Tag Archives: film-making

New release!!

We are very proud to finally release the films created by Brook volunteers as part of the ‘good sex’ project! Here are ‘Indiah’s story’ and ‘Tommy’s story’, created by Rebecca Pearson, Carlos Da Silva  and Megan Pickering, with support from Susi Arnott and Ester McGeeney.

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Each film tells one young person’s story of first sex and gradually improving sexual confidence and pleasure. The films are based on interviews with young people and were created as part of a 3 month participatory film-making project. To read more about how the films are made you can read our post on Kat’s story: experiments in reanimating data.

If these films wet your appetite and you want to hear more young people’s stories, take a look at the 11 films we have also created with young actors from local acting agency, MN academy.

All stories are performed by actors and all names are pseudonyms chosen by the original interview participants.





‘Kat’s story’: Experiments in reanimating data

Carlos filming megan

Ester McGeeney

In Autumn 2010, as part of my PhD research in North London, I interviewed 16 young people about their sexual relationships. I asked each of them to tell me about their first or early sexual experiences, before going on to ask further questions about subsequent relationships and their hopes for the future.

Nearly 4 years later, in February 2014, I met with a different group of young people in Brixton, South London to work out how to turn these interviews into short films that young people would want to watch. Working with documentary film-maker Susi Arnott, the plan was to run an 8 week participatory film-making project in which a group of young volunteers would make a series short films about first sex. At a previous workshop Susi and I had worked with a young woman, Rebecca, who had been impressed by an extract from an interview with 17 year old Indiah in which Indiah describes being unsure whether the first time she had sex ‘was actually sex, or whether or not ‘it went in’. This was a ‘real’ story, Rebecca claimed, the kind of story that young people need to hear to counter the myths, lies and silences that young people encounter what asking what ‘loosing your virginity’ will actually feel like.

Building on Rebecca’s suggestion Susi and I planned to work with this new group to work out how to reanimate extracts from the interviews relating to first sex. When planning the workshops we imagined we would collectively select some extracts from the interview data, brainstorm, create and collect images that brought these extracts to life and edit them together along with audio recordings of the extracts being read aloud. We had tried something similar at a previous 2 day workshop but the images hadn’t worked well alongside the audio recording. The stories were compelling but the images (collected in a rush with limited time for collaborative editing) were too abstract. Or perhaps they were not abstract enough. The footage moved too slowly and was too ‘arty’, lacking the pace and feel of a youth led project.

In this new project 8 week project (that turned out to last for at least 11 weeks and possibly longer) we hoped we would have the time required for genuine participation – to enable the young people to collect images and footage from their own lives and to be involved in editing them together in a way they felt spoke to young audiences and reflected the sexual cultures of their peers.

At the first session we looked at an extract from an interview with a 19 year old young women called Kat. In the extract Kat describes her first sexual experiences with her first boyfriend and reflects on how their relationship developed over time. She describes her boyfriend as ‘controlling’ and states that she enjoyed the ‘rough’ sex that they had together. Later in the extract Kat goes on to talk about her subsequent sexual partners – her second boyfriend who just ‘popped it in’ one day when she was lying in bed with him and her current boyfriend – a ‘good boyfriend’ who is ‘not that good’ in bed.


After reading part of the extract – a difficult section where Kat talking about not really wanting to have sex with her boyfriend, whilst also being curious about what sex actually feels like – I planned to ask the group to brainstorm and visualize the kinds of images that came into their minds when they listened to Kat’s story. The group however, had different ideas. What seemed at the forefront of their minds was not visualizing or reanimating the data but fiercely debating whether or not ‘Kat’ had consented to the first sex that she had. The discussion was emotional and we left uneasy; one young woman found the discussion triggering, the only guy in the group had been quiet during the heated debate about gender, power and control and Susi and I were unsure if we had come even one step closer to figuring out how to turn such contentious material into film.


This was a powerful lesson for me; anxious about developing a method for reanimating the data I had forgotten something I have argued repeatedly in my PhD thesis; inviting young people to talk about what counts as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, consented or un-consensual sex generates emotive, challenging discussion. As facilitators we need to be able to create safe spaces within which young people can explore this emotional, charged territory. Working in Brixton I had tried – unsuccessfully – to skip this step and to jump straight to visualization and reanimation techniques. One young woman left the group – upset and troubled and full of advice giving ‘trigger warnings’ to stories such as Kat’s. Lesson learned.

