Following on from the success of the initial Summer cohort, Monday 6th February marked the first day of round two for the Film/TV/Animation Ladders course, an 8-week course which provides students with access to hands-on training from industry professionals, motivational advice from guest speakers and practical workshops which allow students to explore a range of career options within the film, television and digital media industries.

The week started off with an introduction from Louise Henry, Enterprise Development Coordinator at Generator, who is responsible for the management of Ladders at an administrative level. Louise explained that Ladders has been set up foster the next generation of creative talent within the North East; Generator hopes that Ladders can bridge the gap in guidance and resources focused specifically on careers advice which is perhaps missing from most school and university curriculum at the moment.

 

Students were then introduced to Jen Barrett, founder and managing director of This Is Creative Enterprise (TICE). TICE are one of the key delivery partners of the Ladders scheme, providing skills development workshops led by industry professionals, enterprise support and masterclasses in each of the three fields, Music, Film/TV/Animation and Software Development. Jen explained that taking part in Ladders would help students to stand out from the crowd in a society where many young people are equally highly qualified but lacking in practical experience and industry contacts.

 

Jen also informed students about the Enterprise Support Package, offered to anyone considering pursuing a freelance career or developing a business idea in the creative industries. Peter Banks and Sisley Henning explained to the group how the Enterprise Support sessions had provided them with valuable insight and helped them to set up their production company, Fandangle Films. Peter was keen to stress that the mentors and speakers were very keen to help students at every stage of their career; “It’s really weird,” he joked, “They just want to help you!”. Sisley added that you really get out what you put in, and that being driven and motivated to get the most out of Ladders was the best way to ensure that you achieve your dreams of being involved in your chosen industry.

Students were then split up into their respective groups. Film/TV/Animation mentor Chloe Rodham introduced herself to the cohort, explaining her own work as a freelance animator and screening her showreel to showcase her own talents in the field. Chloe went over the current climate of the Northern creative industry, explaining what is currently happening in the North East in terms of film. You might be interested to know, for example, that Gateshead-based Atomhawk spent over a year working with Marvel on the concept art for Guardians of the Galaxy or that ITV’s Vera and BBC’s The Dumping Ground are both filmed in our region. Chloe herself has worked on projects for clients including Denver-based band DeVotchKa, The Labour Party, London theatre group Fourth Monkey and CUMI, who created animation for Channel 4 documentaries. It is clear that Chloe has a lot of knowledge and expertise to impart and can offer students a real taster of what it is like to work in the industry. She also provided the interesting statistic that a large majority of people working within the film and television industries gain employment via word of mouth; 56% of jobs in the industry are unadvertised, so meeting with industry professionals further along in the course could prove to be just the ticket to building the networks which are so crucial to those working in film and television.

Students were set an icebreaker task to learn about the person next to them, why they had chosen to be involved in Ladders and what sort of experience they have already. It was clear from listening to everyone’s responses that there is a good range of students from different backgrounds, from those who are in their final year of school to those who have already completed postgraduate courses in their fields. This will no doubt be beneficial to everyone, as students will be able to share their skills and knowledge amongst each other and can perhaps team up with others who have similar interests on their final project.

 

After going through a range of useful resources, including a number of handy websites, Chloe set a brief for the students to create a storyboard of an advert for one of three companies. She explained the best way to go about researching a brief and the students got to work on creating their storyboards. Students were asked to finish the storyboard at home and bring it to the following session to learn how to make an animatic, a short film of animated stills that filmmakers and animators frequently use when pitching to clients.

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The second Ladders session was focused on learning the basics of Premiere Pro. Chloe set a task for students to edit footage for a short documentary, between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, on the theme of Virtual Revolution. She explained all of the necessary basics, including CODECs, QuickTime containers and tips on how to organise files, before giving a live demonstration of some of the tools which Premiere Pro offers. The students were given free creative reign on the piece and everyone took a different approach to editing the footage together.

After everyone had got to grip with the basics, Chloe scanned in everyone’s storyboards from the previous session and showed the students how to make them ready to present to companies in the form of an animatic. She demonstrated this to everyone with an animatic from one of her own projects, an advertisement for yogurt, and it was clear to see how presenting ideas in this format can give a good feel for how the final project will be – alongside the fact that animatics allow creatives to work out timings when setting their storyboard to a particular piece of music.

