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.

Putting Research Skills into Practice

Since I graduated I have had the opportunity to develop in two aspects of my career. One of the advantages of the MA was that it provided a hands-on experience for students while maintaining high standards for the academic writing and critical thought. These benefits of the training came very useful to me after graduating because it allowed me to be more involved in academia and improved the research skills I needed for preparing and shooting documentaries. In the year I graduated from the MA I had the chance to submit an abstract to the International University of Sarajevo Graduate Conference and later present a paper on a “New Approach to Dramatic Writing” where I develop a theory that the three act system could be replaced with branching narrative. The work was well received and I am still improving it. Of course the whole issue of narrative structure is very difficult to be tackled in one paper so it would take some time for establishing the process. However, I believe that I laid some foundations for a debate.

This got me more involved in scholarly research and I am currently preparing for a PhD in Effective Communication and Audiovisual Services. This opportunity was made possible thanks to the thorough preparation for writing high quality essays on the MA. The Research skills module helped me transition from undergraduate to taught Masters Level. We all were supported by the FTV team while doing our writing assignments and that guidance was essential for our academic development. I was also featured in the Bulgarian magazine for education “Education and specialization abroad” in an article about me and my experience at the University of Birmingham, where I spoke of what documents a foreign student would need to apply, how he/she should prepare them, the benefits of the British educational system and standards, and the opportunities for hands-on experience during the Placement and Training module of the MA FTV.

The Paradise Suite

After my graduation from the MA I had the opportunity to work on a Dutch-Swedish-Bulgarian co-production The Paradise Suite by the director Joost van Ginkel. Our company was the Bulgarian producer and we accommodated shoots in Bulgaria and provided some of the actors for the main cast. During that project the skills I gathered in the Health and Safety course helped me ensure that the best safety measures were in place, so we could provide the safest possible environment for the team to work in and thus accelerate the working process. Of course having experience in previous co-productions gave me a good foundation of knowledge in that aspect of the work. However, the training course we did as part of the MA enhanced these skills in a way that I would pay more attention and spent more time to prepare for them. The film was later selected for over ten festivals around the world, including NETIA OFFCAMERA International Festival of Independent Cinema (Discoveries section), the New Directors Competition at the Seattle International Film Festival, the 20th Sofia International Festival, and was also chosen as the official entry from The Netherlands for the 88th Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

Online Film Campaigns

After I finished working on The Paradise Suite I had the great opportunity to work with the Trade Union of the Employees in the Ministry of Interior (TUFEMI) over a campaign for reform in the security sector. As part of that campaign we had to prepare various materials including a series of video clips made especially for an internet audience and screening. The series were titled ‘The person behind the uniform’ (Човекът зад униформата) and featured people from different backgrounds (police, fire department, boarder police, etc.) who shared their experience and the problems they faced on the workplace. I loved the idea and I fully supported the cause so I can honestly say it was a pleasure and a real honor working over the campaign.

I was able to reach the high quality I wanted because during my time at Birmingham I did a placement with Creative Media that was concentrated on such particular audiovisual materials that were made straight for the internet. During my placement I worked on the YouTube series “A Day in the Life of a Student”. Because of this I had the opportunity to have firsthand experience on the process how this kind of videos are made and that helped me create similar style videos after university, with the confidence and skills I needed to shoot them on my own. There is a certain pressure when you are doing something on a national scale with a just cause but I was able to handle it because I was confident in my skills and knowledge. I had a clear idea of what I wanted and because of the training I received while on placement I knew how to make it. The campaign later won 3rd place BAPRA (Bulgarian Association of PR Agencies) Bright Award 2016 in Communication Campaign in the Public sector category that was evaluated by an international jury.

Bo blog 2

Next Steps

Since I graduated I have finished two feature film scripts and a short drama script. I am currently preparing a drama and a documentary debut and I’m trying to keep my hands full with a few other visual projects. I am preparing a web series I am hoping to get off the ground by the end of the year while I maintain my involvement in the public campaigns. I am very grateful for the experience and knowledge I got during my time at the University of Birmingham and I look back at them with a slight nostalgia. I am certain the gathered skills will be helping me in my future endeavours and I know I can always turn to my university professors and friends for guidance and support whenever I would need it.  It was great to be exposed to the positive environment of the FTV team and I am looking forward to our next meeting.

Bogomil Kalinov

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One thought on “From Bulgaria to Birmingham and Back Again

  1. My involvement in film is strictly as an avid film viewer. I enjoy a well-made, informative documentary as much as (and sometimes more than) a feature film. Thankfully I live in Washington, DC, and documentaries are regularly screened, but of course the vast majority do not receive the attention and screening opportunities they deserve. I have seen only two or three Bulgarian documentaries and was quite disappointed. Perhaps with your experience you will have an impact on the ethos and craft of documentary filmmaking in Bulgaria.

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