As homework, Susi and I asked the group to go away from the first session and collect photos that they thought visualized the extract I had read out. The following week two young women brought along a series of images both of which captured the unsettling interplay between pleasure and pain that is inherent in Kat’s narrative.

Running in parallel to this participatory film-making group I had been in contact with an East London young acting company, MN academy, to see if there were any young actors who might be interested in taking part in the project if needed. Overwhelmed by their enthusiastic response and encouraged by the photos from Elesha and Megan I asked if any of the volunteer actors would be able to come into the office, stick there heads in our makeshift sound booth and record a few takes of ‘Kat’s story’.

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 13.19.43 Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 13.19.04

My plan was to take the audio recordings from my two volunteers – Frances-Ann Brakte and Sian Purvis – back to the group and play around with using them alongside the images that the group were collecting and visualizing. I could imagine Sian or Frances’ voice telling Kat’s story as the images of twisted hands and bedsheets appeared on the screen. Or I hoped that the audio recordings might generate new ideas about photos to take or footage to collect.The group, however, had different ideas. They wanted a young person speaking to camera. Less fussy. More powerful. Susi encouraged us to focus on what exactly would appear in the frame – did we want the whole body? Just the face? Any close ups?

Here was our list: Head and shoulders. Head. Mouth. Eyes. Hands. Struggling hands. A response to the extract

The following week met at Susi’s studio. Megan agreed to be our camerawoman and Carlos our actor. Tirelessly he performed extracts from Kat’s story to camera as Megan experimented with different frames; Carlos’s head and shoulders, his face, mouth, eyes and hands. We also played with the ideas that Megan and Elesha had captured in their photos and filmed two sets of hands untwined to convey moments of pleasure, tenderness, force and pain.

CU C&E hands001

From the outset we had also been interested in finding a way of capturing on camera not just the young person’s story, but different responses to the story. Opening up a critical space that suggests there is more than one interpretation of this story. This had been Megan’s idea and on our first week of filming she had brought along her response to Kat. Not wanting to appear on camera Megan read out her response as Carlos pointed the camera at her hands, holding the piece of paper.

OS Megan reads response001

When we watched the footage back the following week the group were critical. They felt Carlos’s performance was too depressing – conveying a level of trauma and distress that they had not experienced when they first heard, or re-read the extracts. I was secretly pleased. I remembered the original interview with the 19 year old young woman and she had not seemed sad or traumatized. She told her story with energy, anger and vigour as if it was in the telling that she realized the injustice of her experience and the way in which she had been compromised in her previous relationships with her partner. This was not a young woman who saw herself as a victim however, or one that lacked burning sexual desire.

That was my interpretation anyway. My memory of the young women I had met four years previously and my ongoing analysis of her interview transcript, which I had now read – selectively – endless times.


The group were excited about the way that the shots looked: the loved the black back drop, the close ups on the eyes, the hands and the full body shots. They wanted to do more but they were tired of Kat’s story – unhappy about the way it had been voiced and wanting to have a go at filming other young people’s stories. They selected Indiah and Tommy and used these to make the two films that will shortly be made available on Brook’s website. By this time however we had developed our method.

1. Select the extracts (and make sure they aren’t too long! NB ‘Kat’ is too long..) 

2. Identify a young actor (or young person willing to giving acting a go).

3. Sit the young actor in front of the camera and ask them to perform the extracts straight to camera.

4. Frame the shot around their (1) head and shoulders, (2) their face, (3) their eyes, (5) their hands.

5. Ask the young person / actor to reflect on the extract and what it was like to perform it.

6. Edit the footage together 

We continued exploring ways of capturing different responses to the stories. We loved Megan’s messages but we weren’t quite sure that this method worked. Seeing the messages written down made them feel educational and possibly didactic, rather than opening up an ambiguous space for discussion. When I had met with young actors Sian and Frances I had asked them to reflect on Kat’s story, recording them using an ipod touch. One of the group members, Rebecca, had initially been opposed to this method – she felt it was unethical for us to comment on other young people’s lives and stories when they weren’t present to comment or respond. We proceeded carefully, asking the young actors – Rebecca included – to comment on the story’s that they performed, to pull out the key messages and reflect on what it felt like to become or embody the story’s narrator.

