For Children’s Hospice Week, we wanted to share our experience of working with hospices, and how we’ve found them to be uplifting, energising places. We’ve made a number of films with hospices over the years. Most recently we worked with Chestnut Tree House, a children’s hospice in Sussex where we filmed clients, staff and families over two days. You can see the finished film below.
The focus for Children’s Hospice Week is on the role hospices play in creating ‘moments that matter,’ for the families who look after the 49,000 children in the UK living with a life-limiting or life-threatening condition. Those moments that create special memories or mark important milestones in their lives.
We wanted to share some of the strategies we use when filming or photographing in an environment such as a hospice, where there are seriously ill people and where restrictions are in place on what we can film or have access to. How do you capture those moments that matter without intruding?
It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway, first and foremost always show respect. Be patient and never force a situation. Even if a shot is in the brief you’ve been given but it’s not forthcoming, you must at all times respect the person and their needs. If they don’t want to do something, then their word is final.
Plan as best you can
Try and plan the day ahead of time or you could turn up and there’s nothing or nobody to film. Leave plenty of time. With the best will in the world this can still sometimes go wrong, but we’ve learnt to keep calm and adapt. Being able to think on your feet and go with the flow are equally essential skills.
Familiarise and anticipate
Ask the facilitator or staff what to expect, what activities are happening, who you are likely to see. Then you are ready for all eventualities and can remain focused. By watching and listening, you can put yourself in the right place at the right time to capture a special moment between families or between staff and clients.
Spread the risk
Don’t just arrange to have one person showcasing one activity or workshop because it might not happen. They may be ill on the day or just not feel like taking part. If you have a few people lined up engaging in a variety of activities, then the risk is spread. You also get a nice cross-section of people and varied shots of the facilities the hospice offers.
Focus on the person
Don’t focus on the disability or illness, focus on the person and what they are doing. For example, if the person is in a wheelchair, you don’t have to include the wheelchair in shots. By cropping it out, focus on the person, focus on the smile, focus on what they CAN do rather than what they can’t.
Look for positive activities
In our experience, hospices run plenty of fun activities so find out what there is. Capture people using the hospice facilities; sensory room, gym, music room, hydrotherapy pool. Try to capture creativity such as painting, pottery, cake making or gardening. All of these highlight the positive impacts the hospice has on clients and their families.
Sometimes carers just need a quiet space and time off from caring, so don’t dismiss the person sitting quietly reading a book. Hospices look after carers and parents as well.
Seek out interaction
To capture that ‘moment that matters’, you need to look for interaction between people which demonstrates their strong relationship. Look for smiles, laughter, excited noises. Look for reactions from clients to staff or to parents and carers.
Use the surroundings
Don’t forget to take footage or photos of the surroundings too. Include nature; the garden, trees, flowers, or artwork and plants. Think about the background of your shots and pick up on the bright colours that you’ll probably see in a hospice. Bright colours, nature, fun activities, all add to the feeling of a welcoming environment. Watch out you don’t have a boring fire extinguisher or health and safety notice in the background! If you don’t have a choice don’t forget you can crop them out.
Clever camera work
Shoot in sequences and share different views of the scene using, wide, medium and close-up angles. This keeps the film interesting but can also be used to highlight a specific moment or activity. It can be used very powerfully too. For example, a close up of two people holding hands can be very emotive when put with the right words and music. This can be particularly helpful if a person is non-expressive.
And finally, think about the angle of the camera, if you film at eye level or looking up, it shows the person or people in an empowering way.
Chestnut Tree House film.