12th April 2019
Sam’s career over the last decade has come full circle in the entertainment industry. His ambitions were centred on the performing arts, and after graduating from Belfast Metropolitan College, he worked for a time as assistant stage manager with Cahoots NI, Northern Ireland’s leading children’s theatre company. From there he set his sights on the film and TV industry - and struck lucky on Season 2 of Game of Thrones, where he worked on props as a daily.
Over time though, the insecurity of working as a daily and the pressure of having to make ends meet, tempted him into a more stable career. He worked his way up in hospitality, in Northern Ireland’s luxury resort spa hotel, Galgorm, becoming a duty manager. Eight rewarding years later, feeling more confident and much better equipped to cope with uncertainty, he knew he had to return to his passion, to work in the industry he truly loved and enjoyed – film and TV. “Once I’d taken the decision, I couldn’t have been happier. There was a lot of hard work to be done to break in – drafting a CV that showed I was serious and that my skills were transferable, going to production houses and meeting people face to face to try to get across how serious I was. I kept at it – reminding people that I was still there, and still wanted to work in the industry.”
Sam adds, “With Game of Thrones there was a lot of backwards and forwards with the Human Resources Department. Then one day, Sabrina said there might be an opportunity – and that’s when I learnt about ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder.”
Sabrina says, “I admired Sam’s determination. His enthusiasm was infectious. The Special Effects Department were looking for snow crew, and with Sam’s props background it looked like it might be just the thing for him.” Sabrina introduced him to David Boden, the Special Effects Coordinator, which was followed up by an hour-long meeting with David and Delroy Reid, the Special Effects Snow Supervisor. Within an hour the phone call came – ‘you’ve got the job’.
“They were very welcoming,” says Sam. “We discussed my experience, and they highlighted their expectations of anyone joining the team – they want people who are committed, pay attention and aren’t afraid of hard work, and people who will speak up and ask questions. They gave me an overview of what the job entailed, what equipment we’d be using, and made it clear it’d be a very hands-on learning experience. It was great and it worked out well.
Sam learnt a huge amount in a short space of time – not only within the special effects department but about other departments as well, how they relate to each other, and the complexity of a production and its crew. “In our department, I learnt how to operate the sort of machinery that I’d never come across 10 months ago. I can now operate snow machines, open them up and fix them. I know all the different materials used in the creation of snow and how it’s made. I’ve been operating smoke machines and taken part in stunt burnings - which obviously requires huge care and complete meticulousness. It’s been a really fulfilling experience, learning and building my knowledge. David’s been there for the crew throughout – he looked after us all, the budgets, as well as whatever requests were made by Sam Conway, the special effects supervisor, and Terry Palmer, the special effects coordinator. To be taken on by Game of Thrones after the traineeship, in Season 8, as a full snow assistant was wonderful – my first screen credit!”
For the future, Sam says, “Most of all the experience has reinforced that the TV and film industry is what I really love, and where I want to build my career. I’m open to other avenues apart from special effects, although I have come to love snow! There are so many opportunities, and people are very generous in giving you a chance if you show a good work ethic. Whatever I end up doing, I want to do it well – to earn the accolade of being the go-to person with the knowledge - working my way up to a more senior level. The knowledge of some of the supervisors I’ve met on Game of Thrones, has been unbelievably inspiring. I’ve been lucky to have had the ScreenSkills opportunity to train with a fantastic team, and I’d love to work with them again. It’s a case of keeping my ear to the ground on what’s coming up, with friends and colleagues and also Northern Ireland Screen.”
ScreenSkills Trainee Finder has placed hundreds of young, talented, creative individuals on film, high-end TV and children's television across the UK. The entry-level placement scheme matches trainees with productions who have paid into the skills investment funds (commonly known as the levies) for on-set and on-the-job training. In return, the production companies can claim back some of the trainee's salary. Trainee Finder typically opens for applications in November or December each year. Find out more about Trainee Finder.
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