Running parallel to this participatory group project I organized two workshops with young actors from MN academy. I emailed each actor an extract in advance of the workshop and asked them to perform the extract to each other and then to camera. After several takes I asked each actor to respond to the story and to reflect on whether they could identify with their ‘character’ and the stories they were telling. Working with young film-maker Laurence McKenna I had one last go at capturing Kat’s story as young actor Ashlee Campbell performed part one of the extract to camera.

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At the end of an 11 week participatory film making project and two workshops with young actors we had made 13 films – two with the Brixton group that tell Indiah and Tommy’s stories of their first and then subsequent sexual experiences. These films switch between different shots of Rebecca and Carlos’s eyes, hands and faces and that end with Rebecca and Carlos reflecting on the key messages in each story. It’s all expertly edited together by Susi and will shortly be available on Brook’s website and on youtube for young people to watch and for practitioners to use as educational tools.  There are also 11 simpler films, each telling the story of a young person’s first sexual experience. Each film features young person talking directly to camera, telling a different story – sex on a plane with a girl from across the aisle, sex in a car with a boy from a nearby school, sex in a hotel room with a future husband, an abusive sexual experience with a brother and sister aged 10, the decision not to have sex just yet and tales of uncertainty about whether sex actually took place.

They will all be available soon and for now I leave you with Kat’s story – a film that tells one young woman’s story of gradually increasingly sexual confidence and empowerment and a film that records our collective experiments in data reanimation.

Trigger warning: the film contains description of sexual experiences that are unwanted and coercive. 

Stories of first sex: good, bad and unwanted


Three weeks ago documentary film-maker Susi Arnott and I started a new 7 week group film-making group at Brook Brixton. The aim of this group was to build on the insights, successes and failures from the summer workshop and have another go at reanimating sensitive interview material and bringing it to life through film. This time all the data we have been looking at is related to first sex. I have selected all the excerpts of data relating to first sex and have given them to the group to decide how and why we might want to use this material to make one or two short films. The idea for this came from the summer workshop when some of the young people commented that it was unusual to hear the kinds of ‘real’ stories about first sex that were captured in the research data and that it would be good if more young people were able to hear these kinds of accounts. As result, one of the volunteers has started her own social action project and this has become the focus of the new film-making project.



When selecting the extracts to give to the group I noticed for the first time that all but one of the twelve participants who had described a sexual experience sex (some young people I interviewed were not yet sexually active) only one described a positive experience. The rest were unwanted, regretted, uncomfortable or abusive. As several of the young people in the group have commented, the extracts are a ‘depressing’ read- 11 examples of bad sex. As a group we don’t want to make films that suggest that first sex is something to be feared or that pain and distress are to be expected – on the contrary -the aim of the project is to emphasise that bad sex is not ok and that everyone is entitled to have good, safe sex. When I asked a colleague at Brook to look at the extracts she commented – ‘the transcripts seem to normalise coercion or abuse. I think it’s important that YP understand that just because something may be common, that doesn’t necessarily make it ok.’




We cannot however, change the research. I didn’t go out and look for young people who had experienced coercion or who regretted their early sexual experiences but this was what the majority of young people in my small sample described. The data tell a different story however if we focus not just on first sex but on each young person longer sexual story of how they have been gradually learning about what they enjoy and don’t enjoy, about how to experiment with their partners and talk about what they like and what they don’t. Their experiences seem to support what Dr Rachael Jones said when Susi interviewed her for this project – ‘often it takes a really long time to know what you enjoy when it comes to sex and it takes a lot for a person to say this is what I like and this is what I don’t like.’ With the group in Brixton we are trying to work out how we can incorporate this into short films – how can we capture both the reality of my interview participants’ experiences of difficult early sexual experiences, as well as sense that for most of these young people sex got better as they get older, more experienced, more confident and more comfortable with their own bodies in their relationships with their partners.


