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

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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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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

Wilson’s Placement Trilogy

Wilson McCall hails from Philadelphia, USA and was enrolled on the MA from 2013 to 2014. As an international student, he was particularly keen to develop an understanding of how the British media industry works, and his placement time was effectively split between three different companies. Here’s his account of his experiences at Wall to Wall, Isis Media and the BBC.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe MA in Film and Television: Research and Production attracted me for a number of reasons. In particular, the industry placements offered valuable production experience, which was often hard to find in the USA. During my studies, I had the privilege of working at three excellent companies. Each placement taught me something new, honed my skills and widened my understanding of the industry.

Wall to Wall: On my first placement of the year, I joined Wall to Wall Media in London. They were in the midst of producing Child Genius for Channel 4 and I helped by transcribing interviews for the editors, making notes of any standout sentences or moments. This job allowed me to get a sense of each participant’s story and encouraged me to think from the editor’s perspective.

I then moved to the Research Department for Secrets from the Workhouse. There, I assisted the other researchers by utilising census databases and searching for useful historical details. I particularly loved working in this area, because I always learned something new and interesting about the past. I followed this up by annotating scripts for Drugs, Inc., verifying the accuracy of fact-based statements. During this time, I also took part in a game show run-through – a very interesting and fun experience!

I really enjoyed my time at Wall to Wall Media, and I came away from it with great appreciation for, and knowledge of, the work behind factual television programmes. 

Isis:  At Isis Media, I had the great opportunity to develop and pitch a programme for their consideration. In the process of preparing my concepts, I analysed the existing content of prospective channels and considered how to appeal to different demographics. I researched potential locations, organisations, participants and, with help, structured show ideas into returnable, international formats.

Besides working in development, I also assisted in the subtitling of corporate videos. This involved matching translations with timecodes and ensuring their correct entry into a provided template. After that, I researched for a project in development, sourcing potential locations and hosts.

The team at Isis Media was truly wonderful. They always encouraged and engaged with new ideas, offering valuable advice, insight and an environment open for creative discussion.

BBC: My final placement was at the BBC Drama Village in Selly Oak, experiencing Doctors from pre-production to the editing suites. I started in the Research Department, reviewing scripts for factual details in need of advisement. I then moved to the Script Editing room where I wrote script synopses and witnessed how a story develops from idea to production-ready draft.

From there, I moved to the Locations Department and learned about the process and considerations involved in selecting new locations. I also worked as a runner on set, assisting the actors and crew, and observing their craft. Finally, I moved to the post-production suites and, there, I saw the dubbing and audio mixer, colour grader and visual editor complete the story.

Working at the BBC was a fascinating experience. In particular, I found it extremely important to see how each department interacts and contributes to the finished episode.

New Start: With experience in both factual television and drama, I feel confident in my skills and prepared for future work. My understanding of the UK television and film industry will also give me an edge when applying for jobs in the States. These placements have been invaluable in contributing to the growth of my career, and I am grateful that I got to work with and learn from such talented people.

Wilson McCall

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

Rebecca’s Placement Diary: Maverick Television

Between January and August each year, FTV students undertake work placements in the media industry as part of their MA. Here is current student Rebecca Conley’s account of her time at Maverick Television – complete with an entry for Careers Network’s Intern Selfie Competition

Rebecca Making a start: My placement at Maverick Television began as a junior researcher in Development. I began by phoning and emailing people for background material into specific topics to inform the producer’s decision on whether to develop a certain TV programme idea. If an idea was progressed I would then research key statistics and search the Internet for potential hosts, characters or experts. Other tasks included brainstorming new ideas and format points and suggesting titles and taglines based on a treatment. I soon learned that there is no such thing as a “typical working day” in Development.

Game Shows: Six weeks in and I changed to working in Maverick’s Multiplatform department. First task was to work on a proposal for a new game show in development. I was involved in researching statistics and accumulating scores from real contestants in a mock run-through of the game show. Other duties included gathering results from the Embarrassing Bodies My HealthChecker web content and making comparisons e.g. based on age, gender and occupation. I also made recommendations of how to push the health apps, doctor response videos and condition guides in each episode of Live from the Clinic.

Embarrassing Bodies: I was able to gain some experience as a production runner on the live set of Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies: Live from the Clinic, Series 4. My duties included making the teas and coffees for the production office and crew and making sure the green room and the studio was tidy and well stocked with supplies. You can quickly gain the enthusiasm of others by offering a nice cuppa and it’s a great networking tool. I was able to have a chat in the green room with Doctor Brad Mckay, the host of Embarrassing Bodies Down Under, about his new show.

(Also, I made a small cameo as Doctor Christian’s back up dancer for a VT in the same episode).

On to London: I spent the final week of my placement in Maverick’s London Office. I was responsible for creating categories of multiple-choice questions for a run-through of a game show. I was on hand at the run-through location to meet and greet the game show contributors and make sure they were all provided with light refreshments. This was an interesting insight into the how a programme is developed before it can be provided with funded development or a successful commission.

It was a great opportunity to be able to work at Maverick Television. So much confidence can be gained in a short time by hands-on tasks and mixing with seasoned professionals. It puts you in a good frame of mind for the next challenge and improves your CV for the applications. I would certainly like to thank all who helped me at Maverick during my placement and hope we can keep in touch.

Rebecca Conley