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BFI Film Academy 10: Megan Heald’s Blog

Megan Heald is one of the participants on our tenth BFI Film Academy (2021). Having almost finished the academy, we asked Megan about her experience of the course…

This has been my first time taking part in a BFI Film Academy. I am very excited about this experience and so far, it has been incredible to collaborate with other young, creative, film-loving people like myself. But also, to learn from some of the best and most well-connected people in the industry in and around Manchester. I feel honored to have been chosen for this opportunity and am trying my hardest to learn and develop my film understanding to take forward into my career. I hope this will guide me towards a possible path in the film industry which is right for me.

Part of the course is that we have a session every Wednesday online. So far, they have consisted of a meet and get to know everyone, a brief history of film, the history of British cinema and a talk from someone who works at the British Board of Film Classification. I have found these interesting and helpful. I am very glad that this course delivers theory sessions because they give me context and a baseline for other areas of film which have helped define the industry we see today.

On Saturdays the practical filmmaking sessions run at HOME. I find this extremely exciting because I have a chance to see everyone in person and also it gives me a sense of teamwork. The first three sessions we had were very much developing initial ideas and bringing the final short film to fruition. I really enjoyed the technique that was used to assist us in accessing a more creative mindset. We often work in small groups for certain activities, I find this elevates our ideas to another level because we are sharing and collaborating on all of them as a group. I think we all work better as a team, however small that team is. As the course goes on, we all feel more comfortable and confident with each other, this strengthens our teamwork and ultimately our short film together.

On the first day of the shoot week, we were all based at HOME for workshops on camera, sound and lighting. All of the people in each group were given the opportunity to work with the equipment throughout the day. I felt this was a good exercise to really give us an idea of what it is like to be on a set all day handling the kit and having responsibility for it. At the end of this day, we were given the chance to work on a mock set and each given a role in the production. It gave us all an opportunity to observe how other people completed their roles and what it would be like on the actual set that week. It took a lot of organisation for all departments to be ready for action, but the professionals helped to move it along. Eventually we actually filmed something and it was nice to be in a room with a lot of quiet people watching the same action play out in front of us. We were unified in our collective goal.

On the second day of the shoot week we went to our first filming location which was a pub in Manchester. There were half of us filming on this day and the next day so that there weren’t so many creative clashes and everyone got a chance to work in the roles they wanted in the production. My role was being the director. I was very happy and immediately focused myself to get into a proactive and productive mindset. First, I called for a team meeting with the other people in the group to discuss a shot list, mainly so we had something to work off of for the day. We had the two actors play out the scene we were filming so we could get a feel for how they played the characters. Then we set up the first wide angle shot. People were asking me a lot of questions and I had to make a lot of decisions. But I trusted myself and my ability to make the right decisions for the project as a whole. I think people enjoyed having a job to do and actually actively doing it when we needed people to be hands on. The energy level was high in the room and it was channeled into our teamwork. In the first over-the-shoulder shot we had a few issues with back ground noise, this meant we had to do a few takes. This closer set up made it easier to use the actors, lighting, sound and space to make everything feel more personal and intimate. We moved the camera to a two shot. This meant the whole set had to change and everything had to move. This created the issue of boom microphone reflection in the back of the shot which we had to find a way around. As the day went on, I felt more comfortable talking to the actors and building a good relationship with them. I also worked on giving them feedback when something didn’t feel right. This was such an amazing experience to be on an active film set with such a large crew of young people and professionals working together to bring our film idea to life. I am so honored to have been picked as the director and thank you to all my team, the professionals and actors for creating such a great dynamic to work in.

On the third day of shoot week our group were on location in a church. It was an amazing place to work with and film because there was so much detail and religious connotations. My first role was 1st assistant director. I found this position quite easy to grow into because I’d had a similar level of responsibility the day before being the director. We had a larger range of shots to get in the church so the pace of the day was quicker and we had less time. This meant there was more to do and more pressure, but I think the director and I worked well together and kept open communication so we both knew what to do and what needed doing. Half way through the day we all changed roles. This time I was the boom operator, this was a more physical job but less intense. I felt relaxed in this position and it was nice to not have so many departments relying on you. For the final part of the day, I had a small role as an actor in the film. This was more relaxed again because I just had to do what people said.

So far, I have had an incredible time on HOME’s BFI Film Academy. I have learnt so much and it has been so much fun to work with all these amazing people to make our own short film. This has given me a fantastic taster of what it is like to work in the industry and to experiment with different areas of film to get a better understanding of what it would be like to work in those areas. I feel very lucky to have been accepted onto this course. I would also strongly urge any young person considering a career in film to apply to this course because you will receive a wealth of information and experience you will not be able to get anywhere else.