Working with the data has been challenging and provocative – leading to debates about consent, religion and sexual abuse. On week one I read out an extract from an interview with a young woman called Kat in which she describes her first sexual experience. After I read the extract  the group started to discuss whether or not Kat consented to the experience and the group disagreed – was this consensual sex? Or was this sexual abuse? For me, this extract was one of many examples in the data of an experience that was ambiguous – both wanted and unwanted, coercive and desired. This was not example of the kind of explicit, clearly communicated consent that we would advocate in a classroom, but the murky, painful territory of uncertainty and ignorance. Reading the extract out to this new group of young people I realised how difficult this material could be when transferred from the intimacy of the interview encounter, to the more public space of a newly formed group. 


We set the group the task of generating images inspired by this extract – many of which, as you can see in this post, capture the often blurred boundaries between pleasure and pain, consent and coercion. We have also started experimenting with adding these images to audio – what happens when we take a recording of someone reading an extract from Kat’s interview and add Elesha’s photos of hands entwined on the bed? Or what happens if we strip away the photos and just have a black backdrop and a voice telling us Kat’s story? We have 4 weeks to go – lets see. 





Interviewing the pleasure experts

banner young sexual body

Last year the Economic and Social Research Council funded a seminar series called  understanding the young sexual body. Over a 12 month period there were 4 events that brought together researchers, students and practitioners to look at ‘cutting edge’ research on young people’s sexual relationships and sexual health.

Seminar one was called Competing knowledges of the young sexual body, number two was the errant body, three was the invaded/invading body and last was the desiring body –  which, importantly for the good sex project, was all about sexual pleasure!

This final event, which took place last November ’13, had a stellar line up of practitioners and researchers who ran workshops on pleasure and consent and presented research on  ‘slut talk’, anal sex, fellatio, pornography, pleasure and sexual agency. For the ‘good sex’ project, this seemed like an opportunity too good to be missed so after some last minute  running around, film-maker Susi and I arrived equipped to interview any of the pleasure experts who could spare us their time.

Whilst the action went on upstairs Susi waited with her camera in an empty classroom on the floor below. In came a sex therapist, two researchers, an outreach worker, and a former social worker. The result was five fascinating interviews with people who have worked on the topic of sexual pleasure in very different ways. Each of them shared thoughts with Susi and the camera on why its important and how to talk to young people about sexual pleasure as a therapist, outreach worker or researcher.

We are not 100% sure yet how to use the material we collected. The idea is that they will form part of film that explains the rationale for talking about pleasure and that gives examples of how this might be possible. I imagined that the film could form part of the training package we are creating for practitioners – a film to convince them why and how to ‘be sex positive’ and what it actually means to have conversations with young people about ‘pleasure.’

When I showed some of the clips to a group of education workers at Brook however there was a feeling that whilst the interviews were interesting – they know this stuff already. They know that talking about sexual pleasure is important and are already doing this as part of their day-to-day work. What they need is creative and interesting resources to support their work and for commissioners and schools to get on board so that they have time to move beyond condom demonstrations and get stuck into the kinds of in-depth conversations that this work requires.

Perhaps we need to think then about who our audience for such a film might be. Is the film we imagined a film for the unconverted? For those that are suspicious of the whole idea of talking to young people about pleasure? The angry parents and concerned school governors that the practitioners I surveyed as part of my PhD research told me they were worried about? Or is it for the practitioners who don’t already talk about pleasure and who don’t see this as part of their job?

When I ask, education staff at Brook tell me that even though they already do work with young people on pleasure, they would still like some training on this subject. When I query why (they seem to know more than me half the time!) they say that they want to feel more confident in talking about pleasure and to feel like they are not making-it-up-as-they-go-along but are drawing on research and established best practice.

This was the rationale for the ‘good sex’ project in the first place – not to introduce sexual health practitioners to a ‘new’ topic but to provide evidence, training and materials to support existing practice and to help practitioners to feel more skilled and confident in the ‘sex-positive’ work that they do. Perhaps this is where these kinds of clips fit in? Not to convert the sex-positive-already-converted but to provide a sometimes much needed back up and sense of a supportive community of practice.

