A day in the life of a TV lecturer

The Dorset country lanes give way to the flood of traffic into Poole and Bournemouth as I negotiate the rush hour streaming into the seaside town. Driving past Poole Harbour, home of Sunseeker Yachts and the RNLI reminds me that yacht I once dreamed of is still a dream. However, the job I once dreamed of became a reality when I became a television producer a generation ago and it is now my job to help realise the dreams of the next generation. I am fortunate to have lived that dream and now I am privileged to head up one of the leading university television production departments in the country.
The reputation of Bournemouth University’s television team has been built up by staff over the years who have forged links with industry, so that now Bournemouth has “form” – our students are known in the business as the “Bournemouth Mafia”, and you’ll see our graduates on the credit list just about every evening on peaktime television.
It is a responsibility to maintain that reputation and it starts with selecting the right candidates for the course. We can afford to be choosy. This year we had over 800 applicants for 77 places on our BA Television Production and we interview everyone who is shortlisted for a place. It is increasingly rare for this to happen in Higher Education as staff are more and more stretched, but it means quality control from the very start and we are determined to hang onto our selection process. We know the value of maintaining a premium brand.
A quick cappuchino from the Media School coffee bar while the computer boots up and a chance to catch the headlines from the many monitors which are all around the building – the Bournemouth Univeristy Media School doesn’t conform to the usual hallowed corridors you associate with a university and the buzz of multiple screens helps to create a feeling of being connected to the wider world of television.
In the coffee bar queue, a chance to reflect with colleagues about what it is that makes the Bournemouth students stand out: the Bournemouth brand. The course has a reputation for its professional and industry focus. Extensive craft skill support from our demonstrator team, and lecturers who have production experience, have created an environment which has been recognized by Skillset as delivering what the industry needs. As a result now we have both Skillset Screen and Media Academy status – only one of two institutions in the country to have both. As well as the “badging” this means that we now have the support of the network of academies and fast-track access to the industry.
Quick impromptu tutorial with a third year student about their major project – how can they achieve a completely white cyc to floor background. I recall my studio cameraman background and begin to explain it used to be called a “John French”– does anyone else remember that? I am beginning to feel like one of the elders of the tribe passing on the sacred knowledge – and this production is likely to end up on a mobile phone anyway. Another unique selling point is our emphasis on authorship – every student will make their own film or television programme in the final year. Most universities are not sufficiently resourced to allow this and students take roles in group productions. Here at Bournemouth we think it is important for our students to have the responsibility and discipline to deliver their own production to a deadline and not hide behind the work of others.
Checking emails and arranging the next visiting speakers. We develop industry connections at every opportunity. Last week it was drama director Peter Kosminsky. Next week it is leading documentary film maker Paul Watson. We are fortunate that people working in the industry are so generous with their time and the students really appreciate these visits.
Tutorial with second year student about their forthcoming work placement. Students undertake a compulsory work placement with a dedicated support office to help them find the right experience from the connections we have built up over the years. What we used to call “learning on the job” is now an educational philosophy called Experiential Learning – ie learning by doing, and it lies at the core of the Bournemouth experience. There is a noticeable difference in attitude when students come back from their work placements.
Check emails – invitation from the local Royal Television Society to send some students to IBC in September. The support of organisations such as the RTS and the networking opportunities it provides is invaluable. One of our graduates from 2008, Chris Poole is shortlisted for the entertainment category at the national RTS Student Awards – hope we can add to our annual collection of trophies in the cabinet in the corridor.
Facilities meeting to discuss future kit requirements. Last year we opened our new High Definition television studio. The main hardware highlights being, 3 HDC-1500 cameras, a fully loaded MVS-8000, Trilogy Talk Back, Tri Truss Light Rig with Frog Mixer, Avid Deko, Evertz Systems, Yamaha Digi, Soundcraft 16, Sennheiser Wireless and an HD Exchange system with an almost there infrastructure to deliver IPTV…
For location work we have Sony EX3s for the postgraduates and Panasonic HVX 200s for the undergraduates. There are some decisions to be taken: we need to replace some ageing DVC Pros. Do we go for additional Panasonics and use P2 as our capture medium or do we cascade all the kits, redeploying to the lower years and opt for another Sony solution for the 3rd year cohort such as the Z7 which would offer us an element of flexibility.
