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Posted 17.07.17

BFI Film Academy: Q&A with Billy Abbott

By Phillip Buchan
Budding filmmakers across Plymouth and the South West will have the chance to learn from industry-leading figures in a new intensive short course designed to provide young artists with practical skills and confidence in creating moving image, thanks to our new partnership with the British Film Institute (BFI).

The BFI Film Academy Programme offers hands-on filmmaking courses, aimed at developing knowledge and skills for those passionate about film or looking for a career in the film industry. Aspiring creatives aged 16-19 are encouraged to apply for one of the limited spaces available on the programme, which will take place between October and December, by Sunday 1 October 2017. The cost of the intensive course is just £25 per person which covers over 50 hours of teaching time, as well as the use of industry-standard equipment and essential materials. You can read about the programme on movie website Flickreel.

We caught up with videographer and Extended Diploma in Film, Animation & Media Production lecturer at the college, Billy Abbott, to find out more about the Plymouth based programme.

Who do you think would be the ideal candidates for the BFI Film Academy Programme?

We’re looking for young people with a passion for film and an ability to throw themselves into learning new things. The course will contain a lot of collaboration, not only with tutors but with actors, guest speakers and above all - each other. We want to reach those who the BFI Film Academy will provide opportunities for, those who will truly benefit from the experience. I suppose in that sense, the most important thing is not being afraid of making mistakes, and being open-minded to trying things that you initially might find challenging.

Do you need to have any previous experience of making films to apply?

Nope! We absolutely realise that not everyone will have had a chance to show off their full talents yet. If you show a real interest and desire to learn and a keenness for the subject matter - that comes above everything else. If you want to stand out from the crowd, then you need to find ways to show this in your application. Be creative! If you feel like you are lacking a bit of experience, grab your phone and put some clips together, watch and review a piece of recent British cinema or make something unique to yourself.

What sort of skills do you think a successful applicant could learn by taking part?

I’ll try my best to keep this short(ish)! Collaboration and communication are the pillars of filmmaking, and every student who takes part on the course will experience the importance of this. I’ve put this first, because the technical side of filmmaking can be taught to anyone, but the real value we’re looking for here is in making young people aware of the character traits and skills they need to succeed in the industry.

On a technical level, students will learn how to use DSLR cameras for filmmaking, they’ll learn about cinematography (the art of cinema) including aperture, depth of field, composition and lighting. They’ll learn how to record sound, how to write a script, how to plan a short film, how to work in a crew...they'll learn to work with actors, how to video edit using Adobe Premiere, how to begin promoting themselves and then start to gain awareness of their next steps individually in terms of progression and careers.

"If you show a real interest and desire to learn, and a keenness for the subject matter - that comes above everything else." — Billy Abbott, Lecturer

Some talented individuals from The Actors Wheel will be with us for two days, so the students will get a very unique opportunity to work with actors in their short film. From the 20 students that join us on the course, we’ll break into a few groups in order to make several short films. These film ideas will be entirely led by the students - this is a real signature of the course. The team will be there to help and teach at every step of the way, but everything from the idea to the filmmaking itself comes directly from our academy students.

We’ll be doing a half-day visit to Plymouth Arts Centre’s cinema where Will and Ben from Plymouth Film Festival will be delivering a fantastic session on the fundamentals of making a good film, and the ins and outs of running a film festival.

Not to mention the opportunity to learn from some inspiring individuals such as renowned Cinematographer Oliver Stapleton BSC, Nick Hart-Williams (former Channel 4 Documentary Commissioning Editor) and a few other top industry talents!   

I completely failed in keeping this short but make no apologies — there’s a lot planned and it’s really exciting!

Are there any particular career routes that might open up to participants after completing the course?

We’ll talk a lot about potential career routes on the course itself, and these are always individual to each student and their skillset/ambitions. With the extra qualification gained — an NCFE in ‘Preparing to Work in the Film Industry’ — as well as a short film under their belt, all students will be in a fantastic position to progress towards whichever route they choose. Apprenticeships, work experience, further education courses, degree or employment are all options.

Do students need to bring anything to the course? Will they need to complete extra written work?

We’ll provide everything, from cameras, LED panel lights and microphones to MacBooks, PCs and storyboards! Bring a determined attitude and a real willingness to make some great work.

There will be mandatory written work set, this is to ensure every student achieves the 'Preparing to Work in the Film Industry' award. It’s not a lot, but it does need to be done. I appreciate some students already studying A levels or Extended Diplomas might be a little worried about the extra workload, but I can assure you it will be worth it.

How soon should candidates apply?

We have 20 places and a lot of interest — I would encourage a healthy mix of ensuring your application is a true reflection of you (don’t rush it), and a bit of haste in making sure you apply well before the October 1st deadline.

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