The first ladders session in Sunderland Uni Media Centre commenced with meeting mentor Chloe Rodham and previous Ladders alumni, now Northumbria University associate-lecturer, Paul Trickett. After hearing an overview of the basics of sound and camera we had a look at how we would go about setting up to shoot on green screen. After the theory, everyone headed down to the green-screen studio to try out in practice what we had just learnt. We rotated our roles between using the camera, the sound recorder and boom pole, directing, performing and of course the most important…the clapperboard!

The first task was to perform an either improvised or prepared delivery of a spoof weather report, some people had come prepared with what they wanted to say and others either improvised or read out the lyrics of a weather-related song to practice how to deliver to a camera. We then tried out a technique called pixelation in front of the green screen – a stop-motion technique which means moving people or objects and capturing their photograph each time they moved – the kind of content that would work well in something like a music video. We tried walking across the screen from one side to another with the people involved swapping every step.

After the green-screen session, we met Jordan Mann from MADE in Tyne and Wear – a locally focused news, sport and weather production company. He explained what they create and showed us their studio space but explained how a lot of their content is now filmed on location in the local area.

We were then introduced to Nathan Ely and Scott McGerty from Spark FM, they told us all about the radio station that operates out of Sunderland University. They talked to us about issues like biased and liability with journalistic broadcasting. This was relevant for those interested in video journalism – thinking about how important it is to create a balanced argument if you are reporting on topics like elections and current affairs. We also had a look at how the timings for radio work with an on-screen countdown of how much time the presenters must fill to keep the links with national broadcasters and a look how their programming is curated.

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Some words and reflections from Georgia…

On the 7th of March, I joined the Film & TV crew of the programme at Sunderland University. It was a long and busy day for the group and fascinating for me to see them develop their talent and learn new talents. In the green screen room, they created weather report scenes, practised with stop motion and delivered monologues. This consisted of acting and work with microphones and cameras. They all also tried out the role of director, controlling the small productions they made throughout the day. I managed to grab a few of the talent programme individuals and asked them a variety of questions I had planned.

One of the students I talked to was Thomas, who had worked on camera, sound and greenscreen when I spoke to him. He told me he “enjoyed working with the sound the most because it requires you to be constantly busy”. The programme had already taught him new things, such as how to use the sound recorder and boom pole. Thomas would be interested in doing more greenscreen work in the future as a result of his day at the university’s media centre and reported though it was early days, the programme was “going well” for him.

I also spoke to a humorous actor, Chris, who turned his weather report into a question of why people didn’t just look outside- a bold creative choice that paid off when the group was amused by these well-performed antics. He told me he had done all the roles on offer to him that day and was clearly getting the most he possibly could out of the programme with an admirable determination. He told me that he had enjoyed the camera work and overseeing the boom operator the most as they were “the most interesting”. Chris really liked controlling the camera shots as well and seemed to be really enjoying all aspects of the course. He learnt that “cameras are complicated things” as they demand the user to get the right light and angle for shots. However, he hadn’t struggled with any of the work that day because any issues were quickly resolved with help and assistance. Chris longs to do more camera work in the near future and believes that the programme is thus far meeting all his expectations. I was glad to hear that he felt Ladders was a “really friendly environment”.

The next Ladders event for those focusing on Film & TV was on the 14th March. The group went around creative offices based in Gateshead and Newcastle area to receive tips and advice from industry professionals. At Gateshead International Business Centre, Marc Runkee talked to the group about advertisements- focusing on how to build appeal for a product with industry tricks and the importance of storyboards. He showed an example of an advertisement he worked on for an incredibly expensive bottle of rum and amazed the group with admittance a lot of the appearance shown was fabricated via various software programmes. He discussed production on simple but professional terms, telling the team about pre and post production work, identifying camera movements and types of shots used.

The group then received a presentation from Yvette Embleton, Educational Outreach Officer of the National Youth Film Academy. Yvette has worked for Granada Studios and CITV, contributing to shows such as Jeremy Kyle, Countdown, Horrid Henry and Mr Bean. In 2017, she won a Children’s Short Film Category BAFTA, thanks to her work with Share a Story. Furthermore, she developed the UK’s first TV promo to contain only British sign language. She aims to locate, nurture and promote young people who wish to work in the film and tv industry with the NYFA. Her contact and a potential work opportunity was given to the programme members and will probably prove beneficial to furthering their creative careers.

Craig Hawkes and Chloe Rodham gave the group an informative talk on how to respond to commissions in the creative and professional sense. They demonstrated sample briefs and showed storyboards and their own advertisements to the Ladders group. This clearly showed how work can progress from idea to final product. Once the group was fairly filled with ideas and inspiration, the two gave them a task to create their own commission in groups. The team got stuck into brainstorming, researching and creating treatments, shot lists and storyboards. The groups then pitched these ideas to the rest of the Ladders team. It was fascinating to watch their skill sets develop.

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The following Ladders session took place on the 20th March at the BBC Studios in Newcastle. Here, the Film & TV team were given a tour of the grounds by Peter and Deborah. The tour began with the BBC tape room, which is where the group received information on the importance of storage and learnt about the progress of technology in records to the film industry. The BBC keep every tape to track work and because you never know when to return to the footage. The tour continued to the radio station room which contained a green screen that the team got to experiment with. The group were then shown the virtual, Hetty Feather and Sunday Politics sets. The team got to touch some of the props and learned that things look bigger on TV due to a combined effect of good lighting and high ceilings. The Look North set was arguably the most impressive and is the BBC’s 3rd biggest set. The group got to take turns having their picture taken in the hard news seat which will perhaps be a memorable moment for them all. We learnt that there is a button under the desk that changes the text on the screens the reporters read off and this is done carefully by foot, which means Colin Briggs usually reads the news without shoes on. Another fun fact is that the lights in the studio are from the 80’s and they give off so much heat that you can’t stay in the room too long. Who knew, eh!

The Ladders group then moved onto the gallery, AKA behind the scenes where the team make sure things are running well. It was here that the Film & TV crew were informed on the various jobs that the crew do- they learned insider information about roles such as producer, technical manager, director, graphics manager, news transmission assistant, sound technicians, sound engineers, technical support, the online team and journalists. We were told that the journalists have a particularly busy job as they must keep the team updated on the current news stories and news is constantly updating. This was interesting to me as I am studying journalism and hope to achieve a job directly related to the subject in the future. I know a few of the group are also interested in journalism, so no doubt this information will have been helpful to them too.

The Ladders team then reached the final room of the BBC Studio Tour – the radio studio that has been converted into an interactive room. The group’s radio show was entertaining, working off a script they did a piece akin to Scooby Doo that the tour guides pinned as the “best in a while” and “very dramatic”. I even got involved in the radio show, stepping my feet in a tray of pebbles for the sound effects of people getting out of the car. Chloe, the Ladders mentor, was then nominated to be the weather reporter in the fake news show. The weather reporter has arguably the hardest job on TV news as they sometimes need to act as a buffer and as a result, never know how long they will be. The way to get around having lots of spare time to report the weather is to entertain with filler talk loosely regarding the weather conditions.

The next session with the film and tv group was at Sunderland University. The group were incredibly busy working with Adobe After Effects. They were giving their green screen footage from their last visit to Sunderland University a backdrop to make it seem like more of a news show. There wasn’t much I could help with on this day as everyone was working so hard and software is not my strong point; I was proud of the Ladders team for committing themselves to something new and arguably not so fun. Making the news productions look more professional will result in great pieces of work to add to their portfolio and show future employers.