Opportunity Knocks

Spotlight / ScreenSkills

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Opportunity Knocks

Spotlight / ScreenSkills

With production in the UK booming, the newly-formed ScreenSkills is dedicated to keeping the talent pool well-stocked.

The film industry is traditionally seen as one of the most difficult to break into, but that might not be strictly true. “I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there, like it’s a closed network, only available to a privileged few,” says Gareth Ellis-Unwin, head of film at ScreenSkills.

“We have a very hungry industry,” he counters. “We’re in a production boom at the moment. We need a diverse and inclusive workforce that is knowledgeable, safe and effective in terms of coming into the industry, and we also want to offer new opportunity at every stage of people’s career.”

You may not be that familiar with ScreenSkills yet, but you’ll certainly have heard of its predecessor, Creative Skillset. The recent rebrand – for this industry-led skills charity for the screen industries – follows a merger with the not-for-profit Indie Training Fund (ITF), but also came about for a couple of other reasons.

“The rebrand came at a time when we were planning what we would focus on for the coming year,” says Ellis-Unwin. “We’re very much about the screen industries now, whether that’s film, TV, animation, VFX or games. When the Government asked industry to take full responsibility for skills and training, sectors such as fashion, advertising and publishing went back to their own industry bodies and Creative Skillset refocused on its core work in screen.”

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Ellis-Unwin took up the role as head of film at the start of 2018 to drive strategy and activities for the film sector, working in close partnership with the BFI and other film and screen sector representative bodies. Previously co-founder and CEO of Bedlam Productions, Ellis-Unwin is the producer of the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech (2010, dir. Tom Hooper, DP Danny Cohen BSC), as well as Exam (2009, dir. Stuart Hazeldine, DP Tim Wooster), Zaytoun (2012, dir. Eran Riklis, DP Dan Laustsen DFF ASC), Kajaki: The True Story (2014, dir. Paul Katis, DP Chris Goodger), and Steel Country (2018, dir. Simon Fellows, DP Marcel Zyskind DFF). He can thus speak with some authority to the industry.

“Nothing beats getting on the phone to a line producer and finding out what they’ve struggled to populate in terms of roles,” he says. “The common theme is we are still in a shortage of line producers, production accountants, location managers, all those sort of management roles.”

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SKILLS CHALLENGE

The charity was a key player with the BFI in the Film Industry Sector Task Force, which, in 2017, examined how best to deliver a skilled workforce for the UK’s screen industries.

“The BFI subsequently published a ten-point plan, Future Film Skills, which identified the need for a more holistic approach to bring individual initiatives together as a collective whole,” says Ellis-Unwin. “It recognises that if you’re going to build a talent delivery pipeline that goes from school age all the way through to senior level employment, you have to look at multiple phases of careers where people are moving in, up or across. ScreenSkills was already on a pathway to delivering all of this. But the ten-point plan gave real clarity.”

He adds: “We’re moving away from the idea of ages, it’s more about stages. You have your new entrants, you have those that are in mid-stage career and those that want to change career, as well as more senior roles, in the later stage career. We plan, through our various cycles of funding, to meet needs across that whole spectrum.”

The latest round of funding for film skills has seen over £600,000 made available to programmes where more than 1,400 people are set to benefit. A range of initiatives are targeted specifically at creating a more inclusive workforce, with 11 of the 25 awards granted going to programmes to increase diversity and inclusion in the industry. “What I’ve been really encouraged by over the past couple of years is how industry recognises that it’s vital for us to develop our workforce in this way,” comments Ellis-Unwin.

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BRINGING TOGETHER AND GIVING BACK

The rebrand involved a massive overhaul of the website. A heavy digital audit streamlined over 380 separate job pages, while the previous online presence that existed across two entities – the charity/corporate governance site and the Hiive community of creative individuals - was amalgamated. “We’ve maintained that energy onwards, into our careers and outreach, so we’ve run multiple events including at Pinewood, Cardiff, Manchester, Nottingham, Belfast, Bristol, Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow” says Ellis-Unwin. “We’ve engaged with around 24,000 potential new entrants, so have been very busy on careers campaigns.”

The new identity also brought with it a new initiative, Giving Back, which calls for greater collaboration in finding and nurturing new recruits, upskilling existing screen professionals and creating a genuinely inclusive workforce. A Giving Back menu on the redesigned ScreenSkills.com outlines the ways in which everyone can play their part, including reminders to pay the industry levies – now re-named skills funds - that support training.

“Last year our Film Skills Fund had a record amount of contributions since its inception,” Ellis-Unwin says. “It topped out at £938,000. So that’s a very real, incredible response.”

Individuals can also give gifts of time for mentoring and there is pastoral support available.

“That support might come in the form of a bursary,” he says. “For example, there are a couple or returnees that we’ve helped where we’ve covered some childcare costs, or they’ve wanted to take a conversion course because the technology has changed since they’ve taken time out to raise a family or look after loved ones.”

There’s a ScreenSkills Tick programme for industry quality-checking of further and higher education and short courses, while industry practitioners are encouraged to supply information to the new Skills Forecasting Survey, which aims to inform planning and investment in training.

“We’ve encouraged industry to recognise they also have a role to play in skills development and we can’t solely carry this on our shoulders,” says Ellis-Unwin. “It’s the necessary harmony and integration of industry, education and support parties like ourselves that will see a successful outcome.”

Credit: Mark Bushkes
Credit: Mark Bushkes

"We’ve encouraged industry to recognise they also have a role to play in skills development. It’s the necessary harmony and integration of industry, education and support parties like ourselves that will see a successful outcome."

- Gareth Ellis-Unwin, ScreenSkills

GETTING TO GRIPS

That also means recycling the skills people already have. The Grips For Heroes initiative, working with the Armed Forces charity, Help For Heroes, will offer service personnel and veterans that have been affected by their military service an introduction to how skills they learned in the services could be translated into behind-the-camera roles in screen.

“The army has similarities to the filmmaking process, in that there is literally every type of job specification and role in there,” says Ellis-Unwin, who came into contact with veterans when producing Kajaki: The True Story. “We just identified that particularly in the grips department if you’ve been able to keep a tank running in the desert, you can surely keep a Pee Wee dolly in good order and service. We’ve had two very good outreach days and we’re currently working with the Guild of British Camera Technicians and BECTU on what the next phase of training is likely to look like.”

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BIG SCREEN SKILLS

ScreenSkills is now designing a careers campaign, with the aim of being in cinemas this Spring, “to be where the eyeballs are to raise awareness that a multitude of roles are readily available in the screen industry,” says Ellis-Unwin.

“It’s not just about the above-the-line roles of writer, director and producer. We have a desperate need for chippies and sparks, some of those craft roles like costume, make-up and SFX – there really is a whole variety of jobs that are there and available. I employed 456 people on The King’s Speech. There was one director, one writer, four producers and everyone else had proper jobs.”

“I hope that some of the work we’re doing here is making it an easier pathway to entry to those that are coming up, and through, or looking to return,” he concludes. “It feels like we’re having a palpable impact on the industry.”