Talking Shop 2010 Abstracts

Wednesday 23 June

Session 1: 10 – 11.15


Chair: Stephen Ryley, University of Westminster

Professor Joan Ashworth, Royal College of Art

Teaching Creative Writing for Animation

An innovative focus on creative writing at the Royal College of Art, Animation Department assists students with structuring complex ideas in a coherent and engaging way.

Throughout the two years of the Masters Course, a number of demanding script workshops and script surgeries, support the exploration of students’ ideas and develop their confidence in writing and finding their personal voice.

Issues explored include developing a narrative curve or pattern, creating suspense through narrative ordering, developing non-narrative scripts, the use of metaphor, persuasion, point of view, organising information and interviews.

Animation courses often have a writing module but not supported by a professional writer’s expert input and monitoring of key production stages. This ongoing input from a writerly perspective helps deepen and connect ideas and also provides students with a developed sense of the counterpoint between speech, text and image.

Inga Burrows, University of Glamorgan

Experimenting on the Experimenters

This presentation will discuss the development of an MA award in Moving Image since its inception in 2006.

The Masters award offers a strong critical and interdisciplinary context for advanced study and personal development in the field of moving image. Experimentation and innovation are encouraged by studying different forms of moving image production, including experimental film, world cinema and film drama, multimedia installation, documentary form and site-specific video art.’

University prospectus extract

In the light of the above marketing blurb, this presentation will reflect on the influence the day-to-day reality of running such a post-graduate award has on the vision that l as the author and the teaching team has for the award.

The aim of setting up the Award was to establish a post-graduate context in which students can flourish as independent innovative practitioners.  In circumstances where the student cohort has the curiosity and imagination to engage in such an endeavour, the learning outcomes can be reciprocally rewarding for student and lecturer. In cases where the student believes their future professional success lies in replicating the familiar (despite the students’ awareness of the Award ethos prior to enrolment)  the lecturer has a demanding role in challenging the student’s expectations.

Examples of student work from ‘Experimental Practice’ will be presented to illustrate how the module content and assignments have been honed over the years to encourage speculative thinking about modes of moving image practice amongst the diverse student groups that the award attracts.

Session 2: 11.45 – 1pm


Chair: Tony Dowmunt, Goldsmiths, London University

Alistair Oldham, University of West of England

New Approaches to Documentary

This paper is based on the experience of ten years of teaching documentary production to undergraduate students at UWE Bristol. Student outcomes of this work have included screenings at major festivals, regional and national nominations for RTS awards and an award for Channel Four’s most promising documentary newcomer. The work has also been notable for the diversity of its subject matter, its style and range of production locations.

This practice and the very evident sense of student engagement that drives it runs rather in the face of a school of thought (ref Jon Dovey/ John

Corner) that suggests that we live in a technologically determined

post-documentary age. To the contrary, it seems that student work can

flourish in the context of being able to refer to a distinct historical

canon of documentary production, which enables students to then project

their own more contemporary concerns, styles and production methodologies on to their interpretation of the world around them.

In this way, the principles and conventions of storytelling, narrative,

ethics and solid research methodologies remain firmly placed as the staples of documentary production. These principles can in turn be appropriated to contemporary production and distribution technologies. Production of the above projects have involved Skype tutorials, long distance mentoring by email, shooting on Z1 HD cameras and editing in and remote global locations on laptop computers, uploading rushes online sites such as Vimeo, as well as producing documentary work in multiplatform, installation, web based, sound and animated forms.

The net result is to see documentary as an exciting, contemporary,

and continuously evolving medium by which to get young people to interpret the increasingly unstable world that they live in. it is also vital to contest the academic and rather self-defeating notion of a post documentary world : modern technologies can contribute to documentary¹s continuing evolution, but that is quite different from them making it redundant.

Paul Dwyer, University of Westminster

Narrative Arcs in Documentary: Theory and Practice

Can theory inform practice? As a teacher, it is perhaps necessary to answer in the affirmative. But my attempt to convince students to at least try reading a bit of theory is based in my experience as a practitioner.

Ten years ago, as a documentary maker learning the craft, I faced two essential problems. The first was that I didn’t know how to make a good documentary and the second was that I wasn’t sure whether making good documentaries necessarily involved a degree of “fakery” (I had come from a background in news and was working in documentaries at the time of the first fakery scandal – around Rogue Males, Clampers and The Connection).

