Observers: How storytelling and expertise come together to create safer campuses

Any good leader can develop a concept from ideation to production and achieve a desired result. However, a great leader knows when to guide and when to serve, so that the result is work that inspires, innovates, and drives change.

At Rooftop, we strive not only to be Thought Leaders, but leaders in the art of storytelling and visual communication. We leverage our combined creative experiences and human behavioural expertise to create products that inspire audiences to ‘think twice’, join a movement, or change their behaviour.

So, what does this have to do with making university campuses safer?

In April 2023, Rooftop was tasked by UNESCO with producing a short film focused on promoting the awareness of gender-based violence on African university campuses.
The goal for us was twofold:

  1. Create greater awareness on the issue of gender-based violence in campus spaces and
  2. Inspire action from all stakeholders in the higher and tertiary education sectors to act against it, contributing towards making campuses safer for all students.

” This was a steep challenge, but one that was never beyond our grasp thanks to a simple, yet powerful practice: thought leadership.”

Our answer to this request was the short film, Observers; a fictional piece that explored the events preceding an act of assault on campus, primarily from the perspectives of bystanders on the periphery of the situation.

This was a steep challenge, but one that was never beyond our grasp thanks to a simple, yet powerful practice: thought leadership.

Thought leadership is, in essence, the conceptual practice of demonstrating insight, skill, and expertise in a particular field of knowledge. It’s taking that insight, skill, and expertise and formulating it into a tangible, innovative process/product. Therefore, it was incredibly crucial for us to adopt this framework throughout our creative collaboration with UNESCO.

At Rooftop, our expertise lies in creating impactful stories powered by purpose

To achieve this, many different skills are required. From ideation to editing, sound design to campaign rollout, the collective at Rooftop possesses a wide and varied set of skills by necessity. This enables us to conceptualize, create, and contribute poignant pieces that enable positive change.

However, it’s just as important to draw from the specialized resources that our partners bring to the table to ensure that the piece we create isn’t only emotionally and conceptually engaging, but that it showcases the unique, real-world knowledge that supports it. This is what enabled us to produce Observers.

Where UNESCO had proposed the message of the piece and the supplementary data that supported it, our responsibility was to take that information and shape it into a visually stimulating and impactful experience for audiences. At its core, this involved a transactional exchange of thought leadership principles, leveraging our technical and conceptual expertise against UNESCO’s breadth of analytics and research to produce something that inspires and informs in equal measure.

Thought leadership above all else inspires collaboration and innovation in equal measure, but it is only when all parties involved submit to the expertise of the other that something fresh and innovative can be created.

I believe a director’s greatest strength is to be an effective facilitator

While it is true that the director serves as the author, designer, and impetus of a vision towards a particular result, the power to manifest that vision lies within each member of the team being directed.

In my opinion, a great director knows when and how to share their position of leadership with another individual, when that individual’s specialized insight works towards the betterment of the end-result.

For instance: I might possess a fairly adequate knowledge of composition and colour, but the cinematographer on our team is able to take those basic ideas of spacing, depth, light, shadow and contrast, and apply a much more in-depth expertise towards how those basic ideas are implemented on an artistic and practical basis.

The same may be said for the costume and make-up specialist who knows what kind of textiles will work most effectively against certain backgrounds and lighting, or the sound designer who intuits how subtle or obvious a particular melody or effect should be felt when complimenting its respective visuals.

This facilitation extends beyond the direct application of the production process as well

Leading up to the filming window, a few of the film crew visited the location we had planned to film in, consulting with a few faculty members and students while we were there.

Even with all our planning, storyboarding, and scripting, some of the insights and personal accounts we gleaned directly influenced what we ended up shooting, including how and where it was shot on location.

This extended to the editing process as well, where an initial draft was shared with a focus group consisting of students and faculty from various campuses, all of which contributed thoughts and experiences that helped us refine and tailor the final piece for maximum impact.

The result was an emotionally and visually engaging piece that resonated with young people of various backgrounds who attend these institutions. Hopefully, it will continue to create awareness on this important issue, and drive more stakeholders to practical action.

Thought leaders are indeed individuals or organisations that have built solid reputations as experts in their fields, but the process of thought leadership – at least within the context of Rooftop’s work – is an ever-shifting seat where collaboration rests at the pinnacle of the creative hierarchy.

You may also like…

Empathy in Editing

Empathy in Editing

We need empathy for these characters, their stories, and the project. Without this part of the process – this connection – the project risks being mediocre at best. The final edit needs to stand out amongst a myriad of other media products that live online.

read more