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.
Over 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.
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.