I’m not sure yet. Have a look and let me know what you think: e.mcgeeney@sussex.ac.uk

Alyssa Cowell at 7north on her training course  – Yes means yes! Exploring enthusiastic consent and pleasure.

Researcher and academic Claire Maxwell from the Institute of Education on the importance of talking about sexual pleasure with young women.

Steve Slack from The Sheffield Centre for HIV and Sexual Health addressing the ‘million dollar question’ of how to talk to young people about sexual pleasure.

Sex therapist, researcher and author of the fantastic blog and book Rewriting the rules Meg Barker on why and how to talk to young people about pleasure.

Bear with me whilst I learn to edit – the last film is coming soon!

Researcher, academic and co-founder of the amazing international girls movement against sexualisation SPARKDeb Tolman reflecting on a key study she conducted 30 years ago on young women’s sexual desire.

Good sex is…?

Our first film has been ‘officially’ released! Here is ‘Good sex is…? – a film made by a group of young people who used condoms, strawberries, cake icing and text messages (amongst other things) to bring survey data to life.  For more information about how the group turned over 200 survey responses into a 1 minute 40 second film see my previous post on Reanimating survey data: the good sex film. 

Reanimating survey data: the ‘Good sex’ film

Over the summer I worked with a film maker, theatre director and group of young volunteers to explore ways of ‘reanimating’ research data.  At a two day workshop we worked with interview and survey data, using a range of creative techniques to create 4 different  films. Two of these were made using the survey data – one capturing young people’s definitions of ‘good sex’ and the other of young people’s definitions of ‘bad sex’.

This project is based on my PhD research which used different methods of data collection to try to understand how young people understand and experience ‘good sex’ and sexual pleasure. At the first stage of the research I conducted a survey of 278 young people in London, using this method to ask young people about their views on sex and relationships. The survey included a question that asked young people to complete the following statements:

Good sex is…..

Bad sex is…..

These questions generated hundreds of responses that were so diverse it was often difficult to categorise them. For example, the most common theme in young people’s definitions of ‘good sex’ was love, yet this was only mentioned by 19% of participants. The other 81% of participants expressed a range of different values, ideas and concepts, suggesting that  young people understand ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sex in a variety of different ways. The tag cloud below show some of this diversity as well as some of the patterns in young people’s responses. It was created through running the lists of responses through data analysis software that counted the frequency of the words used and made the most common words large and bold.
Good sex tag cloud

At the young people’s film workshop held in London last August we used these lists of responses – handing out three pages of definitions of ‘good sex’ to each young person. Theatre director Lucy led the activity, asking each young person to choose three responses from the list and write each one on to a post-it note. As they read through the list of responses, the group laughed, agreeing with some definitions and feeling offended, disgusted or unsettled by others.

Day 1 GS Lucy Em and group

Next, Lucy informed the group that we were going to make a short film using the definitions that the group had selected. To do so, we needed to think of different ways of writing these definitions and capturing the text with film. Lucy kicked off the brainstorm by suggesting that we could have a shot of someone writing a text message. The ideas flowed – facebook, graffiti, lego, spaghetti, writing on or with a person’s body, photographing the words in a newspaper, using magnetic letters, footprints, the contraceptive pill.

Day 1 GS flipchart

After the brainstorm we sprung into action. Each person was assigned a ‘good sex’ quote and a method of reanimation. After each masterpiece had been created we captured them on film, using the iPod touches or the skills of film maker Susi. The day ended with Mattias stretched out on the floor as enough group member wrote on his torso with pink icing and Susi stood over capturing this strange moment of performance art on film.

Day 1 GS9

We resumed the next day (after a trip to Primark and Sainsburys for supplies) to finish off: writing on a t-shirt, sending messages on Skype and spelling out quotes with alphabetti. At the end of the 2 days all the footage went to Susi to edit together into a stream of images and clips.

After viewing the montage of clips together the following week we decided that the film needed voices and set about recording each of the statements. Each group member read a few – leaning forwards into Susi’s magic foam recording box and speaking into the microphone.


