Do we all have to move to London if we want to start working in the TV industry?

On this MA, we aim to give students as broad a skillset as possible to allow them to move into a range of different roles and industries, with a key focus – naturally – on film and television (in the broadest sense of both terms). It’s a question we get asked time and time again: aren’t all the TV jobs in London? In this guest blog, recent student Heather Burrell talks about the early stages of her job hunt, how some of the bigger talent databases do indeed emphasise a London bias, and how there are some positive moves being made towards bringing more TV production to the regions.

The London Bubbleheather case study

Since finishing my MA last month, I have started looking for work in the TV industry, and found that an overwhelming majority of the jobs featured on a key talent database are in London (see map I created below). As a whole, UK media in general is heavily concentrated into the small bubble of the capital. Whilst London only represents 13% of the population, all our national English-language newspapers have their bases there and, as of 2015, around two-thirds of all television producers are centred there. This ultimately means London is massively dominating the rest of the UK’s media, whilst also generating a risk that regional talent could be hugely underwritten. As someone who hasn’t been able to consider applying for jobs in London, due to the cost of living there, my chances of getting a job in the TV industry have felt drastically limited.

From my own personal experience, in order to begin a career in television, a plethora of experience in the industry is imperative. In most cases, this will start off as unpaid work experience placements or internships; which I luckily managed to participate in as a built-in part of the MA. However, without that, I simply would not have been able to afford to commit to such long periods of unpaid work and, ultimately, my path into the industry would have been heavily restricted. Many people who I have met whilst working in the television industry managed to gain experience at the beginning of their career through personal ties to people already in the industry. Hence, it seems a route into the industry is easier for those who are well-connected and those who can afford to live in London or take on more unpaid work.

What about the regions?

Having said that, I also know that regional cities, such as Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and beyond, do offer opportunities and experiences in the film and television industry. In fact, two out of my three placements were in Birmingham and the majority of placements offered on the MA are in the West Midlands. So, it is important to note that, whilst there are recognised biases in the industry, work is certainly not completely restricted to London! Continue reading

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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

 

‘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

flatpack2

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.

Tour of Birmingham’s Media and Arts Centres

In welcoming the new cohort of FTV postgraduate students to the University of Birmingham, the course leaders and Professor Roger Shannon scheduled an afternoon tour across the ‘second city’ for a glimpse at its various media and art centres. Samuel James shares his experience of the day.

12806090_10153980200276649_4030531201158330701_nTaking place in Week 1, on Friday 30th September 2016, Professor Shannon met with all the students inside Birmingham New Street train station at 1pm. He provided us with introductory leaflets about the city’s media and arts before explaining where we’d be visiting on the scheduled tour: the famous Electric Cinema, BBC Birmingham, Everyman Cinema, the Ikon Gallery and local chains at Cineworld and Odeon.

The first stop was the Electric Cinema, the nearest to New Street station and the oldest running cinema in the United Kingdom. Upon our arrival at the Electric, Roger took a number of group photos outside before going inside and introducing us to Sam Bishop, the cinema’s duty manager.

Sam presented us with an insight into the history of the Electric Cinema, provided resourceful advice on working in the film and TV industry and discussed what the Electric offers customers. He even mentioned private screenings and suggested that FTV students organise one after completing audio-visual dissertations. For more information on the Electric Cinema, be sure to watch the documentary about it called The Last Projectionist.

walking-tour-1We then began our stroll through the city centre before eventually passing through the Mailbox and finding the current offices at BBC Birmingham. After another group photo, Roger guided us inside and we lovingly observed BBC sets and props of its famous TV shows, including costumes from Peaky Blinders. We also had some fun with the BBC Weather equipment.

Upon leaving, we arrived at the Everyman Cinema just round the corner. Similar to the Electric Cinema, their duty manager showed us around and presented some factual information about the company. He also briefly guided us into an auditorium and allowed us to sit on their newly allocated sofa seats.walking-tour-5

Taking a few steps outside of the city centre, we passed by the Ikon Gallery. There was no official tour as we passed through like customers, but it gave us a further insight into the city’s art outside of cinema and media.

At roughly 3pm, we moved onto mainstream cinema in the industry by visiting the Cineworld chain at Broad Street and Odeon at New Street. Supervisors from both industries gave us a thorough tour around the building, discussed the growing changes of cinema and, at Cineworld, showed us the projectors.

We finished the tour at approximately 4pm. Although some students went home afterwards, others stayed in Birmingham for some drinks at a nearby pub which Professor Shannon previously recommended. Therefore, the FTV students of 2016-2017 considered this as not only an insight to Birmingham’s media and arts centres, but an icebreaking afternoon to build friendships and potential film and TV partnerships.

Thank you to Roger for showing us the city!

Samuel James

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.

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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

July Film Festivals in Birmingham

The holiday season is fast approaching and there are some great film events taking place in the second city this July.

Head down to Brindley Place in Birmingham City Centre next week for a free outdoor film festival. Nine films will be shown between 8 and 14 July, with complimentary popcorn for everyone who attends. The theme is ‘momentous movies’ and includes family favourites such as The Wizard of Oz. For the full schedule and takeaway food options click here.

This month also sees the return of the Shock and Gore Horror and Fantasy Festival, which was launched by the Electric Cinema in 2012. This will run from 19 – 25 July at various venues across the city.