And Action!

Jen Remnant

As has been mentioned previously on the blog, an important output of DISC is a training package targeted at University leaders. The purpose of the training is to help them to develop more inclusive and accessible working environments for the current disabled staff, and potential future employees. The training is divided into 3 sections, the first section could be considered ‘traditional’ in its delivery, the second is discussion based and the third involves gaming. One element of this gaming involves virtual reality, the other an immersive scenario for training attendees.

It is this scenario based training that I am discussing (again) here. Previously I talked about the experience of script writing, which I found very challenging. I write in a fairly formal style that does not reflect the grammatical patterns and informality in spoken conversation. I had to proof read the scripts repetitively, working out where I wanted the emphasis and putting in notes about pauses, character emotions and intentions. The script drafts went back and forth within the team until we had something we were happy with. There were three script scenarios. All the scenarios started the same, and had a shared middle section, so we colour coded the script for ease of use.

A flow chart showing the colour coding of the interview structure (described above)

The next task was to find actors to represent our characters: two professors seeking to recruit a new post-doctoral research associate and a disabled applicant. We wanted a disabled actor to play the disabled applicant, and wanted diversity in the casting that would reflect the international nature of university staffing. Our contact at Animmersion (the software company developing the games) found a selection of actors and we contacted three who responded to the request and were cast.

We had a couple of meetings to get to know each other, and to outline the purpose of the project over all. To add depth to each of the characters we had written short summaries of their characters and backgrounds, explained what their prejudices were (and weren’t) and what experiences they had of academia. For the applicant we also developed a CV. We had decided to set the interview in a physics department so had to do a lot of research to write the CV and job specification – it has been interesting learning what carbon nanofibers are…!

Friday February the 26th was filming day. Our plan was to rehearse in the morning, take a break, and then record in the afternoon. Other than school plays I have absolutely no experience of acting or working with actors professionally. It was bizarre to see characters that only existed in my imagination come to life, changing into people who were believable and personable. We had advised the actors in a previous meeting that pauses, ‘ums’ and tech wobbles would be fine as they added realism to the online interaction they were delivering – though very few mistakes were made.

The actors were really invested in what DISC is trying to achieve, which resulted in a really positive environment for the filming. The whole day was enjoyable, collegial and friendly with lots of laughter. I’m really looking forward to seeing the final edited videos, and will be sure to consider the services of actors for future projects.