Over one hundred of the region’s most promising prospective film and television crew members gathered last week at Newcastle’s CastleGate for the launch of the NFM Academy.
The NFM Academy will place North East trainees on television and film productions – mostly in high end drama – for periods ranging from one day to six months. The offer is open both to new entrants to the industry and more experienced crew looking to step up in grade or move across into a different department.
The intention behind the Academy is to help plug skills gaps identified by the productions themselves, shoring up the crew base in the region and thereby making us more attractive to prospective productions. Thanks to financial support from Creative Skillset and the backing of major broadcasters including ITV and BBC, placements within the NFM Academy are highly unusual in being offered at no cost to trainees.
The first trainees are currently working on the set of ITV Studio’s epic drama Beowulf. During the launch Gayle Woodruffe, NFM’s production service manager, was able to announce the confirmation of six new placements on CBBC’s Wolfblood.
The launch kicked off with an orientating panel discussion, designed to give an overview of the Academy, as well as the nature of each stakeholder’s involvement and the Academy’s place in the regional film and television landscape.
Featuring contributions from Gary Connelly (ITV production executive on Beowulf, hosts of the first Academy trainees), Helen Dobson (Network Manager for Creative and Digital Media in the North at Creative Skillset, funders of the Academy) and NFM’s managing director, John Tulip, the discussion was also opened up into a Q&A with the audience, allowing prospective Academicians to get direct answers to their own questions.
Highlighting the national nature of the skills shortage which the Academy is designed to address, Gary Connelly noted that “there’s been such an increase in the amount of drama being produced in the UK that it’s getting more and more difficult to find crew everywhere. And the shortages are across the board – in terms of departments and grades. We need line producers, accountants, make-up artists, you name it….”
Reflecting on Creative Skillset’s role, Helen Dobson said: “The funding we receive from the levy on the Government’s tax break for high value television productions (0.5% of production spend) allows us to help local people get into these positions. It’s a great way of growing the industry in the North East and at the same time a fantastic way for productions to get back value from the levy. We’re delighted to be working on this with NFM – an organisation which is on the ground and knows exactly what’s going on in the local ecosystem.”
Paying credit to the supportive stance taken by so many productions, broadcasters and other stakeholders, NFM’s John Tulip said: “Thankfully, many productions in the region have an excellent track record of recognising a responsibility to take on trainees, but it is undeniably an administrative headache. Our main aim is to take the pain out of the process for them, sitting in between trainees and productions. If we can do the administration – for example, sourcing new trainees and folk stepping up or moving across so that the Head of Departments have a ready-made shortlist to pick from – we think we can inject value and get more placements per production than has been the case previously.”
However he added that “going forward, funding will be an issue – especially if we want to work with other kinds of production that don’t operate with the kind of budgets where they’re paying the levy. We will have to bring other funding partners on board, and we’re open minded about who those partners might be. They could be training and welfare organisations, broadcasters, universities and colleges, or even private companies working in related trades such as building or electrics.”
After the panel, the launch took on a more informal flavour, with guests circulating around a series of open roundtable careers development conversations with senior crew members from the region. Sharing their knowledge with the audience were Wolfblood’s line producer Alan Fairholm and location manager Gareth Williams, DOP Si Bell, Beowulf location manager Andrew Bainbridge, floor/location/production manager Christine Llewelyn Reeve, BBC floor manager Caroline Broome, and Trish Brady, ITV Studios’ head of HR (scripted). Also offering advice on Academy placements were Helen Dobson and newly-appointed NFM Academy Training Co-ordinator Katie Strachan. Katie who was previously production co-ordinator on ITV’s Vera and brings a wealth of other production experience to the role, will be first point of contact for prospective and current trainees, liaising between productions and trainees to identify trainee needs and ensure that placements are working well for all involved.
Anyone wishing to discuss supporting placements on the NFM Academy should contact John Tulip for an informal conversation about how they can get involved.