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

From Bulgaria to Birmingham and Back Again

Bogomil Kalinov is one of the co-founders of KaBoAl Pictures, an audiovisual production company, and in the few years since it was created the company has already worked on 4 feature films, all of them international co-productions.  Bo graduated from Film Directing at the New Bulgarian University (Sofia, Bulgaria) with honours in 2013 and was enrolled on the MA in Film and Television at the University of Birmingham from 2013 to 2014.  Here, he shares his reasons behind applying for the MA and how it has impacted on his subsequent activities.

Bo blogI applied to the MA Film and Television: Research and Production for a couple of reasons. The first one was I needed the knowledge about how to make a sustainable visual product. Even though I had a background in Film Directing, at the time of my BA I was very concentrated in shooting dramas and I missed out on some valuable lessons.  Even though shooting drama is exciting, it is also very expensive. It involves a lot of people, a lot of time and a lot of effort. Plus financing, that is more often than not difficult to obtain. I had invested some years in film making and already had my mind set on what I wanted to do, however it turned out that I didn’t realize I had to do more of it. Feature film-making is great but if you want to sustain a business and remain a valuable asset in the industry you need to have a broader set of skills that involve factual TV, documentaries and similar genres. Making movies is fun, paying the bills is mandatory, so in this line of thought I believe that the opportunities and experience that the MA FTV provides are essential to anyone who chooses the path of filmmaking as a career.

The Appeal of Documentary Filmmaking

The second reason behind my decision to apply was the documentary aspect of the programme. As mentioned, I was very constrained by my narrow-minded thinking about the business. I realized my mistake once I attended a student documentary workshop that lasted about a week. During that time I knew I missed out, but I didn’t really have the time to learn how to fix this mistake. The length of the workshop was not enough to provide the needed information and I was already in my last year of BA studies.

This being said, studying under the guidance of Dr Richard Langley on the MA FTV was just priceless for learning the insights of documentary filmmaking. The screenings were great, the chosen films were well picked (of course, some I liked better than others) but they accurately represented the rich pallet of documentary subgenres. What I liked most about his method of teaching were the discussions that followed the screenings, where Richard explained the documentary mode and why and how it was made this way.  I learned not just why documentaries are made but how to make them. His passion for the subject really had a great impact, not just on me, but I think on the whole class. I could tell by the way we started discussing documentaries a bit later in the year that was equal to the way we discussed feature films in the beginning of the year. To put it in a different perspective: before I attended the MA I avoided watching documentaries and the closest I got to the genre was the work of popular TV channels that I no longer even consider ‘documentary’ in the full meaning of the word. Since then, for the past two and a half years, I have enjoyed 66 documentary films, some of which were mini-series, and I am currently preparing a documentary debut myself. So this goes to show the tremendous impact that the MA had on me both as a person and as an author.

Continue reading

Annual Showcase & One Minute Movie Results

Last Tuesday evening we held our annual showcase as part of the University’s Arts & Science Festival. This incorporated the results of the Department of Film & Creative Writing’s second One Minute Movie Competition.

It was great to see so many familiar faces in the audience, including FTV students past and present, members of Guild TV, and industry partners. In addition to a range of 5-minute Guided Editing Projects, we screened two documentaries from last year’s cohort: My First Time, which followed Luke Smith’s preparations for his first stand-up gig in Edinburgh, and Junior Doctor Diaries, a pertinent film from Katharine Walker examining the challenges faced by junior doctors in the UK as they enter the workplace.

IMG_6362In the second half of the event we showed all 14 One Minute Movie entries, which responded to the festival theme of Memory and Forgetting. The range and quality of submissions to the competition this year was fantastic, necessitating an expansion in the judging panel! The overall winner was MA Film & Television student Bhulla Beghal, with his animation One Day. Asked where he drew his inspiration from, Bhulla mentioned Ari Folman’s documentary Waltz With Bashir, which features on the MA’s Documentary Filmmaking module syllabus.

The four runners up, in no particular order, were:

  • Elena Tang            Some Memories Don’t Fade
  • Paul Turrell            Missing Time
  • Rosie Kelby            Tip of the Tongue
  • Sarah Thölin-Chittenden            Skögen

Congratulations and a big thank you to everyone who entered! Watch Bhulla’s winning film here:

2015 Round Up

The Christmas break is upon us once more, and it’s been another full and exciting year for the MA in Film and Television: Research and Production.

We kicked off 2015 with the Department of Film & Creative Writing’s first ever One Minute Movie Competition, which is being revived again for 2016 with a theme of ‘Memory and Forgetting’. Easter saw a trip to Bristol for a recording of ‘Deal or No Deal’ and between January and August our students undertook placements at twenty-four different production companies, five of which were new partners for the MA.

Over the summer three FTV students worked with MA convenor Richard Langley to produce a short film for Age Concern Birmingham, which is now featured on their YouTube channel.

In mid-September we bade farewell to our 2014-15 cohort, who formally graduated last week. Many have already enjoyed paid roles in industry at organisations including Fremantle Media and Al Jazeera, and it’s been great to hear of other alumni successes throughout the year.

We welcomed our new FTV students two weeks later, who have had a full term of seminars, screenings, training and guest speakers from industry. After Christmas they will start embarking on their placements and working towards their film assignments; a 3-5 minute guided editing project and a 25-minute documentary, which serves as their dissertation.

It will be full steam ahead again come January, but in the meantime thank you to everyone who has worked with us this year, and we wish all our students, alumni, placement partners and friends a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

FTV Christmas

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

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