Don's Diary: Lights, cameras...equality

March 29, 2002

D-Day minus one. Tomorrow filming starts on our equality and diversity training video aimed at managers in higher education. Have I forgotten anything? Actors? Crew? Intravenous caffeine? I resist the temptation to check last-minute arrangements and content myself with going over the script for the nth time, marking up changes as new inflections occur to me.

Much later, I realise what a waste of time this was because the director has firm ideas of his own. As scriptwriter, I will be allowed on set but under strict instructions to "feed comments through the director only".

Filming begins. The director and producer have decided on a shooting schedule that bears no relation to the linear sequence of my script. I am told this is normal. From a discrete position on the floor, away from cables and feet, I can see the action.

Keen to maximise veracity, we are filming the departmental manager scene in the real admin office. Students come in and out as best they can, mostly bemused and intrigued to see tutors walking the walk instead of just talking the talk.

Carol, one of our genuine admin support workers, is actually far too nice to play a bad-tempered dragon, but she rises to the occasion admirably.

One of today's cast has a pertinent anecdote. Last week, while waiting in a corridor for a class to finish before his shorthand group could enter, he was told by the leaving lecturer - who had run 15 minutes over time for the third week running - that his students were more important than the shorthand lot because his were paying thousands of pounds for their MBA, whereas Jeff and his group were only doing a community education course. I ponder what happened to parity of experience.

Still miraculously on schedule, we film three shortish scenes today, including a crucial one on homophobia, still the most taboo area of inequality.

At one point, Jed stops Claire from walking past by putting his hand lightly but firmly on her arm. The look she gives him is so perfectly judged that I silently punch the air. I know instantly that the still from that shot will be the first visual to appear in accompanying training materials.

The (male) camera operator suggests Jed would use more force, but the director says no, the gesture is supposed to be subtle but menacing, looking to me for agreement. Absolutely.

The reality of everyday harassment is the accretion of many such small gestures, the drip-drip-drip of casual and routinised disrespect.

Still progressing reasonably well, but hampered by environmental factors: uncooperative weather; a noisy drinks machine; the "blonde" (technical term for high-wattage light) too close to the smoke detector, setting off security alarms; the "redhead" (less serious wattage than blonde but more powerful than brunette) bulb blowing, tripping out the breaker and causing a power cut. I reflect on the irony of cinematography's naming of parts in the context of filming a video on equality.

Delays yesterday mean that we are two scenes down and the pressure is on to complete filming today. While "standing down" (technical term for hanging about with Jaffa Cakes and coffee while waiting for latest glitch to be solved), Sally (the sound recordist and final-year student) asks if the scenes are based on events that really happen in universities.

She is genuinely astonished when I say: "Yes, that's why we're making the video."

With the last scene shot to the director's satisfaction, he announces:

"It's a wrap." We all whoop with delight. At the ensuing party, I get slightly emotional thanking everyone.

This is a two-year project, but it will stand or fall on the quality of material we have produced this week - and I know it's going to be good. The blonde, the redhead and the brunette finally let their hair down.

Karen Ross is reader in mass communication, Coventry University. The video pack, "Managing Equality and Diversity in HE", will be available next year.

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