 

The first week of the second round of Ladders has been insightful for everyone and it is clear that everyone will gain plenty of skills which will be excellent CV fodder and which will hopefully increase their employability. Chloe mentioned early on that it would be valuable to start thinking about final projects early on so that she can tailor her advice and ensure that students are able to get the most out of the forthcoming industry visits and talks by professionals. Tune in next time to hear about the first of these talks from NFM’s Gayle Woodruffe, and to hear about Audition and lens-based technologies with Tim Lozinski!

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Week 2 of Ladders: Film/TV/Animation got off to a great start with Gayle Woodruffe from Northern Film & Media stopping by to talk to everyone about her role within the organisation. Northern Film & Media are a creative agency in the North East which sets out to “nurture talent and [drive] commercial film and television production within the region”. Gayle is the Production Service Manager over at NFM, and is responsible for encouraging film and TV companies to come and film in the North East. Encouraging film production in the region helps to stimulate the local economy, help to get city landmarks on the big screen and provide jobs for local production crews; for example, following the shooting of Harry Potter in Alnwick, it is reported that the town saw a 120% increase in visitors and an extra £9m pumped into the local economy because of this increase in tourism.

Gayle explained that there are two main strands to her job: the production service and the NFM Academy and Bootcamp. As part of the production service, Gayle promotes the North East to film and television companies. Northern Film & Media are dedicated to using as many local resources, local actors and local crew as possible, and Gayle is the main person who negotiates this with film crews. It was interesting for our students to speak to someone who is working within the film and TV industry in a different way, operating behind the scenes in an organisational and administrative capacity. A few of the students expressed an interest in possibly being involved in the film industry in this way in the future. The NFM Academy, supported by Creative Skillset, is designed to increase the North East’s crew base by acting as a foot in the door for those new to the industry or those already working in the industry but looking for a change in direction. By looking out for areas where there might be shortages and organising training in these skills, NFM Academy makes sure that the North East has plenty of talent across the vast range of roles on set. Interested freelancers then attend a Bootcamp where they can learn more about working in the industry, gaining valuable insights from experienced industry professionals. Gayle mentioned to the group that the current shortage areas are locations teams and managers who find suitable locations for filming, electricians and production office staff – perhaps some of our students might consider these areas in the future to make their skills relevant and appropriate to the needs of the industry.

When asked about the best way to start out within the industry, Gayle said that it would definitely be valuable for prospective freelancers to gain some experience as a runner. Running isn’t always the most glamorous job (in fact, Gayle says that it is mostly making tea and coffee!) but it allows those new to the industry to get a good feel for how things work on a real production. Northern Film & Media have a database which I’m sure some of our Ladders students will find is a useful resource when starting out in their careers.

After Gayle finished her talk, it was time for Tim Loziniski from TL Multimedia to show our students how to use Audition, a digital audio workstation which is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud. TL Multimedia is a creative agency which “works on cross-media projects including film, animation, video games and rich-media web content”. Tim explained to everyone how to edit common problems that might occur with an audio track: editing out pauses, pitching, switching audio onto a new track, looping and removing background noise. He mentioned first that the best way to deal with these problems is to take measures to prevent them when you’re recording the sound but of course it is sometimes difficult to avoid these issues. It was great for our students to learn how to fix them! Using a clip of Chloe speaking, the students removed the background noise, made a section of the audio louder, removed pauses and even swapped some of the words around using cross fades. Chloe and Tim then explained some of the effects that can be added in Audition to make the sound different. For example, there are effects to make the audio sound like it is coming from a telephone or effects to add an echo to make it sound like the person speaking is in a large, empty room.

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On Wednesday, Tim was back to show the students the basics of essential photography skills. Many students brought their own cameras so that they could get to grips with making the most of their own equipment. A lot of the students hadn’t really experimented too much with their cameras, tending to use the automatic setting above the manual settings, so it was great to get an understanding of the various elements of setting up a camera in the correct way; it is rare that the automatic function would be used on a real film shoot so it was useful for the students to learn how to set up their camera in a professional capacity.

