Saturday, 22 March 2014

Graduate Panel Friday 21 March 2014 - jobs, careers, and how to make it in a digital world

From left, Jude Winstanley, Jaffar Ali, Beaumont Lowenthal, Stephen Partridge, Scott Humphries, Andy Thomas and Thom Day
Yesterday, friday 21 March 2014, was our latest Graduate Panel, a regular event where we invite Bucks Graduates to come back to their university and talk about how they forged their careers in digital media. They all studied here at Bucks and each one of them understands better than anyone how to turn the skills they acquired at university into a successful career in the entertainment industry.

The panelists were:

Jaffar Ali
Jaffar AliJaffar recently graduated with a BA (Hons) in Animation, Games & Interactive Media from Buckinghamshire New University. Having gained experience in creating photo-realistic 3D using post-production software packages to model, texture, light, render and composite, Jaffar recently got an internship with high end broadcast virtual set company Vizrt. Jaffar’s current skills base ranges from creating high quality still renders to having a fly through or 360° turn table camera animation.
Thom Day
Thom Day – Thom graduated in 2011 and is currently a Media Technician at ITV’s London Studios. As a Lead Assistant on a number of high-end productions, Thom is in charge of liaising with production and creating media logs for both production and post to follow media movements. This includes dealing with multiple workflows (Studio EVS, Live Broadcast and Entertainment fiction and non-fiction). Since graduating Thom has also worked at Molinare Post Production as an Edit Assistant, Platform Post Production as a Bookings Assistant and at Take One TVas a Production Assistant.

Scott Humphries
Scott Humphries - Since graduating in 2011 Scott has been touring as a live sound engineer. He is currently Production Manager at Little Touring and was previously FOH/TM for You&me Touring working with the likes of Charlie Simpson, Funeral for a Friend, Pop Will Eat Itself, We are Scientists and Wolf Gang. Scott has also worked as a Monitor Engineer and a Staff Engineer, and has worked for companies such as RNSS and SSE Audio Group.

Beaumont Lowenthal
Beaumont Lowenthal – At the moment Beau is working as a trainee editor on a remake of Far From the Madding Crowd, directed by (recently) Oscar-nominated Thomas Vinterberg and starring Carey Mulligan, Michael Sheen and Matthias Schoenaerts. Just before that Beau worked as a second assistant on POSH directed by Lone Scherfig, which stars upcoming actors Sam Claflin (latest Hunger Games), Max Irons (Jeremy's son) and Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) and is coming to cinemas in September. Before that Beau’s first job was as an editing intern on The Look of Love directed by Michael Winterbottom, starring Steven Coogan. The next project for Beau is likely to be working on Joe Wright's Pan.

Andy Thomas
Andy Thomas - Andy Thomas is a talented artist who graduated from Bucks New University in 2002 and, since then, has forged a successful career in the digital arts. He now works for the global multi-national URS, running their digital media team. Andy runs a team of multimedia artists and technicians. They produce 3D Visualisations, animations, graphic design and photomontages for various sectors including Architecture, Landscape Design, Planning, Mechanical & Engineering, Ports, Railways, Roads, Aviation & airports, and Defence & Security.
Jude Winstanley
Jude Winstanley – Jude has worked on a broad array of content from straight factual, factual entertainment, children’s, entertainment and observational documentary; from Who Wants to be a Millionaire? to Bremner, Bird & Fortune to X-Factor Australia.

Jude is experienced in pre-recorded and live transmissions, studio and location based programming and hostile environments. Specialist skills include negotiating contracts, fees and clearance rights with talent, crew, production staff, archive materials, locations, publicity, schedule planning for all areas of the project (prep, production, post and delivery), advising on Health & Safety procedures to ensure safe working environments, Risk Assessments and tapeless workflows.

Stephen Partridge
Stephen Partridge hosted the panel, and opened the discussion by asking the panelists the first big question:

How did the panel members get started in the industry? 

Jaffar Ali had been looking for 3D roles when Bucks sent him an email about an opportunity at Vizrt, a global provider of virtual sets for broadcast companies.  At interview, they asked him how he would solve a problem on production? Jaffar explained that he would seek help from others in the building - just as he did at Bucks, when he would ask his tutors for backup and support on group projects when things didn't always go to plan.

