A Weekend at BAFTA

Last weekend I had the pleasure of taking part in the BAFTA Guru Labs, a scheme run by BAFTA for new entrants to the media industries: TV, Games and Film. As well as granting us free access to the talks, lectures and workshops at BAFTA HQ in Piccadilly, they also organised networking and advice sessions for us with industry experts. It’s only the second year that they’ve run this scheme, but so far it’s been a roaring success – and I certainly got a lot out of it!

On the first evening we had a networking party, which was a great opportunity to make a few new friends. The attendees were mostly new industry entrants, like me, so it took the pressure off having to impress any potential employers! That happened first thing the next day – but the new friends I had made on the Friday night made the intimidating prospect of a 15 minute one-to-one session with a top Production Exec slightly less scary! As all the participants were in the same boat, at roughly the same industry level, it created a lovely supportive atmosphere for the whole event.

One of the highlights of the afternoon sessions was our Round Table discussions with top execs from the TV industry. Groups of about six of us got together and were able to talk and ask questions about our experiences working in TV, what we should be doing to progress and what to look out for. I was very encouraged by how friendly and supportive everyone was – TV can be a difficult, cut-throat, competitive industry, but there’s a sense of solidarity that comes from being aware that it’s like that for everyone!

By far the most useful piece of advice that I got from the weekend was this: as a freelancer, you need to treat yourself like a business. And like a business, that means you need to:

  • Go to events to promote yourself
  • Build your brand: create a consistent message and image across your social media platforms and your CV
  • Train yourself
  • Be strategic about building your reputation: this means building up your CV by taking jobs that form you into what you ultimately want to be

This is a great way of thinking about life in a freelance industry. YOU are the product – you want to tell your employers that they need YOUR skills, and no one else’s. But unlike a business, with separate departments to look after marketing, finances, strategy, training and research, you have to do all that yourself. No one said working in telly was easy!

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A Weekend at BAFTA

Tools to Build the Story

Windfall Films is one of those lovely production companies where they nurture their employees and try to provide opportunities for them to upskill. So they organised a camera training workshop run by the Indie Training Fund, which offers all sorts of courses and bursaries for all kinds of skills you might need in the TV industry.

We got trained on a PXW-200 – the model with which Sony are replacing their PMW-200. At the higher end, both Canon and Sony cameras do pretty much the same thing, but the buttons are in different places. So after mastering the buttons and what everything meant on the display screen, it was time to put our theoretical knowledge into practice!

It was a real treat being taught by a highly experienced DoP (Director of Photography). He followed us around as we worked with the cameras, giving us tips and tricks that would help the final product look its best.

But I think the most important thing I’ll take away from that workshop is a clear understanding of how technology and story come together when making great TV and film. The composition, lighting, spacing, angle and focus of a shot can tell far more than a thousand words when you’re building up your story, so when you’re filming, it’s important to know which different cameras have different advantages, and what the technical abilities of the cameras can do to help you build a scene.

Tools to Build the Story

Training Myself Up: The Canon C300

A couple of weekends ago I went on a training course to learn how to use a Canon C300. It was something I signed up for through DV Talent, the parent company of the TV job website, The Talent Manager. It was an eye-wateringly expensive course, but I had saved up and viewed it as a skills investment; I am already proficient with a DSLR 5D, but a C300 is broadcast standard – a much more complex, high quality camera. I knew that with that skill, I would stand a stronger chance of becoming a self-shooting AP in due course.

And I have to say the course was fantastic. There were only three of us, spending seven hours each day learning how to use this camera, both technically and practically. We received plenty of support and a technical reference booklet, which I know I’ll be referring to regularly in the future! In this blog, I won’t bore you with all the technical knowledge, because that’s really something you need to be shown and engage with on a practical basis, but what I will pass on is what I learned about the grammar of filming.

Let me explain what I mean by ‘grammar’. Making a film is like writing a story, but using images instead of words. So a paragraph is made up of sentences, which are made of clauses, which are made up of individual words. In a film, a scene is made up of sequences, which are made up of individual shots. So when you make a film, think about how the images you are shooting tell the story. The way a good writer tells a story defines their style; the way a good director puts together their shots defines theirs.

Take, for example, a murder mystery. Alice sat down. Her hands were shaking. What had she just seen? Could it be true? The blood, the hammer, David staring up at her, still with a faint echo of surprise in the fading twinkle of his dead eyes. She tried to drink some water but she couldn’t swallow. She didn’t want to believe it, but she knew who must have done it. And she knew that she would be next. The killer wasn’t far away…

So, imagine this as a film. You start with a mid-shot of Alice sitting down. Then a close-up of her hands shaking. A close-up of her face, emotions flitting across it. Flashback cutaways of the blood, the hammer, and David’s face. Another mid-shot of her drinking the water, drawing out to a wide of her, alone in the room, to emphasise her vulnerability. Then, to add a bit of technical knowledge to help build the mood of the film, maybe a few of the shots would be handheld and a little shaky. Maybe you would use a long lens for the close-ups to create depth of field, which makes one thing in focus but all the rest of the image blurry, and this would create a sense of tunnel vision, of concentration, drawing the eye to the one thing you want the viewer to notice.

Writing a story involves transferring the narrative of the imagination to the page, and can use narrative techniques and rhetorical devices to create a more evocative story. Film is the same, it transfers imagination to the screen and uses technical knowledge, e.g. lighting, sound, lens focus, camera angles, to create the same impression. Tech meets creativity in film, and it is crucial to have a strong understanding of both in order to create the desired effect when making a film.

Training Myself Up: The Canon C300