Grierson DocLab 2018

This year current FTV student Ellie Conway was lucky enough to be selected as one of the 12 Grierson DocLab trainees, a scheme that supports young people to commence careers in factual programme making. Her DocLab journey began with a week’s residential training course in Birmingham in May, before attending Sheffield DocFest in June. Here are her reflections on the experience.

EllieBlogOver the course of the week  in Birmingham, we were equipped with everything we could possibly need to know about factual filmmaking. Thanks to the MA, a lot of what we covered was already familiar to me, but the training also covered some new ground which was incredibly interesting. The purpose of the week’s training was to help each of us hone one of our own ideas for a factual programme, or film, and prepare a pitch which we would eventually present to real commissioners at Sheffield Documentary Film Festival.

We also had industry professionals in to talk to us about various topics during this week. A particular highlight of mine was the talk given by Tom McDonald, commissioner of specialist factual at the BBC, who spoke to us about the importance of diversity in the industry as well as his own progression within the industry. The week was intense and we all felt the pressure, especially as our practice pitches loomed on the last day, however the week was also immensely fun, we went out for group meals almost every night and had the chance to properly bond and share our experiences and knowledge as aspiring filmmakers.

Only a few weeks after the residential in Birmingham we all travelled up to Sheffield for the city’s annual documentary film festival, for a chance to put into practice what we’d learnt. The long weekend was an incredible, inspiring whirlwind of films, talks, networking events and parties. I had the chance to see some incredible documentaries. A few that stood out for me personally were Of Fathers and Sons, a brutal yet touching insight into the male relationships in a radical Islamic family, and Three Identical Strangers, a shocking, stranger than fiction tale of separation that had the whole festival talking.DocFest

On the Sunday afternoon came the part of the weekend we were all excited for and dreading in equal measure, the chance to pitch our own documentary ideas to a panel of experiences commissioners. Here was our chance to put into practice everything we’d learnt in Birmingham and show off our ideas. Pitching to Lorraine Heggessey (former BBC controller) and Jo Clinton-Davis (current ITV commissioner) was undeniably terrifying but the positive feedback and encouragement we all received meant we left the pitching session to attend the Grierson Trust drinks in high spirits. Whilst at the drinks I had the chance to interact with people from the top factual production companies in the UK, some of whom even had films on at the festival. This was undoubtedly one of my highlights of the weekend; getting the chance to talk to people in the industry about their own work was inspiring, but they also all took interest in my own ideas and thanks to the DocLab training I felt able to articulate them with confidence.

The DocLab has already been an amazing experience and after finishing the MA I will undertake a paid placement through the scheme as well as gaining an mentor, who currently works in TV Production, to help me as I take my first steps in the industry.

Ellie Conway

 

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Breakfast brings in the crowds

The summer term is upon us, bringing long hours in the edit suite, ongoing placements and the occasional ray of sunshine. As the current FTV cohort embarks upon this next phase of the MA, we wanted to take a moment to congratulate them on a fantastic achievement: an immersive screening of 80s classic movie The Breakfast Club, held in mid-March, which had the highest attendance ever for any FTV event. 

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Since the University’s Arts & Science Festival began in 2013, we have always run a screening, which in recent years has also incorporated the One Minute Movie Competition. This year, instead of showcasing former student work, we handed the reigns to the FTVers to design and deliver their own event, based on the festival theme of Stop/Start and supported by the ever fabulous Flatpack. Zoe Turner took the lead, and in January plans began to bring The Breakfast Club – and breakfast – to campus. [image credit – Greg Milner Photography]

Over the next two months, a team of FTV students worked together to cast actors, design posters, organise rehearsals and run a social media campaign – all alongside their ongoing placements and coursework. We knew the event was proving popular on the festival booking system, but it was still quite astounding when over 100 people arrived on the evening of 14th March. Who knew 40 croissants, 50 mini boxes of cereal and an array of fruit and muffins could vanish so quickly?

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With breakfast served, the evening continued with the Stop/Start One Minute Movie Competition entries. Prizes were awarded, with first place going to ‘The Third Law‘, by Lorhren-Rose Joseph and Denyce Blackman. On to the main event, and the audience sipped tea and coffee as five undergraduate students took their seats for detention and acted out iconic scenes as the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess and the criminal. It was fantastic seeing the characters come to life in the lecture theatre as their 1980s counterparts appeared on the big screen, and wonderful to share the experience with so many film-loving students and members of the community.

A huge congratulations to Zoe and the FTV team for creating such a memorable evening, and thank you to Flatpack for all their support. Bring on 2019!

