Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Personal Development Portfolio - Closing Evaluation of MDX University and Future Plans

As part of Elhum's module MDA3300, and as promised before in my final entry on the final class of that section of the BA Film course, there would be a final evaluation on this course and how I have changed and evolved over the course of it. The best way to approach this, considering the amount of time and material to cover, to break it down by each of the three years, giving a quick overview and then detailing how, in retrospect, these years may have helped or hindered my progress and personal development.

Let's begin, fittingly enough, at the beginning:

Year 1 (2012-2013):
Thus began my Middlesex journey. This was a year of introductions: to tutors, to equipment and to the rigors of more intensive film production and study than I had endured back at City and Islington College studying BTEC Media. We took an overview of film history, did a rapid boot camp with all the resources the film department had to offer, and made a succession of experimental short pieces to test different equipment and skills of ours before making a final campaign shot for the end of the year. Mine was on a historical tragedy in Spain that is still ringing throughout the country, even now, of the Ninos Robados (stolen children).

I feel that as an opening year, it did a satisfactory enough job of giving me a good overview, a nice taster platter, of the MDX experience and what I had signed up for for another two years. I do feel though that introduction to how use the equipment, again more sophisticated than the more standard camcorders I had used back in college, was maybe too quick and I never got fully comfortable using the equipment as much as I should have or could have under slightly more generous circumstances. In terms of self growth, other than getting comfortable at university and working with higher grade resources, I can't speak that much on how much I personally developed as far as my own career goals are concerned. Except for what follows.

In terms of what I did after, this was the year that finally gave me a much needed system shock. I was lazy, not taking the time to properly think through my career path, and just blindly sending my CV out to various film jobs under the misguided pretense that I would 'be given a shot'. This was wrong. Very, very wrong, and it meant it was a good three months I had wasted on wild goose chases instead of really knuckling down and deciding what I wanted to gain and learn from these experiences. I set out to remedy that by first applying for volunteer work at my local Oxfam in order to freshen up my CV, which hadn't had anything since work experience I had performed back in Year 11, and then second, asking my tutors, who either had companies or worked in the theatre, for any kind of unpaid work or volunteering. More on that coming up.

Year 2 (2013-2014):
This year proved to be a tumultuous one, starting out fairly benign with a slightly more detailed exploration of film movements across the medium's history, induction into the world of screenwriting, and then doing a short film based off of an existing work. But then, once Christmas passed, everything cranked to eleven when I became producer on a dramatic short film, Shattered Reflection, following the rejection of my own script, the slapstick 40s-fused Eye in the Shadows. This proved to be a grueling and dare I say, rather disheartening task as many things went wrong during production and though we produced a decent film at the end, I felt like I had not fulfilled my own quota.

Indeed, mixed bag is the best way to describe this year, as it had many fun moments and bright spots, but I felt like I let myself down and did not produce a film that was worthy of my hardworking collaborator who cared so deeply about the subject. It marked a very personal shift for me, and paved the way for many of the decisions I would make in third year. I knew then that the role of producer, and indeed handling the more business-y angle of film, was just not within my skillset. I'm more of a creative than an organizational type, but I also knew that nobody hires just directors,so it was with this that I decided to more squarely focus on screenwriting as my future career path. Even if I don't end up making films, I can still use this to get work in television and animation.

This summer proved to be significantly more productive, as I served as a production assistant on not one but two stage productions (Flowers in the Field and Revolution Farm, both directed by course tutors David Cottis and James Charlton respectively), and began submitting to screenwriting contests and opportunities. Specifically, I submitted a feature length crime actioner entitled Cops (looking at a superhero world from the perspective of the police) to the 2014 ScriptPipeline Screenwriting Contest, and then submitting a children-s action mystery series pilot, The Oddities Bureau, to the BBC Writersroom Opportunity For Children's Television. Neither made it past the first round, but just the experience of having to write much more than I had been used to beforehand, and how these stories changed and evolved with each draft, did leave an impact. Furthermore, this was also the year I uploaded The Lone Ranger 2 Fan screenplay to Deviantart, my first collaborative writing project that started out a simple joke with a friend, but then, several months and five drafts later, became a reality and has since scored over 500 views on Deviantart, and along with Cops, marked my first feature writing credit.

