Bus Stop Films and Taste Creative have launched The Inclusive Filmmaking Toolkit

Decades of experience and campaigning has gone into learning just how the arts community can create important (and unique) work with people with disabilities.

In the ferment around diversity, a lot of the heavy lifting is done by the disability sector. Companies and peak organisations across the arts are driven by a patient rage about injustice, their knowledge that the processes are so empowering, and the simple fact that people with disabilities can make important art. 

It is a lot harder to deal with issues around the alleged weaknesses of people with disability in sectors that rely on working fast to conventional frameworks. It is really easy to play the saint, to patronise and steal glory.

These issues have been worked through around the world and there is a heap of good thinking about the social processes which turn the person with disability into a nuisance which ‘normal people’ will help to fix.

Bus Stop Films in association with Taste Creative, funded by the NSW government through Screen NSW has produced The Inclusive Filmmaking Toolkit as a practical guide to creating projects and companies around people whose participation is shaped by disability.

As the preamble says: 

‘This Inclusive Filmmaking Toolkit will provide our screen and creative industries with an essential resource to help guide our sector to become more inclusive and disability-confident. 

‘The toolkit will outline best practice principles to provide the most appropriate support and achieve greater and more meaningful inclusion of people living with disability on both sides of the camera.’

Screenhub spoke to Tracey Corbin-Matchett, project manager and now CEO of Bus Stop Films. She is known to the conventional industry mostly as the former Project Officer Stakeholder Relations and Industry Development at Screen NSW after an intense career in the social justice arena.

What are the issues that are surprising to screen creatives when they start to become involved?

‘That people with disability can be involved in it from the get go,’ she replies.

‘There’s the sort of premise that inclusive filmmaking is just casting someone with a disability on the screen at the end, rather than their active participation and collaboration on a peer-to-peer level and putting people with disabilities in all aspects of the project. 

‘We run our films so that people with a disability are involved in the very creation of an idea, from where we say let’s make a film about this, to the script-writing, the refining, the casting, the set design, the sound, the colour, rather than just bringing them in as a consultant to go over the words or the ideas of “able-bodied” people writing people with a disability.

‘And also I’m surprised that they will still believe that working with people with a disability slows down production. That the show is not going to be as polished or professional.’ 

What do you think traditionally trained professionals in the industry learn from working in this way?

‘We work with incredibly great crews. They are amazing practitioners, very talented artists and they keep coming to work on our sets because there’s a different nuance to the dynamic. It’s calm, it’s respectful. On any set when you are pushed by budgets and time constraints or lighting, it can be a bit intense but it’s fine as long as everyone’s trying to work together to get there. 

‘It’s a great leveller. Filmmaking is often seen as is hierarchical, where the director is the pinnacle. In our approach everyone has an equal role to play and we’re all in it together,  and we can watch the camaraderie grow.

The Toolkit

This is not a conventional how-to document. The philosophy argues that the problem is not with the people with disabilities but in the context around us all, which relies on extremely normative ways of looking at human capability. Cue teeth-grinding stories about treating adults like children and demonising people with invisible illnesses. 

So the filmmaker journey here starts with the context, which is thoroughly and logically worked through, and well worth thinking about. At the end of the day, the values espoused can make our companies and shows a lot better anyway. You will find clear methodologies.

But the one thing that I pull out of this whole encounter is the simplest of rules. Just listen. Pay attention. The person you are talking to is very competent, but maybe not in ways that you can see.

One Giant Leap, pictured above, is 

A space themed, inclusively made stop motion animation which premiered at Sydney’s Vivid festival in 2019. The film was shot at AFTRS and produced by students of the Accessible Film Studies Program with funding support from Cushman & Wakefield.

Read more: Freewheelers writers room goes virtual but stays real with disability

David Tiley was the Editor of Screenhub from 2005 until he became Content Lead for Film in 2021 with a special interest in policy. He is a writer in screen media with a long career in educational programs, documentary, and government funding, with a side order in script editing. He values curiosity, humour and objectivity in support of Australian visions and the art of storytelling.