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.

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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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.

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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

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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

The Off-Beat Path: Freelance Economics, Spiritual Wonderings and the Arts

Parul Punjabi Jagdish graduated from FTV in 2013. Since then he has developed a portfolio career, working in both Europe and Asia as a filmmaker and economist. His films have been screened at several international festivals and in this guest blog he shares his thoughts on the connections between cinema, life and spirituality.

ParulMy journey has been a bit more circuitous than many others’ from the course. And truth be told, it is not surprising at all: even when I joined the MA in September 2012, my motives were not merely making it big in cinema or becoming a filmmaker. The reason I joined, with no pretenses whatsoever, was to discover the ‘right path’ in life. Inspired by the Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky (my favourite, if I can call any filmmaker that), I took to cinema mainly because I believed that when an artist engages in the act of creation, he (willingly or not) connects to his Creator. I never looked upon cinema as a medium of story-telling alone or a form of entertainment; it was a language of images and sounds through which experiences (from this world or beyond) could be communicated, or at least shared. “Share a sublime, purging trauma” between the filmmaker and the audience, if you will. Watching one or more of my films (though I frankly will admit the films were never meant for mass consumption and hence will not be appreciated by everyone) will help in understanding what I’m on about.

Anyhow, even I could not have even vaguely predicted the path my life ended up taking. While making the movies I so dearly cherished on the MA, several wondrous experiences came to pass. While I was locked up in my room, meditating on the dissertation film and its idea, images began to appear (dream-like) from nowhere particular and in a way I was ‘guided’ to make the film I made. Naturally, the urge to return to my country after the year in UK and to experience first-hand all these mystical utterances and experiences brought me promptly back to India after completing the MA. I set out to the Himalayan foothills and wandered, lost in abandoned caves or populated monasteries, seeking out the meaning of life, ‘the purpose of my existence’. Films were, so to say, a medium to lead me there. I admit that when I began it was about the films itself, but soon films became the container and the focus shifted to the content (life itself). The story of what all transpired in the monastery and afterwards is too long for such a brief account as this. Only, a spiritual awakening occurred, whereby the ideal became to love and to serve, rather than to lead and to condemn. It was more important to experience everything that life offered and not run after anything particular, to flow with the river instead of against the current.

After all that, I returned back to my mother’s home, then back to Italy for a while (where I lived a full life, working as an economist) and tried to set right all the wrongs. Of course, it is not an easy process, nor does it ever stop, for man makes more mistakes than he rectifies. And it is all right, it is part of living itself. In any case, returning to the story of my life, I sent my films to festivals and they were well received (in India, Thailand, UK, and now there’s something coming up in France). What I found particularly useful was shortfilmdepot.com with a listings of various festivals and the possibility to submit films online for screening. It was from that website I started and it led to several other festivals not included on the website.

While working on my dissertation project, I also received an opportunity to collaborate with a local UK artist, the painter Sara Hayward, and we ended up creating another abstract film (see above, and it should still be screening at the Winterbourne House and Gardens). In short, the films did reasonably well on the festival circuit and I took back my job as an economist, though of course working as a freelancer and from home. Now, I work freelance on public policy (to earn my keep), am developing a few scripts and even short stories/ novels, and tons of other things.

I cannot say this or that path is better: each one of us has his own marked out. Mine has taken me wandering both within myself and in the outside world and the objective now is to try to live in harmony with all that I see, both within and without. I feel films are no different: they do not have to mimic life, so long as they exist in harmony with the world outside. Life can (perhaps must, for what else do we have) inspire cinema, but cinema does not need to be a copying machine, reproducing scenes from life as they are. Let us first question how things really are! Do not take that as advice: the only advice I can proffer is to live life fully and to set out on your individual paths. Be not afraid to explore and be ever more daring in trying to express the experiences of your journey. Do not be bound by conventions; think of cinema as a new language to express the very stuff of the soul (words naturally cannot do justice to such a mission, and that is why we have poetry, that connects disparate things and creates a mosaic and makes us see the ‘in-between’ things).

Seek, and ye shall find! God bless…

Parul Punjabi

Life as a TV Researcher

Alumnus Pete Twibill graduated from the MA in 2010, when it was still known as ‘History, Film and Television’. In the past four years he’s worked as a researcher on numerous broadcast television programmes, predominantly on Birmingham-based productions but also with stints in London and Leicester. In this blog he shares his experiences of life in telly…and yes, he really has pressure washed an elephant! Pete Twibill blog

I did my MA work experience at North One TV working on The Gadget Show (Channel 5). After finishing that I was offered a 3 month contract with North One as a Researcher. All in all I was at North One TV for around 14 months.

Since leaving North One I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a number of prime time shows including three series of Superscrimpers (Remarkable TV, Channel 4), Snog Marry Avoid (Remarkable TV, BBC3), Junior Paramedics (BBC North, BBC3) and The House that £100k Built (Remarkable TV, BBC2).

It’s pretty difficult to describe what my job role is as it varies so much. In essence, I do whatever needs to be done to make TV programmes. I’ve had to dip my toe into a number production processes; casting, shooting, editing, writing biographies, fact checking, setting up shoots, the list goes on (with a lot more banal examples!). I think an important aspect of my job is being able to adapt, as every project is different. For instance, my last job saw me on the road attending medical emergencies like seizures, car accidents and cardiac arrests. The job before that was an office based role on a history documentary and next month I might be pressure washing African elephants (again!!!).

For me, TV often feels like a very bi-polar career, it comes with extreme highs and lows, it’s very rarely mundane. There are often times, exhausted, dishevelled and broken, when I ask “why do I do this?”. But on the plus side, I’ve been witness to some awe inspiring moments, had privileged access to some incredible places and experiences and made some wonderful TV!

I’ve been lucky to get this far into the TV industry, I’m lucky to be able to do what I do and my good luck started on the MA placement!

Sweet as a nut!

Peter Twibill