Tour of Birmingham’s Media and Arts Centres

In welcoming the new cohort of FTV postgraduate students to the University of Birmingham, the course leaders and Professor Roger Shannon scheduled an afternoon tour across the ‘second city’ for a glimpse at its various media and art centres. Samuel James shares his experience of the day.

12806090_10153980200276649_4030531201158330701_nTaking place in Week 1, on Friday 30th September 2016, Professor Shannon met with all the students inside Birmingham New Street train station at 1pm. He provided us with introductory leaflets about the city’s media and arts before explaining where we’d be visiting on the scheduled tour: the famous Electric Cinema, BBC Birmingham, Everyman Cinema, the Ikon Gallery and local chains at Cineworld and Odeon.

The first stop was the Electric Cinema, the nearest to New Street station and the oldest running cinema in the United Kingdom. Upon our arrival at the Electric, Roger took a number of group photos outside before going inside and introducing us to Sam Bishop, the cinema’s duty manager.

Sam presented us with an insight into the history of the Electric Cinema, provided resourceful advice on working in the film and TV industry and discussed what the Electric offers customers. He even mentioned private screenings and suggested that FTV students organise one after completing audio-visual dissertations. For more information on the Electric Cinema, be sure to watch the documentary about it called The Last Projectionist.

walking-tour-1We then began our stroll through the city centre before eventually passing through the Mailbox and finding the current offices at BBC Birmingham. After another group photo, Roger guided us inside and we lovingly observed BBC sets and props of its famous TV shows, including costumes from Peaky Blinders. We also had some fun with the BBC Weather equipment.

Upon leaving, we arrived at the Everyman Cinema just round the corner. Similar to the Electric Cinema, their duty manager showed us around and presented some factual information about the company. He also briefly guided us into an auditorium and allowed us to sit on their newly allocated sofa seats.walking-tour-5

Taking a few steps outside of the city centre, we passed by the Ikon Gallery. There was no official tour as we passed through like customers, but it gave us a further insight into the city’s art outside of cinema and media.

At roughly 3pm, we moved onto mainstream cinema in the industry by visiting the Cineworld chain at Broad Street and Odeon at New Street. Supervisors from both industries gave us a thorough tour around the building, discussed the growing changes of cinema and, at Cineworld, showed us the projectors.

We finished the tour at approximately 4pm. Although some students went home afterwards, others stayed in Birmingham for some drinks at a nearby pub which Professor Shannon previously recommended. Therefore, the FTV students of 2016-2017 considered this as not only an insight to Birmingham’s media and arts centres, but an icebreaking afternoon to build friendships and potential film and TV partnerships.

Thank you to Roger for showing us the city!

Samuel James

A Foot in the Door

Olivia Scott finished her MA in early September 2016. Since then she’s spent 4 weeks as a location runner in Ibiza (yes, really!) and is about to commence her second paid TV role as a casting runner in London. Here’s how FTV helped her to get that foot in the door…

oliviaIt seems like only yesterday that I got my acceptance onto the MA in Film and Television: Research and Production at the University of Birmingham. Doing my undergrad (History) at UoB, it felt only natural for me to stay an extra year, on this fantastic course, as I loved the uni, and the opportunities the course could provide me, so much. In all honesty, my main reason for undertaking the MA was the placement aspect of the course, as I, like many other rookies looking to get a career in television or film, didn’t know where to start. I thought that the course would provide me with the necessary skills and training which would stand me in good stead to get a job in the television industry. And I was right.

I enjoyed every aspect of the MA, from practical training with Oz, to documentary filmmaking with Richard. However, my favourite taught module was Research, Production and Commissioning with Kate Hollingsworth (who works in television). As a self-confessed TV obsessive, I loved learning about every aspect of the television industry, and Kate was an inspirational teacher. This module, as well as the placements I undertook, reinforced that I definitely wanted to pursue a career in television.

However, it was definitely the placement aspect of the course which I feel I thrived in. I was a casting runner at 7Wonder in Birmingham for two months, working on a cookery show for Channel 4. I really felt like a part of the team and I learned loads about the TV industry and casting itself. This experience led me to get the job that I am currently working in, as a casting runner for a company in London, called Nutopia. To get the chance to actually work for a television company was amazing, and I learned some invaluable skills, all thanks to the MA.

olivia-ibiza

The MA also helped me get my first job in television: being a location runner on Ibiza Weekender (ITV2). To have the chance to go abroad for a month was amazing, let alone getting the chance to go to Ibiza for a month! I had to give my dissertation in 3 weeks early, and my placement essay 2 weeks early (a day before I flew out to Ibiza) but it was worth it, as working on Ibiza Weekender was an amazing experience, and I learned so much about working on location and the necessary tasks that are involved in being a location runner. It was relentless hard work, but again I feel that the experience I had on the MA really helped me to do my best at the job. It also helped that I had watched the show so knew the format!

