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:

One Minute Movie 2016

The Department of Film and Creative Writing is pleased to announce the 2016 One Minute Movie Competition. Run in association with the University’s Arts & Science Festival, this opportunity is open to all Birmingham students, both undergraduate and postgraduate.

The challenge is to make a film on the theme of memory or forgetting (or both) that is less than 60 seconds long. It can be fact or fiction, literal or abstract; we want you to be as creative as possible. Specialist equipment is not a requirement and entries produced using smartphones or tablets are very welcome.

Winners will be announced at a screening event on 15 March 2016 and the first prize is an Amazon Kindle Fire HD. Runners up will receive Amazon vouchers.

If you have any questions, please email Dr Richard Langley r.m.langley@bham.ac.uk or ask Jemma Saunders in the Film & Creative Writing office (Room 415, Arts Building). You can also find out more on the department website.

The deadline is Friday 26 February at 1pm. We look forward to receiving your entries!

2015 Round Up

The Christmas break is upon us once more, and it’s been another full and exciting year for the MA in Film and Television: Research and Production.

We kicked off 2015 with the Department of Film & Creative Writing’s first ever One Minute Movie Competition, which is being revived again for 2016 with a theme of ‘Memory and Forgetting’. Easter saw a trip to Bristol for a recording of ‘Deal or No Deal’ and between January and August our students undertook placements at twenty-four different production companies, five of which were new partners for the MA.

Over the summer three FTV students worked with MA convenor Richard Langley to produce a short film for Age Concern Birmingham, which is now featured on their YouTube channel.

In mid-September we bade farewell to our 2014-15 cohort, who formally graduated last week. Many have already enjoyed paid roles in industry at organisations including Fremantle Media and Al Jazeera, and it’s been great to hear of other alumni successes throughout the year.

We welcomed our new FTV students two weeks later, who have had a full term of seminars, screenings, training and guest speakers from industry. After Christmas they will start embarking on their placements and working towards their film assignments; a 3-5 minute guided editing project and a 25-minute documentary, which serves as their dissertation.

It will be full steam ahead again come January, but in the meantime thank you to everyone who has worked with us this year, and we wish all our students, alumni, placement partners and friends a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

FTV Christmas

A Visit to the Mockingbird

Our new cohort of FTV students are now well into their first term at Birmingham. We’ve had an exciting timetable packed with seminars, screenings, guest workshops and practical training, and last month we also arranged a trip to the Mockingbird Theatre in Digbeth, led by Professor Roger Shannon. In this blog, Magdalena Swiatek shares her reflections on the day and some fascinating insights into Birmingham’s film culture, past and present. 

MagdalenaSwiatek (2)In Week 2 we – the new FTV Students – took a trip to the Mockingbird Theatre in the Custard Factory to meet Roger Shannon, producer and Professor of Film and TV, and alumnus Luke Smith, who had just finished the MA.

Luke showed us his amazing dissertation documentary about his first stand-up performance and talked about his experiences during the MA. He recounted the process of filming, his successes and the mistakes he made. It was motivating to hear how a former student experienced the year on the course and I´m sure all of us took a lot out of this meeting.

Afterwards, Roger Shannon gave us an overview over Birmingham´s film history and its meaning for the UK film industry. Even though the industry is not quite as vivid as it was before in Birmingham, there are still loads of opportunities for us to discover here. 

Birmingham and Film

Birmingham´s film history started in 1862 with the discovery of celluloid. Around 60 years later, in the early 20th century, three Brummies – Michael Balcon, Victor Saville and Oscar Deutsch – started to take over the film world from the West Midlands.

Michael Balcon (1896 – 1977)  – the honoured film producer who discovered Alfred Hitchcock was born in Birmingham. After the war he and his friend Victor Saville opened a film distribution company in London and started to produce films. In the late 1930s, Balcon was Head of the Ealing Company, one of Britain´s most famous studios.

Victor Saville (1895 – 1979) – the film director, producer and screenwriter celebrated his success in the UK as well as in Hollywood. During his life he worked on over 70 films.

Oscar Deutsch (1893 – 1941) – the founder of the ODEON cinemas was born in Birmingham as a son of Hungarian Jews. The first ‘Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation’ (ODEON) – cinema was opened close to Birmingham in 1928. After this, many others followed all over the UK. 10 years later there were already over 250 ODEONs. The architecture and interior design were their unique recognition value. Today the ODEON remains one of the most important cinemas in Birmingham.

Birmingham´s Cinemas Today

The ODEON – located in the city centre of Birmingham, the ODEON prides itself on offering the best cinema experience, just as Oscar Deutsch promised. With 8 screens, the cinema offers a variety of current films.

Cineworld – on Broad Street, surrounded by pubs, clubs and restaurants, the cinema is located in the heart of the city. With 12 screens, the Cineworld offers a big range of top films for every age and interest.

The Electric – the oldest working cinema in Britain has been showing films since 1909. On two screens the viewer can experience loads of indie films, performance screenings and classics in addition to the latest film releases. A regular view of the program is worthwhile.

030715 Mockingbird

Our MA mascot, MacGuffin, at The Mockingbird

The Mockingbird Theatre – a Bistro, Bar and Theatre placed in the Custard Factory. Beside theatre plays and music gigs, the film club hosts festivals and organises indie film screenings

Midlands Arts Centre – one of the most important and diverse art centres in Birmingham; offering exhibitions, courses, theatre, music and of course films. It shows a range of new released films, art-house films and live screenings.

Everyman Cinemas – this independent cinema is located in the Mailbox in Birmingham. The uniqueness of this venue is its atmosphere and fancy cosiness.

A big thank you to the team at The Mockingbird for hosting us, and to Roger and Luke for sharing their knowledge and expertise!

Magdalena Swiatek