A Visit to the Mockingbird

Our new cohort of FTV students are now well into their first term at Birmingham. We’ve had an exciting timetable packed with seminars, screenings, guest workshops and practical training, and last month we also arranged a trip to the Mockingbird Theatre in Digbeth, led by Professor Roger Shannon. In this blog, Magdalena Swiatek shares her reflections on the day and some fascinating insights into Birmingham’s film culture, past and present. 

MagdalenaSwiatek (2)In Week 2 we – the new FTV Students – took a trip to the Mockingbird Theatre in the Custard Factory to meet Roger Shannon, producer and Professor of Film and TV, and alumnus Luke Smith, who had just finished the MA.

Luke showed us his amazing dissertation documentary about his first stand-up performance and talked about his experiences during the MA. He recounted the process of filming, his successes and the mistakes he made. It was motivating to hear how a former student experienced the year on the course and I´m sure all of us took a lot out of this meeting.

Afterwards, Roger Shannon gave us an overview over Birmingham´s film history and its meaning for the UK film industry. Even though the industry is not quite as vivid as it was before in Birmingham, there are still loads of opportunities for us to discover here. 

Birmingham and Film

Birmingham´s film history started in 1862 with the discovery of celluloid. Around 60 years later, in the early 20th century, three Brummies – Michael Balcon, Victor Saville and Oscar Deutsch – started to take over the film world from the West Midlands.

Michael Balcon (1896 – 1977)  – the honoured film producer who discovered Alfred Hitchcock was born in Birmingham. After the war he and his friend Victor Saville opened a film distribution company in London and started to produce films. In the late 1930s, Balcon was Head of the Ealing Company, one of Britain´s most famous studios.

Victor Saville (1895 – 1979) – the film director, producer and screenwriter celebrated his success in the UK as well as in Hollywood. During his life he worked on over 70 films.

Oscar Deutsch (1893 – 1941) – the founder of the ODEON cinemas was born in Birmingham as a son of Hungarian Jews. The first ‘Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation’ (ODEON) – cinema was opened close to Birmingham in 1928. After this, many others followed all over the UK. 10 years later there were already over 250 ODEONs. The architecture and interior design were their unique recognition value. Today the ODEON remains one of the most important cinemas in Birmingham.

Birmingham´s Cinemas Today

The ODEON – located in the city centre of Birmingham, the ODEON prides itself on offering the best cinema experience, just as Oscar Deutsch promised. With 8 screens, the cinema offers a variety of current films.

Cineworld – on Broad Street, surrounded by pubs, clubs and restaurants, the cinema is located in the heart of the city. With 12 screens, the Cineworld offers a big range of top films for every age and interest.

The Electric – the oldest working cinema in Britain has been showing films since 1909. On two screens the viewer can experience loads of indie films, performance screenings and classics in addition to the latest film releases. A regular view of the program is worthwhile.

030715 Mockingbird

Our MA mascot, MacGuffin, at The Mockingbird

The Mockingbird Theatre – a Bistro, Bar and Theatre placed in the Custard Factory. Beside theatre plays and music gigs, the film club hosts festivals and organises indie film screenings

Midlands Arts Centre – one of the most important and diverse art centres in Birmingham; offering exhibitions, courses, theatre, music and of course films. It shows a range of new released films, art-house films and live screenings.

Everyman Cinemas – this independent cinema is located in the Mailbox in Birmingham. The uniqueness of this venue is its atmosphere and fancy cosiness.

A big thank you to the team at The Mockingbird for hosting us, and to Roger and Luke for sharing their knowledge and expertise!

Magdalena Swiatek

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

Working as a Junior Researcher

Catalina Bingham graduated from FTV in 2012 and now works as a Junior Researcher on Who Do You Think You Are? In this guest post she describes her role so far.

Catalina BinghamAs a junior researcher for Who Do You Think You Are?, every day is different. My three month placement at Wall to Wall really helped in giving me that extra bit of confidence when starting my job there as well as seeing familiar faces on my first day.