I can’t thank Richard, Jemma and Oz enough. Doing the MA was the best decision and all aspects of it have allowed me to get my foot in the door of the television industry, an industry I hope to work in for a number of years!

Olivia Scott

ibiza2

Baking a Perfect CV

Think of the Great British Bake Off and the care and attention each contestant puts into their signature bakes. Visualise the beautiful cakes they present to the judges and how these demonstrate their skillset and meet the weekly brief, from creating the perfect blend of flavours to showcasing a flair for presentation through icing, tempered chocolate or spun sugar. Now picture a CV.

To my mind, crafting a cake for Mary Berry’s discerning gaze and taste buds is similar to drafting a CV for a prospective employer.  Let’s start with you: just as the Bake Off judges want to know what they’re about to sample, an employer needs to know whose CV they’re going to read. This starts with an appropriate file name for your document (you wouldn’t provide a blank label, or just write ‘Cake’ at a village fair would you?) and also displaying your name clearly at the top.

2-chocolate-cake-on-plateNext up is the aesthetic appeal and content of your baked goods. A mirror glaze cake is expected to have a smooth and shiny surface, and a CV must clearly reflect you. As Donkey once said to Shrek, ‘Cakes have layers’ and so do CVs: clearly defined sections that are perfectly formatted to help build the pleasing whole. Whether you have a technical skills and training section at the top (perfectly iced flowers adorning the cake) or showcase your capabilities through examples in other sections (a talent for blending flavourful butter cream fillings), you construct a CV to be as enticing as possible for the target reader.

This leads me to what I think of as the ‘format vomit’: just as bakers have come under fire for lurid icing colour combinations and adventurous decoration, throwing everything Microsoft Word has to offer at your CV is not necessarily a good idea. Neatly headed and structured sections do not always need further embellishment with bold, italics, different fonts and underlining – it would be akin to topping a Jaffa Cake with cherries, peanuts, silver balls and caramel sauce simultaneously.

(I hear some of you cry, ‘what’s wrong with that?’ and my answer is ‘how do you know where to start?’. If faced with an over-formatted CV, the initial impression could be distracting and potentially put off an employer).

Mary and Paul also want to see their briefs met and that promises are delivered upon. Think of the mammoth bread cornucopia in last year’s series: there was almost too much to consider and a more selective approach may have worked in the baker’s favour. Providing an appropriate level of detail and relevant experience on your CV (the correct ingredients to suit the employer’s dietary requirements, if you will) shows that you understand the role you’re applying for.  On a similar note, there’s no point in adding additional detail purely because you think it’ll make you seem a better candidate, especially if it’s not true – after all, if a cupcake promises lavender flavour then doesn’t deliver when the customer takes a chance and tucks in, there’s inevitably disappointment.

No Bake Off analogy would be complete without reference to a soggy bottom, and thus we come to references. Rounding off your CV with details of people who are happy to be contacted about you provides a solid foundation to support all the work you’ve put in above.

So when you’re next revising your CV for an application, consider the efforts you’d put into a show-stopping cake to win the role. Construct your layers, showcase your skills, make sure it’s neatly finished, and allow plenty of time to get it right: after all, no employer wants something half-baked.

Jemma Saunders

This post was first published by Jemma on LinkedIn, 1st September 2016.
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/baking-perfect-cv-jemma-saunders?trk=prof-post

Working for an Indie: Sarah’s Story

SarahLblogSarah Learmonth graduated in 2014 and went straight into a job with one of the companies where she undertook part of her MA placement. In this post she shares some of her highlights from the last two years, along with some useful tips for current students!

Since finishing my MA in September 2014, I haven’t really stopped! I was offered a job at Isis Media (now rebranded as Zebra Digital) where I’d done the majority of my placement, and I was back at work before I’d handed in my dissertation! It was originally meant to be a short contract of around six weeks (on a project specific basis) but cut to two years later and I’m still here!

