Published on 11 January 2024 in Career

Breaking Down Barriers - key learnings on access and inclusion

Make sure you are working as a creative leader when it comes to making your set and workplace accessible and inclusive.

Here, our Career Development team reflect on some of the key takeaways and learnings for directors from recent sessions on this important topic.

Starting conversations and breaking down barriers

Over the last two years, we have seen significant progress in the conversation around disabled creative talent. There has been a renewed focus on improving access for everyone on set and in the workplace, as well as on removing barriers to entering the industry and to career progression.

From writer Jack Thorne’s 2021 Edinburgh TV Festival MacTaggart Lecture, which called out inequality and demanded change and improvements for disabled creatives in our industry, to the creation of the TV Access Project which advocates across several broadcasters to improve accessibility for everyone working in TV, and to Bridge06 training Access Coordinators who can support positive working relationships, we have been excited to see this work evolve.

Alongside a variety of key partners and collaborators, we have been exploring the different ways in which directors can take the lead when it comes to prioritising access and inclusion for everyone on set and in the workplace.

Here, we share an insight into the work we have been doing, as well as some key takeaways and learnings for directors.

Image - Directing Actors
Image - Directing Actors
Image credit: Working with Actors - Manchester - Directors UK and TripleC DANC - Photo by AB Photography

Directing Actors

In October 2023, in partnership with director Suri Krishnamma and BAFTA award-winning organisation TripleC DANC, we ran our popular Directing Actors workshop in Manchester – the first time we had been back in the room to deliver running this full-day workshop since 2019.

This practical session was focused specifically on building knowledge and understanding to make the creative process and the environment on set more accessible for everyone. It was also a great opportunity to initiate conversations between disabled and non-disabled members of Directors UK and deaf, disabled and/or neurodivergent (DDN) actors.

All the actors who took part in the workshop were members of the DANC community, and accessibility was at the forefront of the training. The aim was to give practical support to directors on how to work with DDN actors to understand their craft and get the very best performances, but also to empower directors as creative leaders so that they can support cast and crew and, most importantly, to have the confidence to ask questions and challenge misunderstandings in order to respond to everyone’s access requirements.

Prior to the workshop, four directors were grouped with two actors each, and provided with a script to read in preparation for the session. On the day, we began with a short introduction led by TripleC DANC on working with actors in the DDN community. Actor/writer and TripleC Co-Creative Lead Melissa Johns and Strategy and Operations Lead at TripleC Katy Boulton welcomed everyone and set the scene for the day.

The participants broke out into their groups and began rehearsing their prepared scenes. This was followed by performances in front of everyone. Each group was given feedback, and all participants were encouraged to share their own thoughts and feedback in return

Later in the day, TripleC DANC led a fantastic open discussion to allow everyone in the room to ask questions and to clarify, for the benefit of the directors, where creative solutions can often be found when working with DDN actors. This emphasis on openness and asking if you don’t know something gave a richness and honesty to the last section of the day as everyone shared their final performances.

Director Suri Krishnamma, who led the workshop, said: “it was inspiring to see a group of directors and actors grasp this opportunity to work together and grow through the process. Gently nudging the directors to use a range of different tools and watching them engage with the actors to create funny, moving and memorable performances reflected how much the group learned from the process and from each other. Whatever your background, whatever your ability or disability – the process of acting and directing is the same. Nobody should be defined by anything other than their respective talent, something this workshop truly underlined for the directors taking part.”

This clear focus on how directors can support better access and inclusion for all also resonated with earlier conversations we had had with some of you who were keen to be more open about disability, and the creative challenges and opportunities it can bring.

Image 2
Image 2
An example of an easy read call sheet used at Directing Actors

Ask us Anything

In 2021, we held an Ask us Anything session and the aim was just that. It was a safe space where directors could hear from their disabled peers to simply listen and ask questions. Contributors were open about their disabilities, not all of which can be seen and not all of which are easy to disclose. The session explored the shift in the production environment to attract disabled talent and crew, looked at the experience of being a DDN director and the craft of directing when working with disabled crew, contributors and talent.  The key learning was vital. Many people worry about asking disabled colleagues the wrong questions, or using language that has the potential to cause offense - asking is much better than assuming. It’s OK to get things wrong, as long as you ask questions about why or how they were wrong and learn from this so that the needs of disabled directors are heard.

We dug deeper into the importance of asking questions and never assuming anything during a Roundtable discussion about access in collaboration with TripleC DANC. Here, directors had the opportunity to go further into issues around access and inclusion and to explore how DDN creatives can offer creative solutions on set since many have faced barriers previously. The challenge as a director is to ask your colleagues what they need and to collaborate with them to make sure their access requirements are met.

