Sisters For Sale

Posted March 03

The search

Scroll down to see the most recent posts, or click here to see the complete list of blog entries. For her protection, all media links with M's name and image have been temporarily removed.

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Introducing the band

Posted March 20

It's hard to overstate the impact a strong piece of music can have in a film. 

The right music provides an audience with a guide to help navigate the emotional complexities of a story. 

The repetition, combination and variation of particular melodies and instruments help link the various themes and characters together, and highlight their development. 

While much of this is experienced subconsciously, the music must be designed as carefully as any other element of the film. 

When it came to musicians, there have been times over the past few years I've almost felt as though 'The Human, Earth Project' was cursed. 

Mike Taylor, a good friend of many years and the first musician involved with the Project, died tragically in September 2014. 

You will have heard Mike's composition, 'SweetSorrow', on many of our videos, including the 'Sisters For Sale' trailer

Chris Tenz, who was to compose original music for 'Sisters For Sale', passed away in February 2016. 

Chris' music has also appeared in our videos, and his first two albums were made available through our 2016 fundraising campaign. 

The next musician who committed to scoring 'Sisters For Sale' - a very talented Australian composer - disappeared without explanation, at a crucial time as the film neared completion.

He's still alive, and I believe he's fine. I still don't know the full story, and have never heard any of the music he composed for the film. 

And so, with the rest of the film completed on schedule, 'Sisters For Sale' remained without music. 

My uncle, Geoffrey Hindmarsh, is a very talented pianist who filled our family gatherings with music since I was a child. 

As Geoffrey had influenced my own knowledge and understanding of both music and film more than anyone, I felt it would be very fitting to feature some of Geoffrey's music in the film. 

Geoffrey composed a beautiful track for 'Sisters For Sale' - but it became logistically complicated, at a time when I was already overwhelmed with finishing the film, and unfortunately didn't work out. 

Other musicians - including Joey Chang (AKA Cello Joe), Konstantin Jagoulis (AKA Kosma Solarius), and Rami Shaafi - have had their work featured in our previous videos, and had graciously offered it for use in 'Sisters For Sale'. 

While pieces of Konstantin and Rami's work are to appear in the finished film, I was convinced that it would be better to have a customised score from beginning to end, rather than use a blend of pre-recorded tracks. 

But who was to score the documentary? 

Although he has never recorded or released his work, my brother Will Randall is a skilled composer. 

With a doctorate in music psychology, his understanding of the relationship between music and emotion make him very well-suited to scoring a film. 

Johanna Wilson is a lifelong musician, who plays both piano and violin. 

Joh received her Bachelor of Music in her native Canada and is currently undertaking her Master's in Music, Mind and Technology in Finland. 

For the past several months, Will and Joh have been working together to score 'Sisters For Sale'. 

As a filmmaker, this is the first time I've been involved in having a film scored. I felt somewhat nervous handing my baby over, not knowing how Will and Joh might dress it up. 

Last December, I received my first clue - just a snippet, less than a minute of music set to one of the early sequences of the film. 

After having painstaking constructed and reviewed that sequence a thousand times, it's hard to explain how it felt to watch it at last with music. 

It was perfect - better than I could have imagined. It gave me chills. 

I felt as though my baby was suddenly growing up, as though the Pinocchio I'd cobbled together was at last transforming into a real boy. 

I've since heard other fragments which will form part of the completed score, and have been impressed with them all. 

Will and Joh are taking the same approach I took with the film itself - working meticulously to make it as powerful as it can possibly be. 

Will and Joh will be assisted by two other Australian musicians - pianist Paul Byrnes, and violinist Lucy Rash.

It's a big job, and a time-consuming process, but I have full confidence in their work, and am very excited to hear how it all comes together - stay tuned!

In the meantime, my attention is focused elsewhere: on the forthcoming 'Sisters For Sale' book and podcast, plus the promotion, distribution, and various translations of the documentary. 

