When he founded the National Youth Film Academy back in 2011, Chief Executive Rob Earnshaw spotted a gap within the cinema industry in the UK. There were jobs being offered, and people craving to fill those positions both in front and behind the camera, yet absolutely no bridge between them. In fact, in his mission statement Earnshaw talks about building that bridge.
In the last eight years, the National Youth Film Academy has become the most important community to which aspiring film professionals in the UK can belong. And beyond, because of course, the film community — once bridges are formed to connect the jobs with the job seekers — is the largest open circle of artists in the world.
There are two programs currently offered through the National Youth Film Academy and they are called respectively #SetReady and Emerging Brits. Reasonably priced and filled with insightful professionals and serious artists in the making, it’s exciting to be around anything National Youth Film Academy..
I was lucky enough, while in London to be invited to a luncheon which aimed to tackle the following issue: “How can we encourage more employers in Film to take on young people and what needs to be done to achieve this?” I was surrounded by a who’s-who of film professionals, from actor Simon Bird to filmmaker Lorna Tucker, Lucy Brown of Trailblazing Women On & Off Screen, Elliot Grove of the Raindance Film Festival, producer Zoe Rocha and Sam Gordon of BBC Films. I myself felt a part of a larger community while in their presence and thus began my experience with the National Youth Film Academy.
Throughout our lunch, which included a nice selection of Thai samosas, a yummy eggplant dish and a chocolate dessert to die for, but also meat and fish for the meat eaters and pescatarians, we discussed important points including how to bypass some expensive background necessities in the film industry. We don’t often think about it but it could be something as banal as possessing a driver’s license which is often necessary to anyone who wishes to work on a set. We also discussed also how to encourage a learn-work experience within the industry, without anyone being taken advantage of in the process.
I got to spend some additional time with Earnshaw and some of his alumni and current participants, wonderful emerging talents such as actors Lois-Amber Toole, Olivia Pinkney and Dean Smith, but also director Ali Kurr. What emerged from each and every one of their testimony about the National Youth Film Academy is that it’s definitely a community. A safe place where learning can take place, without a lot of the abuse and exploitation we so often hear about happening in the arts. As a former acting student myself, I can say that’s definitely a wonderful thing to hear. Too often our need to learn seems to be fulfilled by grand egotists who want to feel better about themselves and therefore, put acting students down. I experienced that firsthand and it’s probably the reason I’m no longer acting today.
Time and time again, I heard about how the National Youth Film Academy is a soft place to fall, and being part of their program feels like a symbolic lifetime membership to a club of endless possibilities.
Chaired by Jonny Hall of the National Youth Film Academy we discussed a few wonderful points. Some highlights are below. For more, well, you’ll have to experience it for yourself.
NYFA founder Rob Earnshaw addressed the growing needs of the British film industry:
“There’s a lot of people who if they haven’t got the right connections, or haven’t had much experience, find it very difficult to get into the film industry. The film industry has doubled over the past decade which is fantastic, however, I was quite shocked to read that the intake of students on film courses has gone down by 6 percent, even though we do have a relatively large number of graduates who come through film making programs.
The graduates have not necessarily been trained in the right skills and the supply chain is certainly not growing as fast as demand. Every report I read says that employers are finding it difficult to gain entry level staff and that can obviously damage growth in the film industry. It was identified by the UK skill board, produced by the BFI, that a lack of cohesion between industry and education has led to young people not being industry-ready and lacking the soft skills to get entry level jobs. It has been estimated that we need another 25,000 workers between now and 2020.
I’m really sorry to bring up the word Brexit but I’m going to. The UK government made clear that if we do come out of the EU there will be no freedom of movement, so with a large number of the UK industry being non-UK citizens it seems that now more than ever it becomes more important to develop our home grown talent and we make sure that young people do have access to industry without huge barriers to entry.
