Meeting Jesse Armstrong, top tips from Ash Atalla and networking with television royalty – an update from our Bursary Scholars

Meeting Jesse Armstrong, top tips from Ash Atalla and networking with television royalty – an update from our Bursary Scholars

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Tuesday, 28th November 2023
Bursary Scholars before the Patrons' Dinner (Credit: RTS/ Paul Hampartsoumian)

Only a few weeks after being selected for the RTS Bursary Scheme, the 44 students aspiring towards a career in television were welcomed to the Patrons' Dinner – an event where bursary scholars sit and eat alongside industry heavyweights.

The dinner was combined with speeches from newly awarded RTS Fellows (an award offered to those who have offered outstanding contributions to the UK television industry). Amongst them were Succession creator Jesse Armstrong, and screenwriters Abi Morgan (The Split) and Jack Thorne (Best Interests). Meanwhile 100 past and present scholars were busy making valuable connections with each other, as well as the TV veterans.

The next day, they joined us at the RTS Student Masterclasses 2023 to hear top tips from the likes of The Office UK producer Ash Atalla, documentary maker Clare Richards, Miss Scarlet & the Duke’s director Steve Hughes, and Sky News correspondent Inzamam Rashid.

Before the newly awarded Fellows gave their speeches at the dinner, two Bursary Scholars were invited to speak to the room about their time on the Scheme. Third year scholar Catriona Walsh summarised what the two days of learning and networking meant for the scholars: “I want everyone in this room to take a moment to look at the people sitting around you right now. The people who you are looking at could be your future colleagues, employers or even business partners.

“Take this opportunity to believe in yourself that you have made it here for a reason. Treat this as an opportunity to network and tell the room all the brilliant things you have done and are going to do. Let your creative mind be shared with the people around you and know that you are fully capable of achieving those career goals that might once have felt unimaginable.”

We caught up with four scholars, including Walsh, to find out about their experiences so far, and how they will help them on their own career paths.

Catriona Walsh

Television Production and Journalism Bursary Scholar/Steve Hewlett Scholarship

Broadcast Production, Queen's University Belfast

Catriona during her Patrons' Dinner speech
(Credit: RTS/ Paul Hampartsoumian)

Tell us about your experience of the Patrons' Dinner?

I was speaking first, so it was really nerve-wracking. But from the dinner last year and speaking to the other Bursary Scholar [Joey Houldsworth] who was doing a speech, you realise that you are part of the RTS family. My best friends here are through the RTS and we only see each other once or twice a year.

The dinner is just mad because you can say ‘oh, I'm a student at Queens’ and somebody else can say “oh, I’m from Google”, and it's like, how did I end up in this room with those people when I’m only 21?

So it's a great way of networking, because the facilities of the RTS make you feel like there's not a class or power imbalance. The scholarship makes you feel like you are the future of where these people are now.

Tell us about the Masterclasses that you've been to. What were your main takeaways?

The masterclasses are almost like a lecture - but fun. You get to listen to people who are big in the creative industries. There's drama, documentary, comedy, journalism... but the fun part is that you really learn how that person went from being just like us, to now being Ash [Atalla] who made The Office, for example.

When you're in the room with those people it makes you realise what the future can hold, and that the RTS can help you achieve that.

If you have an idea, or if you want to make something, it's not about the opportunities, it's about putting pen to paper. I think sometimes with young people, they might feel like they have these big ideas but they're just in their head, so it's really good to know that the biggest people in the industry still think that it's important to make it happen yourself.

Melissa Smart

Digital Innovation Scholar

Broadcast Engineering, Ravensbourne University

Tell us a bit about the Patrons' Dinner you went to last night.

That was the first event I've had at the RTS. It was so lavish, and the food was amazing - but also the guests and their experiences, the passion was so inspiring!

I spoke to people from the BBC, ITV, and Roku. They've had so many experiences, so much to talk about, and yet they were so humble about it.

Melissa (Left) before the Dinner
(Credit: RTS/ Paul Hampartsoumian)

What does television mean to you?

When I think of why television is important to me, I think of the slogan of the BBC, which is to inform, educate and entertain. Those are the fundamentals of television, to communicate with the public and be their source, from a news point of view or from any point of view. You're their first point of contact with the outside world.

