Social enterprise and community film company Teeny Tiny Films is the brainchild of film producer Sam Forsyth, who after a long career in mainstream media became disillusioned with commercially-driven projects and decided to turn his talent and experience to making socially useful films that would bring about good in communities. The Cotherstone based enterprise was incorporated in September 2005, with the aim of producing promotional and educational films for community groups and the public sector, and has to date produced 35 local films in Teesdale and County Durham.
Teeny Tiny Films is made up of a team of talented and dedicated individuals that work on a freelance basis, including Sam himself, successful film-maker Alan Fentiman and Oliver Smith, cameraman and film-maker of freelance film company, Ambitious Motion Pictures and Sara Cox – Teeny Tiny Film’s home-grown talent. The Teeny Tiny Films team is complimented by a committed board of voluntary directors, selected for their skills and expertise, which includes local Arts Officer Jill Cole of Turrets Youth Theatre, Malcolm Wright, award-winning journalist and film-maker and Managing Director of ITV SignPost, and local accountant Theresa Wilcox.
During its start up phase, the enterprise was given a capital boost in the form of a £5,000 grant from UnLtd, the charity that provides finance for social entrepreneurs, which enabled Sam to produce Teeny Tiny Films’ first project, ‘Durham Dales Food on Film’, an educational DVD distributed to schools in the Durham Dales region that focused on healthy eating in schools. From these roots, Teeny Tiny Films has grown organically and now generates an income of around £45,000 to £50,000 per annum.
Teeny Tiny Films has been commissioned by a range of public bodies, including primary care trusts, schools and Durham Police, and a number of third sector organisations to produce educational and promotional films. Amongst Teeny Tiny Films recent productions are ‘Teesdale Hill-farming Story’, a project funded by Teesdale District Council and Northern Film and Media made with pupils from Cotherstone School that aimed to increase knowledge of hill-farming practices amongst the community’s young people whilst allowing them to experience film-making, and ‘But It’s Legal’, commissioned by Durham Police, Durham Agency Against Crime and Durham County Council, which features young local actors and focuses on the dangers of the ‘legal high’ drug mephedrone.
Teeny Tiny Films has also recently independently produced documentary ‘Karl’s Lambing’. The film, which is being sold as a means of raising funds for charity UTASS (Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services), documents Craig and Karl Gibson, a father and son team of a hill sheep farming family, during lambing season and touchingly depicts the passing down of knowledge from generation to generation. The feel good documentary has already received much praise and is proving to be a popular Christmas gift.
The social enterprise also works beyond the production of films, offering web design services to the community and voluntary sector of Teesdale and County Durham, including the building of interactive websites. Teeny Tiny Films views this and its film-making services as something of a ‘management tool’ – with the process of making films or interactive websites with community and voluntary groups driving organisations to really think about the work they do. As Sam says, “When we make a participatory film with an organisation, they really examine themselves and get a true insight into what they are about and where they are heading.”
Teeny Tiny Films has achieved notable recognition for its informative and innovative productions – ‘Teesdale Hill-farming Story’ was awarded the Best Factual Non-Broadcast Film at the 2009 Royal Television Society (North East and Borders) Awards, and has entered two films at the 2010 Awards – ‘But It’s Legal’ and ‘Ain’t No Fun’, an educational music video produced with NECA (North East Council on Addiction) that aims to tackle the issue of alcohol addiction amongst young people. Yet Teeny Tiny Films views its real successes in the reactions of local communities at the celebratory film premiere events it holds at the end of each project. “This is what Teeny Tiny Films is all about – seeing the reaction of local people who have been involved in our productions”, says Sam, “the atmosphere at our local premieres is incredible and we view each of these as a success themselves.”
Teeny Tiny Films however, despite its success in the media industry and clear popularity in local communities, has faced challenges throughout its journey. Initial business advice received by the enterprise centred mostly on traditional business models and was very much geared towards projections of business growth and attracting loan finance, which the enterprise found bore little relation to the work it was doing on the ground. Though this inappropriate advice acted as something of a learning curve for Teeny Tiny Films and led the enterprise to grow naturally according to its own resources rather than artificial projected turnover figures, and focus instead on increasing the quality of its productions, its skills-base and relationships with partners and clients.
Like most social enterprises, Teeny Tiny Films will face further challenges in the coming years with regards to public spending cuts. Indeed, the enterprise has already seen a significant drop in its public sector commissioned work. Though Teeny Tiny Films intends to view the current economic situation as an opportunity rather than a challenge, and has plans in place to take the enterprise in new directions.
The enterprise is an active partner in the ‘Heart of Teesdale Landscape Partnership’, an initiative built on a £2million Heritage Lottery grant that aims to provide evidence and documentation to demonstrate the Teesdale area can benefit from further investment – a network that Teeny Tiny Films intends to contribute its skills to. Furthermore, the enterprise intends to expand its work on two levels – firstly, on an ultra-local level by working with more and more Teesdale and County Durham based organisations, and secondly, capitalising on its Royal Television Awards successes, will strive to take current film-making practices to a national, high-impact level, securing Teeny Tiny Films’ financial base to enable it to continue to produce socially useful films for local communities and beyond.
Sam Forsyth on 01833 650 961