There were a variety of exercises using playing cards as the subject. This was to get an idea of how aperture, ISO and shutter speed work together. The students experimented with depth of field (the distance between the nearest object and the farthest objects in a scene, and how much of this is in focus), and then looked at shutter speed (the length of time in which the digital sensor in the camera is exposed to light). The group attempted to capture a spinning disk to work out how fast the shutter speed needed to be, thus preventing motion blur. They also learned how to set up custom white balance on the cameras which is important to render specific colours correctly and ensure that the neutrals (grey and white) appear neutral in the film itself.

After learning about getting the best result from a digital camera, the students were able to grasp sound recording technology and the details that you would require to get a good recording ‘in the field’ (recording sounds outside of a recording studio). Tim showed everyone a portable field recorder with a shotgun microphone on a boom pole set-up. Everyone listened to how the library sounded through the headphones and was amazed about how much sound the microphone could pick up, even from a distance.

Catch up with us next week when we will be visiting some local companies and studios within the area!

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Week 3 of Ladders got off to an exciting start on Monday morning at Mayfield Studios. The students had been told in advance to prepare a short weather script which they could record against the green screen at Mayfield and then learn how to key out the background in After Effects. Each of the students had prepared a very different script; some went for very formal weather reports, while others mixed it up a little and made their scripts a bit silly and humorous. Tim Lozinski was on hand to explain a bit about the equipment that the students were using. For example, each of the lights on set uses 800W of power, so they must each be plugged into a separate outlet to ensure you don’t cause a power shortage! The students used radio microphones to record their audio. Each student had a go at doing each of the different jobs on set which meant that they could get a good idea about whether they might light to specialise in a certain area of film production.

After a spot of lunch, the group headed over to Bridge + Tunnel Productions, a BAFTA-nominated film, television and media production company founded in 1997 by Tina Gharavi, an Iranian filmmaker raised between the UK, New Zealand and New Jersey. Tina showed everyone around before taking the group into the office to tell them about herself and about Bridge + Tunnel’s latest projects, giving some great advice about the industry. She was keen to stress that anyone interested in becoming involved in film and television should get themselves out there and embrace their passion by watching as much as they can and getting started on their own projects, but pointed out that they should do it for the right reasons. She joked that she gets barely any sleep and that filmmaking can often be a thankless business which is stressful and unlikely to make you rich and famous. However, it was clear from the way that Tina spoke about her past, present and future projects that if any of our students are serious about a career within film and television, their enthusiasm and excitement about their work and the industry will mean it is ultimately very rewarding. Bridge + Tunnel’s main interest is in encouraging and supporting “unseen voices” and “untold stories”, so alongside their production arm they run an independent community media charity, Bridge + Tunnel Voices who work with communities to create mainstream projects with activism at their core.

On Saturday, the group had the opportunity to speak to TortorSmith via Skype about their work as an animator. Tortor specialises in stop-motion at their company, Animatortor and has worked on several big projects including Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie and stop-motion films for The National Film and Television School. Tortor also has their own YouTube channel which they mentioned has helped them in terms of confidence. It was great to hear from someone who has found a niche in stop-motion and works to respond to a wide range of creative briefs in their own unique way.

After speaking to Tortor, the group headed over to the Tyneside Cinema where they were able to learn about the history of the Tyneside. The cinema opened as the Newcastle News Theatre in 1937, and showcased news footage to audiences for whom the only way to get world news previously was to listen to the radio. The Tyneside was founded by Dixon Scott, a local film entrepreneur and great-uncle of Sir Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Alien, Prometheus) and Tony Scott (Top Gun, Days of Thunder, True Romance). It was interesting for our students to learn more about the history of cinema in our region, and to discover more about the role of independent cinemas and what they can offer compared to bigger multiplex cinemas (a lot!).

Arriving back at the library, our students heard from Dennis Sisterson, a freelance animator who specialises in 2D illustrative, cartoon, infographic and character animation for TV, corporate, education and advertising. Dennis showed our students one of the first animations that he ever made as a student in 1996, Advice for Hamsters, which Dennis hand drew frame-by-frame and then photographed. It was intriguing to see how much the animation industry has developed in the last twenty years from traditional hand drawn or cel animation to the dominant form of animation today, computer animation. Dennis told our students about how this film was seen by Bob Godfrey, famous for the children’s television series Roobarb and Custard and how this led to his first job once he’d finished studying on a satirical series called Margaret Thatcher: Where Am I Now? So, it just goes to show that if our students can make a lasting impression with their work, it could be beneficial to them in the future!