Year 3 (2014-2015):
As if trouble hadn't stalked me enough during the second half of the previous year, it seemed like 2014 on the whole would prove to be a very finicky year for me. Be it the questionable methods of Sharon Tay on the Film Theory module, the rather unbalanced and oddly organized trip and film festival over in Riga, or my own difficulties finding a script idea I liked enough to develop into a 30 minute piece. However, with the turn of the year again, came a slight shift: Sharon was replaced by Patrick and Film Theory moved back towards the theory aspect, I had settled on a children's fantasy drama dealing with divorce in the form of Little Visitor (redubbed Little Friend not too long ago), and even got the chance to write for someone else's dissertation piece in the form of Spider Fly, a psychological erotic thriller dealing with two lawyers who are going through their own personal trials.

Despite the rocky start, I feel like this year reached an agreeably even enough plateau to close better than it had started. I don't want to excessively regurgitate what I've just covered in more recent entries dealing with the final classes of each module, but sufficed to say, I feel like this year helped me iron out exactly where I want to go with my career, and what the steps are that I need to take to make that a reality.  These primarily came to manifest themselves in the MDA3300, headed up by Elhum, which covered a lot of areas that enabled one to get work and get noticed in the ever growing and ever more competitive film industry. From websites and organizations that can help you get work or build contacts (ShootingPeople, FirstJobInFilm, Stage32 etc.), to building your online presence and using social media to your advantage, to sprucing up our CV and learning how to pitch succinctly and effectively for your project. Indeed, all this proved to be useful, and while the specific companies we were asked to research in earlier lessons didn't quite line up with my own interests, it was still interesting to go out and learn that there were all these resources out there for us to tap into.

As for my MDA3400 Dissertation, I feel that Little Friend was, and I can say this without much doubt, and bearing in mind that it was so late in the process that I opted to tackle it, proved to be a worthy task. Naturally, like any young writer, I'm surprised to see the mainly positive reception it has gotten over the course of the half dozen drafts, and that despite the rollercoaster of an writing experience it has been, that I feel so strongly about the work. It wasn’t easy, in fact often frustrating, to always keep the original goal of making something accessible for a family audience without dumbing down the subject matter, but I feel that I achieved it about as well as my present writing skills would have allowed me to.

And well, my plans moving into the future germinated within this year, as it was there that I decided to redo The Oddities Bureau, rewriting the pilot from the ground up, rechristening the show as Very Strange Things, and even started up a production blog for it which is available in a past blog entry. I am in the process of preparing a demo audio recording of the pilot, which I can then use as an additional marketing crux as well as possibly use as the base of an animatic to show off how the episode may potentially look.

Looking forward:
On top of that, I am looking into the ProductionBase Graduation Scheme, which enables me to access their database of work opportunities for free for two years, which as you can imagine would be an enormous benefit. I am also a member of Stage32, which is an international network for various media individuals to come and collaborate, including filmmakers, producers, actors, musicians and playwrights among others. I have even entered one of their contests and scored as a quarterfinalist.I also use the BBC Writersroom, who offer opportunities to submit both to the BBC as well as to various festivals and countless around the UK. With these, I can begin to spread myself and start getting work out there without the constant worrying of the barriers that are thrown up against newcomers without agents. Plus, having a filmed writing credit in the form of Spider Fly is a nice plus too.

Good Times

I feel that moving forward, my main aim is to find work and to find it in a capacity where it's not merely a grueling 9 to 5 job, but also a legitimately creative and engaging learning experience that will enable me to grow as an artist and writer. I feel that, despite a handful of shortcomings and tribulations, my time at Middlesex did set me on the right path and encouraged me to go out there and try my hardest. It's not an easy road, that I've known for years, but like the old saying goes, 'Nothing worth doing is ever easy'. And this blog will remain to chronicle that and be used as an active means to promote myself and show my experience in a manner more appealing than just a written list on a CV or IMDB. Time will tell...

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