Making a documentary during COVID-19

Authors: Kate Savin
  • Reading time: 5 min.
  • Posted on: November 5, 2020

There’s a lot to be said for mistakes. When the artist and author Louise Allen called me out of the blue earlier this year, she thought I still worked for my old boss. She was hoping to invite him to her book launch, and my number was still knocking around online. But we got to chatting and a few months later, I’m producing a documentary about her life.

Louise’s story is both a traumatic and inspiring one, and hinges on another happy mistake. Her unexpected interpretation of an art class project secured her place on a school trip to Tate Britain, where she found her calling and the way out of an abusive home.

What does it take to raise a child well, so they have the chance to learn, explore, and carve out their own paths?What impact does a failure in parenting or schooling have on childhood development? Does a difficult start mean a child’s future is doomed? 

These are some of the questions we’re hoping to answer through Louise’s own experiences. She could have been just another statistic, but she refused. In many ways her life is a middle finger to the officials who failed her and the adoptive mother who abused her. She flourished into a talented woman brimming with life, joy and love. 

By capturing her past as well as the work she’s doing with vulnerable young people now, we hope to create a documentary that will be both a lesson to adults on the importance of creativity in childhood development and an inspirational story for any young person who is struggling. 

I’ve been wanting to make a long-form documentary for a while, but it’s not as simple as wanting it. You need a great subject, to start with. If you’ve managed to find that, you then need to source money for kit, locations, food and travel amongst other things, and find a crew you can count on. All of this is hard enough without a pandemic suddenly shutting the country down. But turns out, making a documentary during COVID-19 isn’t impossible. The Advertising Producers Association has excellent guidelines for making film sets COVID safe, and going slow allows time to reflect, experiment and make (hopefully!) better creative decisions. 

As luck would have it, a few weeks into lockdown Shape History gave me the opportunity to make this documentary happen thanks to our History Shaper Fund. With this initial financial backing, creative freedom, and production support from RD Content, we’ve been able to make good progress despite the pandemic. A passion project for everyone involved, it’s been a chance to explore long-form storytelling and learn more about childhood development, creativity and surviving adversity. 

We only just managed to sneak in our Tate Britain shoot last Saturday, on the day that Lockdown 2.0 was announced. Future shoots have been put on hold but we have a clear roadmap now and hope to complete filming in early 2021. I’ll be updating this blog as production progresses, so keep in touch to see how we get on. 

Check out Louise’s work here.