I want to thank Melissa Adams, Katie Carriero and Astrid Hofer for their ongoing social media magic - you're amazing! 

Last week I revealed a new 'Sisters For Sale' poster design, and promised to send the first ever print to whoever could tell me what it means!

Earlier this week I shared the poster on image-sharing platform Imgur, where it has been seen by 140,000 people - and counting!

It's been fascinating to read so many diverse interpretations of such a seemingly simple design. Send your entry to before the end of the month to win the print! 

Details here

- Ben 

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The colour and the shape

Posted March 13

Last July, I shared a cinematic poster I'd designed for our feature documentary, 'Sisters For Sale', together with an explanation of what it meant to me. 

The response was so positive I shared it a few days later on Imgur, where it quickly became one of their Most Viral posts. 

There was just one thing I neglected to mention: it wasn't the only poster I'd designed for the film. 

I love design work, and enjoy searching for ways to express complex ideas visually. 

The second poster I designed is in a very different, more "classic" style. 

On the surface, it seems far simpler - yet this one, too, is loaded with hidden meaning, and its meaning is quite different from the cinematic poster. 

I could explain it to you - but where's the fun in that? 

This time, I'll let you guess the meaning behind the poster. I'll give a print of the poster itself - the first ever! - to whoever gives the best answer. 

Let me give you a few clues. 

This poster has a particular theme, which can be encapsulated in a single word - can you see it? 

There are four elements in the poster which deliberately underscore that theme - the colour, the shape, the central figures, and... well, one other thing - I'll let you guess what it is! 

The poster has never been printed, anywhere in the world. 

Whoever can send me the most complete and accurate answer by the end of March will win the very first print. 

If you could describe the theme in a single word, what would it be - and why? Let me know!

I'll announce the winner, and my own explanation of the poster, in early April. 

I've discovered it can be quite complicated to have posters printed or delivered in some areas, but I don't want to exclude anyone on that basis, so you're eligible to enter, wherever you are.

For form's sake, I'll exclude blood relatives. It's impossible to exclude friends since so many friends are supporters, and so many supporters have become friends, but I've written down my explanation of the poster in advance and will have an outsider double-check the closest answers!

I'll be waiting to read your answers at

I want to give a shout-out to Laura Snape, whose photograph was the basis for the poster's central figures.

... On another note, Vietnam's national broadcaster, VTV1, covered our story last week for International Women's Day. The piece included music by Rami Shaafi and Mike Taylor. I'd like to thank Lan Anh Lo, Dominic Nicholas and Alexander Yo for making it possible!

- Ben

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Five years

Posted February 26

There are two very different styles of mountain-climbing. 

The first is expedition style: using a larger team to establish a series of base camps at increasing altitudes, with enough supplies and equipment for a safe and steady ascent. 

The second is alpine style: moving fast and light, carrying as little equipment as possible, striking out rapidly at the peak. 

An alpine-style ascent allows for rapid success with a relatively small investment of time, money, and personnel. When things go wrong, however, it can be incredibly dangerous. 

Last week marked the five-year anniversary of 'The Human, Earth Project'. 

Our work has always been done alpine-style. Over the past five years, we've achieved some stunning victories - but I've also learned how difficult this work can be without the proper support systems in place. 

We succeeded in finding my kidnapped friends in China, and supporting the first through her return home to Vietnam. 

Our story has reached millions, even before it has been released in any definitive form. 

Our feature documentary, 'Sisters For Sale', will always stand testament to how much we've been able to achieve with so little. Whatever happens now with the film, it has been a remarkable achievement, and one I'll always be thankful for. 

For me, the film will also stand testament to the price paid in the stress and frustration of not having allocated sufficient resources in advance. That's not a mistake I'm willing to make again. 

Building a base camp

'The Human, Earth Project' is no longer a brief expedition, as it was originally conceived. Whatever else I might have planned for my life, I realise now that this project is here to stay. It's time to start building and supplying a base camp, for the long haul. 

