Education meets industry...


Bernard Newnham TV-Bay Magazine
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by Bernard Newnham
Issue 98 - February 2015

Heatherden Hall - the most famous country house you've never heard of. Famous because it has appeared in large numbers of British films from Goldfinger to Carry on Camping. Why? Because it's the original building at the UK's premier film studio - Pinewood. A fitting place, then, to hold a conference on media industry training.

ITTP stands for the Institute for Training in Television Production. When we started I thought that was a pretty grand title for a group of industry veterans (I hope they don't mind being called that) who two years ago sat down in a pub near Broadcasting House and said "we think we have a problem with education". The problem wasn't about grand strategies or spheres of influence, it was about the simplest of things - like new camera trainees not knowing Ohm's Law - and a lot of other very basic related requirements needed to get started at the bottom of the technical world of television. Were we just a bunch of old fogeys? "It was all better when we were young"? Well, over the next year we found out that we weren't - we really really weren't. The stories came from every area of the industry, and so this time last year we had a conference where employers and practitioners could get together with the educators and discuss the problems, and what to do next.

In the year since we've come up with two main ways forward, and this year's conference was partly to do the same as last year - let the educators meet the employers - and also to present our thoughts and listen to the reactions. Since last time we've talked to a lot of people - Creative Skillset, the DCMS, BT Sport, Sky, and many others. Even the highest in the land - last summer three intimidated people went through layers of security to pitch our ideas to the next in line to the Throne, Prince Charles. The result was that the programme for this year's conference contained a letter headed Clarence House and signed "Charles". Basically, it said "Absolutely. I support you. Carry on" So we'd better.

Heatherden Hall's ballroom was just big enough, though we had to bring in more chairs to seat the 140 or so delegates who signed up. The majority were from education as we'd hoped, but there were also representatives from the guilds and societies, and other trade bodies and the wider industry. The whole day was recorded and, appropriately, the camera crew was largely students, in this case from Kingston University Television and Video Technology Hons BSc course, who operated, floor managed, etc, supervised by the professionals from Procam and Advision.

Mark Hackett, TV Sales director at Pinewood, welcomed the assembly with a glorious showreel. He was followed by our keynote speaker, Darren Long, who is Director of Sky Production Services. It's likely that any new trainee would want to look at a technical career with Sky, as they are now a major employer, and they take training very seriously. The fact that Darren is such a strong supporter of ITTP
says a lot about opinions in the industry. In the first panel session Andy Beale, Chief Engineer at BT Sport, was also urging us on. He was accompanied by John Herbert from Blackmagic, Steve Warner of the IABM and Chris Miller, camera supervisor on, amongst much else, Strictly Come Dancing and Mike Dugdale from the Camera Crew. The session was called "What the industry wants". All together - "What do we want?" I hope that by the end of the day everyone knew.

After that, coffee - and when one says coffee, one actually means the beginning of one of the important businesses of the day, which is networking. A chance, repeated through the day, for the educators and the employers to lobby each other. Just as in politics, the formal sessions are important to pass information and opinions and create the framework, but the actual business gets done with a drink and sandwich in hand.

The next session, "Addressing the gaps", carried the theme onwards into other areas of the business, with Matt Gallagher from thecallsheet.co.uk, film editor Stephen Haren and James Johnson of facilities house, Molinare. It isn't just camera and sound crews who need educators to listen and adjust what they do to meet industry needs.

Then the morning's final session - time to put our money where our mouths are (not that we have any money - ITTP is a group of volunteers doing this because it needs to be done). Gathered on the stage were Iain Davidson from the Society of Television Lighting and Design, Barry Cobden of the Institute of Production Sound, Martin Uren of BKSTS, Brian Rose from the Guild of Television Cameramen, and me representing the ITTP - and this is a good point to mention and give a big vote of thanks to Roz Morris who chaired the whole day, asking probing questions and keeping us from waffling on.

Since the last conference, the big question for us has been - "ok, what are we going to do about it?". We've come up with two things. The first is CPD - Continuing Professional Development. We aren't the gods of TV who know all, but we know lots of people who are, and who also have the rather different ability to pass on their knowledge. So ITTP has already begun setting up sessions for those who train and teach, putting them together with the people working at the sharp end of the industry.

The second thing was what this session was all about the "ITTP Approved Skills Scheme".

I joined in with the ITTP two years ago because it turned out that back then our leader Graham Reed and I both recently had a similar conversation with students involving mains leads and lights, with the same result - a blank look from a student. The Approved Skills Scheme addresses that sort of problem head on. What do we want newcomers to know when they start, what should we be able to take as given? Well, Ohm's Law for a start. We asked the guilds and societies to tell us what they thought, so we could develop a list. This is what the session was about - the others were there to say that they supported the list, and I was there to present the scheme to the conference. We envisage that educators will use it to develop their curriculum content with the right material, and as things move on, we'll be able to test that knowledge. This is really just re-inventing the wheel but this time for the TV industry, as many other professions, from accountants to plumbers, have been doing this for years. So the aim is that the ITTP approved scheme will offer the student a chance to develop qualifications in a variety of craft skills. This will ensure they will know they have learnt useful skills for their future and that the employers will know the practical abilities of each of their potential employees.

Lunch involved a lot of talking!

Starting the afternoon were Stanley Kubrick's producer Jan Harlan, and Nick Moran from the Association of Lighting Designers. They talked passionately about the art of production in their own spheres. Following that, the last session was called "What can we learn from past students?" Watch the video to hear some strong views - all the session videos are available on the website.

The afternoon ended with three ITTP people on stage to take questions and opinions from the floor. Graham and I were joined by Susan Scotcher who mentors the students who were pointing the cameras at us. A good number of issues were raised. For instance - "Do you know that it takes months or years for university courses to be changed and validated?" "Yes, but that's your problem" A little brutal, but that's the way it is. "When do you want the list taught?" "Yesterday". I was a touch surprised that there are educators out there still who don't know the - how can I put it? - Opprobrium? - with which the industry treats the phrase "media studies". The gathering is well aware now.

And so the day ended - it felt very successful to me and to many of the attendees who were very complimentary about the whole day and we seem to have started the dialogue we wanted between those who teach and those who employ. We've got a little list - it isn't quite ready for the world, but it will be very soon. It isn't our list, but the industry's list. It won't guarantee anyone a job, but it should make it possible for those who are trying to get in to at least know the basics, to everyone's advantage. And as well as that, we've already run some CPD sessions - passing on the latest developments - and we plan to do many more. It's all to everyone's advantage.

For more info, contacts, and videos, please visit the website www.ittp.org.uk

ITTP would like to thank its sponsors -
Sony, Avid, Pinewood Studios, AdVision, Procam, Kitplus, Holdan and Blackmagic Design

Tags: iss098 | ittp | heatherden hall | pinewood studios | conference | bbc | itv | sky | industry | standards | Bernard Newnham
Contributing Author Bernard Newnham

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