About the Application
This space is designed to hold layout and content suggestions for a mobile application concept. The intention of the app is to assist with issues of diversity and inclusion on film sets and in game studios.
The information is presented in a mixed form that includes both narration and example. The flow of information and background processes are not addressed directly, as the technical design of the object will be affected by the platform(s) on which it is eventually designed. That being said, desired functionality of some algorithms is addressed. The layout of some, but not all, screen components are presented. The way connectivity affects content is also discussed.
Early plans included using Pencil Project to arrange the graphic elements:
After completion of the written portion of the thesis, however, some tools for development of the digital part (this site) have changed. For one thing, the artefact was not relegated to a subdomain of another site. Instead a dedicated site was created, which was good in that it encouraged thinking more expansively in order to make use of the space, rather than simply filling the cracks of an existing project.
For another, some of the tools which had been planned for heavy use – image mapping plugins, form making plugins, etc. – ended up falling into minor roles or were discarded altogether. Instead of the aforementioned options, a WordPress plugin that covers many bases was used. It makes several simple, yet highly useful, design options available at the click of a button: Shortcodes Ultimate. Tabs, accordion menus, and other handy features trumped much of the messiness of the other alternatives. Such is life in the digital world.
It is important to mention who the intended audience for this app is. It is NOT aimed at people who still need to be convinced of the benefits of diversity. Although there will be links to resources about various topics as part of the app, including some that help answer the “why”, this is not meant to change anyone’s mind. Rather, it is meant to support those who recognise in a general way that diversity is good, but need a little help now and then with the specifics of implementing changes in a practical manner.
Another important thing to mention is the caveat that none of this is meant to be legal advice. It is merely suggesting ways that a user or their organisation might adjust how they approach their processes. Questioning things that we take for granted – such as the gender and ethnicity of heroes and leaders which, in many contemporary tales, defaults to cisgender, straight, white, and male – is an important component to examine. How hiring decisions are made is another. The latter often crosses into territory where litigation relating to discrimination occurs, so it is best to carefully consider how to most appropriately implement any changes before enshrining them in company policy.
Most of all, this is about learning and questioning together. Not only does this encourage positive personal growth, it leads to a more creative, innovation, and productive world. As Albert Einstein is alleged to have said, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
As a final note, this site has been optimised for the desktop version of the Chrome browser. Complete functionality for other browsers cannot be guaranteed. The WordPress theme is responsive and works reasonably well in mobile browsers. Smaller screens do sometimes lead to undesirable distortions and text wrapping.
How I Describe Myself
Here users will be given the opportunity to select their personal descriptors in order to address the issue of implicit bias. By identifying some things that typically affect our perceptions of the world, these issues can be brought into focus and examined.
A useful way to think of it is perhaps by using the analogy of the red and blue coloured 3D glasses: each side filters out the wavelength of light with which it corresponds, allowing the eye to only pick up the remaining colours of the spectra.
My Professional Role
Similarly, an algorithm for things to consider with regards to job descriptions would come into play. Upon further development of the application, the two algorithms – self-descriptors and job roles – could be used in concert to provide even more finely tuned results.
In this section, we consider where a user’s work fits into the equation. Where in the creative process does their input fall? Is it early in the brainstorming and idea formation stage before hiring has begun? Are they part of a company’s board, someone who sets policies about hiring practices or community outreach? Is it during character design and development? What about marketing and cross-promotion? Localisation? All of these roles, and many more, can influence the way a product is designed and presented. This, in turn, affects the product’s reception, popularity, reach, and penetration into certain markets.
Film sets and game studios have a number of things in common, but there are also striking differences. For example, other than occasional reference material, the percentage of location shots required for a video game tends to be significantly lower than that required for a feature film. However, there are writers, directors, producers, accountants, marketing people, and managers of every sort in both industries. Yet even within these definitions, the array of functions is staggering.
For example, there are differences types of producers: line producers often bridge the gap between logistics coordinator and human resource manager on set; creative producers assist, as the title would suggest, with creative decisions, often overseeing script development and facilitating communication between other teams and producers; while executive producers often deal with finances, sometimes to include contributing to the film’s budget. A showrunner may have a blend of creative, logistic, and staffing duties, and is sometimes referred to as an executive producer. On top of this, any professional in either of these fields may find their duties varying from project to project to project.
In short: it’s difficult to write a compact list that encompasses all of these roles. Therefore, there will be overlap, gaps, and lots of wiggle room in the categories below. Yet, because of this, it is quite easy to conceive of specialised versions of a diversity application for particular markets. Something to consider for the future.
