So often it is their commitment to honesty and authenticity that helps achieve this. Just look at how ubiquitous these words are in awards season, when we celebrate the very best. But as a creative, whether you’re starting out or have been in the game for several decades, you might wonder: how can I demonstrate these qualities? And how can I take an idea that is personal to me, but also represents and speaks to the experiences of a much wider audience?
Successful examples aren’t hard to come by. Like many people, I was gripped by It’s A Sin, the brilliant new drama from Russell T Davies recalling the devastating impact of the AIDS crisis. I sensed immediately that this was a passion project informed and inspired by a collective experience that held deep personal resonance for Davies.
From the script, to the characters, music and sense of place, this authenticity was plain to see. But as much as it was obviously a project borne out of someone’s own lived experience and their surrounding environment, it surely benefited from a hive mind of those who were either there or have since dedicated themselves to understanding the events depicted on screen. It is these twin elements that I believe helped the series achieve the impact it did. Hearing that the show led to a surge in demand for HIV self-testing kits, it gave me hope.
If this is what great drama can do for a major health epidemic, then what can it do for the issues of mental health that are equally urgent?
“But as much as it was obviously a project borne out of someone’s own lived experience and their surrounding environment, it surely benefited from a hive mind of those who were either there or have since dedicated themselves to understanding the events depicted on screen.”
The theme of mental health has been gathering steam for at least the last decade, and the screen industries have demonstrated a growing desire to lead the conversation. With each year that passes I see more and more creatives taking on subjects in the area. I suspect if you were to poll my colleagues in TV or games, they’d report the same thing. This isn’t surprising, and it would surprise you less, still, to hear that many of these creatives come at the subject from a place of personal experience. It is, to put it simply, a crowded field.
So how might your mental health story stand out? The key again here is to take your idea, one that might be very specific to an individual or one group, and focus on the characteristics that can spark a connection with all kinds of audiences. One way to do this is to draw not just on your own experience, but those of others, including professionals working in the area as well as others from different fields entirely.
“One way to do this is to draw not just on your own experience, but those of others, including professionals working in the area as well as others from different fields entirely.”
It’s with this in mind that the BFI is working with innovative new charity OKRE on their next Development Rooms event exploring Mental Health. “Inner Dialogues” brings together creatives of all stripes and introduces them to brilliant minds in research and those with personal lived experience across diverse communities. It is environments like these that excite me: the intersection of the venn diagram where ostensibly unrelated things overlap. In the creative industries, this can be a uniquely productive space, one where you see the synapses of different minds working together. What results can surprise and inspire.
But what’s most exciting for me is that this isn’t just a learning exercise, somewhere creatives can come to swot up on the latest mental health research to inform your work. The idea is that through the robustness of creative collaboration, your ideas might resonate within a framework of shared wisdom, and it is there you can find the qualities to help your work stand out.
At the last session, looking at urban environments, an engineer spoke about how they consulted a choreographer to better understand the movements of commuters in the city. That is a pairing few would suggest, and fewer still would try. It made me wonder what other perspectives we can benefit from, and where we might not yet have thought to look.
And so it is in that spirit that I encourage people come along, whatever stage they are at in their careers, whether they write films, produce television, make podcasts or games, to seek inspiration not just from their peers, but from those in industries with whom we have until now had so little interaction. Because the best storytellers are curious. And the journeys they take us on are so often the product not of one mind, but of many, emerging from the space between two points, so often the well of creativity where the best ideas are found.