Working as a content creator and training with the BFI

Amy Nugent

Durham is a place which has so much to offer its students. One of the things I am constantly raving about to my friends and family is my part-time job as a Content Creator for the university, which lets me capture my student experience whilst also encouraging me to dig deeper into the opportunities this uni provides. One of the unique experiences I had access to through my position was the opportunity to train with professional filmmaker and BFI (British Film Institute) tutor Paul Cotrulia in filmmaking techniques and using Adobe Premiere Pro, as well as receiving advice from TikTok sensation Joshua Morris (AKA joshua_cubed). As soon as I received the information about the session I was buzzing with excitement!

The basics

Filmmaking and storyboarding – in its most basic terms – was something I was already familiar with, simply from my own personal research as well as things I have learned through my hobbies at Durham and my job, but I was ecstatic at the news I was going to get insights from industry professionals. I had my software downloaded and ready in all its overwhelming glory, my phone juiced up with battery power and ready to capture cinematic masterpieces, and the agenda pretty much memorised.

Meeting up with the rest of the Student Content Creator team, I could tell everyone felt just the same. We settled in, laptops ready (and me, a handwritten-notes kind of person, with my pen poised to take down some filmmaking wisdom) all set to introduce ourselves. Paul started off the session with an introduction to the BFI, and a rundown of what we could anticipate from the session, before asking our names and favourite films.

This prompt made me realise what I value most in films – effective storytelling. I love a film which can have me laughing one second and sobbing the next. It got me thinking about what actually draws and maintains my attention, and how I might channel that through the media I create (although I hope none of my own videos or blogs make anyone sob). Paul handed us some templates to use for storyboarding and went on to describe shots, using some example footage. It was really interesting to think about where we guide the camera and taught me a lot about framing a person to create a professional-looking film.

5 shot film

The key learning experiment was our own creation of a five-shot film, set to include a whip-pan transition. This was something I had never tried before because my first experiences using a camera was with my mum’s, and I always held that incredibly still because I was a clumsy child at risk of dropping and breaking everything, and I hadn’t quite grown out of that statue-still grip since. Whipping my phone around fast enough to create the transition took a few tries (and some help), but I am far more confident that I won’t break everything I touch! I would definitely recommend doing it over a soft surface on your first try if you are scared you might be over-enthusiastic and fling your phone on the ground. I had decided to take the story-boarding approach which entailed little sketches of the shots, which perfectly set up my actors and me for a speedy filming session, and after sharing with them the plot and ‘vibes’ I asked them to ad-lib most of their lines.

Editing techniques

Filming finished, we were back under Paul’s watchful eye as editing began. This was a massive relief to me as a Premiere Pro beginner. The endless settings were demystified, and I was soon cutting together my clips and editing the sound, navigating through the endless drop-down menus with so much more ease than if I had been left to my own devices. It was an invaluable help as I don’t know where I would have even begun if I had just logged on alone.

TikTok tips

However, as I’ve mentioned, the session was not limited to our Adobe masterclass. We were joined virtually by Joshua Morris, who was ready to impart TikTok knowledge. This was another privilege, as social media is such a maze with so many trends and popular techniques. He talked to us about structuring our clips, and the length of videos. It was very helpful and great to learn from an expert!

I left with so many tips and was excited to start filming using the techniques I learned. It was an amazing experience to learn from professionals and I am so grateful to Paul and Joshua for their time and the insights they offered me and the rest of the team. I had no idea I would get access to these kinds of experiences when I came to Durham University and wasn’t sure I would ever be filming as anything other than a hobby. Sometimes it’s great to be proven wrong!

Our film

Here’s my five-shot film (no cameras broke in the making of the whip-pan transition):

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Amy Nugent

Hi, I’m Amy and here at Durham I study Liberal Arts at Grey College. In my spare time I can be found dancing like there’s nobody watching, getting stuck into my latest art project, or writing kooky stories in one of Durham's many beautiful spots.

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