In conversation with Daniel James Baldwin
Daniel James Baldwin, an award-winning director, explains his role and responsibilities when producing and directing CSR Films, the best medium for spreading awareness.
Can you explain why a film and tv professional has a higher chance of embracing a successful career by developing a clear identity in their work?
I believe this is the case for several reasons. If you start with having a clear, personal motivation to tell a story, you’ll emotionally engage with your subject in a way that makes the topic interesting to an audience. So, in that sense, it’s all about embracing subjectivity. Know yourself, realise the issues that resonate with something deep in you and use that as a guide in choosing what to work on. I’m not saying anything new – film schools, books and mentors will all stress how important it is.
Once you fully engage your barometer (moral, ethical, artistic, psychological, emotional and so on), you should choose your subjects well and make your best work. You’ll also be having fun doing so. It will feel effortless in ways. But in practice, it is hard to do this conscientiously and consistently. Especially you face the commercial reality of earning a living to pay bills. This is where the battle is. It is so tempting to take a project that pays well as a filler, or just for the sake of it. I’ve tried not to do that. I was once told that the most important thing a filmmaker can do is ruthlessly pursue their identity in their work. It is all you are judged on. Dilute your portfolio with work that contradicts your ethics, for example, and you will pollute the body of work. Making it more difficult in the future to attract and work on projects you love and respect. So, having a sharpness of identity will attract more people to your work. It makes you trustworthy. Participants, collaborators, crew and budget holders all care very much about that. There are a lot of people and companies offering ‘filmmaking services’ of some kind or other. By developing a clear, strategic sense of voice and purpose, you stand out because you stand for something beyond the artistic and technical parts. The bit that makes beautiful shots, music and dialogue mean something to an audience.
How do you make your mind when accepting a CSR or NGO film project?
I want to make films and be part of projects that have a positive social impact. From a messaging point of view, this is typically easy to figure out. What needs to be communicated, who is the audience and what is the platform? However, assessing people wanting to commission the work is hard. In general, I’d investigate an NGO less than I would a company engaging in a CSR initiative. But in both cases, finding out where the funding for the project is coming from is essential. The list ranges from looking into the background of the company/organisation from a supply chain management point of view, their tax conduct to whether or not they have been involved in civil litigation cases and so on. There are various sources available. I have even gone as far as contacting academics in other countries who are researching particular industries, to get to the bottom of who a specific NGO is, where their money comes from and what impact they have to see if they walk the talk. It’s an imperfect approach, but I do what I can to make sure, on balance, I am supporting something that has a social and/or community-level benefit.
How do you see the need for corporate socially responsible documentaries evolving going forward – Will it become a primary way of communicating for companies?
In recent years, the court of public opinion is more important than ever. Whether or not a company is engaged in CSR projects is something that traders consider when evaluating their attractiveness for shareholder investment. As a consequence, CSR initiatives are on the rise. There is a healthy debate about the efficacy of many of these initiatives, but they are probably here to stay, and I imagine there will be more content based on them.
Interestingly, some companies do them and don’t talk about them because they don’t want to look like they are beating their drum. Others are happy to do it. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of content is produced going forward. Specifically, I’m curious about whether the work will be made by independent third parties, documenting outcome and impact, or more companies start doing it in house and proudly announce their activity to the world.
How have awards changed your work in terms of opportunities and influence on the content itself?
They have made the collective I work with feel like we are evolving and hitting our stride. But it does also make it easier to engage potential budget holders. It increases the trust people have at the outset of a project. That has been tangible. In terms of the content, the only influence it has is in negotiating budgets that make it possible to execute an idea well.
What are the main benefits of teaming up with like-minded professionals? I have learned that the more open I am to ideas coming from the people I work with, the better the outcome of the piece. I have a vision of what I would like to achieve and what I think will work. But there are always surprises, and there are still better ideas floating around. I try to embrace that. So, the better the people you have working with you, the better the collaboration will be. I know I am lucky to have two close partners. But it has always been easy to attract the additional people we need for projects. It often feels like our work creates a positive momentum which is infectious. I am sure that is because we have a socially conscientious reason for making what we are making. We end up with people who share our goals and vision in a general sense and on a project by project basis. When you all love what you are working on, it’s fun.
Media and communications specialist, wearing two hats. Daniel is an award-winning Producer and Director at CDC Films (www.cdcfilms.co.uk), telling stories for people and organisations engaged in positive social change. He is also a freelance videographer & ethnographic researcher with over 10 years of experience working with some of the UK’s most respected agencies on projects for companies including Apple, the BBC, Channel 4, Google, and ITV.