And like the industry, we are having to devise new protocols as we move to a tapeless environment. (Idle thought – must sort out the tape library)
As for post production, we are firmly in the Final Cut Pro camp. We have some Avid Media Composers, and I grew up with Avid myself so I have a soft spot for Avid, but what are graduates going to encounter in the industry of the future?
Then I remember we are never going to get this entirely right and it is the development of the student and their transferable skills which matters – they are going to have to adapt to new tools throughout their lives – all we can do is make them adaptable and give them a head-start in skills and knowledge.
Lunch with the afternoon’s guest speaker – feature film producer Dan Shepherd. Sadly I shall not be joining him in Cannes this year – it clashes with an exam board….
Lunchtime seminar to discuss the new range of short courses being delivered by CEMP. The idea is for people who are unable to commit to a full time media degree to put together their own degree from a menu of short courses delivered online and with occasional weekend workshops. We are fortunate to have CEMP within our building – the national Centre for Excellence in Media Practice. Under Chris Wensley and Jonathan Wardle’s leadership, we can’t over-estimate the impact they have had nationwide on the delivery of good teaching in television production – reinventing the way students learn about media production. Now CEMP have just launched their new range of short courses for people working and learning at the same time, from production management to script writing.
Like everything else, teaching television is in state of permanent revolution and the next big thing for us is setting up our own IPTV station as a platform for staff and student work, with a live daily output from the studio. As in the industry, cross-platform content is all the rage here. To facilitate this we are creating a new production office and Pebble Mill style (remember that? this is beginning to sound like Ashes to Ashes) foyer studio in the Media School. The plan is to encourage students to think about schedule and audience and the disciplines of deadlines and live programming. As a trainee camera operator in ITV in the early 1980s I grew up with all the buzz of live TV and the disciplines that go with it. A lot of those studio skills have disappeared but the studio is a great place to learn what we now call transferable skills – skills and disciplines which can be adapted to many walks of life.
Tutorial with a postgraduate producer who is using the opportunity of access to our High Definition facilities to make a low budget vampire movie. Fortunately there are Plenty of Gothic locations in Bournemouth.
Sign a risk assessment form. This term we have had students filming in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nepal and Colombia. I shall sleep more easily when we move over to Parashoot – another CEMP initiative, Parashoot is a very thorough online risk assessment system now being licensed to broadcasters as well as universities.
Call into the Red Balloon office – the Media School’s stand-alone production company to discuss student crewing for a low budget corporate. Students can volunteer for paid work with Red Balloon to give them a professional experience outside of course work. But Red Balloon doesn’t carry passengers and students have to prove they have the craft skills and production skills to do the job – it may be low budget but these are real clients with real expectations. Red Balloon has its own ring-fenced kit, Sony DSR 570s, Digi-Beta and Avid Media Composer.
Wessex Media Group meeting – a regional network of television professionals hosted every month at Bournemouth University – great for networking. It doesn’t always make for comfortable listening for students but it provides a healthy dose of reality – and tonight is no exception as the region’s producers wonder about their future as commissioning grinds to a halt. But I sense the dramatic once in a generation sea-change we are witnessing will provide the next generation with new opportunities around the low-cost desktop kit and working practices they are becoming familiar with.
The talk is over, the business cards exchanges (what self-respecting television production student does not carry a business card these days?), networking done, time to go home, just as the animators arrive to sit at their work stations – Bournemouth University is home to the National Centre for Computer Animation – a justifiable international reputation but for some reason they only seem to come out at night.
Late night email from the postgraduate vampire producer. Email discussion of the film title. I make a suggestion – did I really say that? It is getting late….I realise I am becoming a creature of the night myself. And so to bed, remembering that I have forgotten to watch any television, but it doesn’t matter: I ask BoB to record it for me – Box of Broadcasts: a system for retrospective online recording developed for students and staff by CEMP here at the university. And so to dream about that yacht, only it is crewed by student vampires thirsting for knowledge…..

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