Dr. Cornelis Stal
Manager of H-digital, The Heritage Management Organization digitization program.
Convenor of the annual ‘Digital Tools for Heritage Management’ executive workshop by The Heritage Management Organization.
Lecturer/Researcher, Ghent University College – HOGENT, Belgium
As I sit down to write a few words about my experience in producing and filming a documentary on landscape archaeology in the island of Naxos, I wonder what could be of interest to us, the heritage tribe…
I am a producer/director with an MA in Heritage Management, working for Greece’s national broadcaster ERT, as well for the Heritage Management Organization.
I specialize in documentaries on heritage, anthropology and on children’s programs.
This documentary came about by sheer chance, actually.
My first intention was to gather information for another heritage production, this one for children. But the latter was at an initial stage of conception and the team consisted of just me and the artistic director.
The documentary on Naxos, on the other hand, would be the result of a research taking place for quite some time on location, conducted by the Mc Cord center for History, Classics and Archaeology of the University of Newcastle, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Oslo and the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades.
First point to note:
If you are a heritage manager from the production field, you will be needing a solid research/scientific team to work with; mostly because this is the way to guarantee authenticity and support, scientific and financial. Without those, the road is long and it
won’t necessarily come to fruition, even if it is well researched by the production team and vice versa.
The next step was to bring the McCord center’s scientific team for the research in Naxos, together with the production and management team from Greece’s National Broadcaster (ERT), and form – more than a coproduction- a synergy.
Second point to note:
Funding for heritage documentaries can be difficult these days. Hence, forming some sort of a co-production or synergy is essential in order to get the better of two worlds.
An agreement was established and the pre-production begun, including the values to be communicated, the narrative, the artistic style, days of filming, crew, cost etc. The scientific and the production team worked closely together, to make sure we were both aiming towards the same direction.
Third point to note:
Once the production team is formed and the concept of the narrative is designed, one needs to start thinking of:
This point will guarantee that when the crew is on location for the filming, the human and financial resources available for the production will be used up to the optimum potential in accordance with the desired goals.
Fourth point to note:
Once on location, the production team – apart from filming- is also doing another very important work; namely engaging with the local society. We need to always keep in mind that television production is a popular medium. So these productions, on location and upon distribution, approach the local society, stakeholders and the target audience, in a completely different way. This connection creates another type of bond with the people and should be part of the production design, one of its main goals.
All points completed, and a year later, the documentary was aired twice by Greece’s national broadcaster ERT. The first time was scheduled and the second occurred as a result of the audience’s demand!
On May the 15th a workshop took place at the University of Newcastle, with the title:
“Filming the Past in the Present: Heritage and Documentary Practice”
It was a collaborative event supported by the Digital Cultures Research Group and the Research Centre for Film, the Cultural Significance of Place Research Group.
There were three films presented by the research teams and the producers. One of them was Hidden Landscapes of Naxos.
All the films were completely different in artistic style and narrative. However, the main points were evident in all of them.
To conclude, the reason for this blog piece – after reading through my writings a few times – is probably to serve as a brief manual on what it takes to actually pull through an audiovisual production on heritage.
Ruins, archaeological and historical, present a special category of monuments that ensue as a result of natural wear and tear, abrupt natural catastrophes, use, abandonment or intentional destruction. (more…)
In this effort, the Heritage Management Organization has found a very important ally: Global Heritage Fund (GHF). According to Stefaan Poortman, GHF’s CEO, “Over the years, the Heritage Management Organization has successfully convinced GHF that local community engagement is a key feature in any heritage management project. In our desire to follow best practices in heritage preservation, we have decided to attempt a very important project at Ayios Vasileios near Sparta. Our partnership with this organization, which leads in their field, will be instrumental in the success of our efforts there.”
If funded, this will be the first large-scale public engagement project that GHF has undertaken, and it will be the HMO’s first collaboration with this great institution. Given that Global Heritage Fund is a leading project management and conservation organization worldwide, with 28 projects in 19 countries, it is an ideal partner to our organization as we have neither the interest nor the expertise in project managing whilst our strength in training will compliment GHF, which does not lead training programs. If the program is funded, then GHF may work with us to ensure the implementation of best practices as well as to test new ideas in a new context. We are proud to say that we have completed this first phase of collaboration with GHF, and we expect this collaboration to bear greater fruits in the months and years to come.
You have organised the best exhibition of the year, or set up a ground-breaking educational program. You have worked hard with curators, conservators, educators, everything is ready to rock, but now you wonder… how can I bring people in? How can I reach my audience, and what should I be telling them? Informing and engaging the public is a crucial process for the success and sustainability of heritage institutions. However, heritage-related university programs do not usually include any training in Communications, and heritage managers who cannot afford to recur to external experts might find themselves in serious troubles when it comes to communicate and promote what they are doing.
This is why last April HMO organised the first Workshop in Communication Strategy for a group of 15 students from the joint MA in Heritage Management of the University of Kent and Athens University Business School. The workshop took place in Elefsina, a few meters away from the archaeological site of ancient Eleusis. The course instructor, Derwin Johnson, has a 20-year experience as a journalist for CNN and ABC, and is a professional media consultant and trainer.
The aim of the workshop was to give heritage managers the basic tools to communicate the identity, activities and events of their cultural organisation effectively in order to engage the right audience with the right messages.
Participants learnt how to produce a communication strategy, starting with identifying the appropriate audiences through a “conversation map”, where you can visualise all the groups interested in your message and select the most convenient for you. Once they knew who they were talking to, the students could then draft their key messages, the core ideas that they needed to express, and then learnt how to tweak those messages depending on the different media they wanted to use: more informal and experience-focussed for a blog, more simple and informative for a press release, more condensed and witty for social media. They had the chance to experiment with a wide variety of styles, always keeping an eye on the core message and reminding the importance of consistency.
A considerable amount of time was dedicated to interview simulations, where the students had to talk about their organisation in front of a camera and answer questions from Derwin playing the role of a journalist. They learnt how to catch attention and stay focussed on their messages, but also how to improvise in case of unexpected remarks.
The most successful feature of the course was that applied work immediately followed the theoretical lectures. Participants could put into practice what they just learned by working in groups under the supervision of the instructor, and receiving immediate feedback and further advice. A good example for that is the press conference simulation that took place on the last course day: each team had to present in a structured manner their piece of news to a (fake) audience of journalists ready to leave if they were bored or ask tricky and uncomfortable questions. It was a matter of coordination and team work, and students learnt the importance of being inspirational and audience-oriented when communicating their mission and messages.