ScreenSkills’ First Break vision department trainee Sumaiyya Shafi

The size, scale and sheer breadth of roles involved in producing ITV’s high-profile continuing drama Emmerdale shocked Sumaiyya Shafi.

“The opportunity to work and have experience in an industry with an organisation as big as ITV is such a big deal,” she says. “It has been great to see what it is like, to see how Emmerdale is put together. It's a lot wider and bigger than I thought and has opened my eyes to a lot.”

Leeds-born Sumaiyya, 21, a recent University of Westminster graduate in contemporary media practice, secured a coveted place on ScreenSkills’ First Break programme after her post-graduate careers service recommended she apply on her return from London to her hometown Leeds.

Supported by the High-end TV Skills Fund, with contributions from UK high-end TV productions, First Break was set up to promote social mobility and recruit individuals from a diversity of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, by working with social inclusion agencies across Leeds, Yorkshire and Greater Manchester. The first iteration has been delivered in partnership with the UK broadcaster ITV.

“Since I graduated and came back to Leeds, I was finding it hard to find opportunities so when First Break came up I applied,” she says. “I thought it would be a good way to get my foot in the door of the industry and enhance my skills and develop new ones.”

She landed in the visions department at ITV’s Emmerdale studios in Leeds, sitting with the director, the script supervisor and the vision mixer and vision engineer while scenes are filmed - on the floor or on the set.

Checking for misplaced sound booms, listening for exterior noises that interfere with the quality of take and thinking about lighting and continuity in shots all require concentration and an eye for detail, providing her with new challenges every day.

“Paying attention to detail is one of my strength. But it was an area I learned a lot from and learned how to pay more attention,” she says. “I learned to tell my brain to pay attention more and concentrate harder.”

It wasn’t always easy. Before the placement, her role in customer services for Arcadia Group followed very different shift patterns. “The mornings for me (on Emmerdale) have been quite a challenge because my body clock is used to starting in the afternoon and finishing later.” Her Arcadia shifts are usually lunchtime until 9pm.

While she enjoyed working in the gallery, she also worked with the camera department. “That interested me because I like photography and filming,” she says. “Getting the industry side of working on cameras is cool and I got an insight of working and using their kinds of cameras.”

Sumaiyya says speaking to the camera operators and getting their perspective on the work, how they found it and started out was a big bonus. Another eye-opener for her as a photography enthusiast was the way they set up with two or three cameras for each shot. “I assumed they recorded each shot one camera at a time. But from being in the gallery I realised working with the visions engineer, they do it all at once and have the three screens for all the cameras. It opened my mind,” she says.

A key element for First Break is to expose participants to as much of the inner workings of television production, all the while demystifying the process and dispelling misconceptions about the industry.

Sumaiyya enjoyed seeing how the production shot scenes on the Emmerdale set at the ITV Studios would be filmed and combined with the shoots on location at the show’s purpose-built exterior set on the outskirts of Leeds and with any other exterior location footage.

“When I saw a lot of it is done on set and the way it joins with the outdoor shots, I didn't realise they have to shoot separate scenes to combine them together.”

First Break gave her an insight into television and Sumaiyya is now trying to figure out what to do next. “I would like to incorporate my skills and passion for photography and filming as well. Something that mixes them both together would be ideal.”

Back to case studies