For the next session at the library, our group had the opportunity to talk to Mark Jobe of Quay Animation Studios. Mark launched Quay Animation in 2005 with some assistance from Sunderland University and since then has gone on to work on numerous art projects, short films and commercial projects. Mark’s work has been shown all around the world, including in Hollywood! Rather impressively, Mark has taught himself how to use all the software that he uses for his work; he joked about the fact that his University only got Macs the year after he left! He mentioned the great wealth of resources on the internet for teaching yourself software, including Greyscale Gorilla, Blender Guru and Digital Tutors. Hopefully our Ladders students will find these helpful in their own work and could perhaps teach themselves a new skill for their final project. Mark was keen to stress the need to have great people skills within the film industry. “Collaboration has been key for me”, he said. “Being able to work with others has given me access to so many amazing projects”. Mark also works with his partner, the Canadian artist Kelly Richardson, creating VFX for large scale video installations which tackle issues surrounding climate change in a dystopian, sci-fi landscape.

Chloe finished off the week by teaching our students how to key out the green screen from their weather report footage. Everyone was quite surprised by how relatively easy it is to achieve a professional looking effect!

The following weeks are very exciting, including a visit to the BBC so make sure to tune in!

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Week 4 of the Ladders Film/TV/Animation strand was an exciting one! The students met bright and early on Wednesday morning and headed to BBC Newcastle for a tour of the building. This was a unique opportunity for everyone to see behind the scenes of a real, high profile studio and newsroom. The tour started with everyone being given tour passes (very official!) and the tour guides, Mark and Tony, explained a little bit about the history of BBC Newcastle. Did you know, for example, that the first location that the BBC broadcast in Newcastle was actually a maternity home and they had to keep sending any pregnant mothers who turned up to the nearest hospital?!

The students were then led around to the archive room where Tony and Mark explained about how footage was stored. The BBC actually keep all of their footage in video format because it is harder to destroy or corrupt the footage than it would be if it were all stored digitally! They have a special computer in the archive where anyone at any BBC newsroom around the world can request footage from the last 90 days (perhaps for queries or complaints). It can be recalled and sent to them without ever having to physically leave the room. Before this was possible, a lot of footage went missing; apparently several missing episodes of Dr. Who were recovered in Nigeria! The archive holds all of BBC Newcastle’s recordings from the last 35 years.

Mark and Tony guided everyone into a small studio where Paul Mooney records some of his weather broadcasts. They were shown how the green screen works for broadcasts to make it seem as though the interviewees are in another (more attractive!) location. The green screen in this studio isn’t always technically a ‘green’ screen, as they can change the colour; this is incase the interviewee comes in wearing green, which would make part of them invisible! The group also had the opportunity to go inside the Look North studio, where they were lucky enough to be able to sit in the chair that the main news presenters sit in! This studio has a huge number of lights, each one with a wattage the equivalent of five(!) electric heaters, so it’s sweaty work!
After visiting the gallery, where the show producers sit and ensure that everything sounds right and is broadcast at exactly the right time, the students were taken into the radio studios where the tour guides explained to the group about the logistics of radio broadcasting, how presenters choose songs and how they record outdoor broadcasts by carrying around the recording equipment on their backs like a backpack!

The final part of the tour was the interactive part! The students had the opportunity to act as news presenters, weather presenters and sports presenters in their own Look North broadcast, and finally to record a Radio 4 style radio play about a spooky mansion. This included one of the students acting as a foley artist, creating background noises such as a person running on gravel and champagne glasses clinking!Once our students had grabbed a spot of lunch, we headed over to Hedgehog Lab at Generator Studios. Hedgehog Lab are focussed on designing and building post-PC software including apps and immersive VR experiences. The staff discussed the company’s focus on building great software which is quite unusual in this field. The group was then able to have a have a go at using a VR headset with Google’s Tilt Brush, a program that allows the user to paint in 3D space using the room as a canvas. The students seemed to have an excellent time testing out the Oculus Rift headset with the Tilt Brush app.

Over the next few weeks we will see the students move onto thinking about their final projects. Tune in then!

