Moving people

Overdose Notes

Powerful, poignant social drama highlighting the plight of some of Britain’s most vulnerable people has become a valuable tool in changing attitudes and developing professional practice.

An innovating partnership between communications company Glennie McIntosh and film-makers Omni has resulted in the creation of two ground-breaking films: The Overdose Notes, which charts a drug addict’s death following his release from prison, and Protecting Jane, which chronicles the release and rehabilitation of a convicted paedophile.

Both films were commissioned by public bodies to inform a target audience – and both proved highly effective at engaging interest and stimulating concern and debate about the issues.

It is the emotional impact of the films which gives them such clout, according to Ian Glennie, of Glennie McIntosh. The social drama gives people the chance to get close to individuals who might be considered too  challenging or frightening to engage with in real life.

“When you’re walking past a drunkard in the street, for many it’s too scary to get close to them. The social film drama allows you an opportunity to experience what is happening to them, and to begin to understand problems relating to addiction, crime and mental health issues,” he said.

“The film medium stimulates people into wanting to make a change, and inspires them to share the story with other people.”

The Home Office commissioned Protecting Jayne early in 2006 to use as an educational film for professionals working in justice system who needed to understand the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA), which were set up to protect the public from dangerous offenders in the community. A training tool, and for possible use with selected community groups dealing with the issue of managing serious offenders, Protecting Jayne shows how a convicted paedophile is observed, managed and supported when he is released on probation.

Initially the Home Office wanted a straight documentary, but Mr Glennie felt a social drama film would be much more effective as it would reveal the complexities of such cases by providing a realistic insight into a sex offender’s personality and character.  

“We wanted to engage with people on an emotional level, telling a story about how these cases are dealt with, using real characters,” he said. “We felt a drama was the route to go down.”

Award-winning production company Omni Productions were brought on board, and co director and writer Richard Penfold of directing duo Hearn and Penfold wrote a screenplay, based on a concept and rough outline drawn up at Glennie McIntosh.

“Richard’s skill lay in creating the screenplay and making it come across as a real life drama,” said Mr Glennie.

“We were very pleased with the result. It achieved everything we expected and more. We also learned a huge amount from doing it.”

The second film, the Overdose Notes, was commissioned by the Criminal Justice Board to present at a Wiltshire conference for senior figures in the police, local government, community safety and health services. Based on a true story, it examines the final hours of a drug addict and alcoholic who dies of an overdose after leaving prison. With a gritty, naturalistic style the drama is told from the perspective of a criminal justice official drawing up a report on the untimely death. He talks to all the people personally and professionally involved with the victim, in a bid to understand how the death could have happened.

“We had total confidence in Omni,” Mr Glennie said. “We discussed the possible treatment of the film with Richard and then he wrote the script.”

Richard responds. “Issues such as addiction and abuse are considerable matters for many everyday people, and shouldn’t be treated lightly for the sake of entertainment.  Our social film dramas benefit by being co-operatively steered by the commissioning authorities and organizations who deal with the problems on a day –to-day basis.

As a result, these films communicate an empathy, sensitivity and powerful authenticity that is both affecting and real for the audiences who watch them. Even for those experienced individuals committed to their causes who are often taken aback by having the mirror reflected back on them and the work.

Ultimately we’re confident that the messages contained within these films, strike a cord far deeper than other forms of internal communication, an effect that reignites debate, discussion and fresh perspectives”

The film made an enormous impact at the conference.

“Without fail, everyone we’ve shown this to has a hushed moment at the end because of its emotional power. I think the Overdose Notes is even better than Protecting Jayne. We were given more freedom and we could approach it as a real story,” said Mr Glennie.

“It stimulated hours of discussion and lots of ideas. People felt they had to act on these issues, and we had testimonials from individuals who felt they had never seen a film with such impact.”

He believes the power of the social drama film is its ability to create empathy and engage emotions, which generates the will to make a change.

“The film had a power of its own, way beyond what we could have hoped for. We’re over the moon about it,” he said. “This has opened our eyes to the way film drama can be used to deal with these sorts of subjects.”

Following the success of their first two films, Glennie McIntosh and Omni have entered into a partnership to develop their work in the genre. They hope to make another four films this year.  They plan to make a prequel to the Overdose Notes, examining the circumstances leading to addiction and crime. They are also looking to shine a light on mental health problems, another area of misunderstanding and prejudice.

“This genre is a very powerful and effective way of communicating. We are taking it very seriously and will be pushing it hard – because it can make a big difference,” Mr Glennie said.