The film is not quite finished yet – in its current form it’s a medley of clips and voices, each animating and articulating definitions of ‘good sex’ in different ways. To me, the film captures something of the diversity of young people’s understandings of ‘good sex’ that was documented in the research data . It is also bright and colourful  – and funny. The different ways of animating the data are creative and the voice recordings make me laugh as I remember each young person with their head stuck in a box, their faces disappearing as they filled their voices with passion, humour, or desire…. ‘Good sex’ – one young woman reads with passion and intensity –  ‘is when I’m left shivering on the bed…’.

We have yet to discuss how the film could be used, but to me it would work as a discussion piece – firing off ideas about ‘good sex’, offering statements to be agreed with and disagreed with. I don’t agree with all the definitions included in the film, just as I didn’t subscribe to many of those that I encountered in doing my research. The next step will be to decide whether to keep in definitions that we know could be offensive and/or normalising (i.e. ‘man + woman + condom = good sex’) as the basis for discussion about sexual norms – what they are and how they are created, sustained and challenged, or whether we take them out, cautious of adding fuel to the fire of powerfully dominant values that frequently remain unchallenged. These are editorial decisions that we will have to make that point to a tension I explored in the final chapter of my PhD thesis:

‘Evidence of the diversity of meanings and resources for making sense of ‘good sex’ in young people’s sexual cultures suggests that this is a rich area for research/practice; for exploring conflicting moral values, experiences of difference, inequality, loss, desire, exclusion, fear and pleasure. Analysis of the data suggests that whilst some of these meanings fit closely with accounts of ‘good sex’ framed in sexual health and education policy – delay, love, reciprocity, intimacy – others such as the pleasure of anonymous sex and the sharing of sexual partners may be more challenging to explore in the ‘official’ spaces of schools, clinics and other institutional environments.
Evidence of this discrepancy is perhaps not surprising but raises questions about whether the function of the pleasure project is to challenge young people’s accounts of ‘good sex’ and offer a more feminist or ‘health-promoting’ (UNESCO 2007) alternative or to create spaces, as I did as a researcher, to give voice to a range of sexual meanings and experiences and allow young people to ‘find their own way’ (Jessica, focus group two).’

I’ll be discussing the films  with the project team next week and whilst most of the definitions of ‘good sex’ included in the film are not particularly contentious, we may find ourselves addressing a recurrent question: what do we do with the understandings of ‘good sex’ recorded in the data that we do not believe to be ‘good’ for young people’s sexual health and wellbeing. As researchers disseminating findings and as educators working with young people how much ‘diversity’ of sexual meanings and values to we make available? And to what extent do we guide young people towards particular understandings of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sex and to what extent to we, as one focus group participant suggest, let them ‘find their own way’.

The story of ‘Jessica’: turning interview data into film

This blog is the story of ‘Jessica’ and how interview data has been turned into film. It starts in 2010 with a conversation between a researcher and a 17 year old woman and ends in 2013 with a short film about a young woman and her feelings of desire.

I met 17 year old ‘Jessica’ at a peer educators training session in spring 2010 whilst I was doing my PhD fieldwork in London. She completed a questionnaire and indicated that she would be interested in taking part in a focus group and/or an individual interview as part of my PhD research. I met Jessica again when she attended a focus group organised for young people who had not had many sexual experiences. Jessica was a confident and articulate participant with strong values, a bubble personality and endless stories about her friend’s relationship adventures.

When I interviewed Jessica several months later Jessica told more stories about her friends’ sexual experiences, ‘95%’ of which she informed me were ‘bad’. Jessica had kissed a boy once when she was in year 8 at school but had decided not to have any further sexual experiences until she was ‘at least 20’ and in a long term, committed relationship. When I asked her, Jessica also talked – more hesitantly – about her feelings of sexual desire and attraction; the ‘butterflies’ in her stomache, the sense of being pulled towards someone you are attracted to. Jessica was determined not to act on her desire and wavered between expressing strong conviction about her decision to not start a sexual relationship and a sense of confusion and uncertainty about what makes her different from her friends and why she chooses – no matter how strong her feelings of desire – to always say – ‘no, stop, move away’.


At a two-day creative workshop we used an extract from this interview as the basis for a visualisation activity, led by theatre director and writer Lucy Kerbel. It went like this:
We are in a training room in an office building in Old Street Lucy asks the group of 6 young people to sit or lie somewhere comfy. They are settled and quiet. Lucy asks the group to close their eyes and reads the following extract from the interview between E (me, the researcher) and J (the 17 year old woman who chose the pseudonym Jessica).

