'Stolen Skin' is our latest Film of the Month

14 Apr 2020 in Film of the Month

12 mins
'Stolen Skin' is our latest Film of the Month

We're delighted to announce that the March 2020 winner of our Film of the Month competition is Stolen Skin, created by Taryn (director/editor/soundtrack) and Nell (writer/actor) from Norfolk - see their winning film above.

Stolen Skin (engaging for ages 14+) is a collage of visuals and narration that tells multiple stories of sexual harassment.

The images and shots compliment the spoken word piece perfectly. Such an important and timely subject matter. It's great that the research that inspired the film was carried out by the filmmakers. A really powerful film.

Film of the Month Judge on 'Stolen Skin'

We got in touch with Taryn and Nell to find out more about their film. 

Congratulations on winning Film of the Month. How long have you been making films?

Taryn: Filmmaking is a fairly recent thing for me, evolving from a passion for photography, which began when I was 15. I first dipped my toes into film last year, when I decided I wanted to raise awareness of reusable menstrual products. I created a video all about them, with information and interviews, which I submitted to the Connecther Girls Impact The World film festival. It ended up as a finalist, which was hugely validating. 

Then, through my role as a Global Ambassador for The Better Tomorrow Movement, I started creating films to highlight the work of young changemakers I encountered on my gap year travels. People fascinate me, and I love to ask questions about their lives, and I've since gone on to create interviews independent of the organisation. Now, I'm especially interested in how I can use this art for activism - it makes me feel like what I'm creating has an impact and a purpose. 

Nell: I've been making films (badly) since I was ten - lots of questionable fairytales and music videos on Photo Booth. But since starting a film studies A Level in 2018, I learnt about how to manipulate film form techniques to generate a desired response and since then I haven't stopped! I've used film as a vehicle for my self-expression and activism, a mix of creative exploration and non-fiction. I also created a 30 minute documentary on my parents marriage, which involved collecting footage of them for a year.

Where did the idea for Stolen Skin come from?

Nell: Last summer, I completed a National Youth Theatre course, and during the programme, we were encouraged to discuss what we were passionate about. I'd been thinking about my own experiences of sexual harassment, and for one of the activities, I decided to do a speech about it. I'd never spoken about it openly before, and it brought me to tears because I felt so vulnerable. 

Afterwards, my peers were so supportive, coming to me and sharing their own experiences, which they'd never felt able to talk about. This made me realise that I could do more to help others speak out. So I came to Taryn with the beginnings of the spoken word piece you hear in the video, and I told her about the reaction to my speech. She was enthusiastic about the idea of creating a report and video from it, and everything went from there.

Can you tell us about your collaborative process/how you worked together on the film?

Taryn: It was a long process, and we had a few challenges - the main ones being that Nell was studying for A Levels, and I was off travelling in Europe. After Nell came up with the initial idea, we had discussions about what we wanted the film to look like, what messages we wanted to convey, and what we wanted the purpose of it to be. It was important to us that the film demonstrated that this is a wider experience, so we created an anonymous survey and released it on our social media channels - over 150 people responded, and what they said helped us choose the direction we wanted to take the project. Nell was the one who interpreted the results, selecting the snippets that stood out most to her, which we used in the opening sequence. 

When it came to filming, Nell had already written the prose, so we had an idea of the kind of things we needed to capture. Some things were planned - Nell's outfits and the contrasting inside/outside shots - but mostly the visuals were very spontaneous. We knew we wanted to convey objectification and feeling emotionally naked (as Nell talks about in her spoken word piece), but we improvised the rest of the ideas. 

I put the sound together around Nell's spoken word piece (recorded in the depths of my wardrobe), and Nell went into college and asked a selection of her friends to speak phrases that she'd picked out from the survey. I mixed these together with some layered guitar chords. At the beginning, the voices overlap; it's chaotic and uncomfortable, a demonstration of how common public sexual harassment is. This was the foundation for putting the visuals together. 

Editing took the longest time, and I was doing it mostly on my laptop, during long bus and train journeys while travelling. I used Premiere Pro, and did it in sections, working on the main part (with Nell's spoken word) first. We didn't storyboard, so I had the challenge of figuring out which shots to put where. I sent Nell versions of it as I progressed, and she gave me feedback on what she thought worked and what didn't. 

We have different skill sets, with strengths that really compliment each other, and because of this, the project ended up being a pretty 50/50 split in terms of our contributions. With a background in photography, I know about light, composition and angles. I'm musical, and was able to work this passion in too. Nell is a brilliant actress and writer, and the spoken word piece is really the backbone for this project. She also knows a lot about film, so she helped with ideas for the cinematography. We both bounced our ideas off each other, discussed everything, and, because of our close friendship, we were able to be honest with each other about whether things were going in the direction we intended.

How would you like to see Stolen Skin impact people's ideas on the topic of harassment?

Taryn: I wanted to create something that would shine a light on how common and how universal this experience is, with the goal of making victims feel less alone. Even in the wake of the #MeToo movement, talking about this is still a taboo. Stolen Skin was intended to open up conversation, to make it feel more okay to share our experiences. It is pretty much universal. 

