The Safe+Secure Handbook is the companion to the Safe+Secure Checklist - a top line checklist that film teams can go through together - and with their funders and partners - to make sure that the most important questions have been asked and highlight any further training or preparation needed.
Challenging and bringing to account powerful states, institutions and individuals can be fraught with all manner of risk. It is therefore essential that organisations that fund such films accept their ethical and legal responsibility to ensure that the filmmakers are equipped with the necessary tools to safeguard themselves, their contributors and sources from both physical, legal and reputational harm. It is fallacy to believe that documenting such a framework and working collaboratively with filmmakers on mitigating such risks exposes funders to greater liability. Funders who engage and work with filmmakers have a better understanding of the risks and how to mitigate against them, as well as being better informed and prepared if problems arise later. This level of engagement can and does reduce costly and protracted litigation against filmmakers and funders, ensures a cohesive approach to risk management and avoids serious injury and harm. Ignorance is no defence and failing to engage with these issues in the hope that problems won't arise is short-sighted and dangerous. By standing together as funders, filmmakers and partners, we are a formidable force to be reckoned with.
What Can This Handbook Help Filmmakers Do?
- Look after yourself, your team and your contributors better
- Tell a story without getting sued for it
- Get better legal help earlier - which helps keep legal bills lower overall
- Improve your chances of reasonable E&O insurance
- Get the training that you need and deserve
- Get the additional funding you need to pay for your security needs
- Have a wider team of funders and partners around you sharing the risk and looking out for you
This Handbook also contains downloadable resources and checklists, sourced from the best organisations working in this area, for filmmakers and their teams working in the field to use and revisit at different stages of production.
Please use them but always consider whether sharing them digitally or physically may compromise your security, or that of your subjects or team. More on that question and others below.
It is best practice to assume that any written paperwork attached to a project could be used in evidence against it. If a court case is brought against a film, such paperwork may be deemed discoverable evidence and have to be shared with the other side (this also applies to proposals, emails and other correspondence, notebooks, sizzle/ development reels and rushes). Discoverable material can be used to substantiate that a film project was not conducted in a fair and balanced way if the language used in any of these places is loose and prejudicial. Stick to neutral, factual and non-pejorative language.
... And Please Share Your Errors of Ineptitude
Atul Gawande, a surgeon who pioneered new safety procedures in operating theatres (and wrote the Checklist Manifesto about risk reduction), makes a distinction between errors of ignorance (mistakes we make because we don't know enough), and errors of ineptitude (mistakes we made because we don't make proper use of what we know).
There will always be much that is unknown about a documentary production. Independent filmmakers have our deepest admiration because they are able to shoulder huge uncertainties and take creative, financial and other kinds of personal risks to bring back the stories they believe should be told. On that journey many unavoidable errors of ignorance will be made. Such is life. But let us work together, share our learnings and help reduce each other's errors of ineptitude.