The breadth and depth of client-based work a media production degree student develops whilst studying is likely to be of greater importance than their degree classification when it comes to securing future employment. One of the greatest challenges for any production-related degree programme is ensuring practical assessments are not only meeting degree requirements, but also providing maximum opportunities to build a client base and to develop a credible portfolio of freelance work. In this post Frazer Mackenzie (Head of School Media Production & Performance, Buckinghamshire New University, firstname.lastname@example.org) discusses how partnerships with recognised clients such as ‘BBC Introducing’ and ‘Watford FC’ have proved key to students taking their first steps as a credible freelancer.
As we continue to feel the impact of increased fees for undergraduate degree programmes, many students are understandably keen to ensure the degree they choose is going to provide them with the best opportunities to develop employment related skills, and actually allow them to experience employment in their chosen sector before they graduate. This expectation is felt nowhere more strongly than in degree programmes focused on the creative industries, and the media production sectors in particular. With the vast majority of post-graduate employment likely to be freelance, the ability to build a credible portfolio whilst completing their studies will be critical to future success. If they choose to go straight into work after graduating, their portfolio will undoubtedly be of significantly greater value than the degree classification they achieve, or even the University they choose to study with.
At Bucks, we’ve found that developing practice-based assessments that explicitly require students to work with nationally and internationally recognised external clients proves to be the best way to bridge the gap between academic study and ‘real world’ freelance employment. It also provides ready-made work experience that is more appropriate to freelance professions. This blog will look briefly at two assessment case studies where strong industry partnerships have gone a good way to ensuring students experience the pressured world of the production freelancer, first hand.
One of the biggest concerns often expressed by students on media production degrees is that they don’t have enough client experiences to truly develop their skills. It was a key priority to build assessments on a client relationship where there were opportunities for regular/repeat business, rather than ‘one off’ project transactions. Watford Football Club and BBC Introducing have proved to be just two good examples of industry partnerships that have fulfilled this need for our Film & TV and Audio & Music Production degree students.
Watford Football Club
The partnership with Watford Football Club includes assessed opportunities for students to carry out multi-camera outside broadcasting for the club’s home games throughout the football season. In addition, students work collaboratively with Audio & Music Production students to put together media packages, player interviews and highlights packages which can be played out at half time and on the club’s website. Work starts early on Saturday mornings with the student crew and our Outside Broadcasting Unit arriving at the ground to establish camera positions, carry out line checks and prepare for the afternoon kick off. The pressure of having thousands of football fans watching the results provides exactly the ‘real world’ dimension we’re looking to expose our students to. The university’s lecturing and technical team are also on hand to provide the guarantee that the client needs to ensure the necessary professional standards are met.
When things go wrong (and they always do!), students have to demonstrate not only the technical knowledge, but the necessary people and professional communications skills to get things back on track. The role of the lecturer becomes very much that of mentor and critical friend. Someone who’s on hand to encourage students to reflect on decision making as it happens in real time. As students get more and more outside broadcasts under their belt, their confidence to make independent decisions grows noticeably, and the line between ‘real world’ work and study begins to blur, both for the student, and for the client. The students are increasingly seen as credible contractors delivering a quality service. A high proportion of freelance work in this sector comes via recommendation and networking, and another unexpected by-product of this process has stemmed from our strong visibility at the ground. A number of our best students have also been ‘poached’ by Sky Television to work on premiership football at the weekends too.
This partnership has provided similar client based portfolio assessment opportunities and the chance for collaborative working across our media production courses. BBC Introducing is the broadcaster’s brand for new music programmes across its national and local radio stations. It’s very much a vehicle for showcasing unsigned, self-signed and other emerging musical talent, primarily from the UK. Launched in 2007, the Introducing brand brings programming from across the BBC under a unified brand with each show retaining its own identity. Introducing has also been extended to the BBC's stages at major festivals such as Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds festivals. BBC Introducing regularly bring new acts they are supporting into the university’s TV studios to be filmed for broadcast on the BBC’s networks and YouTube channels. Students have to rapidly establish a professional working relationship with the band and their management, interpret a creative audio and video brief, and turn around a completed music video within three days. With as many as 12 or more bands coming through the doors during the academic year, and with only one day to shoot and three days to edit, the students rapidly get a sense of how tough freelance work of this nature can be. They’re also afforded opportunities to work with acts typically of a much higher calibre than they would normally have access to themselves, under the banner of one of the most highly recognised broadcasters in the world. Acts that have gone on to achieve national and international success with BBC Introducing support have included Florence & the Machine, Jake Bugg, Rizzle Kicks, and Two Door Cinema Club.
Working with both these partners has not been without significant challenges. Contact time for lecturers and students doesn’t fall neatly into traditional timetabling, and much of the work can necessitate unsociable and long hours. Ensuring students are satisfying programme and module learning outcomes, and that the necessary amount of critical reflection is taking place can be equally challenging. There’s also the added challenge of building the clients' trust in the university team to provide the ‘quality guarantee’ for the high profile production work undertaken. However, we believe the rewards in terms of student employability and the significant raising of the bar in terms of what the students can achieve, have made it worth it!
How are other colleagues using assessments to meet the challenges of preparing students for freelance careers in the creative and media industries?
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