Bradford Film and TV students get close to the action

David WilsonBradford

IMAGINE setting up fake explosions and dropping bricks on cars for one of the hottest upcoming TV shows. Or sorting props and location shoots for a popular soap opera.

University of Bradford film and TV students are getting hands-on experience on big-name dramas with companies like Netflix, Amazon, ITV and BBC – and, even better, they get paid too.

Lily Culham is currently working as a Special Effects (SFX) trainee on Netflix’s new time-travelling murder mystery, Bodies, which has been filming in Yorkshire.  Lily said: “I’ve been operating rain machines, setting up fake explosions and dropping bricks onto cars and more. It’s great fun and a good challenge, but all in a day’s work in this crazy industry.” Lily studied BA Film and TV production and previously gained experience on two other Netflix shows, The Witcher and The Crown, both of which involved filming in and around Bradford. Lily said: “I am looking to further my career in SFX, and always keeping my options open. The current training has been brilliant and I look forward to seeing the finished result.”

Such opportunities are made possible by the Bradford Film Office, part of Bradford UNESCO City of Film, which are both situated at the University. The Film Office is responsible for arranging TV and film location shoots in the district, and can put current students and graduates in touch with production companies looking for crew.

Sam Robinson is another recent BA Film and Television Production who has taken advantage of such opportunities. He has worked on Emmerdale and series five of The Crown. Sam, who hopes to go into rigging or management, said: “I had an incredible experience whilst working on The Crown as they were filming an episode portraying Queen Elizabeth II’s motorcade on a state visit to Russia.  “It was wonderful to see how they dressed a familiar street to make it look like 1990s Russia and all the classic vehicles.  Working on Emmerdale gave me an insight in how filming works on a smaller scale.”

Bradford has played host to a number of big productions recently, from The Crown and Bodies to TV dramas including Channel 4’s Ackley Bridge and ITV’s medical thriller, Malpractice.

Recent research suggests nearly 21,000 new roles will be created in TV production in the UK between now and 2025.

Professor David Wilson, Director of Bradford UNESCO City of Film said: “The screen industries are truly flourishing in the UK at the moment and the upward trend is set to continue.

“This is, in part, due to an increase in demand for content because of the rise of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney+, but we are also seeing more film and TV production companies taking practical approaches to be more sustainable and a large part of this is employing local crew.”

Donnie Horvath, 25, studied MA Filmmaking and graduated in 2020. He worked in the locations team at Sister Pictures on BBC One’s Better, a five-part thriller filmed in Leeds and Bradford in spring 2022 and hopes to build a career in the camera department.

He said: “The Bradford Film Office has helped me a lot in developing a career in filmmaking by putting me in touch with contacts in the industry who have then called me back for other opportunities. “Working on Better as my first drama experience was amazing, I couldn’t have wished for ‘Better.’ The locations team really welcomed me, I learned a lot about how a film production works, and I got to peek into every department, which was really useful and exciting.”

Fran Peel, 29, is a trainee locations assistant for ITV soap Emmerdale, having graduated with a BA in Media Production and Technology in 2014. During her studies, she worked as a marshal on The Crown and on Emmerdale.

She said: “Without Bradford City of Film, I wouldn’t have ever considered a career in locations within TV or Film. I hope to carry on working in locations for productions across Yorkshire, which is becoming more popular thanks to organisations like the Bradford Film Office showing off what a great place it is to film.”

Banita Bangar, 21, worked as a marshal on The Witcher and The Crown while studying for a BA in Film and Television Production. She was responsible for moving props and keeping the public out of shots. She said: “I got to speak to people in various roles in the production and watch the director at work. I want to go into directing and writing, so it means I’ve had hands on experience. I’ve also learned more about networking in filmmaking and the different elements in content creation.”

Usmaan Arshad, who graduated with an MA in Digital Filmmaking in 2016, has worked as a freelance technical operator for BBC Yorkshire and as an art department trainee on the 2021 BAFTA-nominated film Ali & Ava. He was also a camera trainee on Apple TV’s alien series, Invasion, as well as on The Last Bus starring Timothy Spall and Channel 4’s thriller, The Undeclared War, starring Simon Pegg.

Usmaan, who is now a “clapper loader,” or second assistant camera, said: “The Bradford Film Office provided me with an opportunity to work on a local feature film (Ali and Ava) which allowed me to make contacts in the film industry which has kick started my film and television career.”

The University’s link with the UNESCO City of Film also gives students access to worldwide opportunities. Professor Wilson said: “Having a working film office on campus is a definitive plus for students who are studying subjects related to the screen industries.

“In addition to some of the examples of paid work placements there are also numerous opportunities for students and graduates to submit some of their own work into film festivals around the world hosted by other UNESCO Cities of Film, such as those in Yamagata, Japan, and Busan, South Korea. ”

Rachel Bottomley and Conor MacMahon, both University of Bradford graduates, have had their own experiences in TV and film – and now they assist Professor Wilson as production coordinators in the Film Office. One of Conor’s most memorable experiences was flying a camera drone on BBC’s Countryfile to capture aerial shots of the team on a farm in Cookridge, Leeds.

He said: “I got to chat to all the crew and the presenter, Helen Skelton. I also provided aerial footage of Bradford to BBC’s Jay’s Yorkshire Workshop. These shots were used in the introduction for every episode in the series.”

Rachel, who also co-owns Bradford-based media company, Curiouser & Curiouser Media, said: “The first production I worked with at the Film Office was Peaky Blinders season four. It was in the middle of summer and the production was using City Hall to double as the Midland Hotel at Christmas time.  “Since then I have worked with productions such as Downton Abbey the movie, Victoria, Gentleman Jack, The Duke, Emmerdale and Bodies, to name a few.  Being a production coordinator in the Film Office, no two days are the same. We help to facilitate productions coming to film in Bradford, for example by helping with access to buildings and any road closures.  Our job is to show Bradford off in the best light and I hope, through seeing the city on high end tv dramas and feature films, others can see Bradford the way we do.”