The Road to Production

March 17, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

What did the producers of tomorrow think of the 2016 APA Masterclass?

In February over 100 students, mostly from APA member companies, attended the APA Masterclass – a five-day intensive course for people who are on their way to becoming producers.

Since 2001 the Masterclass has been providing people with all the knowledge and skills they need to produce commercials, from the script to delivery. It has become the industry standard in that time – one of the few qualifications that people respect in a position built upon experience and on-the-job learning.

Previously it has run over a number of short sessions over 12 weeks but this year it radically changed to become more of a boot camp – everything crammed into one week in order to immerse students in the learning experience.

Over the week the students took part in lectures and workshops led by some of the industry’s leading professionals, culminating, as ever, in an exam. Now their exams are handed in we asked some of them to describe the experience.

“It was intense and a great five days,” says Adèle Barach, a Production Assistant at Biscuit Filmworks. “It’s a good way to learn from professionals about the basics.” She admits it was a busy week, but because each lecture was only an hour or so long, it was possible to get the best from each speaker.

No aspect of production is neglected, as Hannah-Clare Gordon, Animation Rep at Agile Films, appreciated. “I definitely think the best way to gain knowledge is through our own practice,” she admits, “making mistakes and learning from them, but the Masterclass provided the best groundwork possible in order to move forward as producers and advance our production experience.”

The Masterclass is an interactive course, not just a series of lectures for students to sit and quietly take notes on. Massimo Paradiso, a Content Producer at Ursus, appreciated the chance to speak to so many top producers and found hearing their opinions and personal approaches particularly interesting. “I guess there’s no definitive way to produce and everyone has their own methods,” he says.

Attilio Gianfancesco, Head of Sales and Marketing at Great Guns, enjoyed the collaborative efforts of the course’s final day, where the students were separated into groups to create a schedule, budget and bid letter for a commercial. “The best part was definitely testing and implementing my knowledge and comparing it with my colleagues,” he says. “It was great to put into practice the previous four days’ content.”

All the students I spoke to agreed that budgeting day was the most intense, challenging but also the most rewarding part of the course. Hannah-Clare adds that the expertise on hand was a great privilege. “It was so useful to have a team of seasoned producers on hand to ask them their advice and the different ways that they would approach a production,” she says.

But despite the experts there to support them, the Masterclass couldn’t turn out producers of the future by giving them an easy ride. Hannah-Clare says it was way more intensive than she had anticipated and Adèle remarks on how tired her brain was by the end of the week, especially as English is not her mother tongue.

“I have to admit it was tiring, but it didn’t destroy me,” says Lea Chukri, a Producer at Short Films. “Being focused for so long can be tough. And for those of us who worked at the same time it was hard to balance. That was the big challenge – not arriving late, making calls during the breaks etc.”

“It was full on,” agrees Massimo. “I wouldn’t call it a holiday. But the diverse range of talks and workshops kept it fresh. Some of the talks and workshops were very interactive and I certainly had fun.”

Different students had their own highlights. Attilio loved the casting session from Tree Petts and Shakyra Dowling. “Their energy was fantastic,” he says. “And James Waller from the Met Police was absolutely amazing and gave a fantastic talk about working with the MPS Film Unit.”

Adèle appreciated the broad span of expertise demonstrated by the tutors. “Being introduced to sectors less widely taught was great,” she says, “learning about subjects such as shooting with drones, data protection, the MPS Film Unit or AdGreen.” She also found it interesting to hear a director’s perspective from Stink’s Keith McCarthy and the informative virtual reality presentation. “Working on a standard 30-second TV commercial is one thing, but we need to realise the industry is moving fast.”

Lea loved the music lecture from Massive Music. “They showed examples and made music rights and royalties very interesting, even at six o’clock in the evening!”

Despite the long trek out to Uxbridge one evening, the trip to ARRI to learn about was very popular with the students I spoke to. “They’re a company who really know how to promote themselves,” says Hannah-Clare. “I left feeling that ARRI was the be-all and end-all for cameras and lights. Maybe even contemporary cinema!” She stressed that pure sales pitches did detract from the learning experience though. “I didn’t enjoy companies coming in and just presenting us with a sales pitch. Those were less beneficial than having small, workshop-like groups to interact with the editors or the one-on-one chat with producers.”

One of the great strengths of the Masterclass has proven to be the camaraderie it fosters between students and tutors and this year was no different. “It was nice to be surrounded by people of the same age with the same interests,” says Adèle. “The networking side of the Masterclass is good as the people I met that week are likely to be the people we will work with in the future.” By the time the booze started flowing at the wrap party on Friday night, some of the most significant relationships in the future of production may have already been built.

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