I’ve worked on loads of different projects, from about a million promotional videos for Birmingham City University (yes, I know I’m a traitor), to documentaries about theatre and mental health. It’s diverse, I’ll tell you that much! Zebra is a very small indie production company that expands and contracts as necessary, but that means I get to do loads of different jobs, learning and developing my skills in all areas of production. My title is ‘Production Co-ordinator’ but I really just do whatever needs to be done- from research, development, writing scripts, social media, organising shooting schedules, finding contributors and all that lovely pre-production stuff, to being on set – where I could either be on camera, sound or getting release forms signed! I also do a lot of stuff back in the edit suites, doing both off and online edits.

I really enjoy that aspect of the job, it’s more liberating than just being stuck in one position, which you might find in a larger production company. I’m not just a Researcher or a Runner or an Assistant Editor, I’m all of those things and more- so every day is different. I’ve also had the opportunity to go on three international shoots to Turkey and Germany (the shoots were in an oil refinery and a margarine plant- so glam) which I feel really lucky to have done.

SarahLblog2Most recently the MD of Zebra set up another company, Formatzone, which is currently working on a TV pilot with Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. On this project I was left to my own devices a bit more, for example heading up a second unit shoot when the director was out at another location. It came along at just the right time, when I had gained the confidence to spread my wings a bit more and take on a bit more responsibility. The show’s looking great, so I think I did a good job! We have lots of ideas in the pipeline, I’m currently finishing one of my screenplays and I’m considering relaunching my YouTube channel, so it’s all go!

Best piece of advice I’ve received: DON’T UNDERESTIMATE GVs. Get as many as you can. Also, if you have a slow day in the office, don’t be afraid to self–direct. Look up that interesting idea you read in the Metro on your commute, it might be your next big series!

Sarah Learmonth

From Bulgaria to Birmingham and Back Again

Bogomil Kalinov is one of the co-founders of KaBoAl Pictures, an audiovisual production company, and in the few years since it was created the company has already worked on 4 feature films, all of them international co-productions.  Bo graduated from Film Directing at the New Bulgarian University (Sofia, Bulgaria) with honours in 2013 and was enrolled on the MA in Film and Television at the University of Birmingham from 2013 to 2014.  Here, he shares his reasons behind applying for the MA and how it has impacted on his subsequent activities.

Bo blogI applied to the MA Film and Television: Research and Production for a couple of reasons. The first one was I needed the knowledge about how to make a sustainable visual product. Even though I had a background in Film Directing, at the time of my BA I was very concentrated in shooting dramas and I missed out on some valuable lessons.  Even though shooting drama is exciting, it is also very expensive. It involves a lot of people, a lot of time and a lot of effort. Plus financing, that is more often than not difficult to obtain. I had invested some years in film making and already had my mind set on what I wanted to do, however it turned out that I didn’t realize I had to do more of it. Feature film-making is great but if you want to sustain a business and remain a valuable asset in the industry you need to have a broader set of skills that involve factual TV, documentaries and similar genres. Making movies is fun, paying the bills is mandatory, so in this line of thought I believe that the opportunities and experience that the MA FTV provides are essential to anyone who chooses the path of filmmaking as a career.

The Appeal of Documentary Filmmaking

The second reason behind my decision to apply was the documentary aspect of the programme. As mentioned, I was very constrained by my narrow-minded thinking about the business. I realized my mistake once I attended a student documentary workshop that lasted about a week. During that time I knew I missed out, but I didn’t really have the time to learn how to fix this mistake. The length of the workshop was not enough to provide the needed information and I was already in my last year of BA studies.

This being said, studying under the guidance of Dr Richard Langley on the MA FTV was just priceless for learning the insights of documentary filmmaking. The screenings were great, the chosen films were well picked (of course, some I liked better than others) but they accurately represented the rich pallet of documentary subgenres. What I liked most about his method of teaching were the discussions that followed the screenings, where Richard explained the documentary mode and why and how it was made this way.  I learned not just why documentaries are made but how to make them. His passion for the subject really had a great impact, not just on me, but I think on the whole class. I could tell by the way we started discussing documentaries a bit later in the year that was equal to the way we discussed feature films in the beginning of the year. To put it in a different perspective: before I attended the MA I avoided watching documentaries and the closest I got to the genre was the work of popular TV channels that I no longer even consider ‘documentary’ in the full meaning of the word. Since then, for the past two and a half years, I have enjoyed 66 documentary films, some of which were mini-series, and I am currently preparing a documentary debut myself. So this goes to show the tremendous impact that the MA had on me both as a person and as an author.

