The experience of a 2015 FEDS Trainee!

Posted on December 18, 2015 by Mike Tang

Categories: Cinema Careers, FEDS Scheme

The brilliant FEDS training scheme for 2016 is now open for applications.  The details are all here on the ICO’s site on what the scheme’s about and how to apply, but what’s it like to actually be a FEDS trainee?

Read on for the experience and invaluable lessons of a FEDS trainee from the Class of 2015!

For the past nine months I was a FEDS trainee based at the Centre for the Moving Image in Edinburgh where I worked on planning and coordination of the EIFF and Filmhouse programmes.  It was an invaluable and exciting experience that involved meeting and learning from inspiring people and watching great films, but also staring at screens for long periods of time and the frequent (and sometimes frustrating) train rides to London.  The support of people around me (both in Edinburgh and London), and the fact I felt truly passionate about the work I did made me forget all the negative aspects.

Even though the traineeship ended just a few of weeks ago I already look back at it with nostalgia. The list all the things that I learned in the course of nine months would be way too long for this blog, but here’s the list of six things that I found the most interesting and surprising:

1.  ‘Nobody knows anything’

Famous quote by William Goldman referring to the inability to predict whether a film is going to be a box office success was one of the first things we learned in the FEDS sessions.  Initially, I thought it was a way of justifying one’s incompetence or lack of experience.  After a while though I realised that the issue was more complex.  The success of the film does not only depend on it’s artistic merit or the talent involved, it is also subject to changing trends in cinema going, current affairs, weather etc., and, as a result, the audience’s reaction to a film may surprise even the most experienced industry professionals.

This uncertainty seems to accompany people involved in different stages of the film’s journey to the big screen and is also familiar to cinema programmers.  I am not sure whether it’s the gut feeling or experience that is the key to making the right programming decisions, however, there are a few things to consider while making those choices. That brings us to:

2.  Programming

What at first sounded to me like a job that consisted of watching films and showing the ones you liked to others is also not as easy as it sounds.  As you’re screening the film to your cinema’s audience, it is crucial to know who they are and what their taste is.  Once you’re aware of that you’re more likely to keep your local audience happy and you can also work on developing new ones.  The best programmers are those whose get enough trust from their audiences to challenge their tastes and as a result broaden their film horizons.

3.  Everyone knows each other

It doesn’t take too much time in the UK film business to realise how small it is.  Even though there are different areas of the industry, these have to work together to put the film on the big screen.  As an exhibitor, you cannot make a decision to screen a film in your cinema or a film festival without first consulting the distributor, sales agent, producer or the filmmaker themselves.  For this reason, work involves frequent contacts with other companies and institutions.  And that is not limited to 10-6 working hours.  Due to the importance of building relations between institutions, networking is an important part of work, especially at film festivals and other industry related events.

The good thing about these close ties within the industry is that once you’re in, you quickly learn who the people are and what their roles involve.  The bad is that this information is not easily accessible to outsiders which makes it harder for people to get into the industry in the first place.

FEDS lunch at EIFF4.  Karma

It’s not only important to know the people in the business but also to have good relationships with them.  As the film industry is tightly knit and all its parts rely one each other, it should be in the interest of everyone to have a good relationship with their partners and make working together easier.  The interest of your company should, of course, remain the priority, but sometimes going an extra mile pays off in the long run, and once you help someone, they’re more likely to return the favour.

5.  Things can go wrong

It wasn’t until I worked in a film festival and cinema office that I realised the number of things that can go wrong. Once you get the films you want and the programme is locked, it could seem like most of work is done, however, the next stages are crucial for the event to take place.  There are prints that have to travel to the festival and then between the venues, all according to the tight schedule; guests need to be allocated hotel rooms and taken care of; screenings have to be scheduled and organized; and if one small element of this big jigsaw is missing it may jeopardise the whole event.  That’s why good planning and communication are crucial.

6.  Working for a film festivals like a drug

I’ve always been fascinated by film festivals – their role in maintaining the communal cinema experience, the atmosphere that surrounds them, and their ability to bring together people from different social and cultural backgrounds.  Just as visiting a film festival has always been a unique experience for me, so was working for one.  What I learned was how much passion for film people behind film festivals need to have (as that’s the force that makes people achieve the most ambitious goals and unites the whole festival team), and how rewarding it can be to see people enjoying a screening or an event that you’ve worked on.

The most unexpected discovery for me, however, was how much energy you can get out of being in this environment.  Even though the work can be very stressful and demanding, the adrenaline keeps everyone going, and it doesn’t seem to matter if you’ve been working 10 days in a row or can’t remember the faces of the friends you have outside the festival.  The festival high can be great and very helpful in getting through the 12 intense days, however, it does not make it any easier coming back to reality once the event is finished.

Subscribe to our mailing list

What would you like to receive emails about?
* indicates required