The One Thing Film Students Need

For the past decade, I’ve spent my working life in two areas: education and film.

I’ve got a lot of love for both. With that love, however, comes the knowledge that both areas have some issues. Not just the big ones that make headlines, but smaller issues which undermine all the good stuff.

In the education sector, there’s a real issue with talented students getting the work experience and the breaks that they deserve. The focus on practical experience (for courses in the FE sector in particular) mandates that most students on Film & TV production courses undertake meaningful work experience as part of their qualification. The government has recently doubled-down on this aspect of 16-19 education, with the Chancellor referring to ‘high quality industry work placements’ as being a requirement for technical routes rolled out from 2019/20. Initial indications are that the duration of these placements will be significantly longer than those required already, on a basis of “no work placement, no certificate”.

This would be a great idea, of course, if there were enough good placements available to fulfil the requirement.

The risk here, of course, is that the definition of a ‘high quality work placement’ gets watered down to meet the tick-box requirement, and students who are looking to forge careers as directors of photography on major feature films end up working unpaid in high street photography shops or whatever in order to tick the box. Everybody loses in that equation (well, except the high street shop, I guess), and whether it’s a meaningful experience from which the student genuinely benefits is certainly open to discussion.

There’s also a largely unspoken gender issue at play here. In the majority of graduating classes I can think of over recent years, I’d say that over 50% (and in some cases more like 70% or so) of the very top performing students are female. I’ve been in education long enough to have had the pleasure of seeing some of my former students go on to forge very successful careers in the media, but the vast majority of students who seem to ‘get the break’ after graduating are, for whatever reason, male.

So, the driving need here would seem to be for work experience placements to be a genuine beneficial professional experience (resulting in a recognisable professional screen credit) in order for students to get a foot in the door of the industry, and for those placements to be allocated based on skill and capability rather than any other factor.

Elsewhere, over in the UK film industry itself, there’s another issue in a similar area.

Since the advent of digital filmmaking in general, films as a finished product have been devalued in the marketplace. The middle-tier of independent filmmaking has largely collapsed, leaving only no-budget movies put together on favours and pizza (for which very few of those involved ever end up seeing a paycheque) and massive budget blockbusters of £100 million or more which are incredibly risk-averse and usually based on existing intellectual properties so as to guarantee an audience of a certain size. There are exceptions, of course, but the bread-and-butter mid-level projects upon which experienced professionals relied to pay the rent, largely, no longer exist.

One of our central ideas in setting up Sun Rocket has been to tackle both of these issues. Sun Rocket Films works by having heads of department (experienced specialists paid at standard industry rates) overseeing departments featuring significant numbers of high-performing students, who work on the project to fulfil the mandatory work experience element of their Film & TV production courses. Rather than working unpaid in a retail shop which has precious little connection to their career goals, students get a genuine experience of their chosen specialism (be that cinematography, design, sound, post-production or whatever). The experienced professionals at the head of each department get to do the job they love whilst whilst getting paid a realistic rate for their hard work and expertise (which seems to happen increasingly rarely, sadly).

Hopefully, a few years later down the line, we’d be looking to see those former work experience students coming back as heads of department themselves. It’s a sustainable model for creating strong genre movies with high production values in a changing marketplace.

We’re trying to make things better. We’re genuinely looking for a set-up in which everybody wins.

As someone who loves both education and the film industry, I can’t wait to get started.

FOOTNOTE: Sun Rocket Films are holding a presentation in Southend-on-Sea on September 27th for those interested in film production, business professionals or those looking for tax-efficient investments. Places can be reserved via:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/film-as-investment-tickets-37731400635

For more information about Sun Rocket Films, please visit sunrocketfilms.com and follow us on Twitter @sunrocketfilms

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