The Confession, a film from The National Film and Television School (NFTS), has recently been nominated for an Academy Award, in the Live Action Short Film category - the second nomination for an NFTS graduation film in this category in the last five years. The success of the film comes days after more than 40 NFTS graduates worked on nominated films in the 2011 British Academy Film Awards, including a nomination for another NFTS graduation film And The River Runs Red directed by Scotsman, Paul Wright .
Based in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire the NFTS is regarded as the UK's national centre of excellence for postgraduate education in its field. The lucky few that make the selection process are split across a number of courses making approximately 100 productions a year under the guidance of tutors who are leaders in their fields.
Students learn in purpose-built studios that include two film stages, a large television studio and post production facilities. The latter benefits from a fully-equipped Nucoda Film Master DI grading suite as well as numerous edit suites with Final Cut, used by first year editing students, and Avid Media Composer for second years. The school also boasts a cutting-edge sound department containing an array of sound editing suites and three dubbing theatres with full Dolby Digital. The NFTS set-up rivals many professional companies. All of its facilities are furnished with state-of-the-art equipment equivalent to that used at the highest level in the industry, allowing students to learn their craft on tools that they will use in their future career. The NFTS also works with the community offering its 150-seat cinema every month to the local cinema society and charities that provide regular screenings.
Arguably the biggest draw to the school is its two-year MA Film and Television courses validated by the Royal College of Art, enabling graduates to enter the industry at a higher level than a generalist filmmaking MA. MA Film and Television Courses at the NFTS include:
• Composing for Film and Television
• Digital Post Production
• Directing Animation
• Directing Documentary
• Directing Fiction
• Games Design and Development
• Producing and Directing Television Entertainment
• Production Design
• Sound Design for Film and Television
Digital Post Production
John Rowe is Head of the SFX/VFX and Digital Post Production courses at NFTS and has over 20 years’ experience in film and television production and post production. Rowe explains, “For the Digital Post Production course we have a full DI pipeline that you would find in any West End post house. Once material is scanned we put the scans on our server and everything is digital from that point on. All the post graduate films are shot either digitally or on 16mm or 35mm and then scanned, edited and graded to the highest standard emulating exactly how films are post produced in the industry.”
Like the other MA courses, the Digital Post Production course takes eight students per year. Split into three main strands – compositing, grading and onlining - Rowe explains, “We focus on the craft skills and we try to be agnostic because we are teaching our students how to composite well, how to grade well and how to technically master this highly creative skill. As such it’s really important that they have industry-standard, state-of-the-art equipment. Once they get used to using the systems they tend to naturally fall into the workflow of one system more than another. The Nucoda Film Master DI suite has been in use here since 2005 and has been used to grade and finish numerous award-winning projects.”
The award track record at the NFTS is certainly impressive. As well as an Oscar nomination The Confession, directed by the NFTS student Tanel Toom (Directing Fiction course) also won a Student Academy Award in 2010. Toom was awarded the Student Oscar in the Honorary Foreign Film award category. Shot on RED at 4k the film was graded on Nucoda Film Master by Digital Post Production student Juan Pablo Salazar B.
The Confession tells the story of a quiet and sincere nine-year-old boy (Sam) who is nervous about his first confession: he has not committed a sin, therefore he cannot be absolved. His best friend helps him to perpetrate one and an innocent prank turns into tragedy.
Salazar who came to the NFTS from Columbia explains, “I graded the whole film in the Nucoda Film Master. It was the first time we’d brought RED footage into the system and we weren’t sure how it would work but it was really quick and easy. Tanel, the film’s Director, has a lot of post production knowledge and had a very strong vision of how the film should look. He wanted a heavy but simple grade. In the school we have several grading systems but for me the Nucoda Film Master stands out as it allows me to be really creative with the colour and the changes that I want to do without thinking about other adjustments in the system.”
As the narrative in the film darkens, so does the light and the mood. Salazar continues, “There are moments when the boys meet in the woods outside their school. As the film goes on the scenes in this location get darker and darker. It was a recurring theme that common spaces throughout the film changed in mood as time evolved. There is a moment where Sam goes back to his home. His family is very dry and flat and it was nice to get that flatness in the grade. Making secondary colour corrections is very easy in Nucoda Film Master. It doesn’t matter what the compression of your footage is, particularly when working in digital you can pull keys every time very easily, which is something that we liked. We also had a lot of reframing. It was shot on 4k because they wanted deliverable in 2k. There was also a lot of balancing of shots in this grade and again Nucoda Film Master made the process simple.”
Salazar is an excellent example of the calibre of the NFTS applicants. He began his journey into higher education ten years ago when he took a BA in Media Arts and Animation at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. On graduating, he worked as a graphic designer for an Atlanta publishing company and then in 2005 returned to Colombia to work as a freelance CG Artist on advertising projects. The following year he was first assistant director and SFX/VFX supervisor on the film PVC-1 (Cannes, Directors Fortnight selection). By 2007 he was working as an animation and project director at Fun-T-Bone, where he directed an animation series and several TV commercials. Salazar then came to the UK and won a place on the Digital Post Production course at the NFTS to expand his abilities beyond pre-production for VFX and 3D animation into the final stages of post production, compositing, colour grading and onlining. He now works freelance and as a tutor at the school on the SFX/VFX course.
Winning awards is the way the NFTS proves its competitiveness against other schools all over the world and it is very good at it. NFTS student films are regularly selected for all of the major film festivals in the world including Cannes International Film Festival, Venice, Sundance, Palm Springs, Edinburgh, London and many more. This year’s BAFTA nominations revealed that two of the school’s graduates and a set of current students are all pitching for the same film BAFTA. Not a bad position to be in. Not to be outdone, the audio students have won the MPSE Golden Reels - audio’s equivalent to the Oscars - eight times. It’s no wonder that students are applying to the NFTS in droves. By fully emulating digital workflows that are prevalent in facilities around the world, these students learn their craft in a state-of-the-art environment producing work to the highest quality. It’s also no wonder so many of them go on to great things as their careers develop in various genres in both film and television. Continuing its quest to provide the highest standard in its field, the NFTS is now looking at adding a stereoscopic module to the Digital Post Production course later in the year, which will see the school taking the stereoscopic elements from shooting through the post workflow.