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Course Leader Q&A

We’re looking for ideas people because we can teach the technical stuff.

Liam Wells
Course Leader
Read Liam Wells’ staff profile.

What’s your background and where did your interest in film come from?

I studied at Film School and then went to Art School and studied cultural studies which is interdisciplinary. I studied creative writing, visual practice and theory and my favourite area which was film – writing about film and making film. In my third year I looked more at digital practice and this has always been an interest.

What makes the course at NUA distinctive?

We teach craft – Direction, Production Design, Producing, Lighting, camera work, but we teach by theme rather than treating each technique in silo. So rather than you specialising from day one in different craft areas which limits your experience of the course we try to give you an overview of all the different craft areas so that you can become self-selecting.

I think that is a big difference on our course. By way of example our first project focuses on story telling and narrative, we teach writing direction and the producing role, lighting, etc but we don’t have you specialising within the production teams on just one role. This was one of my own frustrations with Film School, I wanted to try things before I specialised and that wasn’t an option. I could choose to take one pre-production module, one production module and one post-production module so for example I couldn’t do sound design and editing it had to be one or the other. Our students can experience all aspects as we lead by the theme. Because we teach this way we can really embrace digital culture. We not only look at digital in terms of technology but also in terms of film distribution.

How does the course work with industry?

We have various ways in which students can interact with industry but we also have various ways in which industry interacts with the course. We have live briefs where people come in from industry to set projects for students to work on and that is really important because then you have something in your portfolio made for a real client. Recently we worked with MTV and we’ve done a series of viral videos which were advertising Aids awareness campaigns. They were used online to bring traffic to the website and that’s far more valuable than setting a brief with a hypothetical client that isn’t actually going anywhere.

We bring in visiting lectures through the media lecture programme. These might be academics, but more often than not they are from industry such as producers and independent film makers. We also have Managing Directors from TV companies come in and students get the benefit of talking to the guests after the lecture.

We bring industry into the production process in years two and three. Our Industry Producers Panel helps students make decisions about their productions. Year three students may pitch an idea as they go into production and the panel will make sure they have considered all aspects of production as they would be required to in the real world. Then we have a final panel in which editors and sound designers look at the construction of the film and post production. This is quite an interesting way of working with industry because it’s not about people imposing a brief and setting a criteria, it’s about professional guests using their experience to help our students to make decisions that they would have to make in the real world and I think that is really good preparation for stepping into their carers.

How many films will students make during the course?

We have three units across an academic year, with the exception of year three. Within each 10 week block students usually make one film either as a group or individually, write an essay, do a case study and possibly also produce pre-production material such as a script or story board that backs up their work. So in year one students make four films as a minimum, in year two they make three films as a minimum and in the final year they make one film, so eight films across the course.

What do you look for in applicants?

Primarily we’re looking for people with ideas, not necessarily technical people because we can teach the technical stuff such as the software, cameras and pragmatic techniques. What we nurture is creativity – industry is constantly telling us that they don’t want people who just have the technical competency, they want people who have the ideas or are able to deal with other people’s ideas.

The key thing we are looking for is an ability to tell stories – we’re not necessarily looking to see fully formed short films, but something that tells us that the applicant has the potential to tell a story or has ideas for stories. They might be writing these or using photography framing a shot in a particular way to tell a story though a still image.

Having a wide frame of reference is invaluable, so we want to see research on films and film makers. Wanting to work with other people is important, the course has a group dynamic. Sometimes we accept students who don’t have the formal qualifications but something about them shows they will be a great producer, for example they are able to manage things in a certain way. If we can see this potential it goes along way.