Living on camps tetx over and ariel view of University of York

Pointing a lens at what makes our student accommodation stand out

Earlier in the year, our videographer Joe and I were sent the request to ‘make an accommodation video’. Aside from the obvious questions of ‘why’ and ‘of what’, we asked ourselves: what really makes accommodation at York different?

Who better to tell us than the people currently living in it? What we ended up with was an accommodation video that didn’t really feature much accommodation in at all.

It’s just a room

Before Joe even dusted off his gimbal and started filming, we had to decide what we wanted to convey.

Let’s face it, most student accommodation is pretty similar. It’s also not that interesting to point a camera at. There are nine different colleges at York, each with their own accommodation of varying types and styles. But at the end of the day, they’re all a similar combination of beds, desks, kitchens and bathrooms. They’re essential, but they’re not very interesting to look at and they’re not wholly representative of what living at York is actually like. 

Having lived here myself, the thing that really made living at university enjoyable for me was not my room, but the fact that my room was in a college, and that college was on a campus. That’s not something every university can offer.

It was no use filming me saying this though. I’m not exactly the exciting, youthful face of new students I once used to be (I never was – I have an old man’s face).  

We wanted to hear why real life, current students enjoyed their stay.

So, we started off by filling in a brief for Joe, detailing the aims of the video, the audience and the messages we wanted to convey. That message was about what makes accommodation at York stand out – not the rooms themselves, they’re just rooms – but the location, the campus and the community. We listed the different aspects of the accommodation journey and put together some questions to ask our students.

Joe filming students at the Piazza Building, University of york.

Question time

Rather than storyboard or create a shot list, Joe suggested our footage be guided by what students said. That way we could focus on natural, honest answers to complement more cinematic (and less awkward) visuals. 

We sent out a request for students who were willing to chat about living on campus. We asked each to write a short paragraph about why they liked it, and then used this to select a mix of colleges and opinions. We then invited them for a 20-minute slot where they were recorded with a clip-on mic.

Thus began the three full days of interviews with many, many students.: 

We used the first five minutes to just chat, relax and let each student know what the object of the video was. The only asks were that:

  1. they were honest 
  2. they started their sentences with the question they were answering – we didn’t want our voices in the video, just theirs.

We asked how they felt when first moving in, used our question list to prompt any lulls in conversation and then ended by asking for a bit of advice to a future student.

One of us asked questions and listened, the other would pick up on anything we’d missed – whether that be an interesting point to be expanded upon, or going back and saying something again in a way that would make sense to someone who wasn’t in the room.

From the 25 or so interviewees, we cut it down the 10 students we thought would provide a good mix of opinions and who seemed like they would be confident enough on camera.

Pre-filming

Before filming, Joe and I listened to the hours of audio and chose the bits that we thought would tie together best. I provided Joe with timestamps of clips I liked, and he chopped, cut and glued the audio puzzle together into something which began to look like a story.

When we were happy with what we had, we decided on shots we could film that would complement the audio. We let students know what we’d picked and invited them to a filming session each

Never work with pets

On the filming side of things, there’s not much to report. Joe generally did his thing and I tried to break the ice, start conversations and not get in the way. Every so often he let me play with his gimbal. Who knows, maybe a second or two of the footage in the video was filmed by me. If it was, let’s pretend it was the frame that made it all work.

We asked most of the students to bring a friend or two along so that they could get on with their day and pretend Joe wasn’t there. He was like a wildlife photographer, hiding in a bush to capture students in their natural habitat. Well, not quite, but you get the idea. It was fun, we had a laugh and that’s the atmosphere we wanted to convey: that living on campus was a good time, because it is.

Some memorable moments

  • One student, Yasmin, brought so many friends that we looked like we were filming a roaming gang. We named them Halifax Massive.
  • When filming Olivia, Dogsoc kindly volunteered a camera-friendly canine. It was all going well until a rabbit decided to dart across Alcuin green and turn things into a chase. 
  • One filming session was on Constantine College’s birthday. A student turned up to meet us when we were celebrating this coming of age, at maximum height on a fairground ride outside the Forum. All we could do was look down upon them as they looked around in confusion.
  • Another time in Constantine College, I got to play table tennis with University of York’s very own Samuel L Jackson

A multi-sensory jigsaw puzzle

From the hours of audio, that came from days of interviews, came slightly less hours of video, that Joe began to edit together like a complicated, multi-sensory jigsaw puzzle.

We wanted to keep it under 3.5 minutes, which was hard with all the good stuff we’d spent effort collecting and while trying to include each student who’d lend us their time. Hey, that’s University show business though, it’s cut-throat and inclusive. 

Every so often he’d send me a clip of each student and I’d give advice on what we could cut down, or sometimes, more annoyingly for Joe, things that could be added back in. 

A big props to Joe for this. He said he’s not a producer, but I think what he created from all that footage shows quite the contrary.

That’s a wrap

What we got from it though, was that while not every student had the most exciting things to say about their bedroom, they all seemingly enjoyed living on campus at York as much as I remember.

I think we could do even more to shout about our campus and its colleges when promoting our accommodation. They’re much more a part of what makes living here special, more so than the pattern of the carpet, the location of the bathroom and the colour of the walls.

This post has gotten quite long now, so why not just watch it if you haven’t already.

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Sam Gaunt

I'm a Content Producer within Marketing for the Directorate of Estates and Campus Services. I graduated from York in 2015 with an MEnv in Environment, Ecology & Economics, specialising in marine conservation.

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