Grierson Documentary Lab 2013

2 Aug

The Grierson Trust is again working in partnership with First Light to continue to provide opportunities for young people from across the UK to train for a career in documentaries. We have recruited 10 young people with a fresh take on documentary filmmaking and factual content which is not currently reflected on screen.

New Entrants

This unique opportunity for new entrants who have a strong interest in documentaries, provides opportunities to meet and hear from experienced professionals working in the sector.

The intensive 3 day residential Grierson Documentary Lab included:

  • An introduction to the genre and different types of documentaries and styles of shooting.
  • Learning about how to research ideas, develop and pitch them.
  • Script development focusing on structure and story.
  • Exploring production roles and a practical exercise to experience the different positions.
  • Information, advice and careers guidance.

Other Opportunities

In addition, participants also attended the Sheffield Doc Fest in mid June, benefitted from a 2 day self shoot/editing training weekend and they also have the opportunity to volunteer at The Quadrangle Film Festival.

Successful applicants are supported to maximise their potential through mentoring, and can be offered a paid two week work placement with a production company in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester or London.


Mei’s work placement at Silver River TV

26 Feb
Mei Leng Yew

Mei Leng Yew

My first paid placement of 2013 was at Silver River TV and it marks the beginning of what will (hopefully!) be an exciting year for me. The two week paid placement was organised by Yen Yau from First Light and Emma Hindley from the Grierson Trust. It was the final part of the Second Light Documentary Lab, which I took part in almost a year ago in Birmingham and Sheffield.

Silver River is a production company based in London, which specialises in factual entertainment and documentaries. I was given the role of development intern and from the very first day, I had a range of interesting projects to work on. During the first week, I was asked to write a proposal for an hour-long authored documentary. One of the researchers spent an hour taking me through example proposals and then I was left to my own devices! I also did some research for three very different programmes that were in development. One involved cameras, the second involved gardening and the third was a lengthy history series that kept me occupied for the whole of the second week.

On the very last day, I also attended a shoot as a runner. Silver River are in the middle of production for Fit To Rule, a series of films for BBC, asking whether the previous British monarchs were really up for the job. That day, they were filming the presenter links on location. The call time was 7am, so I had to wake up at 5am to meet the production co-ordinator at 6am for a lift. It was a long day but very interesting. I observed the art department and the camera and sound crew setting up. Naturally, making tea and coffee for the crew and talent was one of my duties, but I didn’t mind as it was a good way to get chatting to each person.

Overall, I enjoyed my time at Silver River. The people were very welcoming, and I had the opportunity to experience the development process, which was completely new to me. Thank you to Second Light for all that you have done for me. You’ve given me opportunities that I would not have had elsewhere.

Mei Leng Yew

Danielle Lands a Job as a Runner

18 Feb
Danielle has a job as a runner

Danielle has a job as a runner

Danielle has just begun working for Films @ 59 in Bristol. We asked her what she’d be doing in her new role…

Films @ 59 is a pre-and post-production house with several offices around Bristol. I’ll be an office based Runner, so I’ll be making teas, getting lunches, looking after staff and clients, delivering tapes and collecting equipment. Films @ 59 think of themselves as a training academy for their Runners and they’ve assured me that there will be lots of useful lessons and experience to be gained in these 12 months.

In September, I took part in the Second Light Screenwriting Lab in Liverpool. After this I was inspired to write and produce my own short film. My film is in the final stage of the editing process and will be shown at a venue in Bristol throughout March. I think this played a large part in getting me the job at Films @ 59 as I talked about it in my interview. I doubt I would’ve even made the film if it hadn’t been for the inspiration at the Screenwriting Lab, especially Ludo’s Tips for writing for low budget film makers.

You can check out Danielle’s blog here.