However, I’m sure you’ve all heard it before, there is still a percentage of the film industry that is difficult to get into. We don’t celebrate the film industry, it’s seen as an honor to be in the industry and the typical mum and dad obviously aren’t going to encourage their children to take a career in something that might not result in a job at the end. There is still a culture of nepotism where you have to know someone to get your foot in the door. “
Actor Simon Bird then addressed getting one’s foot in the door:
“I think that divide that you’ve identified is absolutely right. On my first day of acting, the guy who picked me up was a runner driver my age, he had just happened to apply for the job and over the years his career has developed with mine and i’m still in touch with him. On the next series of ‘The Inbetweeners’ he was a runner rather than just runner driver. On the first day of ‘Friday Night Dinner’ I turned up and he was 3rd AD and on the most recent series he was 1st AD.
I think getting on set it absolutely key. I shot a film last year and the DOP there started as a camera trainee and worked his way up. He would say this is the way to do it, get on set any way you can, unpaid probably, integrate yourself with people and make friends because it's those informal relationships that will get you work further down the line.
I think acting is very different, it’s all very well having someone on set who’s interested and can help move cameras around but having someone who wants to act you can't really offer them anything, you can't say, “oh do a scene for us”. It’s really difficult for people interested in acting, it’s more entrepreneurial, it’s not likely that your first job will be a feature film.
I got into acting by writing and performing sketches at University and in Edinburgh. I started working for the writers of the ‘The Inbetweeners’ by writing jokes for their radio show for about 2 years and at the last minute auditioned for the ‘The Inbetweeners’. But that was off my own back, i sort of wrote my way into acting because I had to write myself in to perform — because nobody else would cast me.”
Documentary filmmaker Lorna Tucker talked about paying it forward, and encouraging women to enter the film industry in every possible aspect of it:
“I really believe that when you get a step up you should be helping other people to do the same just as it’s our responsibility when were on set or working on a film that it’s 50 percent females on set. I would never hire anyone for no money because I worked for no money for 12 years with 3 kids. I make it my responsibility and if you’re a Director telling the Producer how you want your film, they listen to you, everyone’s too scared to say anything.
You can’t teach someone to be confident but what you can do is tell them to practice. I’ve just done a press tour and anytime someone gave me a microphone I’d say I hated talking and that I hated being on stage but by the end they couldn’t get me off stage. I think that’s our responsibility, to tell young people not to give up, people have to have that desire to never give up.”
NYFA Member Dean Smith provided his take from the Emerging Brits side, part of the National Youth Film Academy:
“Where I come from there’s not much about in terms of acting. I was involved in drama at school and the youth theatre, however, up to the age of 13 I was working on my Grandad’s farm. When I finished college I didn’t think uni [University] was right for me, I thought I would try to get an agent and pursue acting but before I knew it I was driving trucks for a living.
Eventually 5 years passed and my mum said she had seen something online about the National Youth Film Academy so I applied to do the #SetReady Course. When I first came into the acting world I wanted to quit because I felt so intimidated by my background compared to everyone else’s. Luckily, Ben at the National Youth Film Academy talked me through it and from then on I’ve been so passionate about where I want to go. I’ve just been touring with a pantomime and as much as I love theatre I know that film and TV is where I really want to be.”
I chimed in, with my own two cents about internships and the importance of learning on the job:
“I’d like to add to that, I’ve been a journalist for the past 14 years and it’s only recently, in the last couple of years, that I’ve been paid [well] for my work. For me, the time that I was writing without being paid, [or very little] is when I learnt who I needed to be and what I needed to write. It was a school for me, I didn’t end up paying for University to learn, but I learnt writing.
I think we tend to see unpaid positions as below us but sometimes the unpaid positions are where you do what you’re going to be doing and you learn your craft. I think it’s a wonderful thing to go to an acting school if you’re an actor and to learn it from a distinguished professional in cinematography, but I also think a lot of your learning is going to be on a film set.”
All in all, it was a super productive day and what will come out of it will be, hopefully, more interest in learning the skills to fulfill all the jobs needed in the industry of cinema in the UK. And beyond of course.
I know I learned that the best way to celebrate one’s work, the kind we are lucky to be able to do, to perform each day, is to pay it forward, and help out those just coming up get their foot in the door.