Screening Events and Flatpack Festival

On Tuesday 18 March we will be holding our second documentary screening event, showcasing work by recent alumni of the MA. This is once again part of the University’s Arts & Science Festival and tying in with 2014′s theme of Life and Death, we will be finishing the evening with My Way, an intriguing look at the UK funeral industry. Admission for this event is free but booking is advised, so please drop me an email if you’d like to reserve a seat ( ArtsandScience2014

The department of American and Canadian studies is running another screening event on Thursday 20 March, ‘Life and Death’ and the Social Action Film. This promises to be another fascinating evening, including short films and a panel discussion.

To add to this wealth of cinematic treats, Flatpack Film Festival is returning to Birmingham at the end of March and there’s a preview taster screening right here on campus next Thursday. The full programme of events is on the Flatpack website.

Popcorn, anyone?

Merry Christmas from FTV!

Christmas TreeAfter an exceptionally busy few months for FTV, the festive season is now upon us! We’ve had a great term welcoming our new cohort of students to the MA and it was great to see some familiar faces at last week’s graduation.

A very Merry Christmas to all students (past, present and future!), placement hosts, guest speakers and staff at the University. 

One Year On From FTV

In this guest blog, Scott Billing talks about what he’s been working on in the year since he finished his MA, offering some words of wisdom along the way…

Scott for blogAfter completing the placement module of the FTV course at Maverick Television in Birmingham I was asked to do a further four weeks work, which was mainly sourcing images for the Film4 website at the Maverick office in London. This meant slightly extending the deadline for my 30 minute documentary, and also some quite long hours of vast excel spreadsheet work. At the time I was delighted, as we all know that paid work is extremely difficult to come by.  

I suppose I made a fairly good impression as a few weeks later, in fact the day after completing the FTV course, I was asked to interview for a Junior Researcher position at Maverick London. I was offered the job and since then I have been working as a part of the award-winning multiplatform department, where we are producing three original content YouTube channels*. 

Due to having a relatively small team my role has been extremely diverse and I have been lucky enough to not only research, but to also occasionally shoot and edit some of our content. My day-to-day duties include maintaining camera kit, data wrangling, moving set and props to locations, lighting, research and the odd bit of casting (you’ll be glad to know these are things that can evidently be picked up along the way). My contract finishes this September and I am somehow both anxious and excited about my next challenge. Until then I am trying to absorb as much knowledge and make as many friends and contacts as possible.  

In my limited experience I have this advice to share. If you have an opportunity in TV, Film or the media then seize it with both hands. Always ask senior members of the team what you can be doing, be enthusiastic, never exhale heavily (or show any other signs of displeasure) if you are asked to do something tedious or unpleasant, be punctual, be organised and make lots of tea (SERIOUSLY, this is not a joke, even if you don’t drink tea. It’s the best way to meet people in the kitchen and it impresses those you work with). That’s it.  

*If you’d like to check out the YouTube channels they are called ‘Daily Mix TV’ and ‘Bodytalk Daily’. I have also done some work for ‘The You Generation’ which is the new talent search channel produced by Maverick in partnership with Syco, Simon Cowell’s production company.

Scott Billing

Danielle’s Placement at Tinker Taylor

One of the companies we have been delighted to establish a placement link with this year is Tinker Taylor. Part-time student Danielle Breach has spent two months working in their offices and has written the following blog about her experiences:

As part of the MA I am currently studying at the University Of Birmingham, I am required to undertake a work placement with an industry-related company for a minimum of eight weeks. The idea is to learn first-hand how working within the film and television industry really is, as well as gaining experience that’ll become invaluable when applying for work once graduated. Students are sent to a variety of companies of varying sizes up and down the country, taking on a range of roles. Whilst the benefits of undertaking a placement are immeasurable, the majority of the class have only really worked at a personal level beforehand, and the idea of working alongside professionals can be quite daunting! Nobody is really sure what to expect before they start, or the kind of tasks they’ll be asked to undertake. 


Fazeley Studios in Digbeth

Initially, Sam invited me to spend four weeks at her company, Tinker Taylor, to help out with some editing. For me, this seemed like such a great opportunity, because not only would I be gaining insight into how a professional company actually works, but I could also learn practical skills that would help me when editing my own university projects. I spent a few hours watching the shoot of the project I would be helping to edit, which was a completely new experience for me. Up until then, I had only been on shoots with classmates, so it was strange to see the difference in pace and professionalism. The project seemed perfectly fitting too, as it was a range of instructional modules for a local social media company – and social media is something that my course focuses on a lot. With such a pertinent project, I was excited to get started and see what I could gain from the whole experience. The following week I headed down to Fazeley Studios, unsure of what to expect and ready to start my four weeks at Tinker Taylor. 