All About the Documentary Pre-Production Lab

22 Jan


The Second Light Documentary Pre-Production Lab in association with Dochouse was above and beyond my expectations. I hadn’t been to any training workshops before; not for film or anything else. If I hadn’t been granted this opportunity, I would have probably still been suspicious about just what one could get out of them. After I graduated from university I was desperate to continue to collect up certificates to make me feel worth something. As if it isn’t real knowledge if you don’t get a certificate at the end of it saying so. Maybe it’s because my world-view has been partly informed by video games: in games, collecting things is a way to level-up and even your progress acquiring intangible qualities such as wisdom is measured by a glowing bar onscreen. Yet, in real life, it’s what you do with your knowledge that counts.

Over four days in October 2012, we were taught skills that would be useful to us as filmmakers, always with the expectation that we would use them. We learnt about how every documentary must have a story, or it will be just a procession of facts. We learnt what makes a good teaser tape and how to format a written pitch. We learnt where to source archive footage and about filming rights. And we learnt the importance of believing in your own idea; or if you don’t, maybe find a new idea.

I met the other participants in the foyer of the BFI Southbank, having taken a long route through four sets of traffic lights because I didn’t know there was an underpass. We chatted, but the back of all our minds was the entry on our workshop schedules: ‘Pitching to a panel of industry professionals.’ ‘A test!’ I thought. ‘They didn’t say there would be a test!’ When on the last day we concentrated on pitching, it wasn’t at all some punitive trial aimed at forcing us out of the industry should we fail.

The practice pitch was scheduled for the last day, which meant that by that time we’d edited and refined our proposal several times, with the help of development producer Nicola Lees. On the morning of that last day we got used to speaking in front of an audience by doing this within the group. Then we split off into pairs and practiced pitching one-on-one, speed-dating style. By the time the pitch came round, explaining our idea in this way seemed like a routine thing. Nicola was also part of the panel, in addition to documentary filmmaker Marc Isaacs and the Director of Dochouse, Elizabeth Wood. Having Nicola there reminded us that whoever you’re pitching to is a person too. Not a gorgon. Not scary. Not holding your life in the balance. There will always be other ways and opportunities to fund your film, if you seek them out.

Suky Goodfellow

Have Belief in Your Film if you Expect Anyone Else to Believe in it

14 Dec

I was slightly nervous on the train down to London for my Second Light four-day pre-production documentary course in partnership with Ideastap, Dochouse and BFI. Even though I had applied for the course and been accepted onto it; despite having done my research; and despite having belief in my idea, I was still plagued with one big doubt: ‘Was it good enough to actually be made into a documentary?’!

After four intensive days I left London having answered this question and with a plan of action for how to get my documentary made and seen.

The Secondlight Documentary Pre-production lab was one of the best things I have done, especially since leaving University and entering the big ol’ real world. I am not sure how to fit four days worth of intensive course into a short post but below are some of my highlights:

1) Getting to watch Sarah Gavron’s Village at the End of the World. Thought provoking and at the same time humorous the documentary was a great way to start the course, and even better Sarah stopped by for a masterclass afterwards.  It was great to watch the film and then get to question Sarah; from how she came across the subject matter to how many cameras she used, how long filming took to how she got the film funded.

2) Working with Nicola Lees, who gave us all invaluable advice on treatment writing and one-to-one advice on our documentaries. Having Nicola there to help develop our pitches and ideas meant that when it came to pitching at the end of the course we were prepared, and she made me question my ideas with a fresh perspective.

3) Attending the screening of Ken Burns The Central Park Five – a beautiful example of just how powerful documentary can be.

4) Being given masterclasses by industry professionals, and being able to quiz them about anything and everything. It’s always inspiring to know that many of them started off in the same shoes as you.

5) Working with Amber Dobinson and Rachael Swindale and of course Corinna and Alice from the BFI Education department. The support system over the 4days, meant I didn’t feel like I was on a course with strangers, I felt I was in a team of people working together in a trusting environment. You felt that they believed in your documentary and you.

