4 Tips for Social Filmmakers Hungry For Change


Making a great social film is like serving up a flavourful, piping hot dish of nasi lemak with all the toppings.

Yet, the work doesn’t end after a film is released.  

At the recent Using Films for Social Impact workshop, Freedom Film Network’s  Anna Har shared two concepts for making an effective social film and strategising for impact.

The first is think of the ingredients needed for a good social film using Nasi Lemak as an anology; the second is applying a strategic framework to develop SMART goal-setting.

Read more on how to use film for impact if you’re an activist hungry for change:

#1 – A story is to a social film as how a banana leaf wrapper is to Nasi Lemak

While many CSOs feel invested in issues, they are far too complex or abstract to be relatable to break into the mainstream. However, it’s all in how you package it and build a frame of reference for your audience.

You can package and deliver with a story just like how banana leaf completes the Nasi Lemak. When unfolded, what the viewer gets is a relatable and engaging narrative that carries the main dish.

If a film doesn’t have a story – it’s just news. And like the banana leaf, the story lends a subtle flavour to the dish, but it isn’t the main act. 

#2 – Find a credible character to carry the story, just like the Nasi (rice)

Find a believable character whose issues can authentically and genuinely form the basis of your social film, someone who can ground your story like the carbohydrate of the dish.

This carb is essential, as it delivers and soaks up all your lashings of curries with each mouthful of all the flavours. Most importantly, your carb has to be credibly creamy and savoury to be called Nasi Lemak. 

#3 – Present new information like a treat, just like fried chicken!

Whatever your choice of protein – tempeh, fried chicken, or eggs – you need to give your viewers something to chew. You want them to dive in with their fingers, gnaw and pick at the bones at the end of the film.

Viewers are more engaged when learning something new, whether an insight about an unjust law or a perspective from a marginalised community. Give the dish the protein it deserves!

#4 – Think of the sambal as the Human Rights perspective to flavour your film

Without sambal, your dish is just a forgettable nasi campur. Sambal is the human rights perspective – housing, education or voting rights – the zing and flavour that leaves an impression.

These four ingredients, while essential, do not make a Nasi Lemak dish unless they come together. As a dish, it only satiates hunger in a single serving.

Use SMART Goals in your advocacy strategy

Use SMART Goals in framing your social film and advocacy strategy

For social filmmakers, the work doesn’t end after the film is made, viewed or screened. The content is not the product, and a viewing is not an action. A good social film must be used as a tool to advocate for a specific tangible change.

This is where strategic planning is needed. When this is overlooked, we become more reactionary, and become lost in the noise without framework and direction. 

Often, we fall into the trap of assuming that social change happens in the social chamber of social media and end up preaching only to the converted.

The SMART (Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, Time-Bound) goal setting approach can help social filmmakers to define the problem, audience and outreach strategies that prevent fuzzy and broad goals like “to raise awareness of the general public.”

By being specific, activists can instead frame their messages and action plans targeted directly at school teachers, for example, to raise awareness on sex education at school. 

With that considered, CSOs can focus energies and resources to understand the community’s realities, and formulate more effective engagement strategies. 

This community consultation and participation needs to be constant as part of the consent process, and initiation should happen at all stages of pre, production and post-production.

Strategic frameworks are important to help examine advocacy goals critically, and discover which stakeholders and actors are the ones who can truly influence outcomes and social realities.

Advocating for social change doesn’t come without risk, and very often, the physical and mental well-being of communities themselves. Ethical and risk analysis should not be overlooked to ensure that the community you represent is not negatively impacted or threatened as part of your work.  

Do you use social films in your advocacy work? Apply for our inaugural Social Impact grant here. Deadline 31 May 2021. 

Related News & Stories