Having previously used his filmmaking talents to highlight the practice of child exploitation in Ghana’s fishing industry, Australia-based Director Paul Nevison returns to the important field of campaign filmmaking as part of anti-slavery charity A21’s global push to raise public awareness of the growing practice of human trafficking and exploitation, Can You See Me? Premiering the full length versions of his Can You See Me? campaign shorts Love Story and Samaritan on DN today, we asked Nevison to discuss the challenges of crafting films which remain impactful across various lengths and viewing scenarios, and the vital importance of working with a trusted producer on this Australia/UK production.

Human Trafficking is the second largest criminal economy in the world, worth around $150 billion annually. The illegal trade in human beings affects millions of people in every country around the world and there are now more slaves than at any other time in human history. Slavery is the recruitment, control and exploitation of people’s bodies for sex and labour…less than 1% are ever rescued.

I was commissioned to write and direct two short films in the ongoing Can You See Me? campaign produced by the anti-slavery charity A21. In particular, we wanted to highlight a couple of lesser known trafficking scenarios including the exploitation of homeless males into forced labour gangs and the grooming and online exploitation of young people through online gaming.

The scripts were based on actual cases that had occurred in the UK which made the undertaking that more chilling. It was sobering carrying out the research to realise that while these crimes are happening behind closed doors, paradoxically all the warning signs are hiding in plain sight for all to see – if we know what to look for. The films are primarily being used as education tools by the police and by various youth services in schools and charities. Shorter versions of the films and a poster campaign have been utilised at Heathrow airport with a version of the online exploitation film being played in Dallas Airport and 77 cities around the US.

The other challenge with the scripts was that they needed to be able to work with little to no dialogue, as versions of the films would play on screens in public spaces without sound. It was quite tricky to write something that could work for both an engaged audience watching in a classroom or online as well as a passive audience taking it in while walking through the hustle and bustle of an airport terminal. The scripts required a large emphasis on visual storytelling and physical communication on the part of the cast.

While these crimes are happening behind closed doors, paradoxically all the warning signs are hiding in plain sight for all to see.

As I’m based in Australia and the shoot was in and around London, it was vital that I found a UK producer and was lucky enough to find Erin Sayder of Raine Films. With an ambitious creative vision, a six day shoot for both films, to say Erin is a ‘miracle worker’ is to understate her considerable producing superpowers. She pulled untold favours, assembled a fantastic crew, secured locations and ran casting sessions. With the time zone differences between London and Australia, we would catch up at the start and end of each of our pre production days to check on progress, make decisions on locations, cast and props and problem solve. It underscores once again the value of a great producer.

As my background has largely been in documentary, this project was a new opportunity to stretch the narrative filmmaking muscle. And with the collaborative help of Production Designer Elena Issolini and Costume Designer Rebecca Gore, I really enjoyed creating from scratch the worlds our characters inhabit. I wanted the sets to feel as 360 as possible, both to give us fluidity and options in shooting, but also for the cast to be able to really feel the gravity of the scenarios and bring that to their performances.

I arrived in London a few days before the shoot which gave us just enough time to recce locations and make the last casting decisions, before hitting production running. The films were shot with my long term cinematography collaborator, Bjorn Amundsen, and was shot on an Alexa Mini with Kowa anamorphic lenses.

With any shoot there are always fires to put out – and thanks to Erin, I was unaware of most of them. We did lose our main school location the day before we were due to shoot there. It was our biggest day with 50 odd cast and multiple locations within the school. Again our intrepid Producer Erin and Production Manager Adriel Thomas were able to pull off a miracle and find us a new school that actually ended up looking way better than the original location…happy accidents are often a filmmaker’s best friend!

The edit took around 4 weeks for both films and I worked with Brisbane based Composer Brett Anthony Shaw on the score and Parker Jarvie at Company 3 (NYC) handled the grade.

Since the start of this campaign, A21 has seen exponential growth in calls to its anti-trafficking hotline, which facilitates a steady stream of intelligence being passed to law enforcement that has resulted in arrests and prosecutions and the disruption of this dark trade.

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