6) Strangely the dreaded pitching was also a highlight of the course. Being challenged to stand in front of industry pro’s Elizabeth Wood, Marc Isaacs and Nicola was a frightening prospect. However, the world didn’t end. I didn’t mess up. (I did stand on one leg! – as Nicola pointed out to me after) But in the end I pitched pretty well. I received positive feedback and knowing that I can now stand up and pitch my documentary to a decent standard in ONE minute makes me feel a whole lot better about the future. Bring on bumping into potential funders in elevators!

For anyone who is thinking of applying for one of these courses, all I would say is. DO IT. The opportunity to meet inspiring people, learn from industry pro’s and push yourself is too big an opportunity to be missed. The most important thing I learnt was that: you have to have belief in your film if you expect anyone else to believe in it.

Cat Marshall

Identify Your Goals and Make yourself Accountable for them

3 Dec

After the obligatory getting to you know you game stage (throwing balls at each other + confessing cartoon fetishes = Bonding) we launched into an intense program of lectures and talks. Yen Yau, Lucy Scher, Rob Richie and Justin Young communicated the basis of Story, the Structure of Story and the experience of writing for TV in a such a succinct efficient way that only upon reflection I realised how much was actually explored. Throughout their varied talks however emerged clear messages.

Lessons Learnt from Day 1 of Second Lights Screenwriters Lab.


  1. Identify Your Goals and Make yourself Accountable for them

–        Ex. Writing down two specific goals to aim for by the end of the workshop

–        Telling others your goals will help you clarify but also make you more likely to achieve them (the pressure of shame!)

–        Increasing your Digital Footprint – For both Networking and making yourself accountable publically

  1. Intention – Find the Meaning

–          Why are you telling this story?

–          Where are you contained within it?

–          What experience do you want to give the audience?

–          What is the conflict?

–          What is the meaning?

–          What universal question are you answering?

–          Shape your choices to communicate your premise and answer those questions

  1. Have A Plan

–          Audience is key, you might not know your stories meaning to begin with but you must find it and actively plan how to communicate it best. This is not self exploration – this is communication

–          Story is: Conflict working towards Resolution

–          Endings are crucial

  1. Simplify

–          Simple = Universal and sellable

–          Strip back, focus and then add in the unique/specific details of your voice.

  1. You’ll never have to pay back your student loan! Unless you get on the BBC Writers Workshop or other such schemes – FIND SCHEMES

Mairead Carten

Improve your scripts with algebra

27 Nov

Courtesy of FIRST LIGHT FILMS initiative SECOND LIGHT went to a 3 day masterclass in scriptwriting run by THE SCRIPT FACTORY  in London.

Quality guest speakers ranging from Justin Young who discussed the reality of writing for soaps, Gurinder Chadha who shared the processes behind writing and directing features like ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ and many more…

Rob Richie, a pro script doctor gave a lot of enlightening information – such as where the origins of stereotype come from and cliché – (stereotype being the old French process of copying lithography on to a second surface – cliché being the word to describe the sound of the machines as they clunked the two surfaces tight together).

Amongst a lot of epiphanic one liners we did one exercise that helped my understanding that a two dimensional character was a literal thing – if you take what the character looks like as a Y axis – what the character behaves like as a Z axis – and what the character is as the X axis it works on a mathematical level. A Police woman who looks like a police woman and thinks like a police woman has the dimensions XYZ = 2D …However change one and you have a Police woman who looks like a police woman but behaves like a rehabilitated crystal meth addict who seeks revenge and it suddenly develops XY – Z = 3D.

Now I will avoid characters that are simply called MUM or FRIEND 3 in my scripts…

Another great exercise was a reductionist theory on ensemble films by taking a two character concept that worked and adding more and more characters to them without making them redundant extras by always giving them an avenue towards the original premise.

Also everyone on the course was my age, all really sound and all seemed to be going places in the industry too – which made for a really good learning environment – so thanks Second Light!

Josh Randall

You can view more from Josh here

Chadwick reflects on the Script Labs

22 Nov

“Writing is a long term game and we must be in it for the long haul” Frank Cottrell Boyce

My journey as a film maker with first light has taken me on some interesting places; So far I have taken part in the Documentary Lab and the Producers Lab. Both of which can be described at the fruit end of film making, before all these kick into motion a script/screenplay is needed, the root of a good film. The script is golden!

