Spotlight: ScreenSkills support in the Midlands

How To Build A Girl © Monumental Pictures/Tango Productions. LLC/Channel Four Television Corporation

You can’t make great film, TV and animation without investing in the people. This is why ScreenSkills is committed to deliver training, resources and opportunities across the whole of the UK. This month our focus is the Midlands.

Seetha Kumar, ScreenSkills CEO, said: “We are proud to support the screen industries in the Midlands, collaborating with partners such as BBC Academy and Create Central.

“Thanks to the contributions of productions that contribute to our skills funds and funding from the BFI, who award us National Lottery funds, we can run training for professionals at all career stages. This is mostly online at the moment which we believe has helped in opening up more opportunities to people across the whole of the UK, but we are continuing to assess returning to face-to-face events and training where it is safe and feasible to do so.”

Productions and placements

The Midlands has been the base of a number of productions that have contributed to ScreenSkills’ Skills Funds, including Benediction, How to Build a Girl, The Canterville Ghost, Redemption and Token. It is also the home of animation studios such as Wyndley Animation Limited in Stratford-upon-Avon (Circle Square).

With an increasing number of productions in the area, there are plenty of on-the-job training opportunities for talent. With ScreenSkills’ support, both new entrants and established professionals have been able to develop their skills on productions, via training programmes such as Trainee Finder and the Series Producer Programme.

A place on the Series Producer Programme, funded by the TV Skills Fund (now replaced by the Unscripted TV Skills Fund), helped Birmingham-based Perjeet Aulja to build her career, offering an intensive programme including networking and industry events.

Alex Rhule-Martin, a sound trainee on High-end TV Trainee Finder, had his first placement on My Name is Leon in his native Birmingham. He feels his skillset has expanded greatly through the placements. “I don't think I would have come this far and learnt so much if it weren't for ScreenSkills. For a lad from the West Midlands to be doing what I'm doing is just great.”

Producer Lauren Parker also used ScreenSkills support to kickstart her career. Four years ago, she was accepted onto Film Trainee Finder. Her placements included the BFI-funded film, The Devil Outside, shooting in her native Nottingham. “I helped cast all the supporting artists and I got more and more involved in production.” But a place on a long-term training programme was not the only support she received.

Bursaries, mentoring support and short courses

A ScreenSkills bursary offered Lauren’s career another boost as it enabled her to purchase Movie Magic, the budgeting software she’d been trying to get for some years but which had been too expensive to afford, costing just under £1,000. Of ScreenSkills, she says: “If there is something you need to help progress your career, do take a look. It’s super-easy and comes back with a decision so quickly.”

Camera operator Rebecca Sherburn from Derbyshire also experienced that some financial support can go a long way. She needed to purchase wet weather gear to help her work in winter conditions on outdoor shoots. As a recent graduate she was “on the ScreenSkills website looking for opportunities and just came across the bursary information…I hadn’t heard about them before - it came up as an opportunity - and I thought it would be useful to look into.”

Motion graphics artist Annette Bowery, based in Birmingham, also used a bursary to progress in her career. "I had been freelancing in motion graphics and animation alongside my part-time graphic design job," Annette says. "I was keen to improve my skills with a long-term view to improving my portfolio and showreel." She applied for support to help pay for the costs of attending Aardman Academy’s course in model-making named 5 Day Sketch to Screen Model Making with Jim Parkyn, during lockdown.

Short courses and online seminars helped many professionals across the UK through the pandemic. Some of the courses were delivered by training providers based in the Midlands. Look back at some of the masterclasses designed to help freelancers thrive, such as financial first aid for freelancers, branding yourself and winning new clients delivered by Mission Accomplished.

ScreenSkills also works with a range of regional partners to offer mentoring to professionals at all career stages. We are, for example, supporting 50 mentees via the Screen Northants Academy mentoring programme, which is run in the East Midlands for people in behind-the-camera roles from writers, producers and directors to sparks, hair and make-up artists and production runners. Another 100 professionals are receiving mentoring via the Birmingham-based BACK IN Xtra, a programme that supports filmmakers from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds.

Pathways in for new talent

Paid placements and skills training are key to ensuring the screen industries in the Midlands continue to thrive, but ScreenSkills’ work starts even before young people enter the industry, with information about the opportunities in screen and support for improving the quality of screen degrees, courses and apprenticeships.

ScreenSkills Select endorses and enhances screen courses that give students the best possible start to a career in the screen industries. In the Midlands, courses have been endorsed at Birmingham Ormiston Academy, De Montfort University, Nottingham Trent University and the Warwickshire College Group. As part of their programmes, students were able to attend employability events in January and February 2021 to help them better for a career in screen.

The ScreenSkills careers team has also been involved in events in the Midlands for other new entrants. They were involved in a BBC Young Reporter event, featuring film-maker Daniel Alexander who talked about storytelling to more than a hundred students. The team also hosted Skills to Screen Midlands, two online sessions to help 41 potential career changers see what options there are for them in the screen industries.

Finally, the team will organise an information session on applying for ScreenSkills’ flagship training programme Trainee Finder in October as well as a face-to-face event for school students and new entrants about careers in games and a short training course to help people in the West Midlands transfer into film and TV, in partnership with Create Central.

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