Eric Fellner bounds through London Screen Academy, saying hearty hellos to students, waving to faculty and showing off the state-of-the-art facilities at the newly opened school to a Variety reporter.
The brainchild of Fellner’s Working Title co-chairman, Tim Bevan, the school is intended to teach teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 the skills they need to get jobs in film and television production. It opened in September, as the entertainment business in the U.K. is booming. From “Star Wars” sequels to the latest season of Netflix’s “The Crown,” Hollywood continues to set up shop in the country, lured by its generous tax incentives, soundstages and world-class crews.
“People don’t actually know how many jobs there are behind the camera,” Bevan says. “Everyone knows about actors and producers and directors. What they’re not aware of is that there are thousands of other good-paying jobs that are based on technical skills.”
Fellner echoes the sentiment. “It’s absolutely mad,” he says. “This country is jammed with productions. There are not enough grips; there are not enough electricians. There’s a real need in the industry.”
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The free school isn’t just intended to meet the burgeoning demand for cinematographers, costume designers, visual effects artists and more. It also aims to help diversify an industry that’s dominated by white men. To that end, half of the opening class of 310 students are female, and 46% are people of color.
“We all share a common interest in trying to make the workforce more diverse on every level — in terms of socioeconomic, gender and ethnic diversity,” says Fellner. “Our school reflects the face of London.”
Adds Bevan: “It’s quite good fun to be in the film business. Why shouldn’t that be open to everybody?”
To pull off their dream of launching a technical school geared toward the film and television business, the Working Title duo enlisted some high-profile talent. Their list of founders includes “Harry Potter” producer David Heyman; “The Last King of Scotland” producer Lisa Bryer; and Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, the producers behind the James Bond franchise. The group has agreed to tap its wide array of contacts to get A-list talent to come and instruct students.
“This feels like a great opportunity to train people for jobs that exist and need to be filled,” Broccoli says.
The facility is outfitted with all the latest bells and whistles. Located in a former warehouse in Islington, the school boasts a three-story production studio, smaller stages, sound-mixing rooms and film editing suites. While Bevan and Fellner toured the space, students were hard at work on one of their first major projects, one that required them to tell a story in 10 shots.
“The curriculum is designed so that our students have a portfolio at the end of their time,” says Charlie Kennard, the school’s principal. “When they go apply for a job, it’s not about what grade they got. It’s that they’re able to offer a full body of work.”