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

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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

FTV alumni work on BAFTA-winning programmes

It’s always great to hear what FTV alumni have been up to since leaving the course, so imagine the excitement in our office when we heard that two past students have been working on television programmes that were awarded BAFTAs a few weeks ago! Scott Billing (2012) has been a researcher on Gogglebox while Rosie Pooley (2013) has been casting for Long Lost Family. Here are their accounts of BAFTA night, complete with photos of those iconic bronze masks. Congratulations!

Scott Billing

ScottBillingBAFTAAt the recent BAFTA Television awards Gogglebox, the hit C4 show which I have worked on for the past two series, surprised everyone by winning in the ‘Reality and Constructed Factual’ category. At the time myself, the crew and the contributors were all obviously delighted and shared a sense of combined achievement I have rarely experienced whilst working in TV.

We didn’t get to go to the ceremony, and in fact we were still filming the show the night the ceremony was held (we celebrated in the kitchen of one of Gogglebox‘s now semi-famous families). Since we wrapped on the show I have had time to reflect that not only was it an honour to contribute to a show recognised in such a way, but I also have quite a nice achievement to add to my CV, not to mention a pretty decent profile picture!

Rosie Pooley

Since leaving FTV I’ve been working on various projects at Wall to Wall, a production company in London that makes programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1), The Voice (BBC1) and Drugs, Inc. (National Geographic). After finishing my 3 month placement I worked primarily with the development team on proposed factual series and dramas (which I loved), before I was lucky enough to land a role on the ITV series Long Lost Family, presented by Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell. The series as you might expect finds and reunites long lost relatives that have been separated for years, and in some cases, may have never even met. It has been an amazing experience and I couldn’t have hoped to work on a better programme for my first TV production role.

Currently I’m casting for Long Lost Family Series 4, which due to the nature of the programme can mean you’re often shedding a few tears in the office, but it’s great to get out on a shoot day and see the reunions that really make your job worthwhile. Series 4 will be airing in July so we are all working hard at the moment to make sure the series is even better than last year by finding great stories and helping some lovely people.RosiePooleyBAFTA

Plus on May 18th, Long Lost Family won the BAFTA for ‘Features’ and although I did not work on the previous series I was lucky enough to celebrate with the wonderful team at the Grosvenor House Hotel – we even managed to work our way in to the after party where we partied until the wee hours of the morning. It was firstly great to get the news that we had won, and even better when we saw some members of our team go up to collect the award whilst Nicky and Davina made their acceptance speeches. We then of course spent the rest of the night unashamedly taking a million and one pictures with the BAFTA heads and various celebs that were still partying away…

One Year On From FTV

In this guest blog, Scott Billing talks about what he’s been working on in the year since he finished his MA, offering some words of wisdom along the way…

Scott for blogAfter completing the placement module of the FTV course at Maverick Television in Birmingham I was asked to do a further four weeks work, which was mainly sourcing images for the Film4 website at the Maverick office in London. This meant slightly extending the deadline for my 30 minute documentary, and also some quite long hours of vast excel spreadsheet work. At the time I was delighted, as we all know that paid work is extremely difficult to come by.  

I suppose I made a fairly good impression as a few weeks later, in fact the day after completing the FTV course, I was asked to interview for a Junior Researcher position at Maverick London. I was offered the job and since then I have been working as a part of the award-winning multiplatform department, where we are producing three original content YouTube channels*. 

Due to having a relatively small team my role has been extremely diverse and I have been lucky enough to not only research, but to also occasionally shoot and edit some of our content. My day-to-day duties include maintaining camera kit, data wrangling, moving set and props to locations, lighting, research and the odd bit of casting (you’ll be glad to know these are things that can evidently be picked up along the way). My contract finishes this September and I am somehow both anxious and excited about my next challenge. Until then I am trying to absorb as much knowledge and make as many friends and contacts as possible.  

In my limited experience I have this advice to share. If you have an opportunity in TV, Film or the media then seize it with both hands. Always ask senior members of the team what you can be doing, be enthusiastic, never exhale heavily (or show any other signs of displeasure) if you are asked to do something tedious or unpleasant, be punctual, be organised and make lots of tea (SERIOUSLY, this is not a joke, even if you don’t drink tea. It’s the best way to meet people in the kitchen and it impresses those you work with). That’s it.  

*If you’d like to check out the YouTube channels they are called ‘Daily Mix TV’ and ‘Bodytalk Daily’. I have also done some work for ‘The You Generation’ which is the new talent search channel produced by Maverick in partnership with Syco, Simon Cowell’s production company.

Scott Billing