Beaumont Lowenthal talked about how important it is simply to ring up your contacts and ask if there is work available. He did a lot of networking, which led to some lucky breaks, and in his case, luck and persistence paid off.  He contacted "hundreds of people", and got "five or ten responses". One of those contacts led to his current career.

Thom Day talked about how his early jobs often cost him more in travel expenses than he received in pay. But he got work out of these early gigs and the commitment paid off in the end.

Andy Thomas
Andy Thomas talked about the difficulty of finding work when he graduated in 2002, and the frustration of getting rejected or, worse, hearing nothing. His first job he thought "was a bit beneath me", but this ended up being "the best thing I ever did". On his first job he learned "the reality of collaborating on a group project", and the difficulty of finishing things on time and on budget - meeting deadlines is vital.

He also talked about how keen he was in the early days to learn "everything there was to know" about digital media, and recommended that students should do as many online tutorials as possible. Andy eventually ended up at URS, a global company, and pitched them the idea of building a hub of digital artists in-house to do all the 3D development work for URS. Surprisingly, "they went for it" and he now "runs a team of fifteen artists".

Thom Day started as a runner, and tried to do the best work he could to get noticed, to meet editors, "sitting in during lunch breaks and after work", to "get his face known", and eventually "got promoted to Avid assistant". He said you've got to be "willing to do the crap jobs" to get started.

Jude Winstanley warned against "aiming too high". Be ambitious,  but be realistic as well. You can move up the ladder once you are in, but don't aim too high at the start of your career. She reminded us that film and TV production is a freelance business: "there are no staff jobs".

The Unit List - Jude Winstanley's website. Free!
Jude also talked about, a free website which helps place talent in jobs, and which she recommended all our graduates check regularly.

What makes a good CV?

Thom Day said you've got to get your CV to the right person, and make sure your CV looks nice, is short and punchy, and has all the main points at the top.
Make it good

Andy Thomas says he likes people who phone in and don't just email their CV. Three members of his current team got their job "by cold-calling". He does also run a test for candidates at interview - an AfterEffects test, to see if the candidates really know how to do what they say they can do. Lots of applicants don't really know how to do what is on their demo reel. Andy once interviewed a candidate who - astonishingly - showed him one of Andy's own online tutorials and presented it as his own work!

Scott reiterated that a phone call can be important. Sending out emails can be a "pointless" exercise.

Beaumont Lowenthal emphasised that you need to re-do your CV for each client; tailor it so that "you're not just sending out the same CV to each employer".  In the end though, "it's all about referrals". Recommendations count.

Jude Winstanley, who does a lot of recruitment, and is always on the lookout for fresh talent, complained about students with annoying answerphone messages, which made her want to move on to the next candidate. She said that CVs for TV production follow a certain layout - and that students should follow this. Key skills need to be right up there. Can you drive? Can you drive a lorry? Do you speak French? What cameras can you? Then, she wants to see your experience, in reverse order - most recent jobs at the top.

Should graduates accept unpaid work?

Jude Winstanley stressed the importance of not accepting unpaid work, which she described as "illegal" - although doing two weeks of unpaid work experience is permissible. Also, she added, students can be employed for free, but not graduates. Scott Humphries said he sometimes "took payment in microphones" when he started out, working for bands who he knew could not afford to pay him.
Learn to use it
What new technologies should undergraduates be aware of?

Thom Day said that a good knowledge of Premiere is increasingly necessary at ITV, not just Avid, which is gradually giving way to Premiere. Jude Winstanley said that Photoshop is now a requirement, and people don't get hired without it. She also recommended learning SEP, Avid, and After Effects.

(Editor's Note: For more on jobs and employability, read our guide to getting your first job. For posts on what studios look for in a great demo reel, try this link, hear what London's Blue Zoo has to say about finding work, and take a look at this video by Sony Pictures Animation. You can also watch Alex's ten minute video on creating a great reel, and read this post on the perfect demo reel. Also, check out our guide to animation careers here, and also take a look at this map of digital studios - a great place to start your search for work in the business. Learn the nuts and bolts of freelance life by reading our guide to invoicing clients, and our guide to putting together a great CV.)

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