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BBC Digital Cities Workshops: Survive the Future

On Thursday 17th March, four FTV students attended workshops at BBC Birmingham as part of Digital Cities Week to pick the brains of broadcast industry insiders and participate in practical training with digital tools. In this post, Elena Tang and Yang Zhang reflect on digital storytelling, using new technologies to produce innovative content, and trying their hands at being weather presenters.

We were welcomed to the Mailbox with a 3D goggles show-zone and offered a chance to get immersed in this new interactive way to engage in previously 2D television programmes. After registering, we were led upstairs and through labyrinth-like alleys and finally arrived at the BBC Academy space where the workshops were mainly held.

Digital StorytellingBBC 17 March

The first session was hosted by writer Elaine Wilson. She explained how digital storytelling is different and what types of stories you can tell online. With the development of technology, the way to tell a story has changed dramatically and it is obvious that many people prefer accessing content through mobile phones, laptops and other electronic devices rather than books and newspapers. Thus, digital platforms play a significant role in filmmaking and television production. After a brief introduction to the core points for a good story, Elaine suggested ways to take full advantage of social media in storytelling. Examples of short form vloggers like ‘MinutePhysics’ were also shown to demonstrate how effectively this type of content works.

We learned that a good character in a story should have a clear goal and motivation, being recognizable while having their own flaws and strengths. Critical elements of a story include consistency and consequence: what happens if the characters succeed or fail. During an activity we were divided into groups of four and given a nursery rhyme to adapt into stories to be told in digital forms. Everyone’s ideas seemed so unique and innovative, and it was great to see that people’s creativity could be ignited through simple inspirations like the owl and the pussy-cat falling in love with each other.

Next, in order to put the idea into practice, we were tasked with making a 10-second short film using Vine in a limited time. We grabbed the chance to make creative videos in small groups, and all videos produced were posted onto the big screen so everyone gets to see what the other groups had made: some hilarious, some very artistic, and many with innovative twists. The fun and relaxed activity helped us learn the art of digital platforms and see how swiftly a piece can be produced.

Hands-on Technology

During the lunch break we explored the BBC Public Space where we were able to try working as an anchor on either a weather forecast, the news or a natural history program. Reading the autocue was quite a challenge, but it was fun to see ourselves on screen on the hunt for polar bears or predicting rain, and we got a better understanding of how a
20160317_131804presenter works.

In the afternoon session, we attended different workshops in smaller groups and tried making short form content with infographics, photos and audio using iPad and mobile apps like Splice and Pictophile Pro. We got to experience digital content including Pint-sized Ashes for BBC Radio 5 Live, facilities including green screen, 360º video and VR headset, all within 10 minute workshops.

The intense but fun workshops showed us how interesting and seemingly complex digital content can be produced in a short period of time with limited resources and on a small budget, especially using simple mobile apps. The future of creative media is indeed in the hands of everyone.

Elena Tang and Yang Zhang

If you’d like to learn more about Digital Storytelling, sign up by 30 May for a free course with the University of Birmingham, BBC Academy and Creative Skillset to access a wealth of tips and resources: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/digital-storytelling

Annual Showcase & One Minute Movie Results

Last Tuesday evening we held our annual showcase as part of the University’s Arts & Science Festival. This incorporated the results of the Department of Film & Creative Writing’s second One Minute Movie Competition.

It was great to see so many familiar faces in the audience, including FTV students past and present, members of Guild TV, and industry partners. In addition to a range of 5-minute Guided Editing Projects, we screened two documentaries from last year’s cohort: My First Time, which followed Luke Smith’s preparations for his first stand-up gig in Edinburgh, and Junior Doctor Diaries, a pertinent film from Katharine Walker examining the challenges faced by junior doctors in the UK as they enter the workplace.

IMG_6362In the second half of the event we showed all 14 One Minute Movie entries, which responded to the festival theme of Memory and Forgetting. The range and quality of submissions to the competition this year was fantastic, necessitating an expansion in the judging panel! The overall winner was MA Film & Television student Bhulla Beghal, with his animation One Day. Asked where he drew his inspiration from, Bhulla mentioned Ari Folman’s documentary Waltz With Bashir, which features on the MA’s Documentary Filmmaking module syllabus.

The four runners up, in no particular order, were:

  • Elena Tang            Some Memories Don’t Fade
  • Paul Turrell            Missing Time
  • Rosie Kelby            Tip of the Tongue
  • Sarah Thölin-Chittenden            Skögen

Congratulations and a big thank you to everyone who entered! Watch Bhulla’s winning film here: