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Course Co-ordinator of NFS MA in Creative Production & Screen Finance, Jean Rice Talks with IFTN
06 Jun 2019 : Nathan Griffin
National Film School at IADT
IFTN caught up with Jean Rice, the current course co-ordinator of the National Film School’s Masters in Creative Production & Screen Finance, to find out more about what the course offers and how it can be of benefit to up-and-coming producers who have projects in mind.

The NFS offers unique postgraduate courses for the Film and Media sector, delivered in state-of-the-art facilities for education and training in film, television and radio production, design for stage and screen, and model-making.

The Creative Production & Screen Finance programme’s primary philosophy is to educate creative and entrepreneurial producers. Now entering its second year, the MA preaches art but teaches commerce, training creative and entrepreneurial producers not how to make a movie, but how to get a movie made.

It is aimed at individuals who have a strong idea for a film, documentary, drama or TV series and want to learn the intricacies of the commercial side of this creative industry. The aim is to synthesise elements of creativity and the business of film making, so that graduates go on to become the creative producers of the future.

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin caught up with Jean to find out more about the intricacies and development of the MA in Creative Production & Screen Finance.

IFTN: How was this course established and why would you encourage someone to enrollee?

Jean: “It was a few years ago. I think I was at the catalyst meeting, the second catalyst meeting they had in Croke Park. There must have been, I don't know, 800 people in the room. They did the usual. "Hands up who's a director. Hands up who's a writer. Who's a writer-director?" All the hands went up. But there was only a sultry half-dozen hands that went up when the question was asked “who are the producers?”. I just began to wonder why there aren't more.”

“We also began to think, "What is it people need to make that jump from successful shorts to the credibility or the knowledge to make a feature?” It’s a huge leap and there are different criteria involved. We looked around and there are some splendid courses on offer in Europe like The EAVE (European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs) courses for young producers. We went, "What can we do if somebody doesn't want to travel?" We started asking questions like that and then we went, "Why would somebody do a master's in Dún Laoghaire and not do EAVE?”

“We began to look at what EAVE offers: It nurtures and develops young producers on their projects; It offers them collaboration or future collaboration for a cohort of people; and it introduces them to funders, distributors, and sales agents who may be able to help them in the future. With that in mind, we tried to build that back into our course. Rather than teaching to the back of the classroom and focusing purely on the theory of how to “produce", we would make it more practical because nobody knows until they’re on the battlefield how to fire it off.”

“We're looking for people who have a feature-length project, it can be fiction, nonfiction, animation or television, and to develop it with us over a 12-month period. All the teaching is based around your project and what that project needs.”

IFTN: As you mentioned, there are not many production courses like this, especially in Ireland. What would you say is unique about this course as opposed to going into any of the other production course?

Jean:We put ‘creative’ right at the centre of the title because it's creative production - be that adapting books, or plays, or looking for screenwriters, or finding screenplays that are written. So, it's creatively developing those from initiation right through to the actual release, but also creatively funding it because that is important. You can have the best script in the world but every production demands a different kind of stratagem in order to get it made. What’s the point of going to Estonia for co-production if this project doesn't require that? It's looking at every aspect of it creatively.”

“We mirror the development process in terms of our teaching. So, rather than teach, two days a week every week, there's no point because projects take a while to develop and simmer and come to the boil. We tried to merge that. The first block is all about development, how do you develop, then how are we going to develop your project. It’s project-based and then we get rid of them for six or eight weeks’ time for those notes to distil and be fed back to a writer so that when they come again, we're ready to move on. Again, thinking about this thing called a script in real terms.”

“Although we touch on line production, budgeting and scheduling, it's not about the line producing. Every creative producer should be able to budget a feature because they need to know how much they're going to spend, whether it's a million quid or two million quid--Well It's rarely two million quid!”