'Sisters For Sale' has been a victory against incredible odds, and we all like that kind of story - until we have to live through it. Next time, I'm going to make sure the odds are in our favour. 

I was once a talented Business Studies student, selected in the top five from an accelerated class in a selective high school. Oddly enough, I've applied none of that knowledge to 'The Human, Earth Project' - because I simply never thought of it as a real and lasting organisation. 

But that's what it now needs to become. 

Human trafficking is a monstrous issue, affecting tens of millions of people around the globe. Most of us are now aware of human trafficking - but do we know what it really means? 

Unlike the vast majority of human trafficking stories we're exposed to in the media, ours is a very personal story exposing the true complexities of this issue. I've spent the past five years immersed in human trafficking stories, and there really isn't anything else like this one. 

Ours is a unique and fascinating story which has proven itself time and again via new and traditional media. It's a story which can make a very real difference against human trafficking - if we can get the right support systems in place. 

New directions

Over the past three years, 'The Human, Earth Project' has had a singular goal: to finish the 'Sisters For Sale' documentary. 

The documentary is almost complete, yet my work is far from over - in fact, it is only becoming more complex. A series of other peaks now stands before us. 

I'll be working towards several interconnected goals over the coming years, all with the same aim: to continue raising awareness of the global human trafficking crisis. 

The sound and music are all that remain to be completed on the documentary (I'll be writing more about that soon!). 

While post-production is almost finished, the documentary's true journey is only just beginning. A great deal of our time and energy is now being spent on distribution, promotion and impact strategies for the film, which has been submitted to numerous film festivals in North America, Europe and Australia. 

You may have noticed our a new surge of activity on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts lately. I'd like to give a huge shout-out to the amazing Melissa Adams, Katie Carriero and Astrid Hofer, who have turned their marketing and promotional talents onto our social media and website. (Watch this space!)

Thanks to our amazing translation teams, 'Sisters For Sale' has been (or is being) translated into Chinese, French, German and Spanish

Besides the documentary, 'Sisters For Sale' is also to be released as a 10-part podcast by the BBC's Claire Harris, and a book which I've begun to put together already. Both of these will allow us to share more of the compelling and complex story which simply didn't fit into the film. 

There's also the later possibility of touring the film personally, to connect directly with communities around the world and spark discussions on human trafficking and women's rights. 

There are more distant peaks, too - such as a potential companion piece to 'Sisters For Sale', diving deeper into some of the fascinating issues and stories touched upon in the initial documentary. 

Then there's 'Epic', our marathon 2013-14 search for 100 strangers across 10 countries in 10 months. While overshadowed by the events of 'Sisters For Sale', the 'Epic' journey was also filmed from beginning to end, and is to be released as a series of feature documentaries. 

While all of these things may sound ambitious, ambition is one thing this project has never lacked, and we could never have come so far without it. However, all of these things demand time, energy, and money, and our resources are limited. 


Over the past few months, I've been examining two distinct alternatives for the future of 'The Human, Earth Project'. 

The first is to expand and grow as a non-profit organisation, relying on grant money and donations to fund our work. 

While this may seem a "purer" path, I've been relying on the generosity of others now for five long, unpaid years, and it's not something I wish to do on a permanent basis. 

For five years, I've relied on your contributions. I've been deeply grateful for your support, and have wanted to maximise the impact of every dollar - to a point where I feel guilty if I'm not working, or if I take any funds to cover my own needs. 

It's a system that worked well in the short term, but simply isn't sustainable, especially with the incredibly long hours I've worked to finish the documentary. 

For years, I've taken only the most basic living expenses for myself, averaging below $25 a day for food, accommodation and all necessities. I feel as though I have very little time or money of my own, that everything I have I owe to other people. 

It's a situation, I've realised, that ultimately harms both myself and my work. 

I've been asked why I don't pay myself a reasonable wage, and the answer is simple - the money just isn't there. If I'd paid myself properly, this project would have been bled dry years ago, and the documentary would never have been completed. 