After being shown to my desk and introduced to everyone, I was working on the project straight away. There was a lot to learn as I was doing things I had never done before, and it felt so strange being in a professional environment after a year of being in the uni editing suite. It was also a shock to experience a proper working day – after five years of being a student, it was a big salutation to the real world! As well as learning practically, I got to observe what goes on behind the scenes in such a company, which is obviously something you don’t really get to experience beforehand. The level of planning and organisation was on an entirely different scale, and it was interesting to see just how many elements change when filmmaking is at a business level. It was also a different kind of pressure knowing that the work has to meet the demands of a fee-paying client, rather than a lecturer!

Helping to edit the JC Social Media project taught me so much about the editing process as a whole. I used software that was completely new to me, picking up little tricks and skills that I know I can utilise in the future. Overall, the whole experience has been great! Whilst initially the idea of a placement can seem scary, the amount you learn about the industry in such a short period makes it one of the most beneficial and interesting aspects of the course. I am just so grateful to Sam for allowing me such an insight, allowing me to learn from some amazing people and to work on such an interesting project!

Danielle Breach

Read the original blog here:

July Film Festivals in Birmingham

The holiday season is fast approaching and there are some great film events taking place in the second city this July.

Head down to Brindley Place in Birmingham City Centre next week for a free outdoor film festival. Nine films will be shown between 8 and 14 July, with complimentary popcorn for everyone who attends. The theme is ‘momentous movies’ and includes family favourites such as The Wizard of Oz. For the full schedule and takeaway food options click here.

This month also sees the return of the Shock and Gore Horror and Fantasy Festival, which was launched by the Electric Cinema in 2012. This will run from 19 – 25 July at various venues across the city.

From FTV to 3rd AD – Matt’s Story

Before you read the below, I feel that I should put that I wasn’t one hundred per cent sure about writing a short bio as to what I’d done since graduating from the Film & TV MA.  I think it is helpful to see what alumni of the course have achieved and how they got there, but by looking at what others have achieved it can lead to quite negatively comparing where you are with them. Which is never helpful, and as I’ve learnt, in the media industry, there is no set path to success, sometimes it can take longer than others to get paid work, and sometimes it happens straight away.  I was the last of the five who graduated on the course my year to find solid paid work, but I got there eventually. Anyway, read on and apologies for some of the hyperbole. Matt Persona 

Upon graduating from the MA course in September 2011, I was immediately struck with the knowledge that I had a very clear idea of the latter part of my career (make Horror into a respected genre, direct the 30th James Bond film, win several oscars, marry Jennifer Lawrence etc.) but little notion as how to begin.   

I was still working as a trolley boy at the local Waitrose and though pushing 15 trolleys downhill pass Mercedes and BMWs has its charm, it wasn’t as compelling as you’d imagine. However, I managed to get some work writing for a local free newspaper called ‘Harborne News’, small articles on local political issues (only exaggerated for dramatic effect a little) and as it turned out the editor was looking to produce some video content for his website.  We made an incredibly unbiased short documentary about the local clock tower which the council was threatening to demolish, and several promotional videos for local businesses, including one for national charity ‘Headway’.  These can be viewed on the website if you have a strong urge to ‘Save Our Clock Tower’.  

Now, all of this was fantastic experience, but completely unpaid, off the radar and didn’t seem to be actually getting me anywhere.  I also did some work for a couple who were producing a series of webisodes about ‘Birmingham Bakers’, which was enjoyably tasty, though also unpaid. A short side note here to point out that whilst I’m not obsessed with money, it is sort of necessary to live.  So while I was working on these small projects I was still stuck at the supermarket, so I could afford to pay the bills. Which in turn means you have less free time (and inclination) to find other work, or do the unpaid projects. It’s really tough to find the balance between earning money and helping your career; a balance which is different owing to everyone’s circumstances.   

It would turn out to be the much derided Gumtree which provided my next two pieces of work.  The first was Persona, which billed itself rather dramatically as the ‘World’s First Soap Opera Phone Ap’.  It is, as far as I’m aware, and there may well be a reason for that.  The company would provide the ‘Director/Writer’ with a budget of £150 and for that they would provide ten ‘appisodes’ of 90 seconds each. These would then be broadcast through the mobile phone app (which had over 100,000 subscribers we were confidently assured), they made their money back from adverts and everybody wins. Now whilst this didn’t bring us the overnight fame we had all dreamed of, it did do two very important things. Firstly, it gave us more experience in terms of putting together what was effectively a short film.  We filmed it all in one weekend, and the reason it worked was down to a great deal of forward planning and preparing for every contingency.  Secondly, and here I will address the ‘us’, it was a great way of building contacts. Luckily, someone I had worked with from the ‘Harborne News’ projects had camera equipment, my colleagues from the MA all pitched it to help, Oz lent some lights and between the rest of us we found make-up artists, actors and the necessary locations.

