Harry Potter producer David Heyman and Working Title co-chief Eric Fellner lamented the “shocking” lack of diversity on UK sets at the launch event for a new school aimed at boosting skills and diversity within the local film and TV industries.
Heyman and fellow London Screen Academy founders Fellner and Tim Bevan of Working Title, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of EON, and producer Lisa Bryer (The Last King of Scotland) are the driving forces behind the government-backed vocational school, which will teach 16- to 19-year-olds practical screen industry skills.
“The need for more highly skilled workers and more diversity in the UK industry is pressing in many ways,” Heyman told us. “I think the lack of diversity you see on so many film sets is shocking. This isn’t a change that can happen overnight, but we need change from top to bottom: ethnic, social and gender. The school is about giving people a start.”
A recent British Film Institute report said the film industry suffers from a “pandemic lack of inclusion.” The study found that only 3% of the production and post-production workforce are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, while, on average, women are paid £3,000 less than men. Across the workforce, only 12% of people are from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds. The study also estimated the sector would need 10,000 skilled workers over the next five years to maintain its market position.
“We’ve all looked at intern programs and they can be hard to make work,” Fellner said about the motivation for creating the free academy. “That’s how we came to education. We thought we’d go as deep as we can and start early. Hopefully if we have a cohort we’ll be able to do that.”
The Highbury-based academy is due to open its doors next year and will include training from some of the industry’s finest crew and creatives alongside academic study. Ensuring a diverse intake will be one of the school’s challenges; Islington is London’s seventh-most affluent borough according to the Office for National Statistics. More generally, the film and TV sectors are often perceived as the preserve of connected, affluent, white males.
“We will be taking children from all over London,” explained Heyman. “We’re going out to schools all over the city to let them know about what we’re doing. This school is open to all.”
“The idea is to create opportunity and a more level playing field,” confirmed Les Miserables and Love Actually producer Fellner. “No child should feel they can’t make an education work here.” Added Heyman, the Gravity and Paddington producer, “This is the most exciting project I have ever worked on.”
Given the extent to which the film sector has been beset by #MeToo scandals in the past 12 months, will the school teach students how to recognize and report harassment?
“I think a central part of the teaching will be about citizenship,” said Heyman. “We will ensure that students who graduate are rounded and have a sense of working together and respect for one another.” “Safety will be key,” the school’s principal Nick Watkiss told an industry audience earlier in the day.
The encouraging project seems to have buy-in from many in the UK biz. The partners have been working with the BFI, BAFTA, the UK Screen Alliance, Film London, ScreenSkills and the National Film and Television School, and they have already had calls from a number of award-winning crew who want to be part of the curriculum.