But there's also the other side of it, when you come home, you've had a bit of a night, you can come home, relax and just watch TV and be entertained. I think people are encapsulated completely by TV, it's constantly around us. It's such a phenomenal resource to be inspired by and use.

I'm kind of lost for words - I want to be part of people's lives like that, in any type of role. To be able to make that change.

How do you think the scheme's going to aid you towards that goal?

I think the RTS is really going to help me with so many different opportunities. Already from talking at the Patrons' Dinner, I was able to swap emails with people who have... really high paying jobs! And also a lot of influence.

There’s mentorship with people from all different avenues of television. A lot of these events, socially, can be quite hard for me - I'm autistic, and the mentorship will really help me to navigate that type of life, as you don't get much of that help in the industry.

Nayan Sharma (@Producer_Nayan)

RTS Television Production and Journalism Scholar

Film Business and Productions, BIMM Institute - Screen and Film School, Manchester

Nayan asking a question at the Student Masterclasses
(Credit: RTS/ Paul Hampartsoumian)

How have you found the scheme so far?

I'm excited to be part of RTS, as you get some great connections, learn new things, have great support - and have a good time as well!

Tell us about the Patrons Dinner that you attended last night. Any particularly great networking moments that you had?

It's actually my first time in the city centre of London. It's exciting to be part of the culture and the environment itself. To have been invited by the RTS is really cool.

Now in terms of the Patrons' Dinner itself - amazing! I was able to meet some incredible people who were very engaging and attentive. For example, I met Jack Thorne who was incredible—I grew up with his films. Jesse Armstrong as well, the creator of Fresh Meat and Peep Show, another amazing titan in the industry. I was able to approach them and ask them questions about how to get involved.

It's just an amazing experience. I met other bursary scholars, so I made some really good connections, and hopefully, in the future, we’ll do some projects together.

What does television mean to you?

Television is not just sitting down with the family together. It's more than that. It's about really engaging with it, really talking about it. Even after we finish an episode, we always talk about it with friends, with family. And it has a big influence.

Television has such an impact on the culture politics and in your personal life. For me, television is such a powerful tool, so I'd love to be a part of that and contribute to society.

Dolapo Okuboyejo

Digital Innovation Scholar

BA (Hons) 3D Animation and Visual Effects, University of Hertfordshire

Dolapo (left) and Scholars at the Patrons' Dinner
(Credit: RTS/ Paul Hampartsoumian)

How was the Patrons' Dinner?

There were a lot of cool people last night, and we got to meet Fellows such as Jesse Armstrong who wrote one of my favourite childhood shows: My Parents Are Aliens.

He taught us a lot about how it was writing his shows, how he dealt with the backlash from some of his bad shows, and how to come back down to earth after getting a lot of praise. Even though I'm not going into writing I really learnt a lot because he really knows how to manage himself.

What does television mean to you?

I feel like everyone here is so passionate because television has raised everyone, because you're learning your lingo from TV, you learn how to dress from TV, you learn so many things from TV. It's really a passion of mine. It's just so cool!

What’s your dream career in television?

I really want to be a Visual Effects Supervisor - that's my long-term goal. I want to create shows that have cool visual effects.

I was also raised on Power Rangers and that inspired me, because it was like a campy show, but the visual effects were so cool. I just want to create fun shows like that, with visual effects that raise the next generation of kids.

How do you think the RTS is going to help you get there?

With the Digital Innovation Bursary we get a 10 day “Summer Tour” where go to all these companies and see how they work.

That's something I feel like I would never be able to experience if I hadn't got the bursary.

I get to go into all these studios that you sort of dream about, especially VFX - studios like Brainstorm, and talk to them and see how they operate in house. Also, just being partnered up with a mentor who has been in the game for years and years and can help you get your foot in the door is very helpful.

Watch the highlights from the Patrons' Dinner and the RTS Student Masterclasses 2023 on our YouTube channel.

Find out more about the scheme here, or apply to become a mentor here

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Only a few weeks after being selected for the RTS Bursary Scheme, the 44 students aspiring towards a career in television were welcomed to the Patrons' Dinner – an event where bursary scholars sit and eat alongside industry heavyweights.