E: Do you have feelings that you would describe as sexual?
J: I don’t know (laughs). I don’t know. Um (pause) like if I’m around someone that I’m attracted to. (E: yeah) then I feel like, sexually attracted to them if that makes sense. (E: yeah) but I don’t know what that is, like.
E: How do you know when you are attracted to someone, how-yeah.
J: (Smiling) Cos…I get butterflies, I and things like that.
E: So it’s a physical feeling?
J: Yeah.
E: Yeah, Can you describe how else that feeling feels?
J: Um, like I feel sort of excited but then it’s like, I think calm down and (laughing) walk away from the situation (laughs). Um, um, I feel like smiling and things like that.
E: Yeah, and what do you do, if you are attracted to someone?
J: (Pause) You see that’s the thing like, I don’t like to do anything about it, I like to just go. Because it’s like, I don’t want this to go any further so it’s like so that’s when I always put that barrier and I’m like, no, stop, move away (laughs).
E: Are there people that you are attracted to? (J: Yeah.) People that you like?
J: Yeah but not like….like even if I am attracted to someone I don’t think like right now is a good time for me to get into a relationship that’s why I try to avoid it. Because like, right now….(sighs) I remember when I was at school. There was, that was when a lot of people started getting into relationships, around like when we were 15, 14 things like that. and even then I used to be like oh I’m not sure I want to get into a relationship right now because like, I need to focus on my education and like there’s quite a lot going on in my life right now, like my time’s being taken up so I’m not sure if a relationship is the best thing. And also, I knew loads of my friends were loosing their virginities at that age and I really didn’t want to loose my virginity. And I knew like a lot of them were regretting it, sort of, like ah, I was so stupid and I knew that those relationships lasted max 3 months until like he gets bored, or she gets bored (E: yeah) and then it’s like, it’s over. And I don’t think I could like put up with that. Like I would be devastated if that happened to me. That’s why I was like no, but like right now I am too young so then I was like, maybe later on. But then even when I went to college I was thinking, like oh I have got A levels right now and work and stuff like that and have I really got time for a relationship so I don’t know when the right time is. But not right now (Laughs. E joins in)

Lucy finishes reading the extract. Then she reads it again – this time asking the group to imagine the young woman in an environment in which she feels relaxed and comfortable.


‘Look out through the eyes of the person who is talking. You are looking out into the environment that you were imagining. What’s above you? Look down at your feet- look to one side and then to the other. What is the air like? Are you inside? Is it warm? Cool? What’s the quality of the air like?

Look around and spot one object. An object that appeals to that person. Move towards it, touch it, can you pick it up? Does it make any noise? How does the young person talking feel about that object? That place? Is the young person in a familiar place? Choose one word to describe that space. What would it be?’

Look out through the eyes of the person who is talking. You are looking out into the environment that you were imagining. What’s above you? Look down at your feet- look to one side and then to the other. What is the air like? Are you inside? Is it warm? Cool? What’s the quality of the air like?

Look around and spot one object. An object that appeals to that person. Move towards it, touch it, can you pick it up? Does it make any noise? How does the young person talking feel about that object? That place? Is the young person in a familiar place? Choose one word to describe that space. What would it be?

Day 1 Jessica Rebecca

The group open their eyes and Lucy asks them to each describe what they have just imagined. Their descriptions are rich, colourful and emotional, evoking a range of places in which a young woman might feel comfortable and relaxed in herself. Jessica is in a library with a book where she feels at home, quiet and peaceful. Jessica is at the beach on a tropical island. She is touching a smooth marble rock and feels a sense of deep emotional joy. Jessica is in her room, it’s messy and she has her laptop. It’s her space and she feels safe.

Lucy asks each group member to take a piece of blank piece of paper a pen and to write for 2 minutes, non-stop, almost without thinking. They are writing as if they are Jessica, expressing themselves to someone that they trust and feel comfortable with. One group member has English as a second language and has not been in the UK very long and another has a disability and only has the use of one hand. They all write furiously – focused.