Working Examples and Forging Relationships

Aimed at giving directors an opportunity to learn more from each other, our 2022 masterclass on BBC drama Then Barbara Met Alan with directors Bruce Goodison and Amit Sharma explored how they worked with deaf, disabled and/or neurodivergent talent during the making of this production and how an insistence on authenticity was essential when telling this unique story. This multi award-winning production centred on a pivotal time for access and inclusion rights and merged scripted with archive material to highlight historical challenges facing disabled people within the media and with the broader public.

A deep dive into the making of Ralph & Katie with director Jordan Hogg gave directors an in-depth insight on how creative decisions can be better handled and executed when everyone on set focuses on the importance of “ask first – don’t assume” as a guiding principle. The first British drama to feature two lead actors with learning disabilities, this production raised the bar in relation to accessibility on set. We discussed how Jordan worked creatively with the actors and collaborated with an inclusive and diverse crew, to create a safe and fulfilling environment for everyone involved, and he shared some key learnings for directors:

“In addition to the actors, the whole spine of Ralph & Katie included disabled talent - myself, script editor, runner, costume assistant, assistant editor and a team of writers. We knew we had to think from the ground up and change archaic techniques and practices, and I was supported by a brilliant producer Jules Hussey, who helped me lead the way.

We started by setting up our production office, choosing a space where all the departments were in one room. As is often the case with adjusting accessibility requirements, this benefited everyone - communication flourished! Then, we focused on the shoot and how to provide the best environment possible for everyone. Easy read call sheets and name badges proved to be inspiring, plus they are a simple, free tool.

A key challenge was creating the best environment possible for our lead actors. We were extremely conscious not to overwhelm actors Leon Harrop and Sarah Gordy, so we made the decision to only shoot with one camera to limit the number of voices on the floor. Working with my DOP, Ian Adrian, we found an ingenious way to circumvent this. We took the decision to shoot in 6k and at 50fps, knowing that in the edit this would essentially give us 2 sizes with one shot. Again, another change that cost nothing (in fact it saved money) and benefited everyone.

We knew that exposing Leon and Sarah to a heavier workload than usual may be challenging and so we recruited a performer from a theatre group that focused on disabled talent to act as an interpreter of sorts for both actors and advise us. This was the creation of the Access Coordinator who worked on the production, which has become one of the greatest legacies of Ralph & Katie, providing a comfortable and efficient environment for everyone. We also hired a disabled trainee to every department, to help break down barriers and hopefully boost disability in our industry by providing career progression opportunities within this overlooked demographic.”

In collaboration with TripleC DANC, in 2023, a morning of online networking gave directors an opportunity to forge relationships with disabled talent and organically bridge gaps in their knowledge and understanding when it comes to making inclusive hires and creating fully accessible working environments.

Image - Jordan Hogg
Image - Jordan Hogg
Jordan Hogg - BTS on Ralph & Katie

Working with an Access Coordinator

Fast forward to September 2023, when we welcomed the team behind Bridge 06, an agency committed to sourcing, training, placing and supporting Access Coordinators onto film and theatre sets,for our Working with an Access Coordinator session facilitated by full-time Access Coordinator Julie Fernandez, plus executive producer Sara Johnson and director Neil Ben.

This session explored the benefits of a strong working relationship between Director and Access Coordinator throughout the production process and how it can positively impact cast and crew.

From storyline development and casting to post-production and marketing, Julie, Sara, and Neil took directors through the full production process to highlight the essential work Access Coordinators do and why having them on set can foster a smoother, more inclusive experience for everyone involved in a production – from making sure disabled characters are represented sensitively and accurately, to thinking practically about your office or workplace location and how it can suit everyone’s requirements.

Image 3
Image 3
Image credit: Working with Actors - Manchester - Directors UK and TripleC DANC - Photo by AB Photography

We have only just scratched the surface in helping directors feel confident and empowered when it comes to improving access and inclusion on their productions. The most important thing we have learned is to ask questions – talking and sharing different experiences plays a huge role in better educating ourselves about issues around access and inclusion and starts conversations about how we can find creative solutions.

We are excited to evolve our partnerships and work in Access and Inclusion. Get in touch with our Career Development team, Head of Career Development and Skills Andrea Corbett and Career Development and Skills Manager Sean Thomas, if you would like to offer your insights or have any suggestions or offers for how we can support directors in this vital work.

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