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How the British film industry nurtures its next generation of moviemakers

How the British film industry nurtures its next generation of moviemakers

September 07
04:03 2018

Their successes include James Bond, Harry Potter and The Crown television series. Behind the scenes, producers and directors of some of the biggest hits of British film and television have been quietly giving something back, nurturing the industry’s next generation of film-makers.

Film industry veterans who are investing their time and money in future talent ­— the more diverse, the better ­— argue that the UK as a whole will ultimately benefit as the creative industries play such a significant role in the nation’s economy and tourism. Figures from the British Film Institute (BFI) show that the sector contributed about £92bn to the UK economy in 2016, while a Creative England report found that “screen tourists” brought in an estimated £140m in 2014, the most recent figures. Alnwick Castle, the Northumberland stately home that doubled up as the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Potter films, was among the most popular draws.

Duncan Kenworthy, whose box-office hits include Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, warns of the need for action to ensure the film industry remains successful. “Unless each generation passes on what they’ve learnt to the next generation, you go backwards. You don’t just stand still.”

Along with Bond producer Barbara Broccoli and Potter director David Yates, Kenworthy is among the high-profile funders of the National Film and Television School (NFTS), a world leader among training institutions. Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit films, and Michael Radford, director of Il Postino, are among the Oscar-recognised alumni of the school, which is based at a sprawling site in Beaconsfield in a quiet corner of Buckinghamshire. Its training covers the entire gamut of film-making under the guidance of acclaimed professionals such as director Stephen Frears.

The film industry received a wake-up call last year with the publication of a BFI report, backed by Broccoli, that condemned a “pandemic lack of inclusion”. The report concluded that some 10,000 people must be recruited over the next five years if the UK is to maintain its position in world film production.

NFTS students in the dubbing studio

The NFTS is among those that recognise the importance of encouraging diversity. Kenworthy’s donations to it, beyond $1m towards a new academic building, include funding 24 £10,000 “diversity scholarships”. He says: “Why the industry is less diverse is that people of colour don’t often have the money to [train] . . . It’s not lack of ambition, vision or drive. So let’s just provide money.”

Oscar-winning animator Park graduated from the NFTS in 1985 and is now one of its most ardent supporters, donating drawings to fundraising auctions and sending specialists from his company, Aardman Animations, to teach or attend graduation showcases.

Broccoli, from the US, says she is particularly passionate about increasing diversity in the film industry. “If the UK is to continue to be at the forefront of film and television production, it is critical that the industry champions talent development and skills training,” she says.

Claire Foy, center, and Matt Smith, right, in a scene from ‘The Crown’ television series © AP

Andy Harries, producer of The Crown television series, says that cuts in the TV industry have made training schemes for burgeoning talent harder to find. He and director Paul Greengrass learned the ropes at Granada television. But he warns: “This sort of training is not done anymore by the big companies. The BBC can’t really afford it. ITV companies are obviously stripped back. I don’t want to suggest this is an industry that has no training at all. There are schemes. But it was much more formal in the old days, more regular. It makes the NFTS much more important.”

Harries gives £10,000 a year to the NFTS and has mentored many of its students, adding: “I’m lucky enough to have made some money in the business. I also passionately believe that one should put back.”

He is particularly excited that at least 10 NFTS graduates have worked on The Crown series, including Ed Hemming, story editor, and Alex Ellerington, sound effects editor: “It’s fantastic to think we’re able to make a huge international television series in the UK about British history with a large number of people who’ve been to the NFTS.”

On the set of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’, director Yates, right, with actors Eddie Redmayne, left, and Katherine Waterston, centre

Yates, who directed four of the Harry Potter films, is now immersed in another mammoth J K Rowling series, Fantastic Beasts. The second film in the franchise, The Crimes of Grindelwald, is released in November. He learnt his trade on a directing course at the NFTS, having been “rejected at least once, possibly twice”, he jokes. He graduated in 1992. He says: “I definitely feel I owe them some gratitude and support for that . . . I’m keen to support anyone who’s particularly talented and who would benefit from the help that I can offer.”

Beyond funding bursaries, Yates has often welcomed interns and apprentices to his films and he and his producer David Heyman are “looking to formalise” a scheme for their next film. Last year, one intern started off by making tea on set and “now he’s running my development side of things because he’s super bright and enthusiastic”, Yates says.

Further investment in the next generation is headed by Creative Skillset, the national agency dedicated to developing “skills and talent”. Since last year, it has been in charge of the BFI’s so-called 10-point action plan, known as Future Film Skills, which aims to invest in developing and maintaining “world-class skills”.

David Yates, left, directs Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe, right, on location during the filming of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1’

Gareth Ellis-Unwin, Creative Skillset’s head of film, made the Oscar-winning drama The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth. He warns that as film production ramps up, the industry could find itself with a skills gap on its hands. “Without sensible planning, that would potentially be jeopardous to the growth of the British film industry,” he says. Asked about mentoring within the industry, he says: “It hasn’t really been standardised in any way. We’re going to try and bring some cohesion to it all.”

The hope is that young people will no longer have to rely on personal connections to open doors. Over the next four years, Creative Skillset will offer “a trustworthy and comprehensive guide to career paths and roles across the screen industries”, including “where to find opportunities for internships, placements and work”.

Producer Gail Egan, who has collaborated with Mike Leigh on numerous films including Vera Drake, says: “When we put a film together, we make sure that, in as many departments as we possibly can, we have at least one intern.” Noting that Leigh chaired another leading institution, the London Film School, she says: “He is passionate about young talent . . . and training.”

Alden Ehrenreich, front, and Joonas Suotamo in a scene from ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’

While some film-makers are supporting education establishments, others are setting up their own. This autumn, Working Title, the company that made the Bridget Jones films, is launching the London Screen Academy in Highbury, north London, training about 1,000 16- to 19-year-olds in the entire range of film production. It may fill a gap, encouraging youngsters to pursue further training at institutions such as the NFTS and the London Film School. Tim Bevan, Working Title’s co-founder, has long worried that the most promising young creatives are being snapped up by companies such as Apple or Google. He is also involved as a mentor on a scholarship programme organised by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Jon Wardle, NFTS director, says that the studios are helping with access to film-makers: “We’ve definitely found the door more open and people much more open to engaging with and supporting students and future film-makers than ever before. People know how hard it is for future film-makers. They know that, if they want to change the situation, they’ve got to do something practical about it.”

He adds: “It’s a boom time in film and television in the UK. It’s never been busier — with high-end TV and the scale of productions, such as Solo: The Series, Avengers: Infinity War, the Bonds. Whereas a small independent feature might need a couple of people for their art department, Star Wars films need 50 people. The scale and budgets of those shows are unprecedented.”

Word has yet to spread about the benefits of supporting new talent among those unconnected with the film industry. Still, Neil Phelps, head of media banking at Coutts, says of its clients: “While we have no meaningful evidence of specific individual support to the creative talent, we believe it is happening.”

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