Sincerely yours…

Jemma Penny, Placement Coordinator

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An Afternoon with Tony Garnett

On Wednesday 31st January, we welcomed legendary producer Tony Garnett to campus. An honorary graduate of the University, Tony was born in Birmingham in the 1930s and made his name working on films such as Kes and Cathy Come Home, with later work including This Life and Beautiful Thing. FTV student Sofía Podetti reflects on his talk and how it has made her consider her own ambitions for a life behind the lens.

“The most important thing I can tell you today is there is no formula to making a film”. This was the opening line to what would soon be one of the most interesting talks I have ever attended. The guest speaker was Tony Garnett, one of Britain’s most distinguished film and television producers – and a truly interesting person to listen to. To say this is probably a hyperbole since Mr Garnett worked in the industry for over 50 years, retiring a decade ago.

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Dr Richard Langley introducing Tony Garnett

Overall, everything he said was fascinating to the small audience that was present last Wednesday. But probably the thing that impacted on me the most was the following phrase: “film is a social activity.” The fact is that the people who make films and television shows have always had a responsibility to society, since the product of their work is consumed by the masses as some sort of truth of the world we live in. Chilean scholar Valerio Fuenzalida argues that one of television’s core functions is the educational one because the audience tends to connect with the different characters and situations and take them as part of their social education. Unfortunately though, I don’t think this belief is shared by everyone in the industry; in my opinion, some are more centred in the economic aspect of the job rather than the social one. This results in products that sell very well but show no real values, which is a shame, really.

Realizing this has made me think about the kind of professional I want to be upon entering this incredibly competitive world: do I want to make money at any cost, or would I rather struggle a little bit more and produce inspiring shows and films? I would undoubtedly go for the second option, for I find it much more rewarding in the long term. I would love to produce content that raises awareness of different topics, empowering my viewers and helping them out through my films; I believe this is what the industry should really be about.

I know I am not alone in this. In the past years I have noticed a change of paradigm in sofiablogcrop.pngthe cinematographic industry, especially regarding the portrayal of women and children. This is just the beginning of a road that will bring sensible, valuable representations of society to our screens. I hope that ten years from now, when I have a family of my own, this will be a reality rather than a dream. Tony Garnett is one of the people who started this change; I hope that I can be a part of it too.

Sofía Podetti

‘Flat-packed’ myself for a film festival!

On Wednesday 1st November, we were glad to attend a workshop held by Amy
Smart, the Assemble Project Manager of Flatpack Film Festival. A fresh and
deep insight of operational issues and practical experiences was given to the
new cohort of FTV students.flatpack

Cannes, Berlin, Venice and London are the heart of where film festivals live, but apart from those renowned ones, hundreds and thousands of film festivals emerge at every corner of the world, including Birmingham’s Flatpack Film Festival. Have you ever considered building your own film night? I admitted I did. Thanks to Amy for giving me a chance to have a glimpse of holding a film festival, helping me shift my mindset from a participant into an organizer.

When you are going to hold a film festival, what factors are needed to take into consideration? Amy answered this question in the morning by sharing her experience. We digested lots of advice including different parts of curation, whether a license is
necessary, how to choose the best venues, how to deal with technical issues, some thoughts about PR and promotion etc.

flatpack logoWhat made the biggest impression on me was the selection of the venue. Basically when I think about choosing a venue, some places where they are already prepared for screenings are my first thought, namely, cinemas. However, within the brainstorming at this workshop, Amy challenged us about how to choose a venue which could be more attractive to the audience. For example, cafes, church halls, and warehouses are lovely places for screenings if they are accessible to audiences. Besides, keep turning over the event of the day in mind because details are the key of success: if something unexpected happens but no preparations have been made, the only 1% possibility could become 100% disaster. As Amy presented, no matter how amazing your film festival is, if the toilets are awful on the day, that will be the only thing the audiences remember!

After enjoying shorts that have appeared in previous Flatpack film festivals, we were divided in groups, discussing a project which could contribute to the Flatpack Festival in 2018. I really enjoyed coming up with new ideas, and what could be more exciting is the possibility of incubating our thoughts into a real project!

Just cannot wait to contribute to the film festival!

Cheryl Li

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Don’t take a job, make a job

On Friday 9th June, we welcomed James Cronin and Joe Partridge from Project Birmingham to campus to talk to our MA students about freelancing in the creative industries.  The interactive workshop covered James and Joe’s own career journeys to date and was designed to help students identify their objectives and aspirations in relation to personal skillsets, with a key focus on film, media and creating opportunities in the city of Birmingham.

