There’s due to be a meeting in the new year during which time this matter may well be discussed. The New Year is a long way away much will happen before that time so memories may be hazy, things forgotten along the way.
Not to worry though. There are plenty of people to help you with that and I would like to volunteer my services to save the good people of Rosie Hospital, True Vision and Channel 4 some of that trouble.
Let’s start with some of the basics and see what we can learn from this experience.
Before beginning a project it’s always good to consider what it is you are doing and why you are doing it. Maybe consider if there are similar projects already on the subject that may serve as a reference point or inspiration. Maybe one of those projects had already been pitched to you but you may have rejected it as you already had some shows on babies and couldn’t possibly fit another one into your busy schedule.
Another thing to consider given the sensitivity of the topic and the difficulty other documentaries on the same subject had faced in getting screen time was whether your proposal would get aired at all.
“This has come up before but it is tricky for us because we have so much birth on the channel with one born. We would cover and have covered a story like this on ONE BORN, but we can’t commission more single films on birth. 10 more one born on the way in the new year.”
If stark depictions of infant mortality couldn’t get broadcast on one of the biggest broadcasters then maybe the proposal to capture and broadcast the primal scream of despair from a grieving mother at the instant her child dies may not find airtime.
If you are thinking about the prospect of having to expose a grieving family to their most painful loss maybe consider research on what effects stillbirth has on mental health in the short, medium and long term. Perhaps if you intend to work with a hospital maybe they have some form of psychologists, bereavement trained staff or even links to charities working in the area.
Consider whether your standard practice and proposed approach to invade privacy and only seek consent from the affected parties (or grieving parents) after the fact within an arbitrary and truncated time period is compliant with the Data Protection Act or OFCOM Broadcast Code, basic ethics or human decency. As a minimum.
It’s considered good practice to think about your stakeholders in any type of project. If the initial feedback from bereaved parents that more needs to be done about raising awareness do a little more testing on the hypothesis that the best way to achieve that is to covertly film without informed consent. Talk to charities, maybe other film makers that have tackled these topics with sensitivity. If you are in a hospital there are generally helpful groups for example the Rosie Maternity Voices group could have offered some helpful feedback if you had consulted them.
Linking it all together consider your press angle. Not just how you will be able to market your product in the face of a huge public backlash but how you could mitigate some of that. Think perhaps about not referring to the cry of anguish from a mother being told her child is dead as though it’s some sort of television gold. Even if you genuinely believe those words and that this is truly the best way to tell the story of loss think how it may sound to those that have heard that sound ringing in their ears, those that might have heard a dreadful keening noise and in confusion looked to see where it was coming from only to realise that it was coming from them and they couldn’t stop. Think maybe what effect it may have on someone making that noise seeing it on screen. Knowing other people had seen you make that noise. Knowing that other less scrupulous individuals may seek to use that type of material in a less wholesome way than awareness raising.
Think also of those stories you had seen (had you done your research) from bereaved parents that had told their story. Think of how those people were doing it willingly even though it came with a cost that they, not anyone else, had made the decision to accept.
Think about what you might say to people that disagree with your methods or that question your intentions. Test those lines to see whether they show any degree of compassion, empathy or basic understanding of why they feel other methods may be more appropriate.
These are just a few handy pointers. In the end I want to help you so that this doesn’t happen again and that lessons are learned. Had you done any research you might realise that this is often what all bereaved parents ever want from hospitals.