I spend most of my time around London archives looking up all matter of genealogical and historical sources. This means I’m constantly meeting new people and have to communicate between the archives and the rest of the production team. Gradually, as I’ve gotten more acquainted with our numerous episode storylines I am also now able to pursue research avenues that I think could possibly be a positive addition to the projects. Being so hands on with the research I am able to communicate my findings and suggestions to the rest of the team and it is always so rewarding to see a story develop into something exciting and in-depth.

I don’t only spend my days in dusty archives, but I have gone on recces all over the country in preparation for up and coming shoots. A few weeks ago I was in Dorset and Essex with my camera in hand! I speak to many experts and potential contributors which means I have to be on the ball when it comes to knowing my stuff and what our research has been so far. Like I said, every day is different and I’m glad I invested in a good pair of trainers as I’m always coming in and out of the office and at any moment could be sent off somewhere!

I love my job and have recently had my contract extended! Looking at becoming a researcher in charge of my own episode, but that’s a little way down the line. For now I’m excited about going on a 2-day shoot in London and meeting the celebrity I’ve spent weeks learning about his (or her!) family history! Great team and so far a wonderful experience!!

Catalina Bingham

Why All FTV Students Should Use Twitter

PostcardA decade ago, neither Facebook nor Twitter existed. Much as I’m an advocate of sending postcards and making a good old-fashioned phone call once in a while, I can’t deny that they’re fantastic inventions for keeping in touch and sharing information with dozens of people. However their use also extends beyond being a social tool, and I cannot stress enough how crucial networking sites such as Twitter now are if you’re looking for work or experience in the media industry.

Case Study – Me

Like a lot of people in their 20s, I’d been on Facebook for several years by the time I was doing my MA. Twitter, however, seemed a bit pointless and I didn’t think I’d ever find myself signing up. This all changed after my placement, where the people I worked with were tweeting several times a day and I realised that there was actually more to it than everyone just saying what they’d had for breakfast. I duly created a profile and now I can’t imagine life without Twitter. So many opportunities have been opened purely because of people/companies I’ve followed and the vast majority of film and TV related jobs I’ve ever applied for have been advertised on Twitter.

The following are all genuine examples of how Twitter has opened up new possibilities for me:

  • I found out about Birmingham Social Media Cafe @BirminghamSMC, a monthly networking event which I attended several times whilst job hunting. This subsequently led to a day’s work experience with one small production company and an offer of paid editing work from another company several months later.
  • Discovered a great website called @historyinanhour, that I now contribute articles to.
  • Was approached by a husband and wife filmmaking team about a new web series they were producing, asking if I wanted to be involved. They’d looked at my profile after I began following them and read that I was a Film and TV graduate ‘looking for work in Brum’. I subsequently got a credit as a Production Assistant.
  • I researched local production companies that I never would have found out about otherwise who I then approached about work experience. Several speculative emails later this led to paid work as a freelance researcher.

Of course, all the above examples have depended a lot on luck and my own initiative: I read the right tweets at the right time, followed the right people and marketed myself successfully when networking and sending initial correspondence. But the fact is that without Twitter, my CV would be much less interesting.

In Conclusion…

TwitterBirdIs there actually a good reason not to sign up to Twitter? It doesn’t have to take over your life and you don’t have to watch it constantly. The beauty of hashtags means you can direct your searches effectively and you can easily be pragmatic about who you choose to follow if predominantly using it as a job-hunting tool. Through the @FTV_Birmingham account I regularly retweet opportunities and there are dozens of companies for whom Twitter is now central to the recruitment process.

Just remember to keep it professional and that finding opportunities is only the first step – following them up is another blog post entirely!

Congratulations Class of 2012!

Massive congratulations to all the Film and Television: Research and Production students who graduated this morning!

Our most recent alumni are already pursuing successful careers in the media, working for companies including Maverick, North One and Ember Television, to name  but a few. Have a fantastic day celebrating your graduation everyone, and best of luck for the future!

Back: Lizzie, Lubna, Catalina, Scott, SamFront: Anna

Back: Lizzie, Lubna, Catalina, Scott, Sam
Front: Anna