After Persona, Gumtree sent me an advert for a feature film which was shooting in Craven Arms (the middle of no-where, but the Olympics were founded there).  I managed to get a week’s worth of work on the film as a runner/driver, experience which would help me immensely in the future (but more of that later).  This taught me of the ridiculous hours you put in as a runner, and the massive variety of tasks you undertake, but it was great fun, and I met the little girl vampire from ‘Let the Right One In’.  (She wasn’t a vampire, it turned out – but she spoke English rather than Swedish).  

I got some further work on a extremely low budget feature film, shooting in and around Moseley, after being recommended by the producers at Endboard Productions (where I did my MA work experience), once again highlighting the importance of contacts in this crazy industry.  The film turned out to be a total disaster, as no doubt Catalina Bingham and Lizzie Clark will attest to. But I managed to learn a little along the way about lighting, and the importance of actually having a shooting schedule.   

Now to do an almost Tarantino-esque chronological shift back to before all this runner experience.  In the February after graduating I had emailed the BBC show ‘Doctors’ applying for work as a Floor Runner. I had interviewed and been offered the job (Hooray!) but unfortunately they rang back an hour later to inform me that since I was 22, I was a year too young to qualify for their car insurance.  So, when I duly turned 23 in August 2012, I emailed, inquiring whether there were any positions available.  After another interview, I was offered a job, and so in September, almost a year after graduating I found myself with paid work in a job I actually wanted to do (no more pushing trolleys!)  

Being a Floor Runner involves long hours, hard work and immense willpower, but is quite rewarding - crew members like anyone who gives them cups of tea and snacks.  I worked with ‘Doctors’ through to December, after which my co-runner and I were offered a running job in London. One of the 1st Assistant Directors was going to work on a Channel 4 project called ‘Coming Up’, and asked us to join us for the seven week shoot. (See, it’s all about the contacts and referral).  

Driving actors through the busy streets of the capital was something of a nightmare, but working on a different production with different people was great experience, good for the C.V. and I got to meet Una Stubbs (landlady from ‘Sherlock’).  Again, I made a whole load of new contacts and even got an extra day working on a promo for a new TV show.  After my brief stint in London I returned to the relative calm of Birmingham and ‘Doctors’ and after a couple of months working as a runner, I was promoted to a 3rd Assistant Director, which involves a little more stress and a little more responsibility.  

This blog may be slightly longer than Jemma (the lovely MA coordinator) wanted when she asked me to write this, but I do tend to waffle.  I left out the London actress who broke my heart, the filming of a Shakespeare play, and the short film with the crazy girl in the bath, but then there’s never enough time for everything.  

If I had to sum up my advice I would say three things:
Work Hard. Persevere. Don’t get discouraged by comparing yourself with others.  Oh and make lots of contacts, as they may refer work to you later on. So Four things. And also, be nice to people because they may give you work, but that kind of comes under number four. So we’ll leave it there. 

Matt Lowe

Working as a Junior Researcher

Catalina Bingham graduated from FTV in 2012 and now works as a Junior Researcher on Who Do You Think You Are? In this guest post she describes her role so far.

Catalina BinghamAs a junior researcher for Who Do You Think You Are?, every day is different. My three month placement at Wall to Wall really helped in giving me that extra bit of confidence when starting my job there as well as seeing familiar faces on my first day.

I spend most of my time around London archives looking up all matter of genealogical and historical sources. This means I’m constantly meeting new people and have to communicate between the archives and the rest of the production team. Gradually, as I’ve gotten more acquainted with our numerous episode storylines I am also now able to pursue research avenues that I think could possibly be a positive addition to the projects. Being so hands on with the research I am able to communicate my findings and suggestions to the rest of the team and it is always so rewarding to see a story develop into something exciting and in-depth.

I don’t only spend my days in dusty archives, but I have gone on recces all over the country in preparation for up and coming shoots. A few weeks ago I was in Dorset and Essex with my camera in hand! I speak to many experts and potential contributors which means I have to be on the ball when it comes to knowing my stuff and what our research has been so far. Like I said, every day is different and I’m glad I invested in a good pair of trainers as I’m always coming in and out of the office and at any moment could be sent off somewhere!

I love my job and have recently had my contract extended! Looking at becoming a researcher in charge of my own episode, but that’s a little way down the line. For now I’m excited about going on a 2-day shoot in London and meeting the celebrity I’ve spent weeks learning about his (or her!) family history! Great team and so far a wonderful experience!!

Catalina Bingham