My attempts to read documentary theory to find some answers revealed that much of the work of academic scholars – from Bill Nichols to Stella Bruzzi – was occupied with the second question. The only theory I could find to answer the first question was always addressed to fiction films.

So how far can theories of narrative help teach documentary technique? If documentaries are constructed with a strong sense of narrative, are they good films to watch? And if they are, is this achieved at the expense of their ability to tell the truth?

In this session I will show how I try to open up questions of the value (and risks) of applying theory to practice, using as an example a drama documentary I made in 2006 called The Plot Against Harold Wilson. (Online at

Thursday 24 June

Session 3: 10 – 11.15


Chair: Claire Barwell, UCA, Farnham

John Burgan, University of Aberystwyth

Product versus Process – Giving Group Feedback on Creative Practice

I have taught filmmaking in Denmark, Germany and Turkey, but returning to the UK after being based 16 years in Europe, I was confronted for the first time by “learning outcomes” and all the glories of audit culture that now dominate Higher Education in the UK. Whatever the claims for so-called “outcome-based” learning, exploring creative practice with students hardly benefits from this thinking, especially in an environment that is so obsessed by marks and the finished result. Failure is part of the process – how do we reward those who take risks?

Working closely with colleagues in the Department of Theatre, Film & TV at Aberystwyth University, I developed a new first-year UG module to address these issues. The “Media Production Project” is, in essence, an intensive weekly mise-en-scene workshop where around 90+ students make over a hundred films over eight weeks, each piece being evaluated in the group. At the same time, online group blogs allow individual students  to comment on and reflect on their experience of the creative process.

It’s hard work, but fun! In my presentation I intend to share some insights into how this very popular and successful course worked at Aberystwyth. If there is enough time, I will also show some examples of work created on the module.

Peter Hort, University of Westminster

Using Peer Feedback in the Assessment of Student Films

Whilst the idea of assessing the way that students work and not just the end product is appealing, the staffing levels within HE in the UK can make it very difficult to gain a reasonably fair overview of the process by which groups of students have arrived at their film.

This paper will look at the role of peer feedback within assessment, taking as a case study a module at Westminster where the feedback that 3rd year students write on each other, and on 2nd year students crewing on their productions, is incorporated into the marking scheme.

Is this a potentially useful approach, or does it generate as many problems as it solves?

Session 4: 11.45 – 1pm


Chair: Neil Peplow, Director of Film, Skillset

Jenny Granville, Northern Film School

How to Support Students into Industry

If you do an online trawl under the heading ‘supporting graduates into industry’ you come up with all sorts of answers to do with engineering, travel, health and….’creative industries’. But so much of it is advice. And what does this ‘advice’ consist of?   How to frame a ‘creative CV’, a professional portfolio, communication skills, how to exhibit work, one to one mentoring, interview techniques.  These are all things that any self-respecting Foundation degree, BA or MA offered by a NAHEMI school will be including in their curriculum as a professional practice component.  So what do we really mean when we promise to support our graduates as they make the transition into the industry? Is there an industry for them to move into? How do we define that industry? Should we even be attempting to provide any support?  Where does our responsibility begin and end? Are we providing an education that will allow students choice across a variety of sectors or are we providing a training for an industry that is dying?  Do our European colleagues provide ongoing support – and if so what? How about in the US. How proactive should schools be in building relationships with companies and artists and in setting up post-graduate opportunities for their students? Should NAHEMI have a policy – or at the very least a database of what different schools are offering so that we can all tap into each others’ ideas and experience? All this will be examined and thrown open for discussion.

Jim Hornsby, University of Bedfordshire

Adding Entrepreneurialism to the Curriculum

Mediatrain, which has been supported by the university’s CETL, has sought to bring vocational education to the heart of the academic curriculum by:

• embedding a vocational awareness programme within the core curriculum, and

• establishing a work experience elective for final year undergraduates.

The professional awareness programme aims to equip students with a realistic understanding of the media industries and the skills to make effective applications for work experience and jobs. The courses have benefitted from contributions by Skillset and Channel 4.

The new Mediatrain elective combats the catch 22 that you cant get a job in the media until you have got professional experience by providing final year students with the chance to participate in university managed, work experience opportunities within the curriculum – some conform to the usual model of placements in media organisations but most have been developed with local voluntary and public sector organisations that are in need of promotional films.

The talk will raise questions about developing employability and entrepreneurialism within media courses, assessment, the relationship between training and education and the challenges of working with external organisations.