Assistant production coordinator James Dean on Make a Move

Assistant production coordinator James Dean on Make a Move

James Dean recently worked on two series of the ITV period drama Sanditon as part of ScreenSkills’ Make a Move programme, an initiative designed to help career progression for industry professionals ready to take their next step up.

James grew up in Hengrove, Bristol, just around the corner from The Bottle Yard Studios, but says the proximity didn't influence his choice of career – in fact he admits he didn't know about Bottle Yard until a family friend mentioned it. “It was this big old industrial estate – it used to be where they bottled Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry and I thought it still was,” he confesses with a laugh. “Then I Googled it.”

In fact, the studios have become South West England's largest High-end TV production facility - programmes including The Girl Before, Chloe and The Outlaws were made there -and Bristol and the surrounding area is a leading hub for film and television production, thanks, says James, “to its lovely city locations, lots of period streets and being surrounded by a large number of country estates”.

When Bottle Yard was looking for apprentices in 2014, James applied and was awarded one as a studio management assistant, with his first job in High-end TV being on the second (and later the third) series of Poldark (BBC), where one of his tasks was driving the rushes to London at the end of each day's shooting.

James worked more recently on series two and three of the ITV drama Sanditon; the production was based at Brabazon hangars at Filton airfield, another location with historic connections as it was where Concorde was built and which will eventually be home to the Bristol Arena. Red Planet Pictures used the site's vast hangar and runway space to build the Sanditon sets, while location work was done at other places including Ston Easton in Somerset, Corsham in Wiltshire and Badminton House in Gloucestershire.

James enjoys the breadth of his duties as an assistant production coordinator. “On a production like Sanditon, I could be doing onboarding, contracts, non-disclosure agreements, booking kit in, risk assessments and so on. It's really varied and I have contact with so many departments,” he says. “You never know what sort of thing you'll get.”

A Sanditon production office was also built at Brabazon hangars beside the sets, so James was based there for his contract, while also working on location if required. While the short commute on the show from his Bristol home was a bonus, James is happy to travel for his work - in fact currently he's based in Watford while working on Netflix's Fast and Furious (filmed at Warner Bros. Leavesden Studios).

James aims to step up to production coordinator and eventually production manager but says for the moment he wants to get as much experience as he can.

“Starting off in the Bottle Yard was great and now to be working on Fast and Furious I definitely feel I'm progressing in the scale of shows that I'm doing,” he says.

He was happy to be part of ScreenSkills Make a Move programme while working on Sanditon. “At the start of the job I got to write what it was that I wanted to achieve, so I could set my goals. I was working with Fiona Harper, a really lovely and experienced production coordinator who took me under her wing.

“All through my career people have been willing to help because everyone has been in that situation of coming across something that they've never dealt with before – and it makes their job easier if you have people working under you who know what they're doing.”

James took part in ScreenSkills’ Production Lab, which he describes as “a sort of boot camp for assistant production coordinators” and says he still refers to the “very helpful” notes that came with it the course: “I learnt a lot.” He is also a fan of ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder scheme, which he has used when looking for junior crew members. “ScreenSkills is a very useful resource for the industry,” he says.

And what of his name – was he predestined to go into this industry? “People certainly remember my name,” he laughs. “But it's a nightmare finding me on IMDb.”

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