TS20: Opening Up Access

When I first started working with the organisation, my very first project role was supporting as a Production Assistant on a First Light project, Dark Reels.  5 groups of young people making their own short films with support from professionals.

These young people would write, shoot and direct their own short film in a week.  Come up with the idea on the Monday and the wrap by the Friday.  No worries, right? Well, no it wasn’t – from these schemes and other projects, young people across the East Midlands made film after film. Dark Reels was a development of previous Training Linked to Production schemes, and went on to become bigger and better schemes like Call the Shots, 8 films made by young people from Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in 8 weeks.  The films made by these young people were presented at their own events, celebrating and exploring themes ranging from diversity to Foetal Alcohol Spectrum disorders.  They were shown at Vue, Odeons, BBC2, Virgin Media downloads (the first time you could ever download films onto your phone), invited onto Richard and Judy and at festivals up and down the country.

So, the tipping point where engagement becomes talent and skills development is when the choice is made to treat it as a professional experience and develop a legacy and sharing. These young people worked with professionals as part of a crew, and the professionals were part of the young people’s crew. Some of these young people went onto make further films, some of them went onto work with other community organisations to support and develop opportunities for other young people. All of them essentially have a professional showreel.  All of them understand the mechanics of film production by doing it and not just learning about it.

In 2014, the Skillset workforce survey reported that 78% of the creative industries are now graduates. Many of the young people we worked with from 1998 to 2014 went onto university and some didn’t. It’s not to be assumed though that being a graduate leads to employment. You’ll often hear about the “strength of your networks”, and when you’re emerging from uni – how do you build a network? How do you avoid having to work for free while you build that network? Well, you can start to build it while you’re studying through volunteering and other opportunities. Frequency Festival in Lincoln has welcomed over 600 volunteer sign ups since 2011.  In that time, we’ve provided references, contributed to volunteering hours for awards and signposted further opportunities. We’re proud to be part of your network. But, also this is a sector where we can be stronger together – many creative and cultural professionals are happy to meet you (especially if there’s tea) to share their experience and knowledge, provide an insight into the sector and highlight some of the pitfalls – whether you’re emerging, mid career or looking to diversify your pathway.

Our RADAR scheme has seen many past volunteers apply to become interns or to work as part of the festival, now we work with some of those interns in a professional capacity.  91% of our creative graduates are now in employment.

The common thread in our initiatives are real professional experience, mentorship by professionals and democratic access for all.  The investment is in the individual and the support for them to be the architect of their own experience. Emerging doesn’t mean amateur. Training doesn’t mean dumbed down. 

The embedded values are the same for any Threshold scheme; opening up access, equipping people with knowledge and skills, and amplifying authentic voices.

The best advice I ever heard from a professional mentor, Barry Ryan from Warp Films was, “Be nice, make stuff and don’t give up.” He’s not wrong, to be fair.

Samantha Lindley, Director of Programmes, Threshold Studios