ScreenSkills on supporting Stars of Tomorrow

Rienkje Attoh on the set of Noughts + Crosses

ScreenSkills’ Head of Film and Animation Gareth Ellis-Unwin speaks to Screen about supporting Stars of Tomorrow and more.

There is a reason most award winners thank the team behind them – because the screen industry is a collaborative business. Honouring heads of department alongside writers, directors and producers in Stars of Tomorrow is important in acknowledging that none of the acting talent, however brilliant, would be known to movie-goers and television viewers without those who never appear on screen.

It is why ScreenSkills, the skills charity for UK film and TV, is proud to partner with Screen on this annual initiative. Gareth Ellis-Unwin, ScreenSkills’ Head of Film and Animation, says: “This fantastic celebration of talent is an opportunity to highlight the work that industry funds us to carry out on its behalf – finding and developing a skilled and inclusive workforce behind-the-camera.”

The evidence is there in this year’s list in names such as Tom Wood, whose credits include Billie Piper’s film, Rare Beasts and Alice Lowe’s next feature, both with Western Edge Pictures, as well as the Cannes-contending short, Sudden Light, with Wellington Films. After starting as a runner and then working as a producer’s assistant, he got his break working in development for Wellington thanks to  “very generous” support from ScreenSkills – or Creative Skillset, as it was then known - and then again on a producer programme.

“ScreenSkills have had a big hand in my career,” he says. The producer programme involved intensive mentoring with the producer and script consultant Anna Seifert-Speck which had a big impact. “What she did was shadow me on some of the projects I was developing. It was a mixture of reinforcing what I already knew, but also... offering new outlooks and tools about how to get the most out of people in development. It was a relationship and friendship that has lasted ever since.”

Another Star, producer Rienkje Attoh, was supported by ScreenSkills High-end TV Skills Fund Make a Move programme to step into producing on the BBC/Mammoth drama Noughts + Crosses. The opportunity has given her additional creative options and created a more financially sustainable working life, which balances television production with building her own slate of independent films.

“It can be challenging making that leap from indie film producing to working on a TV series. Make a Move helped me gain the necessary experience to work within TV as a producer,” she says. Noughts + Crosses also involved shooting internationally. “I experienced working in Cape Town, with an incredibly talented crew. I had two crucial forms of training for the price of one, which was very advantageous.”

ScreenSkills receives National Lottery funds from the BFI under the Future Film Skills strategy but also depends on industry contributions to its skills funds. This collaboration with industry extends across its work, with training often delivered by experts in the field, such as the grips branch of Bectu, or with partners such as Creative England, where ScreenSkills Film Skills Fund supports the iFeatures development lab for debut filmmakers.

Charlotte Regan, a writer/director who started out making music promos for rappers, developed her feature, Nan, with iFeatures while Naqqash Khalid, a writer-director from Manchester, has been developing his film, In Camera.

Regan describes the programme as “one of the most important experiences of my career so far. It was and still is an environment where everyone is just invested in you finding the version of your film you want to make.”

Other programmes supported by ScreenSkills which have proved a resource to above-the-line talent and future industry leaders include the first-time filmmaker mentoring programme Guiding Lights and Inside Pictures, which develops leadership skills. This sits alongside projects that find and develop new entrants, such as those on the Trainee Finder paid placement programme.

Yet many of the people ScreenSkills supports are not necessarily the headline names - they are the sparks and the grips who are the bedrock of a crew. Here, ScreenSkills delivers careers information on the range of opportunities available behind the camera, from accountants to script supervisors, as well as practical training.

Gareth Ellis-Unwin says: “In the face of what has been an incredibly tricky year for the industry, we have to make sure that we don’t make opportunity a further victim of difficult circumstances. It is vital we continue supporting talent and offering opportunities to those who are starting or progressing in their screen careers.” He adds: "We congratulate all the Stars of Tomorrow and look forward to seeing what you do next.”

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