There is a pause before Lucy asks the group to get comfy, close their eyes and listen again as she reads the extract for the third time, this time imaging Jessica is in a place where she doesn’t feel comfortable and is not relaxed. Imagine an object in the space. Think of word that described the space that they are in. This time Lucy walks softly around the room and when she taps each person on the shoulder they say the word that they are thinking of.

Still sitting and half-lying on the floor the group describe their scenes:
• At a house party. There’s a tin box. Jessica feels trapped.
• In Nandos with friends talking about their sexual experiences. There is a clock and Jessica is starring at it. Time is moving slowly.
• Jessica is in the car with her best friend. They are talking about the guy that they like. The object is the windscreen wipers.
• Jessica is in her bedroom. There is a hoody. She feels despair. The mood is dismal.
• On the bus, looking at her iPhone, feeling confused.
• At a party. It’s crowded. There is a cup. Jessica looks at the cup.

Lucy asks the group – who remain still and focused – to draw a line under their last piece of writing and write again for 2 minutes non-stop without thinking. This time, try to imagine, Lucy instructs, that you are Jessica, trying to express herself to someone that she is not comfortable talking to.

The group hand in their monologues to Lucy and as film maker Susi Arnott leads the group through a whistle-stop introductory master class in how to set up and identify different types of shot. Whilst the group play around with the camera Lucy rapidly reads the 12 short pieces of writing, using them to craft one monologue.

The monologue is based largely on one group member’s monologue and Lucy asks her to read and record the script. Her voice is captured by Susi who asks the young woman to learn inside a cardboard box lined with foam and speak into a voice recorder; the foam blocks out the surrounding noise and gives Patricia’s voice a rich. Intimate quality as if she is close-by, out of sight, but only centimeters away from our ears.

We have shifted – from data, to script, to voice. Now we need the images – the scene that will accompany the monologue.

The group receive a second masterclass on how to capture different emotional qualities using different types of shot. The group experiment with setting up different scenes in a disused office next door and capturing them from different angles. After this practice run Lucy sets the scene, drawing on the visualizations that the group described earlier. Jessica is in the library. Go, Lucy instructs the group, and create a library using whatever you can find in the offices and use the iPods to capture the scene on camera.


On task, slight chaos descends. As Susi and Lucy go and record the voice over with Patricia, the rest of the group experiment with shooting ‘Jessica’ in the ‘library’ from different angles. I try to inexpertly advise but on reflection we needed our film-making expert with us to advise on angles, to remind us to keep the camera horizontal, to stay out of each other’s shots when you are filming and to always line up the shot first and check it looks the way you want before you start filming. When Susi comes to edit the footage much of it is shakey and can’t be used. Susi manages an edit however and we get the group together the following week to watch the film and make suggestions about what to do next. Together we are able to shoot more footage and select which shots to leave in, take out, slow down and speed up for the next edit. During the session it feels as if the narrative of the film starts to emerge. This is the story of Jessica’s desire; her feelings of desire and attraction and her decision not to act on her desire but to instead focus on college and education. The film doesn’t follow Jessica – it doesn’t show us Jessica talking, interacting, flirting or walking away – it shows us her desire, her confusion, her self control. A quietly emotional, internal monologue behind a calm exterior.

The film – (not quite ready yet and currently referred to as ‘Jessica in the library’) emerged from a workshop which aimed to explore creative ways of ‘reanimating data’ – working together as a researcher, film-maker, theatre director and group of young people to find ways of bringing data to life and using film to communicate ideas about young people’s sexual lives that were captured in the research. What emerged from this process is a set of participatory methods and creative techniques for doing this as set out in this blog. It feels to me that these could be methods not just for creating film and disseminating research, but as means for enabling young people to listen to other young people’s stories, to imagine and empathise with desires and experiences that are not their own. I am not sure quite how these activities would translate into classrooms and outreach sex education sessions or what the quality of the filming would be like without the skills and experience of a professional film maker or young people who are well seasoned film-makers, but I would like to find out. If anyone wants to try – I have data extracts, iPod touches and an emerging bag of techniques. Just get in touch.

UPDATE: Take a look at the results of our first experiment with re-animating data. Here is Jessica’s story