How You Represent the Population
This section is an example of what a user might see by following one of the links from the output of the “I Am…” screen, particularly for those in character creation roles. It will also feature as one of the major categories that can be accessed from Level 1 and 2 menus. It is important to have it as a primary category for ease of accessibility, as this a major power node in the storytelling process.
Taking advantage of the multiple platforms for information delivery available through mobile technology allows information to be presented in visually appealing and easily understood ways. Yet size of the installed application is always something that must be taken into account. One possible way this could manifest is that a screen like this one could have a space for a video that streams when connected to wifi (or data, if that option is enabled), while also including the text of a transcript whether or not the app was connected. With permission and/or proper licensing, including informational videos from organisations like the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media are a great option.
Graphics representing the contrast in gender representation, race, and other issues will also be featured in this section.
Above graph by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.
Parity of Representation
This is where metrics like the Bechdel Test come into play. Writers, story editors, directors, producers, members of creative teams, and other players can have an impact on this at any point in the process. In most cases, the earlier it is, the better, as this allows for course corrections before any more of the budget gets spent.
This is one of the central ideas of the application: that externally established metrics can be broken down into simple check points to get a sense of whether or not a production is headed in the right direction when it comes to diversity. Not all metrics are created equally, so ticking all the boxes does not necessarily mean content creators are in the clear. They are here to assist in conscious decision-making and mindfulness.
Humour is a great way to get people to engage, as is a sense of accomplishment. Should users register an account and create individual projects, passing tests of this nature could result in a list of “achievements” with accompanying badges, similar to reward systems in many role playing games.
Behind the Scenes
The composition of crew and staff on any creative project have a measurable impact on the final product. This is, of course, the case when it comes to diversity. For example, female directors are more likely to have a higher percentage of women in meaningful roles on screen.
In video games, it can range from avoiding missteps in storylines, seen in “You Can Thank Women For Dragon Age 3’s Lack Of Creepy Sex Plot“, for example, to being more inclusive in character development and story arcs, as seen in ““Straight Male Gamer” Told to “Get over It” by BioWare“. In the former case, there were women on the team who spoke up about something that the men on the team had overlooked. In the latter case, the head writer of the franchise, a gay man, likely found it logical and natural to include LGBTQ characters and romance options. Similarly, involving members of groups who are being portrayed affects the authenticity of the portrayal.
Some of this happens through intention, as with “Building a Character: Cremisius “Krem” Aclassi” (Krem is transgender), and some through happenstance. It’s great when companies consciously plan for diversity – indeed, it is the hope that this very application supports more of this intentionality – but even if the entire organisation is not on board, individuals can often have an impact if they are willing to take a chance. It is particularly useful when hiring managers and other key management individuals have this intention, as the decisions made by gatekeepers can have wide-ranging effects.
Artists and technicians tend to believe that hiring is done mainly on the basis of skill. Yet everyone claims to want innovation, new perspectives, and unique products. At some companies, diversity can be a more important consideration than portfolio alone. Introducing this idea to companies that have not yet embraced it can be eye-opening.
In the film industry, perhaps more than any other business, who you know matters much more than what you know. Most people tend to socialise with others who are like themselves. This makes it even more difficult to break in from the outside.
Questions to Ask:
- of the known people who can fill this role, do any of them fit a description other than “cisgender, white, male”?
- what criteria are we using to hire?
- is our production/company welcoming to people of diverse backgrounds?
- if not, are there any consultants or community groups we can reach out to for help in changing that?
- can hiring managers and other gatekeepers be given higher level training on how to spot candidates who bring unique perspectives, not just a solid work history or portfolio?
- is there a way that job applicants can be encouraged to provide data on diversity factors that define themselves?
These questions, like many other prompts in the app, can be presented in a check box format. Linking to some of the relevant stories from the Anecdotes section, particularly if the speaker is willing to submit a video or other non-written media testimony, about giving chances or being given a chance could be incredibly valuable.
If a crew or company has been mindful from the start, folding the casting decisions into diversity considerations will not be as difficult as trying to change assumptions near the end of the process. Even so, when large sums of money are involved, fear will sometimes bring out the “tried and true” in opposition of the bold and new.
Film studios make many of their decisions – whether or not to greenlight a project, how to plan the budget, how much money to invest in marketing, etc. – based on who is playing the leading roles. If an “A list” star, someone who is “bankable”, is cast in the lead role, confidence in success of the endeavour is higher. Casting an unknown is seen as risky. Yet it is exactly this kind of thinking that has led to a stagnation in the industry, leaving audiences with predictable (read: safe) fare like sequels and endless reboots.