We also wanted to challenge the idea that a certain ‘type' of person attracts this kind of attention - Nell is childlike, wearing Groovy Chick socks and no makeup, and when she is wrapped in the sheet, her nakedness is not ‘sexy' - it's about vulnerability. In our survey, the results were showing that girls in particular start experiencing public sexual harassment at a young age - the average was just 13 years old. 

Nell: We wanted to give victims a voice. We are fortunate to follow #MeToo, which created a platform to deconstruct the stigma around sexual abuse, but public sexual harassment isn't seen as severe. Many people feel embarrassed, so don't talk about it. Our research showed that for 56.4% this is a regular occurrence, but only 17.4% say they tell someone, so we wanted to get a conversation going to be followed by the rest of the campaign we are planning... 

What has the response to Stolen Skin been like?

Taryn: When the video was finished, we put it out into the world through our social media channels, uploading it to IGTV and YouTube. Our friends shared it with their friends, and it snowballed from there - we both received lots of touching (and sad) messages expressing that they identified with what we were depicting; that our film resonated with them, and made them feel less alone. Most of the reaction happened while I was out of the country, so I was distanced from it, but Nell did a couple of radio interviews, and was also interviewed by the local news station. The film was shown on TV! I felt so proud of her. 

Nell: We were so grateful for the reaction - we'd expected a response from our friends and peers, who had been supportive of the process, but the actual reception was beyond what I had imagined. I'd done some interviews with BBC Radio Norfolk before, so planned to go on air, but Gary, the head of BBC Voices suggested that we submit the piece to BBC Upload, where we caught the attention of our local news. It all happened in a few days and was quite overwhelming, especially to share something that felt so personal to me. But when we uncovered how universal the issue is, I felt connected with other victims, and together we are stronger than our experiences. I was proud of Taryn, myself and everyone who shared with us, to stand up against this issue. 

If you could make Stolen Skin again what would you do differently and why?

Taryn: We didn't storyboard, recording the spoken word piece after we'd already filmed a lot of the visuals. This meant that after I finished the main sequence (Nell's spoken word), I realised that we hadn't gotten enough footage for the build-up. Fortunately, I had my camera with me, so I took some more while I was in Paris, and although I like how it turned out, this was stressful. Storyboarding might've allowed us to bring a stronger narrative to the film. 

Nell: Get more footage. We tried to fit in a lot in a short period of time. Perhaps our visuals could've been more consistent to establish a narrative. But saying that, I feel like the montage format we used created a crescendo of panic, similar to the feeling of being harassed. 

What three tips would you give to someone about to make their first film?

Taryn

1. Don't wait to have the ‘right' gear. Use what you have. I'm lucky to have a DSLR, but it's not really suited for video making - the autofocus isn't designed for it, so I use manual focus, but it's tricky to do it smoothly because the lens ring often gets stuck. However, it's all I've got, and I want to create, so I work with it. And as I practise and get better, I might decide to invest in better equipment. If all you've got is your mobile phone, that's fine - I've made films (mostly vlogs) with video taken with my smartphone. What you do with your equipment is more important than what you're actually using.

2. Good lighting is key! One thing an expensive camera can't fix is bad lighting. Ensure that your subject is well lit - pay attention to where the shadows fall on their face, and look for where there are ‘catchlights' in their eyes. These are the circles of light that make eyes look alive. You normally want to shoot with the light behind you if you're filming, and if it's an artificial source, make sure it's slightly above their eye level.

3. Share what you create. You don't need to wait until you're ‘good enough' to put something out there. If you're making things, think about sharing them online. You can get feedback from others, and this can help motivate you to create more, and create better. Think about sending your work to film festivals and competitions, too - like this one!

Nell

1. Planning. There is so much to take into consideration beforehand, make sure you have a firm grip on what you want to convey to your spectators. 

2. Work with others. You can never make a film to the best of your ability alone. Be sure to communicate clearly and frequently to have an efficient vision. 

3. Flexibility. Although structure is key, remain flexible to new ideas, and don't get so lost in your vision that you are blind to other discoveries. Keep your eyes open on the day of filming, you might see the light catch something beautifully and want to capture it. 

Taryn and Nell's film will now be showcased to over 300,000 film club members online and all of our Film of the Month films are now on the Into Film YouTube channel, and they have also secured a £100 Amazon voucher to help further develop their future films. Think you could win Film of the Month? Find out more about how you can enter our ongoing Film of the Month competition.


If you've been inspired by Stolen Skin then make sure to check out the following films:

  • My Skinny Sister (2015, 15, 93 mins) Engaging for 14+
    Compelling Swedish drama about a girl who struggles with the knowledge of her older sister's eating disorder.
  • Amy (2015, 15, 128 mins) Engaging for 14+
    Archive footage is used to tell the life and career of iconic soul singer Amy Winehouse.
  • The DUFF (2015, 12, 97 mins) Engaging for 14+
    High-school comedy about a student who reinvents herself after discovering people see her as a gateway to her more popular friends.
  • Bombshell (2019, 15, 109 mins) Engaging for 16+
    A group of women working at Fox News confront their boss over sexual harassment and toxic work culture.

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