Helena Pozniak
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Film courses take a lead role

The Guardian
As the cost of moviemaking falls, the opportunities to study film increase

When Sixteen – a feature-length urban thriller about a former African child soldier in London – was shortlisted for awards at the 2013 London Film Festival, producer Nic Jeune congratulated his film crew. They were all students at Bath Spa University, and the film was shot by students in just 18 days. “Film has reached a turning point,” says Jeune, who’s brimming with enthusiasm for his new master’s in Feature Filmmaking which began this year. “And Sixteen proved that.”

Light, compact cameras now allow stunning results without requiring the usual paraphernalia of film production such as lighting and clunky equipment. “This is one of the most exciting times in film’s history: quality movies can be made for so little money. You can get truly beautiful images from portable cameras.” And the new MA – also taught by director Rob Brown who directed Sixteen – aims to give students an industry-focused education in modern low-budget film-making. There are around 280 film-related MA degrees offered by UK universities – some 20 of them approved by sector skills council Creative Skillset as meeting industry needs. Bath Spa’s course differs, says Jeune; while there are plenty of courses which enable short films, few, if any do full-feature length projects. “The bedrock of good film-making is storytelling and creating that narrative is a craft that can be learned,” says Jeune. “This is a very practical course run by film-makers.”

Bath Spa has creative pedigree – it was voted as one of the top 10 creative universities by students last year according to a Which? poll and offers undergraduate film courses. Applicants with proof of film making experience and an idea of the film they wish to make are welcomed. The course follows a natural arc, from focusing on content and script through to planning and realisation. But a word of caution from Jeune: too many ill-considered budget films get made nowadays. In the old days, the sheer cost of production demanded high standards and deeper reflection – and he will advise students against embarking upon filming until a project is ready. One of this year’s students Kim Eldon has just begun shooting her project – a documentary on political activism. An artist from the US with filmmaking experience, she was drawn to the course because of its emphasis on feature-length movies – and she also wanted to learn digital technology. “That’s what makes film-making for an independent possible,” she says.

Designs on the future

With 14 MA courses, Royal Central has a rich mix of arts and drama postgrads, reports Helena Pozniak

When Spanish arts postgraduate Ana Inés Jabares Pita was asked to take part in a Japanese dance exercise, she resisted: “I couldn’t believe they were trying to make me dance – I was so angry.” She had come to London to study scenography – the design, shape and feel of a performance. On the second day, she arrived with a more open mind. “I was really grateful. The course led me to try many different things.” She studied at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, University of London, which offers no less than 14 taught MA courses – from voice studies to writing for stage and broadcast media, with traditional acting in between. Jabares Pita went on to win the Linbury prize for stage design in 2013. She’s now awaiting her reward – a stint as scenographer on a production at the National Theatre of Scotland. One of the advantages of a creative arts degree is the opportunity to work alongside postgraduates from other disciplines, says Jessica Bowles, course leader of Central’s creative producing MA degrees. With 275 students starting MA degrees this October, Central’s postgraduate community is extensive. “It’s unusual to have so many postgrads – they are able to learn and be less precious about what each other does,” says Bowles. She recruits a broad range of participants – largely from performing arts courses, but also from English, politics and business backgrounds. To gain one of the 15 places in creative producing, applicants must have an idea where they might fit in the industry. “We don’t have a mould – someone targeting a role in West End musicals is as interesting as the student interested in performance installations.” A producer is fundamentally an entrepreneur, she says, and the course teaches the skills required to manage projects, raise funds and engage audiences. Students also work directly with industry – and a rise in “the experience economy” means audiences are more varied than ever, be they music festival goers, mainstream or fringe theatre fans, corporate groups, or museum visitors. “In this climate,” says Bowles, “the pivotal role of the producer as the broker between artists, audiences and venues is increasingly important.”

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