Geena Davis recommends that just after a script is completed (or at least a draft, as some revisions carry on well into the production process), the writer go back through and make sure that half of the characters are female. She suggests this because half of the world’s population is female, so representing that is logical and fair. This suggestion can be expanded to include any number of markers for diversity, depending on the story being told. Grey’s Anatomy was cast on a “colourblind” basis, allowing for greater on-screen diversity and a more accurate picture of the American populations.
Some questions casting directors can ask themselves:
- how can I accurately represent the population described in the story through casting choices?
- if the story is about a particular race or ethnicity, how can I avoid cultural appropriation?
- are the lead roles being played by actors of the correct ethnicity, gender, age, ability, etc.? if not, is there anything I can do to influence the decision?
- are older men being paired with much younger women? if so, can the age gap be narrowed or eliminated?
- are there any relatively unknown actors of diverse ethnic backgrounds who can be cast?
Obviously, there are a great number of considerations that go into casting, yet we often end up with older white men and younger white women in roles that would more appropriately gone to other performers. Sometimes it’s a case of studio safety and “bankability”, while other times it is simply not questioning the status quo. If these suggestions can encourage those involved in the casting process to ask important questions, we can begin to advance the cause of diversity in small but important ways.
Personal Story Submissions
Users, interviewees, and website visitors are invited to submit stories and anecdotes about how diversity issues have, for good or ill, impacted their lives. This section was suggested by a thesis interviewee and was enthusiastically supported by subsequent interviewees. Numbers and statistics are important, but they are cold and unrelatable. The human element – empathy – is what really makes the information real.
Stories are meant to be short and easily digested. Some will make a distinct point, others will merely be observations. There will be editing for style and consistency for the application, but it is up to the person submitting to choose tone and angle. Tone will only be adjusted if it appears that one of the aims of the story is defamatory; indeed, those stories may not be accepted at all.
As with the thesis, users will have the option of including personally identifiable information or remaining anonymous. It is envisioned as being in a similar format to a fan submission site on Tumblr, Dragon Age Confessions. There will be a disclaimer explaining that none of the stories have been verified. Other sources of inspiration for format come from StoryCorps, with their short audio pieces, telling poignant and unusual tales.
The samples below are taken from interviews. They provide a glimpse into content types, if not tone, as they were not written by the speakers themselves.
As with other features, this section will update if and when the user synchronises the application.
What is Happening Now
This section of the app will show either current (streaming) news updates or cached content, depending on the user’s preferences. Cached content can be set to update automatically once the device is connected to the internet via WiFi and (if enabled) data, or to only collect new content upon a manual request. The idea is that it will work similarly to podcast applications, like Podcast Addict: download an updated index of available podcasts and stream only when connected, or download full episodes in order to make them available offline.
While connected, users will have the option of viewing live updates of hashtags from popular social media services such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Google Plus.
View live version here.
View live version here.
Similarly, news aggregate or custom curation sites can be included.
The question of what content to include – and who will curate it, if anyone – is a good one. For early versions, sticking with simple hashtags such as #diversity and #equality may be the best approach. Basic curation by the author, as demonstrated in the Storify section above, may also be included. As the app gets more advanced, it’s possible that APIs (application program interface) from popular services can be integrated, allowing for more customisation by the user. This will be particularly useful in the case of trending news.
Connected sharing or “view later” services and functions will depend on which other applications the user has installed. Some examples are Facebook, Twitter, email, Pocket, Evernote, Pinterest, Dropbox, Bluetooth, and Copy to Clipboard, among others.
Material in this section is meant to be supportive of main points made elsewhere. The articles are a mixture of academic and business writing, contemporary news articles, and links to organisations that provide statistics and community support. Initially, there will be overlap between this section and the News section. As time passes, however, this section will become more static as compared to the News section. This is meant to provide solid examples of situations and definitions that can be referenced again and again, while News is meant to be current and dynamic.
What Happens Now?
The plan for this application has always been to develop it more fully during the course of studies for a Ph.D. Moreover, it is meant to be flexible, expandable, and customisable for niche markets. As more interviews are conducted and contacts made, more specialised sections, questions, answers, and algorithms can be developed. Different versions of the application may be considered for different industries, including those that have nothing to do with entertainment.
It is hoped that the author will either be able to develop the skills necessary to program an initial version of the application herself, or that funding will become available which will allow an established app designer to be hired. In the case of the former, the first platform developed will be Android, due to licensing and availability of equipment and tools. If an established designer can be hired, however, iOS may be developed first, due to the relative uniformity of the requirements for the platform, as well as visibility and popularity within academic circles.
Whether or not the application becomes a reality, this website will be maintained for at least the next several years.