Pitch It! 2023: Advocating for social change through creative filmmaking

With its innate ability to evoke emotions, provoke thought, and reach diverse audiences, film is one of the most effective mediums for impactful storytelling, providing a potent platform to draw attention to and influence public opinion on social issues. Its role as an advocate for social change served as the inspiration for this year’s Pitch It!, an annual tertiary-wide competition organised by the NUS Communications and New Media Society since 2013.

Themed “Social Change Communication through Video Production”, Pitch It! 2023 was co-organised with G.H.Y Culture & Media. During the competition which lasted over six months, 19 teams from institutes of technical education, polytechnics, junior colleges and universities had the opportunity to hone their creativity, build up their confidence and learn from industry veterans, with selected groups producing a short film to highlight prevailing social issues impacting society.

Understanding filmmaking as social advocacy

Pitch It! 2023’s aim was to create greater awareness and understanding of the role of film in advocating for social change. To help achieve this, social enterprises, non-profit organisations and ground-up initiatives such as New Hope Community Services, SELF (Sustaining Employability of Low-income women & Families), Food Citizen, Club HEAL and Praxium brought participants closer to issues such as homelessness, gender inequality, food sustainability, mental wellbeing and quality education through sharing sessions and interview opportunities.

In the earlier stages of the competition which began in March, participants joined masterclasses conducted by industry practitioners who are no strangers to the filmmaking and the social advocacy space, such as film director, producer and writer, Ray Pang and Associate Professor and Deputy Head of the NUS Communications and New Media (CNM) Department, Dr Natalie Pang. The masterclasses focused on topics ranging from communication for social change to screenwriting and filmmaking skills and expertise.

A Pitch It! 2023 Community Day also helped the teams gain a better understanding of the social causes that each of the five partnering organisations champion, through an introductory sharing and Ask-Me-Anything session with representatives from each organisation.

These were followed by the opportunity for each team to conduct fieldwork for their films, visiting the offices of the partner organisations and interviewing beneficiaries and profiles. This unique competition element not only allowed for teams to foster strong ties with the organisations but also gain a more nuanced understanding of the social issues being highlighted in their films.

Ang Hong Anh from the Media, Arts & Design School at Singapore Polytechnic appreciated the hands-on learning that she was exposed to during her team’s meetings with Club HEAL. “The fieldwork gave me first-hand reminders of the reasons why I was producing this film as I learned of the struggles that these disadvantaged individuals experience on a daily basis.”

With their augmented knowledge and skills in video production and deeper understanding of the social issues, teams had to deliver a “film treatment” – a detailed synopsis of their film containing important scenes, main characters and crucial plot points. 10 teams were shortlisted for the semi-finals based on the quality of their submissions and given a month to produce their films.

Pitching it to the Grand Finals!

Five teams, namely Old Slacks, Poster Room, YouRSelf, CauseWay and ScissorsPaperStone were shortlisted from the pool of semi-finalist teams for the grand finals based on the narrative and cinematography of their films.

The teams had to then pitch their films to a distinguished panel of judges that comprised Assoc Prof Natalie Pang; Mr Boris Boo, Director for Content Development at G.H.Y Culture & Media; Film Producer and Director, Mr Kelvin Tong; and Ms Pearlyn Tseng, Communications and Marketing Director at the National Council of Social Service.

Team YouRSelf took home the first prize of $2,000 for their film Eat Your Choice which showcased how one’s decisions and chosen lifestyle can impact Earth’s sustainability. Through the film, the team hopes for more individuals to take action to fight for a brighter, more sustainable future.

Assoc Prof Natalie Pang stated the key reason for their win: “The team had a good pitch, their script was well-paced, creative, and the message they were trying to relay through the story was clear.”

Also taking place at the finals was a panel discussion titled “Ethics of Social Change Communication”, where media professionals from Google.org, digital publisher Our Grandfather Story and Our Better World (a digital storytelling initiative by the Singapore International Foundation) were invited to discuss social change communication and the impact of storytelling through filmmaking.

Panel moderator and NUS CNM Department lecturer Dr Soh Kai Ruo, who teaches the Communications for Social Change course, stressed the importance of understanding the ethical approaches when communicating social change.

“Often, we forget that individuals who are disadvantaged by social issues have their own goals, emotions or representation that they would like to have authority over,” she said. “While we may have the technical and professional skills to amplify a story using different communication mediums, it is important that we understand these complexities and set clear boundaries on what we can and cannot do in filmmaking for social change.”

As Pitch It! 2023 drew to a close, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) English student Nigel Goh, whose team Poster Room came in second for the film Failure to Thrive, shared his greatest takeaway from the competition. “Pitch It! 2023 was a learning opportunity in that my team realised our dedication, passion, and commitment to our craft are our most valuable assets. It was a reminder that the heart of filmmaking lies in the shared pursuit of creativity and expression.”

Anna Tan Min Min, Project Director of Pitch It! 2023 and a Year 2 CNM student added, “This competition wouldn’t have made it so far without everyone’s extensive support and participation. It’s a humbling experience for my team and I to meet so many people passionate in social change communication and filmmaking. I’m glad that Pitch It! 2023 could provide individuals from diverse backgrounds the platform to come together and advocate for causes that are close to their hearts.”

By the NUS Communications and New Media Society from the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences