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

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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

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

Danielle’s Placement at Tinker Taylor

One of the companies we have been delighted to establish a placement link with this year is Tinker Taylor. Part-time student Danielle Breach has spent two months working in their offices and has written the following blog about her experiences:

As part of the MA I am currently studying at the University Of Birmingham, I am required to undertake a work placement with an industry-related company for a minimum of eight weeks. The idea is to learn first-hand how working within the film and television industry really is, as well as gaining experience that’ll become invaluable when applying for work once graduated. Students are sent to a variety of companies of varying sizes up and down the country, taking on a range of roles. Whilst the benefits of undertaking a placement are immeasurable, the majority of the class have only really worked at a personal level beforehand, and the idea of working alongside professionals can be quite daunting! Nobody is really sure what to expect before they start, or the kind of tasks they’ll be asked to undertake. 

Fazeley

Fazeley Studios in Digbeth

Initially, Sam invited me to spend four weeks at her company, Tinker Taylor, to help out with some editing. For me, this seemed like such a great opportunity, because not only would I be gaining insight into how a professional company actually works, but I could also learn practical skills that would help me when editing my own university projects. I spent a few hours watching the shoot of the project I would be helping to edit, which was a completely new experience for me. Up until then, I had only been on shoots with classmates, so it was strange to see the difference in pace and professionalism. The project seemed perfectly fitting too, as it was a range of instructional modules for a local social media company – and social media is something that my course focuses on a lot. With such a pertinent project, I was excited to get started and see what I could gain from the whole experience. The following week I headed down to Fazeley Studios, unsure of what to expect and ready to start my four weeks at Tinker Taylor. 

After being shown to my desk and introduced to everyone, I was working on the project straight away. There was a lot to learn as I was doing things I had never done before, and it felt so strange being in a professional environment after a year of being in the uni editing suite. It was also a shock to experience a proper working day – after five years of being a student, it was a big salutation to the real world! As well as learning practically, I got to observe what goes on behind the scenes in such a company, which is obviously something you don’t really get to experience beforehand. The level of planning and organisation was on an entirely different scale, and it was interesting to see just how many elements change when filmmaking is at a business level. It was also a different kind of pressure knowing that the work has to meet the demands of a fee-paying client, rather than a lecturer!

Helping to edit the JC Social Media project taught me so much about the editing process as a whole. I used software that was completely new to me, picking up little tricks and skills that I know I can utilise in the future. Overall, the whole experience has been great! Whilst initially the idea of a placement can seem scary, the amount you learn about the industry in such a short period makes it one of the most beneficial and interesting aspects of the course. I am just so grateful to Sam for allowing me such an insight, allowing me to learn from some amazing people and to work on such an interesting project!

Danielle Breach

Read the original blog here: http://tinkertaylor.tv/2013/06/placement-blog-2/

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