental Illness and ThriveLDN. Including individuals who have navigated mental health challenges can help in portraying these experiences truthfully. Their input can shape dialogues, character behaviors, and plot points in ways that resonate deeply with viewers who have had similar experiences, creating a powerful connection between the film and its audience.

Diverse perspectives

Lived experience brings diversity to the creative process. We strive to tell stories from various perspectives, but achieving true diversity requires more than just a surface-level understanding. By involving people from different backgrounds and experiences, filmmakers can ensure that a variety of voices are heard and represented.

This diversity enriches the storytelling process. Different perspectives can highlight nuances that may otherwise be overlooked, leading to a more comprehensive and engaging narrative. It’s also great for creativity, as getting different viewpoints can spark innovative ideas and solutions.We always spend time with clients and participants with lived experience, making sure they feel comfortable with what we’re asking of them, that we understand their story, and that we’re portraying it in the right way, and a way that resonates truthfully. When we created this Everyday Activism film for Mencap we sat and had coffee with everyone, just getting to know them, and helping them relax for the day’s filming.

Enhancing emotional depth

Films that evoke strong emotional responses often leave a lasting impact on their audiences. People with lived experience provide a film with emotional depth that might be challenging to capture through actors alone. Their personal stories, emotions, and reflections can add layers of complexity to the characters and plot, making them more relatable and human.

These insights can shape more realistic and emotionally charged scenes, drawing the audience into the narrative in a profound way, which when producing something like a fundraising or awareness film is the aim of the game.

Building trust and credibility

Today audiences are increasingly critical of media representation, credibility is paramount. Films that accurately and respectfully portray specific experiences or communities build trust with their viewers. When audiences recognise that a film has involved individuals who genuinely understand the subject matter, they are more likely to engage with and support the work. And involving people with lived experience can enhance the credibility of the production within the industry. It demonstrates a commitment to authenticity and respect for the subjects being portrayed, setting a high standard for others to follow.

Ethical storytelling

Ethical considerations are crucial in storytelling, particularly when dealing with sensitive topics. Including people with lived experience helps ensure that stories are told with the dignity and respect they deserve. It helps prevents the perpetuation of stereotypes or harmful narratives and promotes a more ethical approach to filmmaking.

This ethical storytelling is not only the right thing to do but also resonates with audiences who are increasingly conscious of social justice and representation issues. They appreciate and support content that reflects genuine, respectful, and ethical storytelling practices.

Incorporating people with lived experience into film production is not just a trend; it’s essential authentic and impactful storytelling. By doing so, we can create richer, more diverse, and emotionally resonant narratives that truly connect with their audiences, in a way that is meaningful and transformative. Films that make a difference.

People with lived experience aren’t just an add on, but play a crucial role in storytelling, ensuring that the stories we tell are as diverse and authentic as the world we live in.