“It's not a course for line producers. We're trying to develop a generation of producers and give them confidence, give them that industry expertise and speak into their project. At the end of the 12 months with us, rather than do exams, what you have, we hope, is a packaged project. You have something with finance plans, budgets, schedules, strategies for distribution and sales.”

“It's all about you and your project. For example, that first year we had documentaries. We did TV series. The rest were fiction script.”

IFTN: What prospects would graduates have after completing the course?

Jean:The same as someone like David Collins who's been doing it for 40 years! They would have gotten the best expertise and the best input possible. From story, we teach them the dark art in story development, how to speak to writers, how to recognize what's working in a script or not, how to have that language of developing a story.”

“They get input from funders, sales, and distribution people, not just here in Ireland - because the third block is delivered from the Berlin Alley. We take them over to the Berlin Alley which is one of the biggest markets in the world. They have one-on-ones or group meetings with industry personnel from all over the world.

“We help steer the project or tell them why it's working or not, why they may be interested or not, and also, I guess just to scare the bajaysus out of them! “you know, you think your project is good, well there's 10,000 other people who believe the same. What is your Unique Selling Point?”

I think the other important thing is that we teach them to identify who they are within the industry and how to build a company around yourself and identify: “Are you going to be the producer that's the genre horror producer like Fantastic Films, or are you going to be Treasure Films, who do feel-good movies? Are you going to be fiction or non-fiction. Who are you?”

“What is that identity? How do you build that website? How do you create that place of project? Who are the people you work with? You won’t just be yet another producer with yet another project.”

“If you were trying to reduce it all, it's “who you are, what you got, and what you want” [laughs]. Less tested producers think it's enough to have a good script, but it has to be a good script that somebody wants.”

“It’s also worrying about oppressing individual voices: Please be individual; please be original. That's what everybody wants, but you have to know where that places you in the industry. Even down to what market to take this to. There's no point in going to an American market, if your project is decidedly European or decidedly Art House. It’s recognizing what you have and why people might be interested in it above and below the line.”

IFTN: What ties would IADT have with the industry? Where can you connect students that come to your course?

Jean:Well, I would say that most of the industry are graduates. [laughs] The course is taught by industry people. All our lectures or seminars are delivered by battle-scarred warriors. We have Screen Ireland come talk and deliver seminars, and producers too. Distributors not just here, but globally as well. The other thing we do is we give the student a mentor. We try to decide what kind of a mentor that student needs, depending on the type of project they're trying to develop. Is it gender-driven, or is it genre-driven, or is it experimental, we find a mentor who has done this type of project before and they work very closely with these students throughout the year.”

“Someone who is working in the industry. The student within the course has somebody from the industry. We have the likes of Martina Niland, Cormac Fox, Brendan McCarthy. Brendan did a Masters in Screenwriting here many years ago.”

IFTN: You have great connections then.

Jean:I suppose the profile of the student that we're looking for, for example, in the first cohort we had a woman called Lara Hickey, who was a producer with ‘THISISPOPBABY’, but has made some shorts and is looking to make the leap. We had Edwina Forkin who’s produced many features but just wants to think about who she was and who her company is.”

“We had a guy called Liam Beatty who developed a fab feature documentary and actually he won the Galway Pitching Competition with this idea he developed. Then Edwina has just produced a short with another alumni, just a proof of concept for a feature that she actually developed on the course.”

“We're getting that collaboration going already; you know we just gave Lara equipment so she could make her next. We encourage them with that as well: make shorts; make teaser reel; We have the equipment to do that here.”

The NFS is hosting an Open Evening from 6pm – 8pm on Thursday 13th June, which will include information on Postgraduate and Certificate courses in Film and Media at the National Film School. Open days at the college happen regularly, allowing the opportunity to visit and talk to lecturers, staff and students about respective courses.

Those interested in attending the Open Evening on June 13th can do so by filling out an online form available here 

Applications for all postgraduate courses and certificates are now open. The closing date is 22nd August 2019. For further information on the different postgraduates and certificates available, visit the IADT website here 




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