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.

From FTV to 3rd AD – Matt’s Story

Before you read the below, I feel that I should put that I wasn’t one hundred per cent sure about writing a short bio as to what I’d done since graduating from the Film & TV MA.  I think it is helpful to see what alumni of the course have achieved and how they got there, but by looking at what others have achieved it can lead to quite negatively comparing where you are with them. Which is never helpful, and as I’ve learnt, in the media industry, there is no set path to success, sometimes it can take longer than others to get paid work, and sometimes it happens straight away.  I was the last of the five who graduated on the course my year to find solid paid work, but I got there eventually. Anyway, read on and apologies for some of the hyperbole. Matt Persona

Upon graduating from the MA course in September 2011, I was immediately struck with the knowledge that I had a very clear idea of the latter part of my career (make Horror into a respected genre, direct the 30th James Bond film, win several oscars, marry Jennifer Lawrence etc.) but little notion as how to begin.

I was still working as a trolley boy at the local Waitrose and though pushing 15 trolleys downhill pass Mercedes and BMWs has its charm, it wasn’t as compelling as you’d imagine. However, I managed to get some work writing for a local free newspaper called ‘Harborne News’, small articles on local political issues (only exaggerated for dramatic effect a little) and as it turned out the editor was looking to produce some video content for his website.  We made an incredibly unbiased short documentary about the local clock tower which the council was threatening to demolish, and several promotional videos for local businesses, including one for national charity ‘Headway’.  These can be viewed on the website www.harbornenews.com if you have a strong urge to ‘Save Our Clock Tower’.

Now, all of this was fantastic experience, but completely unpaid, off the radar and didn’t seem to be actually getting me anywhere.  I also did some work for a couple who were producing a series of webisodes about ‘Birmingham Bakers’, which was enjoyably tasty, though also unpaid. A short side note here to point out that whilst I’m not obsessed with money, it is sort of necessary to live.  So while I was working on these small projects I was still stuck at the supermarket, so I could afford to pay the bills. Which in turn means you have less free time (and inclination) to find other work, or do the unpaid projects. It’s really tough to find the balance between earning money and helping your career; a balance which is different owing to everyone’s circumstances.

It would turn out to be the much derided Gumtree which provided my next two pieces of work.  The first was Persona, which billed itself rather dramatically as the ‘World’s First Soap Opera Phone Ap’.  It is, as far as I’m aware, and there may well be a reason for that.  The company would provide the ‘Director/Writer’ with a budget of £150 and for that they would provide ten ‘appisodes’ of 90 seconds each. These would then be broadcast through the mobile phone app (which had over 100,000 subscribers we were confidently assured), they made their money back from adverts and everybody wins. Now whilst this didn’t bring us the overnight fame we had all dreamed of, it did do two very important things. Firstly, it gave us more experience in terms of putting together what was effectively a short film.  We filmed it all in one weekend, and the reason it worked was down to a great deal of forward planning and preparing for every contingency.  Secondly, and here I will address the ‘us’, it was a great way of building contacts. Luckily, someone I had worked with from the ‘Harborne News’ projects had camera equipment, my colleagues from the MA all pitched it to help, Oz lent some lights and between the rest of us we found make-up artists, actors and the necessary locations. Continue reading