I understand now that even if our funding was to be increased dramatically, the dilemma would remain the same. I'd still be forced to balance the needs of the project with my own personal needs. 

Being the kind of person I am, I'd know I'd pour as much as possible into my work, and bleed myself dry. 

It's time to find another way. 


The second option is the path of self-reliance - to find a way to generate enough income from the project that our work might continue. 

Though it may be more challenging than the first option, it now seems preferable to me. 

What does it mean? It means selling things to support our work. It doesn't mean compromising the ideals upon which our work is based, or making that work any less effective. 

At various times, since the very beginning of the project, I've offered certain rewards in exchange for contributions - desktop wallpapers, postcards, photographic prints, access to the film itself, your name in the credits. 

These things are no longer available to contributors - some haven't been for years. 

While I know that many of you have contributed from a simple desire to help, with no need of a reward, I also know that the availability of these incentives has had a marked effect on the quantity of contributions we've received. 

Many people like to have something to show, and to share with their friends. Many of you have expressed an interest in having something physical from the project - a poster, a T-shirt, a DVD copy of the film (when it is released). 

I've also been approached by numerous organisations around the world to speak about my experiences. 

In searching for a way to keep this project alive and strong, these are some of the ideas I'll be considering first. 

Each of you is an important part of this project. Some of you have been following the evolution of our work from the very beginning, five years ago. Some of you have joined more recently. 

If you'd like to have a voice in this process, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Perhaps you have an idea I haven't yet considered. You can email me directly at 

I want to give a huge thank-you to Qiuda Guo, who has been an avid supporter of our work from the very beginning, and whose behind-the-scenes efforts have been unseen but vital to our work - thank you! 

- Ben

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In the light

Posted February 02

'Sisters For Sale' is a unique story, with a unique power to shine a light onto the dark realities of human trafficking. 

Most people are now aware of human trafficking - yet the trafficking stories we are told are often impersonal, inaccessible, and oversimplified. 

'Sisters For Sale', on the other hand, is a deeply personal story which exposes the true complexities of the issue, and makes it real. 

It's a story that has proven its worth time and again on television and radio, in newspapers and magazines, on social media and countless blogs. 

A marketing expert looked over 'The Human, Earth Project' in the first year of its existence, when it had just 1,000 Facebook supporters. With the right marketing, she said, we easily could have had 10,000 supporters - even then, before we'd really achieved anything. 

After five years, and having achieved incredible things, we still don't have anything approaching that number. 

It's not because I've been promoting the project in the wrong way: it's because I've barely been promoting it at all. Worse than that - I've actively resisted any serious promotion for years. 

Our Twitter and Instagram accounts haven't been active in over a year. 

(The fact that there's a Twitter account at all is thanks to the wonderful Claire Bannerman-Mott, who set it up and ran it for years before I even thought of doing so. I don't even know who set up our Instagram account. I've never touched either of them.) 

I'll blog, and post to our Facebook account, maybe once or twice a month. That's it. There are no fancy tricks on our website to help build our mailing list. 

I haven't sought any real media attention in 15 months. (Any attention we've had since then - including VICE, CNN, and Newsweek - has come to me. While it's amazing that I'm being approached by organisations of that calibre, imagine how much more effective this project could be if it was promoted proactively!)

I often shy away from opportunities to tell my story, and there have been times I've gone for months without handing out a single business card (though I've seen how powerful those personal contacts can be). 

I can hear you thinking, this is a really stupid way to run a project that's all about raising awareness - and it is. I get messages like this: 

Dear friends at The Human, Earth Project, you're not loud enough... Your work and intentions are barely seen. That is because YOU'RE NOT LOUD ENOUGH.

It's true - yet I have my reasons, and they're personal. 

In 2014, I achieved some rather unusual things, and became more personally involved in this story than I'd ever intended. It brought me further into the public eye than I'd expected, or am comfortable with. 