My latest learning with first light had taken me to the city of Liverpool to take part in a Screenwriting and Development Lab. Having taken part in previous Second light learning lab, I know how much valuable information you pick up in a short period of time. This lab took me back to the basics of what was happening since I was a child, listening to stories, but this time with the help of Script Factory. I was thought how to analyses the arch of a story; build characters and settings that compliment the story, as a screenwriter I would be trying to tell. This was only a warm up of what was to come over the next three days.

As I come to terms with how I was over complicating trying to write a script. The lecture asks “who has a film that they want to pitch” bravely my hand went up. I stood at the front she asked me in the same order as follows; •Who? •What? •Where? •How? And finally When? I was able to answer the questions she asked and her reply to me was “it was a good and unique story” as I covered all the points for the basics of a script. I just need to get it all down on paper. I had written it already, I am now going to amend the screenplay to the new rules I have learned.

The next day we pitched in depth versions of our screen plays followed by distinguished guests all at different stages of their screenwriting journey.

The first speaker was Nick Whitfield who had completed a smart short film which spring boarded him on to completing a feature film, Skeletons that went on to win various awards. The film was a dark comedy that has been likened to Inception on the dole. Martin Wallace an accomplished editor and more recently a writer completed film Small Creatures that he done so in acrimonious circumstances and advised us not to make the same mistakes. He produced and directed a film about young people tackling serious issues. Having seen the opening sequence of his film it is a well shot film, with a niche audience.

Frank Cottrell Boyce the final speaker and award winning screen writer and novelist, also one of the writers of the one of the most visually encapsulating pieces of 2012, with quite possibly the biggest audience of they year as well, ‘The London 2012 Opening Ceremony’. He was unsure of what to tell us, I would be considering his wealth of experience, but he was very gracious in his advice, sharing random gems of his exciting journey into the world of screen writing. He also illustrated his story telling prowess by sharing a heart felt story about his daughter and in the end revealing how she is now a mother. He managed to wrap a story around how long it took him to get a script of the ground. One thing he made sure we understood is that writing is a long term game and we must be in it for the long haul. I will bear that in mind, and I certainly have a few years to spare.

10 Things Learnt at the Script Lab

16 Nov

1) Script writing is the act of making money out of life’s injustices

2) The best films are the product of a great idea and not quite enough time

3) DON’T approach those who inspire you in the industry without having a perfected script and a good pitch to open on

4) -25s are achieving amazing things in the film industry

5) Starting a script with a an underlying political agenda is OK as long as you are conscience and honest about it – and have a good script!

6) There are lots of good ideas out there in the film industry- execution is everything; don’t be lazy

7) The debate between film and digital continues…

8) Urban Stories of today are motivated by the same causes as they were at the birth of cinema

9) Fewer people smoked than I anticipated

10) First Light’s method of positive discrimination makes for an interesting set of classmates

Jane Costello

Could you pitch your idea to an industry professional in 90 seconds?

14 Nov

So, now back and a little rested from 4 days of BFI pre-production training. Every event like this is a challenge for me, I get hopelessly lost in London and the agoraphobia that kept me house-bound for years starts to stalk me along the Thames. So was it worth it?

A big resounding ‘YES’. Although the days were packed and long they forced us all to think. We met amazing people – people who had actually done it, they’d made their own films. They didn’t have capes and wear Lycra. They were ‘like us’ in the future and that was very heartening. Can you imagine pitching your fledgling ideas to industry professionals in 90 seconds? I couldn’t. I was pretty sure I’d chicken out, or if not me then one of the other 11 participants – but we didn’t. We all stood and explained our ideas in a room full of new friends willing us to succeed.

I am not a confident person. I’ve been battered for years by unemployment and illness, but this made me feel like maybe there might just be a future for me somewhere in film.

Amy Palmer