Tag Archives: Research

Searching for methods: How to turn a PhD thesis into a film that young people might actually want to watch?

Last month I started a year long project working with the young people’s sexual health charity Brook and the University of Sussex where I work as a Research Fellow. The project is all about building bridges between academic research and professional practice and exploring ways of turning my research on young people’s sexual relationships into films and resources that young people, practitioners and the general public will watch and use to learn more about  young people’s sexual cultures and to think about how to put ‘sex-positive’ approaches into practice. The first stage of the project involves making a film with young people, for young people – exploring ways of reanimating the research data to make a film or a series of films that young people might watch on their own online or as part of sex education lessons.

For me, the first 6 weeks of the project has involved thinking about how I can turn my 80,000 word and yet to be examined thesis into a film that young people actually want to watch


This has at times felt excruciating: 10 days after handing it in the last thing I wanted to do was sit down, read my thesis and think about what key messages needed to go in the film or to think creatively about how to bring the data to life again. I didn’t want to read it, think about it and failed to see anything exciting or interesting about it (I am reassured this is a totally normal post-phd hand in feeling!) This is where collaborations are so important – each time I met with one of the members of staff at Brook I was going to be working with and each time person I met with the film maker they talked about how excited they were about the project and what a great opportunity it is to be able to be involved in such an interesting project and something that they had never done before. Their enthusiasm has been infectious and much needed. 

I knew however that it would take more than enthusiasm to make the project work. As this first stage developed I realised that there was a gap at the centre of it; we had the data, an emerging group of interested young people, a space at Brook to use, a film maker with all her kit and a load of rich data about young people’s sexual lives and relationships – what was missing was the method of reanimation. The tools for making data travel from the page to the screen. I watched The Arbour – a film that uses interview recordings mimed by actors to powerful effect. I also watched various short films that used animations to ‘voice’ interview recordings, knowing all the time that I couldn’t use these methods as I did not have the permission of my interview or focus group participants to make the recordings publicly available. Should I try getting in contact with them and asking their permission to use the recordings and make an Arbour-esque drama set i Islington with atmospheric shots of the lifts, estates, hotels, colleges, parks and flats described by participants?  I decided to rise to the challenge and instead search for creative ways of reanimating data, without playing the recordings – is it possible to listen to young people’s stories without actually hearing their voices?

The missing piece in the puzzle has been theatre director and writer Lucy Kerbel who has gone away with all my data to plan a 2 day workshop in which young people will use creative and drama techniques to bring particular data excerpts to life. The workshop starts tomorrow and I currently have no idea how it will all pan out. We are armed with a group of young people (as long as some turn up – always my biggest fear), film maker Susi Arnott, theatre director Lucy Kerbel, me, my PhD data, a technical kit provided by Susi and a creative kit provided by Lucy. Let’s see what happens…

We met four of the young people today, introduced the research, signed consent forms, talked about ‘good sex’ and ate Pizza. I realised that I must find a more interesting way of introducing my research to groups of young people and remembered how much I love working with young people…and getting to eat Pizza as part of my job. Beats writing a thesis.