“We’d like something that doesn’t feel corporate…”

How we made Thirteen Stories, a short documentary about one of the North East’s biggest housing providers.

A short excerpt from the film. During the introduction we wanted to get to the heart of what makes the company special, the significant role it plays in customers’ lives, and make the audience feel involved and invested in the story.

What exactly is the difference between a corporate video and a documentary-style film?

One you watch out of obligation and the other one you watch out of curiosity. One of them delivers information drily, the other explores ideas, bringing you along for the ride.

But the key difference is engagement. A documentary is driven by a desire to engage your mind and your emotions. And by emotions we don’t mean soap opera drama, it could be joy, empathy, surprise. We want to make the audience feel invested in what they’re watching and not just be a passive observer. We want to move people. Sometimes move them to action, and sometimes nudge their perceptions a little.

Some people might feel obliged to be positive about their job on camera. But we want to encourage people to feel comfortable in expressing genuine thoughts and feelings. The consequence of this is that when people are sincerely positive the audience feels it.

Most organisations are commissioning films not because they want things to stay the same, but because they want to inspire some form of action, or change in the viewer.

Where we started

In early April we started working with Thirteen Group - a social housing provider - to try and capture how the organisation has evolved following an unprecedented expansion. 

The client wanted to create a film, primarily for internal use, to help the growing staff feel part of one cohesive company, but also they were keen to inspire individual departments to learn more about each other and be proactive in collaborating.

So where do we start?

We think our films are most effective when they combine a relaxed intelligence with emotion and empathy. So we undertake journalistic research to understand key details about an organisation, and also grasp exactly what it is that makes the company tick. And then we work on getting to the heart of what makes the employees tick, and what the company means to its client and customers.


Gathering intelligence - exploring and understanding.

If our ultimate goal is to be able to fluently share with an audience what an organisation does, what makes them special and (most importantly) why any of this matters to you, then our first goal is to take a deep dive into our research and figure this out for ourselves.

Thirteen’s Money Advice service - free for tenants - was a great example of a potentially unexpected part of their customer offer. Rather than overwhelm people with factual information, we wanted to capture ideas and stories about the department that would stick in the audiences mind. So that when they met someone in financial difficulty, this would pop into their minds.

It’s 100 years since the Housing Act 1919 first set into motion the premise of the government supplying housing to people on lower incomes. But in the past century most people’s perceptions of what council housing is, who it’s for and how it works, have hardly changed. 

A key part of this brief was to take the audience beyond the superficial and outdated ideas and to show how a modern housing provider works and the diversity of things it offers customers and can help them with.

Get to the heart of the story

The core of Thirteen’s mission is to “help people get the home they deserve”. And, unsurprisingly, almost everything the company does comes back to that relationship of helping people into a home. Whether it’s a first home, family home, downsizing, finding somewhere more affordable or a more secure tenancy, it all comes back to housing.

So it seemed ideal for us to open the film by capturing a tenant getting keys to his house. Although this event is one point on a long journey that Thirteen have with their customers it’s a clear moment of success and hope that all staff can share some credit for. And we wanted the audience to see other staff reflecting on what this moment means for the customer, and in turn highlight the tangible sense purpose and outcomes inherent in each and every role.

By this point in the film, our intention was that the staff in the audience would feel emotionally invested in Thirteen’s mission, and the role that they could play within it, making them receptive to the messages that would follow and the call to action and initiative.

“My colleagues being filmed were immediately put at ease by their friendly and relaxed, yet professional, direction.”

- Beth Cronin, Marketing Manager Thirteen Group

We were looking for one of our interviewees to sum up the film’s main premise, that there is power and opportunity in having this newly expanded organisation with all of these new specialist departments.
In Louise’s role she often has to step back and take a birds eye view of the company.
So we started talking to her about one final idea and message we wanted to leave the audience with. Rather than launching a dry, direct question at her, we engaged in conversation. We may have our research, but she lives the job day-to-day, and she knows where there may be gaps in work practice or opportunities that aren’t exploited.

This isn’t an interrogation

Filming interviews is a team sport. If you succeed, then we succeed. We want you look and sound as smart and as interesting as possible, and we’ll do everything in our power to make that happen.

We like to take a conversational approach, testing out our ideas with you, and expressing our curiosity and enthusiasm.

It natural that most of us sometimes feel that our job isn’t that special, or that what we do doesn’t always feel like we play a significant role, but to outsiders like us what you do isn’t something we get to hear about every day. It’s fresh and fascinating, and like explorers or anthropologists, we’re excited to discover everything we can about what you do and how you do it.

Part of our brief for Thirteen Group was to help staff become more familiar with both the specifics of what their colleagues in different departments did in their role, but also to help foster and reinforce a sense of community and shared experience in the organisation as a whole.

For us it made total sense to share these ambitions for the film with interviewees. It helped to calm nerves and push past the natural modesty that most of us have with our roles - after all the more staff were willing to say about their department the more helpful the audience would find it. But it also empowered our interviewees, giving them an understanding of what we were all looking to achieve in the conversation, and enabling them to feel more involved in choosing which details would be most relevant.


How could we help you?

Some projects start with a brief, others a seed of an idea evolves out of a conversation over coffee (or mini-golf)!. Either way, we’re more than happy to have a chat about a potential project to see how we can collaborate to bring your story to life. Feel free to give us a call or drop us an email