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The second half of the Ladders course was focused on the students coming up with and starting to create their final project. Weeks five to seven were spent discussing ideas, getting a better grip on various software packages that would be needed to produce the final project and filming and editing together footage to create each of the student’s final films. Everyone went through why they wanted to make the project that they did and how working on this project could potentially help them to further their career (or, in the case of some students who just wanted to be filmmakers as a hobby, where they would show their films and what they hoped to get out of taking part)!

The Ladders course concluded by uniting all three strands of the programme together for a showcase and pizza party. Jen from This is Creative Enterprise began the night by delivering a speech to the students, noting that the work presented on the night didn’t have to be the finished project and might well be a starting point for ideas in the future.

Our Film/TV/Animation group were first up, introduced by Chloe who gave everyone an overview of what our students had managed to get up to over the course of the eight weeks. Hearing Chloe run through all the speeches, meetings, behind-the-scenes tours and workshops that our students have had the opportunity to access over the past two months really brought home just how fantastic an opportunity the Ladders course is for under 25s who want to build their careers within the creative industries. Chloe also went over some of the software skills that the group had learned during Ladders including Audition, After Effects and Premiere Pro.

Once the other groups had heard about what our students had been up to for the last eight weeks, the Film/TV/Animation group screened their projects and then answered a few questions about how they came to the decision about their final showcase work. Andrew was up first, and had created a short film featuring himself reading a poem that he had written. He told everyone about how he was interested in the way that poems sound as well as just how they look on the page, and thought that maybe poetry videos would be an accessible way for people to get into poetry without having to attend events or understand the theory behind the poems. His poem was about a female yeti, as he said that he didn’t think there were enough female protagonists in poetry and literature so wanted to write a strong one himself. Andrew also mentioned that he now felt he had the skills necessary to go on making these videos and hopefully circulating his poetry to a wider audience online.

Paul was next up, and he had created a short-animated ident to be used on YouTube videos for a music and recording studio. Paul had already studied animation at University so his skills were quite developed, but he talked about how the Ladders course gave him the opportunity to network with potential clients and collaborators and mentioned that his product had given him more of an insight into branding and communicating ideas to clients as his past work had mostly been self-directed short films.

Finally, Lewis presented his campaign video for his web series, Accessed, which will tackle topics related to disability and highlight the issues that matter most to disabled people and their families. Lewis had created the fundraising video as his final project for the course with the hopes of raising money to produce the web series and enable him to continue working in film. You can read more about Lewis’s project here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Accessed

The Software Development students were next up, and Phil Jeffes, the mentor for the group, went over the various visits and talks they had been privileged to experience over the past eight weeks. Amongst others, the Software group visited Sage and Campus North and had the opportunity to talk to industry professionals about what it is like to work in software. The group, Anthony, Lauren, David, Alex, Debbie and Emily, had a really diverse range of final projects to showcase, including indie games, websites, interactive CVs and building avatars which could be programmed into virtual worlds. It was brilliant to see how, even in such a short period of time, the group had managed to make an excellent start on some really promising projects and learn new skills which will undoubtedly be of use to them in their future careers.

Finally, Sam Burt, mentor for the Music strand of Ladders, introduced the Music students and what they had learned over the course. He told everyone that the Music strand had focused on learning all the different roles involved in the music industry to get an overview of the industry more generally, from composers to managers to actual recording musicians. The Music group included two live performances, one from Ben who played guitar and sang a folk-inspired love song, and another from James who played guitar with Rebecca providing his vocals. Rebecca’s own project was an a cappella song, Control; she talked about how she had only recently built up the confidence to be able to showcase her talent so it was fantastic to see her put together such an accomplished final piece. Finn had recorded a rap track with his own vocals, and James, who is also in a band called Bitter Sweet Hearts, who had recorded a solo song he had written.

The evening ended with the groups getting the opportunity to speak to each other and their mentors about their projects whilst munching on pizza! It has been a real privilege to see our students grow in confidence and ability over the course of Ladders and it is sad to see the course come to an end but I am sure that this is just the first step in what will be exciting and ambitious careers for all our Ladders students. I hope everyone has enjoyed following our journey for the past eight weeks and would like to pass on my best wishes to the students from all strands and to the amazing mentors, inspiring industry professionals and everyone responsible for making Ladders such a beneficial experience for everyone involved!