Project Birmingham was founded by James in 2015. It aims to bring together the creative community in Birmingham and generate a buzz around the city’s culture and talented individuals. In addition to Project Birmingham, both he and Joe have ‘day jobs’ and additional interests they pursue outside of their careers. As they noted at the start of the workshop ‘it’s not about what you do, but why you do it’, which is an important question for anyone to consider as they prepare to leave university and commence working life.P1000011.JPG

Key themes of the session were the importance of having passion and pride in your work and recognising personal strengths and weaknesses – after all, if you’re an aspiring freelancer then the drive to succeed should ideally be rooted in a genuine love for what you want to do. Students were encouraged to think about the skills they might need to put a plan for their future goals into action: while some of us have no qualms about picking up a camera and setting up shoots, for example, others are far more comfortable dealing with business admin and social media. Going solo is a great aspiration, but having an awareness of where our individual limitations lie is just as important as exercising our strengths effectively. As James advised, ‘think about what you can do better than anyone else in the world’ and then research where (or for whom) you can add that value.

‘Focussing on strengths and weaknesses and setting a goal was a really useful exercise’ (James Cresswell)

Many people assume that pursuing a career in film and TV necessitates moving to London, but James and Joe reinforced the fact that Birmingham is also an excellent city in which to forge a creative career. As the broad film and media sectors continue to collide, being in a smaller pool where the pace is a touch slower can be beneficial to recent graduates. Nobody is pretending that it’s not still a competitive industry, but there are strong networks to tap into in Birmingham and dozens of stories waiting to be told through various art forms. Hopefully this session motivated our FTV students to go out and tell them!

‘I really enjoyed the interactive elements of the session, which made it stand out from other talks’ (Malcolm Remedios)

With myth busting and practical advice about tax and self-employment also being covered, the workshop was a fantastic opportunity for our MA cohort to think about what their next steps might be after September. As part-time student Jessica Brown commented, ‘It was cool to hear their stories and to be presented with the option of moving between different roles as we start our careers. ’ Both Joe and James demonstrated that a career doesn’t need be limited to one area or indeed one role as this chapter of education ends. As they rightly said, advice is useful, but ultimately it’s up to us to make jobs, and not just take jobs.

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Jemma Saunders, Placement Coordinator

This workshop was kindly supported by the Curriculum Enhancement Fund.

Arts & Science Festival 2017

This week we held our fifth annual showcase as part of the University’s Arts & Science Festival. For a third year running, the Department of Film & Creative Writing invited students across the University to enter our One Minute Movie competition on the festival theme of ‘Land and Water’, the results of which were announced at the end of the event.

Screening17We had a great turnout on what was a beautiful spring evening. As always, we screened a range of work produced by the most recent cohort of MA Film and Television students and it was lovely to have three of the filmmakers with us in the audience.

After enjoying films that included a documentary about fashion blogging, a drama inspired by the art of M.C. Escher and a cinematic travelogue, the audience were treated to the One Minute Movie entries in the second half of the evening. These had been independently judged by a panel of five academics and industry professionals, and with 11 submissions it was again a close-run competition for first place.

Congratulations to overall winner Robert Rushton-Taylor (MA Film and Television), who was placed first by the judging panel for ‘What Does Water Mean To You?

The runners up were:

Thank you to all who attended the event and submitted a One Minute Movie!

 

MA Film and Television 20th Anniversary

On Friday 16th December 2016, we celebrated 20 years of the MA in Film and Television with a reunion event on campus. Over fifty people came together to mark the occasion, including current students, staff, industry partners and alumni from around the world.

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Tina, Sarah, Katharine, Hanz, Ben and Bo   (Class of 2014)

After inviting guests to tuck into canapés, MA convenor Dr Richard Langley welcomed everyone to the event and was joined by Professor Scott Lucas, who was integral to the establishment of the course when it began in 1996. Several former students had sent in short video clips and we travelled from Mumbai to Philadelphia and from Moscow to Manchester as they talked about where life has taken them since graduation. In addition to videos from three continents, we welcomed alumni who had travelled from London, Jersey, Glasgow and even Bulgaria to celebrate the anniversary.

There was a great turnout from our current cohort, who got a taste of using a green screen ahead of next term’s workshops and was able to hear more about the different paths that FTV students take. We had one alumnus with us from the Class of 1999, who, it transpired, had just finished working on a project that one of last year’s students was a runner on – they hadn’t realised they were graduates of the same course until a chance conversation revealed they were both attending the reunion. It really is a small world.

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Current FTV students using the green screen

Both myself and Richard are also alumni of the programme, with Richard graduating when it was still an MPhil in the early noughties, while I was in the last cohort to study under the original course title of ‘History, Film and Television’. As former students, we take enormous pride in the roles we now have and in seeing how the MA has developed over the years. There truly is an ‘FTV Family’, as one recent graduate wrote to us, and it was a pleasure to see that friendships have remained strong, and that so many alumni continue to be successful in the film and television industries as well as an array of other professions.

A huge thank you to everyone who joined us and who sent in their photos and stories to celebrate this unique postgraduate degree. It was a fitting end to an excellent year; here’s to the next twenty!

 Jemma Saunders (FTV Placement Coordinator)

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