Maybe you've seen my TEDx talk, or some of the televised interviews I've done, and you think that's who I am - someone who enjoys getting up in front of people and talking about themselves. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm normally very selective about who I share my life with. Even here, on my blog, I share only what I feel is necessary. 

It's true that I've deliberately sought a wider audience for my story at times - after all, the purpose of my work is to raise awareness of human trafficking. While I may not have initially realised exactly what "raising awareness" would involve, my story is currently the best tool I have to achieve that goal. 

I've received a very strong sense of resentment from some people, as if they want to be the guy telling the world they found their kidnapped friends in China. It's a good story, and for some people, being that guy might be amazing. For me, it's a role I've struggled with. 

Some people do seem to receive a great sense of self-worth and validation from the attention they receive, even from strangers on the Internet - and that's fine. I am not one of those people. 

I'll admit, I have enjoyed being recognised on the street by strangers, on the rare occasions it has happened. When those of you who have been following my story from a distance suddenly appear up close, in real life, it makes me feel that my work has had a real impact. 

It's good to know that you're out there in the world, listening. We have a common interest in this project, and I enjoy meeting you in person. Beyond that, what attention I've received from this project has only confirmed my desire for privacy. 

One criticism I've had of the documentary is that I'm barely present in the story, that I linger on the edge of frame. People have said they want to know more about me, and my role in the story. 

I'll share more if and when I'm ready - but I've never been the focus of this story, nor do I wish to be. 

Perhaps it's the filmmaker in me, who prefers to remain behind the lens. Perhaps it's the traveller in me, who prefers to blend in. Perhaps it's the Australian in me, with our culture of shooting down anyone who gets too big for their boots. Perhaps it's simply that I don't truly understand my own role in the story. 

Whatever it is, I'm just not the right person to promote this project. I don't need the world to know about me - but I do want them to know about 'Sisters For Sale', and the two can be very difficult to separate. 

On the rare occasions I've made efforts to promote my work, I've often bungled it. At its core, 'The Human, Earth Project' is tiny - much smaller than many people may realise. 

I don't test-market things. I don't have the luxury of researching and refining my presentation before I share it with the public. I just do whatever seems right at the time - and sometimes it's not right, but it is constantly getting better. 

I listen to people's comments - and abuse - and adjust the message accordingly. You are the test audience. This project is an eternal work-in-progress, subject to continual refinements. 

There has a been a long process of trying to understand my own role in the story, and finding the right way to tell it. It's very difficult to have an objective sense of something you're so close to. 

Seeing the attention I'd received for my work, someone once asked me (from the comfortable anonymity of the Internet): 

Was your friends getting kidnapped the best thing that ever happened to you?

I can't even begin to address the monumental ignorance behind that question, the years of unpaid work, and the personal sacrifices I've made for this project. All I can say is: 

Fuck. That. Guy. 

That's the kind of barb that sticks, long after the person who made it has forgotten all about it, and yet another reason why I shy away from promoting my work. 

But the work needs to be promoted: it's time to bring 'The Human, Earth Project' into the light. 

I'm looking for people with promotional and social media experience to help tell this story effectively and powerfully to as large an audience as possible, while giving due respect and privacy to those involved. 

You might be that person (or you might know someone who would be perfect!). 

Perhaps you have only a little time to consult on strategy, or perhaps you'd like to be more deeply involved. Either way, it's an opportunity to help share more of a unique and fascinating story which can make a very real difference against human trafficking. 

I can't say yet when I'll be able to share 'Sisters For Sale' itself - but there are plenty of other stories, images and videos we can share before then. 

Not sure what you can do? Reach out and find me at

Thank you :) 

- Ben 

PS. Speaking of publicity, Mireille L'Herminez recently covered our story on her Dutch-language blog 'Mirei Op Reis', and Matteo Damiani republished a previous interview in the first issue of the downloadable 'Planet China' magazine.

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