Anita Overland, Chair of ScreenSkills Film Skills Council, on how to address the skills gap

by Simon Bland

Producer Anita Overland has an impressive IMDB page. Give it a quick scan and it won’t take long to recognise a number of critically acclaimed projects that she’s worked on over the years. There’s Steve McQueen’s powerful 2020 anthology series Small Axe, Ron Howard’s high-octane 2013 racing drama Rush and 2011’s Academy Award-winning The Iron Lady, to name just a few. Each of these titles benefitted from Overland’s skills as a talented producer and each helped to make her the perfect candidate for becoming chair of ScreenSkills’ Film Skills Council.

“I’ve always been conscious of trying to bring new people into the industry and helping to give them their start.” Says Overland, detailing the path that led to her becoming part of ScreenSkills’ board and team of chairs. “I’ve done my own thing along the years to help facilitate that goal, whilst trying to be as open and inclusive to people from all areas to help them access the film industry.”

When the offer came from ScreenSkills' current head of film and animation, Gareth Ellis-Unwin, to join the organisation, Overland saw an opportunity to transform her passion into something that could provide practical assistance to newcomers on a much larger scale. “He persuaded me to step in and it seemed to be a good way to have more of an impact than just offering jobs here and there on the odd production.”

“I’ve always been conscious of trying to bring new people into the industry and helping to give them their start.”

Joining the team in March 2021, Overland’s expertise couldn’t have arrived at a more crucial time. With a skills drought impacting much of the UK’s production services sector, there was plenty of work to be done to help train the new talent of tomorrow and ensure the industry reaches its full potential. “The biggest issue impacting the sector is the skills crisis. There’s a huge amount of extra work that’s available in this country but not enough people to fill those roles and before I joined ScreenSkills, I was experiencing this firsthand,” admits Overland. “I wasn’t able to crew up or find experienced crewmembers and I saw the pressures that it was putting on the productions I was working on. This felt like a good moment to try and work collectively with the other members at ScreenSkills to address this issue.”

By working alongside the chairs of High-end TV, Animation, Children’s TV and Unscripted TV Skills Funds, Overland has been able to see how other departments support their own workforce and adopt similar best practices within the world of independent film. It’s a knowledge-sharing process that works like-for-like for each ScreenSkills chair. “I’m learning how the high-end TV sector has joined everyone up and got them working together. They’ve managed to get a whole group of people together to talk so it would be good to emulate that in film.”

The increase in high-end TV production and the demand for talent across both sectors has provided a new opportunity for those at the early stages of their careers, giving them the potential to go much further much quicker. “15 years ago, you would have been able to choose from a range of quite experienced cinematographers and then decide who would fit your film best, for example. Now, your choice is much more limited -- you might take someone who’s only done one other film -- but in a way, it has created more opportunity for more people with less experience to progress quicker, so that’s a good thing.”

That said, this quick progression makes the need for training even more important. It’s an issue that brings us back around to the ways in which ScreenSkills is helping to alleviate these lack-of-experience issues and help more people become industry-ready. “The Film Trainee Finder initiative means that people get to work on several different productions, all with the support of ScreenSkills, so they don’t have to spend time trying to find these jobs themselves,” says Overland, referencing the application-based process that helps newcomers from all areas and backgrounds fast-track their practical experiences in various film roles. “They can work on three or four productions over a year and once complete, that’s them made; they’ve got valuable contacts from the people they’ve met on those productions and they have support too. Trying to do all that without ScreenSkills’ help is really difficult.”

"It's created an opportunity for people to progress quicker, but that has to be done with support."

It’s something that’s particularly helpful considering the short-term nature of freelance film production roles and a career catalyst that Overland has already seen people benefit from. “I’m actually working with somebody who did the Trainee Finder programme a few years ago. She’s working with us on our current production team, so it’s a really great start for people,” she smiles. “It’s been really pleasing to see the high rate of applications for the programme. The feedback we’ve had on it has been great”

As for what’s needed to help narrow the skills gap in the film sector even further, Overland is convinced that the key lies in our ability to do more of the same but on a much bigger scale. “We need to help more people get into the industry and once they’re in it, we need to give them the support needed to take steps upwards in their careers,” she suggests. “We should help people working in accounts for city finance firms step across and perhaps work on an accounts department on a film -- things like that. Every project should take on an apprentice in every department too - and it all needs to happen very fast,” argues Overland. “If we could expand all of this work then it would allow us to have a much bigger impact.”

Film Skills Fund

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