Thursday 14 December 2017

Making 'La La Land' into a career reality

There are plenty of opportunities for school-leavers, and others, who want to pursue a future in movies

And action: Sarah Dillon, gaffer, shooting on location with her fellow students from IADT Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Arthur Carron
And action: Sarah Dillon, gaffer, shooting on location with her fellow students from IADT Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Arthur Carron
Trunk call: Lindsay O’Donnell, a student of Model Making and 3D Design, putting the final touches to a Late Late Toy Show elephant
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

In the week that's in it, there are probably more than a few students wondering whether they can dare to dream of a career in the movies.

Ireland already has a proud, and internationally-recognised, reputation for film-making, and all that goes with it. There is hardly a major festival that goes by without at least an Irish nomination and, more often than not, an award winner.

Even on Oscars weekend, the renowned film director Martin Scorsese was in Dublin, being feted by, and, in turn, paying tribute to Irish cinema: "There's a lot of great talent here in Ireland and Irish films and I would like to see more." Reflecting back on his own 50 years in the business, he exhorted: "It's time for you. Reinvent cinema, go ahead. I've done mine; now it's up to you."

His comments are particularly timely: development of the Irish film industry is centre-stage in the Government's Creative Ireland programme 2017-2021, a legacy of last year's vibrant 1916 centenary commemorations. It promises a major initiative involving the Irish Film Board, RTÉ, the independent production sector, third level institutions, and others, to grow this sector to become an even greater global force.

Trunk call: Lindsay O’Donnell, a student of Model Making and 3D Design, putting the final touches to a Late Late Toy Show elephant
Trunk call: Lindsay O’Donnell, a student of Model Making and 3D Design, putting the final touches to a Late Late Toy Show elephant

Music to the ears of people like Dr Annie Doona, president of the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art and Design (IADT), home of the National Film School (NFS) and its state-of-the-art facilities.

Doona, also immediate past chair of the Irish Film Board, is in no doubt about current career opportunities, and future prospects, in a buoyant, and growing, Irish industry.

While much of the attention at ceremonies like the Oscars is on 'best actor' and celebrity faces, the other night in Hollywood, honours were awarded in 24 categories, offering recognition of the work that goes on behind the camera to make a great movie.

According to Doona, "the jobs are there; Ireland is not producing enough animation graduates and there is a huge need for technicians, cinematographers, directors and others".

She adds: "Ireland is punching above its weight international film world," and cites recent blockbuster productions, partly shot in Ireland, as examples of the country's appeal as a filming destination. And not only for scenery, but for its skillset.

"Star Wars was a real catalyst. We have lots of creative co-productions with Canada and USA. Large companies recognise we have a big pool of creative talent, including a lot of talented women, coming through."

While budding actors will take a particular route to a career on stage or screen, it is in the likes of IADT where the other creative talent that goes into producing a film is nurtured.

In the further education sector, Ballyfermot College has been a trailblazer. At third-level, IT Tralee is keeping up with trends such as visual special effects. The Co Kerry town is also home to the National Digital Skills Centre, a state-of-the art training facility, under the auspices of Solas, for the audio visual content production sector.

But the concentration and choice of film industry-related third-level courses at IADT, also an institute of technology, puts it in a unique position. Honours degree undergraduate programmes include animation, film/television production, 3D design and model making, costume design, character make-up, creative media technologies and arts management.

It was here that Rory O'Neill came up with his alter-persona, Panti Bliss, for his graduate show; skilled hands in IADT created the spectacular Jungle Book-themed opening scenes for last December's Late Late Toy Show; from over 8,000 films submitted, the 2016 Sundance Film Festival selected the animated film A Coat Made Dark, by IADT graduate Jack O'Shea with all creative input for the film from graduates or staff from the NFS; the highly acclaimed, recent movie, The Young Offenders was written and directed by an IADT MA graduate and the entire crew were graduates of its BA in Film and TV. The list is endless...

The IADT mission and contribution is not confined to honing talent through its myriad courses: "We have a 'soup to nuts' approach to film," says Doona, borrowing the phrase made famous by the eponymous 1930s movie, derived from a description of a full-course dinner: in other words, beginning to end.

IADT is closely associated with FÍS, the Department of Education's initiative to encourage film-making in pupils as young as 5-6 and, with Young Irish Film Makers, the college runs summer courses for teens. It has a particular interest in encouraging female talent, last year launching its Young Women in Film master class for transition year students.

"We are getting them interested young. We are working with teachers," says Doona. She admits that more needs to be done to explain the variety and wealth of career opportunities in the sector to parents and, even, to guidance counsellors.

The college puts a lot of effort into crossovers between its audio-visual students and students on other IADT programmes, such as psychology and business. "We really focus on... getting film people to work with other disciplines. We had an event recently with sports psychology students working with film students," she says.

Increasingly, IADT is looking beyond its undergraduate offering and this September will have two new master's programmes, one in cinematography and another in film finance, the latter, according to Doona, a recognition that along with the creative talent, "you have to have business skills, you have to be savvy about marketing as well".

From home video star to the world of cinema

Sarah Dillon credits her mother's home videos as an early inspiration for her interest in a career in the film industry. "She used to record us as kids; my whole childhood was pretty much documented on a camcorder," says the 21-year-old from Marino, Dublin.

When it came to filling in her CAO form, Sarah had no doubt about her top choice: the four-year, BA (Hons) in Film and Television production at IADT, Dun Laoghaire. It covers the gamut from production, script, direction, cinematography, to lighting, sound and editing, television programming, drama, documentary, commercials and educational programming.

Against the advice of her guidance counsellor, it was her only CAO choice, but entry to the course relies heavily on portfolio, which reduces the gamble.

Now in third year, what attracted Sarah to the course was the emphasis on developing practical skills, through hands-on experiences.

In first year, students get an all-around taste, and then begin to specialise. Sarah realised early on that she really liked the technical side of the course and editing, and has set her sights on a career as a cinematographer.

Sarah's skillset will take her anywhere in the world, but she'd "love to be able to work in Ireland".

Irish Independent

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