How an education dept's pilot made public sector moviemaking easy

By Stephen Easton

November 20, 2015

Good video content is gold in online communications, and it is theoretically easy for most of us to record, edit and broadcast videos these days at almost no cost. In reality, trying to make anything with reasonable production values for professional communications quickly becomes time-consuming and frustrating.

The solution for most government agencies is either to have a small in-house video production capability or bring in a production company from outside. The platform behind the NSW Department of Education ClassMovies TV project is a different approach. It guides teachers with no special training in video production through making their own little movies, with professional editing by film school graduates.

Peter Vicary
Peter Vicary

“We’re allowing teachers to tell their own story, and to tell it in a very authentic way,” explains Peter Vicary, DoE’s director of communications and engagement.

The NSW department was the first big client to use Filmpond, which launched its service into the wider market this month after refining it through the 12-month ClassMovies pilot. Each video costs $595 and it’s free to set up an online platform, called a pond, which is used for uploading and downloading guidance materials and footage, communicating with the editor and publishing the results.

A kit is delivered to the amateur video makers with tips on planning their story and getting good footage using common devices like tablet computers, smartphones or small handheld digital cameras. After they upload the footage and instructions to the editor the first cut comes back within three weeks, and two rounds of editing is typical.

DoE secretary Michele Bruniges encouraged all teachers to have a go at moviemaking: “All it takes is an idea and a smartphone, tablet device or a video camera. Most importantly, you get to tell your story about your school’s innovation in your own words and style.”

Beginning Teaching at Maroubra Junction Public School, by filmmaker Trisha Noble.
Beginning Teaching at Maroubra Junction Public School, by filmmaker Trisha Noble.

Filmpond CEO Phil Lewis says the company now has partnerships with the education departments of South Australia and Queensland and users in universities, after-school care and as the vocational education and training sector, including some based overseas. In NSW, DoE sees ClassMovies as an important part of the NSW government’s teacher quality reforms.

“We were looking for opportunities to share and develop professional practice amongst our teachers and Phil came along with an idea, and it was really a meeting of minds, in terms of what we were seeking to do and what his platform was actually able to provide,” Vicary tells The Mandarin.

“We’re applying it, not just directly in the teaching space but across the organisation.”

A limited tender process commenced and after his offer was examined in detail, Lewis won the contract to help about 70,000 teachers in NSW public schools produce 1000 videos. In the back-and-forth with the department, he developed new features for Filmpond, which is now a fully fledged product for all kinds of internal and external communications, aimed at the enterprise market.

DoE is looking at other ways of using it within the agency, such as in its research team and also with another program, Future Classrooms. “We’re looking at how we can use it in that project to tell the story about trying out new technology and new classroom configurations for example, so we’re applying it, not just directly in the teaching space but across the organisation,” says Vicary.

As well as costing much less than a professional film crew with all their lights, microphones and cameras, the process is also not as intrusive and disruptive to a normal day’s work, so the authenticity of the footage is less likely to be spoiled by self-consciousness.

“And also, it really worked for us because we’ve got a large, geographically dispersed workforce with lots of different viewpoints and lots of different stories to tell,” Vicary adds.

Innovation and job creation

The 12-month ClassMovies pilot also gave 20 film school graduates from Sydney jobs, which Lewis counts as another positive of his burgeoning business. “There’s no jobs for these kids; they were all flipping burgers,” he jokes. “I’m hoping that in the end if this does achieve broader communication goals in the public sector, we will be creating potentially thousands of career-starting jobs for graduates from Australian film schools.”

Lewis told The Mandarin he’ll be specifically courting public sector organisations and inviting them over coming months to try their own pilots in 2016: “There are many people in the public service doing incredible things and we’re looking forward to seeing how we can help them with the platform.”

Being based in Bondi Junction means Malcolm Turnbull is his local member and, according the Filmpond CEO, the Prime Minister also commented on the platform’s wider applicability in the government sector, back before he was in the top job and had more time to pot around his electorate.

“He came to visit. He gave some really, really good advice and commented this was a disruptive new communications platform that had relevance across other areas of government,” Lewis recalls.

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