Life Learning

Saturday 16 December 2017

The overnight Oscar success that took years of hard work

Behind the glamour, training for life in the movies is a hard graft

Transition Year students from St Patrick's Cathedral Grammar School get practical experience of working with film equipment
Transition Year students from St Patrick's Cathedral Grammar School get practical experience of working with film equipment

Staff at Ballyfermot College of Further Education have good cause to celebrate this week. One of their animation graduates, Richard Baneham, won an Oscar for his work on Avatar -- and two other graduates had also been nominated.

With the National Film School in Dun Laoghaire announcing details of a major revamp in the past few weeks it is an exciting time for film education in Ireland.

A decade ago animation graduates might have struggled to find work in Ireland, but there are growing job opportunities at home for talented individuals.

Lest anyone think that careers in animation and film are soft options, the careers advice service Gradireland.com should shatter that illusion.

According to the website, the normal career path in film and television is to do a degree in film or a related field and then spend a few years working freelance for a pittance while building up a CV and establishing a reputation.

"This can be seen as an 'apprenticeship' period and graduates should realise that they will probably need to support themselves for about two to three years,'' says the website.

Donald Taylor-Black, creative director of the National Film School at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dun Laoghaire (IADT) says: "People may become interested in doing a film course, because of the spurious glamour of showbiz, but they quickly discover that it is hard work. Working in the industry requires a lot of commitment.''

The Oscar-nominated hit cartoon The Secret of Kells may have seemed like an overnight success in Hollywood. But Tomm Moore, the director first started work on a version of the project 12 years ago as a student at Ballyfermot.

While big directors like Neil Jordan and stars such as Saoirse Ronan attract the bulk of Irish cinema headlines, the recent awards and nominations will focus on the behind-the-scenes operators in an industry that employs 6,000 people in the country.

"There is a tendency to think of the film industry in a narrow sense of people wanting to become film directors,'' says Donald Taylor-Black of IADT. "It is a broad area covering everything from cinema to television documentaries, advertising and corporate videos."

While students can now study film in the same way as they study literature, the National Film School's focus is on the practical skills required to work in the industry.

IADT includes degrees in film and TV production, model making for movies, design, special effects and screenwriting.

As with other practical courses, students are not admitted on the basis of the Leaving Cert. They must also present a portfolio of relevant work.

Donald Taylor-Black says film schools have become more important for those trying to enter the industry, because fewer big employers are able to provide on-the-job training.

"A couple of decades ago many of those who worked in the industry would have received their training from TV stations such as the BBC and RTE. But since a lot of TV programming is now outsourced to small independent companies that training is often no longer available."

Taylor-Black proudly boasts that his graduates received 17 recent nominations for the Irish Film and Television Academy Awards.

His and Hers, a documentary made by IADT graduate Ken Wardrop, recently won a prize at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

The Government will fund the development of the new National Film School Building at IADT's Kill Avenue Campus.

The centre will house two television and two radio studios. Technically it promises to be the most up-to-date facility for education in film and television production in Ireland.

It is hoped that construction will begin in early summer with a projected opening in 2011.

Irish Independent

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