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Open Letter to the Art Department – Nurturing the Talent of the Future

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Following the post-pandemic industry boom, and principally in direct reaction to a letter from a very concerned member about the rate at which some members of the Art Department are being promoted beyond their skillset, the BFDG has decided to publish two open letters which address some of the issues.

We hope that these letters will encourage you all to think about how you work with your teams and colleagues and about your future career path in the art department, as well as the fundamental skills and experience you need to progress.

We are also very proud to announce that we will shortly launch a bespoke Mentoring Programme, aimed at all members of the BFDG. We hope this shows our commitment to maintaining excellence within, and raising the profile of the Art Department – more news coming soon.

Read below the open letters from the Committee and from Anne Clemens – BFDG Junior Draughtsperson.

Open letter – From the Committee

Dear Membership

The Guild’s Strapline: “Promoting Excellence in Film and Television Art Departments”

The British film and television industry has never been busier, these are unprecedented times.

Our aim is to grow the Guild with the most experienced and qualified members in the industry and encourage new, less experienced members, giving them the opportunity to improve, learn, gain understanding and flourish.

Film companies eagerly anticipate the return of cinema audiences and need new content. The thirst for new product is felt throughout UK Art Departments and with it comes the need for new talent.

Grassroot schemes are being introduced to seek out and nurture this new talent, such as mentoring for able and motivated 6th form college students already committed to specialising in Film/Tv design, with a high proportion of students from underrepresented backgrounds. These are worthy and necessary initiatives and must continue with the Guild’s support for us to gain greater diversity and also maintain skill levels and vitality in our UK Art Departments.

The overall numbers of Art Department trained graduates in the UK is not a problem, with many degree and post grad Film and TV courses disgorging their charges once a year.

With there being so much work, the pool of established experienced technicians is being diluted across many more Productions than before. Therefore, and more noticeably recently, our younger technicians are often lacking in the accumulated knowledge required for the positions to which they are being promoted. The relentless need to fill Art Dept vacancies results in many working beyond their skillset.

It is necessary for us to take care of and nurture the existing core of Guild members and non-members alike who may be lacking knowledge and experience in the Art Department.

So what can be done to improve this situation?

Here are some thoughts and suggestions that have been discussed by the committee:

  • Supervisors or those hiring, consider formalising trainee positions within your labour flows, and instigating in-house mentoring schemes on future projects.
  • Resist the temptation to lure crew with unwarranted offers of promotion, purely to fill a vacancy.
  • Beware the seductive A3 portfolios, they often aren’t all they purport to be.
  • Take care for your own whether Junior Draughtsperson, Art Director or PD and take 5-10 minutes a day to mentor
  • As members of the Guild, not only do we want you to encourage your peers or your juniors, but if you have the knowledge and experience, we encourage you to share it even to those who have been lucky enough to get promoted to a position they previously thought was years away.

Quietly talk to them in their office or bay, or on the way to visit a set, and let them know you’re there to help if necessary and give your best advice. That may feel uncomfortable but will be appreciated. This advice could be showing an example downloaded from Google, or encouragement to look for reference either online, or in reference books such as McKay’s Building Construction, Bannister Fletcher or Normand’s Parallel of Architecture. Or maybe it’s just a bit of Pastoral care that’s required!

  • All Art Department personnel should be encouraged to follow through their drawings, from inception to camera turnover.
  • They should be empowered to check the issue happened correctly and has been received in the workshops;
  • Encouraged to visit the Carpenters or Plasterers shops, or speak to the HOD or Supervisor involved;
  • Visit the stage to see the setting out of the set, even if they’re just detailing parts of that set;
  • In so doing they are taking it in and gaining experience. Ask the Art Director if you can be present when he or she visits sets.
  • Art Directors ask your staff to partake in the set’s construction and dress.

It’s not all one-way traffic either.

  • New members, inexperienced members in unfamiliar, new grade positions, you too must ask for guidance, help, advice. Asking a question about a detail you are unsure of will give you confidence and you will gain respect for saying “Can I have your advice?”

We are here to help but sometimes we need a nudge too. There’s nothing easier than hiding behind your drawing board, so come and join the party! Open door policy.

