Making it in TV design – event report

Making it in TV design – event report

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Wednesday, 30th April 2014

Young designers at the latest RTS Futures event received the welcome news that there was no shortage of work in TV and film. “There are not enough people feeding the industry at the minute – there’s huge demand,” said Ruth Brooks from training body Creative Skillset.  

“Making it in TV design” assembled a panel of experienced and trainee designers to reveal how they broke into the industry, and a group of senior industry people to offer advice on how to get into and ahead in art, costume and make-up departments. 

Event host Alice Skidmore, who ran the BBC’s Design Trainee Scheme for five years before it closed, argued that the would-be art, costume and make-up designers in the audience at the RTS Futures event required a “combination of key skills, talent and contacts to progress”.

The panelists got their breaks in a number of ways. Costume trainee Jo Stobbs is part of Creative Skillset’s Trainee Finder scheme, which is managed by Brooks and finds paid work for trainees in TV, film and games,

Stobbs is already a veteran of Strictly Come Dancing and Burton and Taylor, and has recently worked on upcoming Abi Morgan-scripted film Suffragette. Before joining the Skillset scheme, Stobbs recalled sending out countless CVs: “At the beginning it felt like I was shouting down a hole.”

Sarah-Jane Prentice completed the BBC Design Trainee Scheme in 2011 and has worked on Les Miserables and The Muppets Most Wanted as a standby art director and will be production designer on the new series of BBC One hit drama Call the Midwife.

While studying set and costume design at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Prentice landed some work experience on Mike Leigh’s Another Year after the director gave a talk to the RADA students. “I wrote to him and was very persistent,” she recalled. “It was a brilliant experience – he was incredibly encouraging to trainees.”

Experienced hair and make-up designer Catherine Scoble, who numbers Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Shane Meadows’ various This is England projects among her credits, said that aspirant designers needed determination and flexibility to succeed: “You can’t be put off by the long hours and the early starts, and you have to adapt to many different situations and to work with many different types of people. You have to be flexible, fluid and not set in your ways.”

Scoble, who won a Bafta for This is England ’86, added: “You can expect a deal of rejection – I did for ages. But you have to get past that.”

Sara Putt Associates, which represents film and TV production crew, has recently set up its own trainee scheme to “bridge the gap between education and industry in terms of the soft skills, not the technical skills,” explained managing director Sara Putt.

Putt highlighted the importance of possessing a “good attitude”, adding: “The hard skills will get you through the door and enable you to do the job but the soft skills are what ultimately will get you the job. You can be the best make-up or costume trainee in the world but if you’ve got a rubbish attitude, people aren’t going to want to work with you.”

In costume, hair and make-up in particular, added Bafta skills development manager Katie Campbell, 
designers are “talent facing and [work] with the most important asset on set, which is, let’s face it, the cast. Being discrete and articulate are important soft skills”. Campbell manages Bafta Crew, a networking initiative for “below-the-line talent, across the departments”, which offers online and live master classes from Bafta winners and nominees.

Millennium FX director Neill Gorton, a prosthetics and special effects designer who has worked on effects-heavy shows including Doctor Who and Being Human, argued that bringing in new talent is important for the industry’s creative health.

“It’s a freelance business and one of the beauties of that is that people move around and it keeps the creativity flowing. If you’ve got a workshop and new blood and imagination coming in all the time, it keeps things fresh – and that’s what an industry needs,” said Gorton.

"Making it in design" was an RTS Futures event held at the Hallam Conference Centre, central London on 29 April. The producers were Don Kong and Jude Winstanley.

Report by Matthew Bell

Pictures by Paul Hampartsoumian

Watch the panel discussions below:

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