Back to main website


20th November 2017
Women Building Futures: A Human Approach

No matter how big a business is a group of individuals can always be found at its core. It is the diverse character traits and drive of these individuals that give a company its heart. Canadian oil company Suncor is a case in point.

Suncor rebranded in 2014 and, as part of the process, the company commissioned Connected Pictures to create a series of films that articulate various stand-out elements of the brand. Since 2008, Suncor has supported Women Building Futures, a non-profit organisation that empowers women to succeed in non-traditional careers. This film captures the scheme in action, as told by the women that have experienced its benefits and challenges first-hand.

In the interview published below Jon Ayres, Executive Producer and Partner, discusses the brief for the film; how to go about identifying engaging subjects; and the importance of not sitting still.


What was the brief for the film?

Connected Pictures worked with Suncor and the agency Appetite to create a series of films to communicate Suncor’s rebrand. The campaign comprised a leading brand film which captures vignettes of real people from across the business, both employees and communities that are touched by the business. We then produced a series of films that explore the stories behind each of these featured vignettes. Women Building Futures (WBF) was one of those.

Since 1998, WBF has been a leading initiative in preparing women for economically prosperous careers in industries where women have historically been under-represented. These careers lead to economic freedom and both personal confidence and growth; things that are transformational for women, their families and their communities. WBF has extensive experience recruiting and ensuring career success for women within these industries at a consistent employment rate of 90 per cent.

Our film talked about the relationship with WBF and how it created a sustainable and motivated workforce.


What research goes into a film like this?

As with any documentary, it is important for us to dig deeply into the topic we are building the story of, understand the purpose and value of the relationship between Suncor and WBF and get to know the contributors who we are working with to make the films. Over the course of the three-month global project we worked closely with the client and the featured contributors to understand and design the story. Our lead researcher/producer and director then presented on overview for this particular story ahead of the filming schedule.


Did Suncor identify the aspects of the brand (such as Women Building Futures) that it wanted to communicate in the films, or was this a process that Connected Pictures was involved in?

Suncor had many topics and stories they wished to feature. Connected Pictures supported them with identifying which stories were particularly compelling to showcase and which stories had the best contributors to support.


Suncor Energy is a huge company, yet the film manages to present an intimate picture of the company. Was this a challenge? Do you have tried and tested ways of making a film more intimate and relatable?

To be honest, this is not particularly challenging for us. Even the big businesses are formed of a number of individuals. Our job is to take these grand corporate strategies and discover what they mean at an individual and human level in an authentic and honest way. It is about questioning “how does this affect me?” and identifying, and really talking to, those individuals who are impacted or who represent the purpose or value of the story that we are telling.


How do you decide who to interview for the film?

It is a chemistry of different elements. Is their story right for the message we are looking to communicate? Are they comfortable to be involved and happy to share their story? “How is their screen presence and are they comfortable and confident enough to give us their story on camera? Are their characteristics right to engage with the audience and on a basic level? Will they enjoy working with us?


How do these interviews work? Are they scripted or just the result of a conversation that happens to be filmed?

Both. We spend time talking to the contributors off camera, ensuring they are clear and comfortable, identifying the details of their story and the aspects that we feel are most relevant to the film that we are making. We then put together an Audio/Visual script or Message Track (a simple document that broadly outlines what we are looking to capture from both the interview and the supporting visuals). Based on this, and once signed off by the client, we put together interview questions and a shot list. The interview questions are just a guide for us – the interview should be a relaxed, open conversation where ideas, topics and emotions should be explored. We will often talk with our contributors for 30 to 40 minutes to create a 3 to 4-minute final film. This allow the contributor to get used to the conversation, relax and open up to ideas and emotions. It is the connection between the interviewer and the interviewee that will create the most emotive interviews.

This film is part of a series you made to support the rebranding of Suncor Energy. Why is the medium of film work so well in articulating a brand’s values?

A company isn’t a balance sheet or a logo, it’s the people. Meeting and understanding these people, how they live, and what they are affected by demonstrates much more about a company than a carefully articulated description of brand values. With a brand like Suncor, who operate in industries that are constantly under fierce criticism and scrutiny, where trust can be eradicated easily, it is even more important to show first-hand how the company affects individuals.


How long were you on site for the filming?

It took 30 days to capture all the content and stories.


What was your experience of being on site and making the film?

We are hugely privileged to be employed to do what we do. We are invited into some of the most interesting worlds and given the opportunity to explore and meet so many interesting characters. One day you are sitting in your London office, the next you are interviewing an engineer in the middle of the Alberta forest or in the depth of a power plant, discussing some of the perhaps most personal aspects of their life, career, hope and aspirations. The beautiful part of the Beautiful Truth means that we get to explore the positive and uplifting aspects of the brand world. Alberta is cold though so we recommend a very thick coat…


Watch Women Building Futures here.