Experience is acquired through time; it cannot be taught. The UK is so busy, we need to mentor each other. We need Senior Guild members to offer their knowledge, experience to guide the UK Art Department, so when we are judged, the standards and skills so prized and admired in the past, are still evident and continue to flourish today and into the future.

In short, let’s all mentor each other.

Everyone needs a bit of help sometimes, and we are all, always learning.

So please help to benefit the whole UK Art Department, as together we are stronger.

BFDG Committee
August 21

Open Letter – From Anne Clemens – BFDG Junior Draughtsperson

Dear Members

Take your future seriously.. It’s your career …..

The first steps we take in this industry are with the most important ones. These steps lead us into the direction we are going to head and are the “warm up” for the long run. Everyone familiar with sports knows how important a good warm up is to prevent further damage / injury and so are these first years of learning, asking all the important questions, gathering knowledge and most important: experience.

We are building the base for the heavy load that will hopefully become our career. In order to be strong enough / enduring enough (in other words: prepared) it is our responsibility to make sure this base is as strong and sturdy as possible as other people will build on it as well and it needs to last – should we want a serious future in this career.

I know jobs are currently shooting out of the ground like weeds. We all get phone calls about job offerings on a regular basis and actually get to pick, which seems great! It’s good to see the industry so busy and so many of us getting the chance to get the foot in the door and the well needed experience, but not everyone seems to know what to make out of this “overflow” of work.

Since there seem to be more jobs than crew nowadays, many projects are offering “quick promotions” which come with better titles and more money, which is an important factor for many of us. Don’t get me wrong: who doesn’t like to get more money for the amount of hours we are currently working? But don’t get blinded by that very bright light!

But many HODs by offering to over promote us “starters” too quickly (and we of course by jumping onto these offers), we are not only “robbing” ourselves the valuable time of being allowed to gather experience, ask all those necessary questions but also, most importantly: we might simply not be up to the full task yet!

A person that has done one Jnr. Draughtsman job might be talented enough, but is most definitely not experienced enough to move up to the next step in the career ladder, or worse: skip the next step and jump straight to Assistant Art Director (I have witnessed these offerings..).

I myself am currently in my third Jnr. Draughtsman job and am glad, some trusted voices told me to take my time and soak up every piece of advice / preparation / experience I can get from Art Directors, Draughtsmen, HODs and even construction! I do not regret NOT stepping up yet.

There are so many “basics” that I have not drawn yet, simply not learned yet, which are necessary (and expected) skills, should you decide to step up!

Unfortunately there is no list to tick off, where you can see that you are ready. But there are plenty of people who are willing to help and give some advice. Simply ask more experienced people for their honest, critical opinion and don’t fear that criticism! Own the mistakes / flaws people are pointing out to you and use them to learn from them. Accepting criticism wasn’t easy for me either at the beginning, but I promise: it will get easier once you know how to make use of it!

I urge you to help and keep the quality of the British art department up, by focussing on your own path, resisting the temptation of the quick promotion that flaws up on every corner now – ignore what “the other people” do.

Furthermore, I advise you, as a fellow Jnr Draughter, to ask yourself “am I prepared enough for the next step?” Don’t settle for mediocrity! Get away from the “pretty looking drawing” (that will come by itself once you know what you’re doing) and focus on understanding what you are actually putting on the paper, how to work it out for the construction team who will be building it, instead of photoshopping it for the “nice looking portfolio”.

I myself have been called a “drawing snob” by other Jnrs for working things out properly and the right way, which of course might take a bit longer at the beginning, but don’t forget: we are building a base here!

Ask someone to take a moment to have a closer look at your work. Tell them you want to improve, make them aware of how helpful and necessary that close look is when starting out.

Also, as this always seems to be an argument and a factor for some people in the rush of stepping up: there is NO age limit or time limit of when to reach what position. It happens when you’re ready, not when you’re 30.

Don’t ruin your reputation by skipping these most important steps (again: gathering experience, asking questions, developing understanding). More money means higher expectations towards you – make sure you’re living up to them!

It’s important to not let our industry lose the standard/ quality and the reputation that our previous generation has so thoroughly reached. Make sure your base is strong!

After all, it’s your career, but our industry..

Anne Clemens | BFDG Junior Draughtsperson
August 21

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