Working in the screen industries was not an option in Shani Vizma’s home town. But thanks to persistence and some help from ScreenSkills she now works in visual effects in the film industry.
She watched all the DVD extras and behind the scenes footage of films when she was growing up in Corby in the East Midlands. But she says: “It’s a small town and the opportunities to work in film or TV just don’t exist.”
So she pursued her fascination with the industry by studying media production at Liverpool John Moores University, a course which has the ScreenSkills quality mark showing its relevance to a career in the industry.
Shani made a point of introducing herself to any guest speakers at university and emailing them. Eventually, a director from Hollyoaks offered her some work shadowing. “I very slowly started to build my network and made sure I met and spoke to as many industry professionals as possible. It was tough and took a few years of networking and odd jobs but eventually it paid off.”
At university, she was part of a team who won a Royal Television Society drama award with their final year graduate film. And it was while she was still in Liverpool that Shani heard about ScreenSkills Trainee Finder work placement scheme. In 2017, she won a place on the scheme. That helped her move to London and to a job as a PA on the independent film, VS. Her second placement was on Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. The placement was co-financed by Warner Bros. Creative Talent which, like Trainee Finder, offers masterclasses and networking opportunities. It was on Fantastic Beasts that Shani discovered the world of VFX.
“I worked as an assistant director and then moved into production but never quite felt like they fitted with me. It wasn’t until I worked on a studio feature that had a VFX department that I realised that was the department I wanted to be in.”
From there, she went on to be a VFX assistant coordinator Wonder Woman 1984, working in Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden and Warner Bros. De Lane Lea in Soho, London.
"During production I'm responsible for gathering all the set data and keeping a well-organised server full of assets like storyboards, concept art, set photography and camera databases. During post-production, it's my responsibility to make sure the relevant visual effects companies receive the correct data they need for the visual effects artists to begin work. Those companies then send their work back to me and I review it with the VFX supervisor. There are months of submissions and reviews until the VFX supervisor and director are happy with the work"
Now living in north-west London, she says: “I just knew ScreenSkills would help me on my path to my dream job. It has helped me massively – I never thought I’d get to work on such big films. The exposure you get is amazing.”
Shani, who is of Italian and Latvian heritage and had no family connections to the industry, says her main barriers were lack of money and contacts. “I knew I could do the job but needed help to get there,”
She advises that for those starting out in the industry, being a good PA in any department means being efficient. “You’ll be remembered if you are organised, have good time-keeping and keep on top of your team needs. If you’re making things easier for your team and they can rely on you, they’ll want to keep you around. These skills will help you throughout your career.”
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