There’s an air of hushed excitement in the editing suites. The creative energy of 20 young people is almost visibly bouncing off the walls. Heads huddle together over equipment, frozen frames are inched forward to just the right point, sequences examined in minute detail and replayed again and again. This is the final session of one of the British Film Institute’s Film Academy programmes for budding young film makers aged 16 to 19.
Five production teams of four students are busy putting the finishing touches to their films – something they’ve been working on for the last eight workshops and the air of anticipation is palpable. It’s 11.00 am and films must be completed by 4.00 pm so the pressure’s on.
This particular programme in the East Midlands is run by Paradigm Arts in partnership with the University of Lincoln but there are similar programmes at more than 40 locations across the UK, from Edinburgh down to Brighton, each of them run by a BFI-approved local provider.
Rob Pitman of Paradigm Arts, one of two leaders who run the programme at Lincoln, believes that’s one of its strengths. “It’s invaluable when the BFI throws its weight behind a scheme like this because it empowers regional agencies to design their own specialist support for students.”
This group of bright young things, feverishly working to finish their films, is a mixed bunch, bound together by their creative instincts and love of film. For many of them, just getting their hands on a professional camera, let alone making their own film, had seemed very much out of reach until they started this programme.
Rob says this is what excites him about the Film Academy programme. “For a place like Lincolnshire, a county very much disenfranchised by its geography but with a wealth of talent, it’s critical that our young people are able to access these kinds of opportunities. This programme makes the unlikely possible, the distant local and the network of opportunity infinitely more accessible.”
Now in its fourth year, the BFI’s Film Academy programme is supported by the Department for Education in England, the National Lottery, Creative Scotland and Northern Ireland Screen.
It nurtures talent in around 1,000 young people each year from a diverse range of backgrounds. Student satisfaction is consistently high – more than 95 per cent over the last three years – and the programme is characterised by the huge influence it has on each participant’s career choices. The BFI estimates that, as this year’s courses draw to a close, there will be over 3000 alumni of the Film Academy Network – part of the future of the UK film industry.
So why is it so successful? For Declan, who took part in the Lincoln programme, part of its attraction is the insight and advice offered by industry professionals who lead the ‘Masterclass’ sessions.
The other big pull is meeting like-minded people and working creatively with them. “I study film at college but it’s difficult to find people who actually want to go out and make a film. What’s great is that I’ve found them on this course and it’s really inspired me. It suddenly feels real. I’ve found the confidence to apply for work experience with a local production company and written several of my own scripts which I plan to turn into films.”
So if you’re aged 16 to 19 and hanker after a career in the film industry, why not give it a go? No special qualifications or vast sums of money are required to take part in the programme, just a burning desire to get involved in film making and the commitment to make it happen. In return, you’ll be supported by industry professionals to make your own film and given a real insight into the world of film making and all the specialist skills involved.
If you still need convincing, here’s a word from Lucy, who took part in a Film Academy programme in Manchester. “I find film a lot more accessible than before. I saw film as a distant, hard-to-reach medium that was exclusive to those with connections or people wealthy enough to fund themselves through film school. After speaking to the professionals on the course I now realise that it is possible to work your way up meritocratically in the industry. The film industry seems a lot less ‘big’ to me and I feel more assured about breaking into it.”
Go to the British Film Institute’s Film Academy website to find your local provider and put a date in your diary to apply for the next Film Academy programme. Applications can be submitted in autumn 2016.