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The Skills Investment Fund

The UK’s film industry is made up of a pre-dominantly freelance and mobile workforce where high-level craft, technical and creative skills are in high demand. The need to keep these world-beating skills up to date led to the establishment of Skills Investment Fund (SIF) which is made up of contributions from all film productions either based in the UK or in receipt of UK public funding.

0.5% of the total production budget, up to a ceiling of £39,500, is collected by Skillset, which manages the fund on behalf of the film industry. The fund is reinvested into training provision and assessment which meets industry agreed priorities.

Andrew McDonald, Producer of 28 Days Later, The Beach and Trainspotting and co-chair of DNA Films told us: “There is no easy way to find money from your film budget for something that isn’t going on the screen but the Skills Investment Fund is the only way that the industry is going to be able to support itself in the long term and I wholeheartedly believe in the investment in skills for the future.”

Since its inception, the achievements of the SIF include the strengthening of existing structured new entrants training schemes run by FT2 in England, Cyfle in Wales and Scottish Screen in Scotland. These industry respected schemes last from 18 months to 2 years, include wide ranging placements on productions, short course training and assessment against the relevant Skillset Professional Qualifications (NVQ).

The SIF has also been instrumental in the creation of the Assistant Production Accountant Scheme managed and run by the Production Guild of Great Britain and partnership-funded by the South East of England Development Agency. The scheme, which addresses a particular skills shortage area in the industry, is run alongside subsidised places on short courses for up to 300 freelance production accountants and assistants.

In addition, the SIF Trainee Network has been established, a ground breaking web based service which showcases the brightest new talent available to producers looking to crew up for production. Here are just what some of the trainees on the Network have been doing.

Kathryn Pyle

Before becoming a part of the SIF Network, Kathryn Pyle had thought that film was out of her reach. After graduating in Scenic Arts from Rose Bruford, Kathryn worked in theatre for 5 years: “Making props in a cupboard on my own”, she told us. “Film had always been something I wanted to get into but I didn’t have any contacts so I didn’t think it would ever happen.” The SIF Network changed all that.

After the initial induction, which involves workshops with industry practitioners and gives trainees an overview of all departments in features, Kathryn got a job as an Art Department trainee on ‘Millions’:

“If you had told me a year ago that by the end of 2003 I would have been working with Danny Boyle on his latest film I would have laughed very hard! I can’t believe how far I’ve come. And it’s thanks to the SIF Network. I really needed a good kick up the bum and that’s exactly what it gave me. It helped me to focus and motivate myself to pick up the phone and make use of the contacts and resources the Network was giving me access to. It can be intimidating but you have to keep trying and the ongoing support and feedback I was getting from the Network made all the difference. “

When ‘Millions’ wrapped Kathryn was straight onto her second feature ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ with Dougray Scott. “We shot on location in the Isle of Man which was a great experience. I’d already learnt so much on ‘Millions’ but the new skills and knowledge just kept coming. People say you never stop learning and it really is true.”

“The two major lessons I’ve taken away from my time on the Network are 1) Perseverance; you have to keep going and keep calling. People will not know who you are unless you keep telling them! And 2) Never ever be late! The Network tried to drum that one into me over and over but I didn’t learn how important it is until after I was actually late. I’ll never do that again!”

Kathryn’s ambition is to keep on working on as many different projects as possible. “The Network has given me the best possible start to my career I could have ever hoped for but this is only the beginning.”

Lorene Dewett

“The Network gave me the chance to get my hands on film, something I’d been trying to do for a long time.” Lorene Dewett, from Nottingham, had been working in TV editing for a number of years before joining the SIF Network.

“I was based in Nottingham and didn’t have the contacts. I made the move down to London 6 months into my Network year so I could make the most of the opportunities the Network was putting my way.” It paid off. Whilst on the Network Lorene got work experience on Thunderbirds and Asylum. “Seeing first hand how a major feature fits together was amazing for me and looks pretty good on my CV too!”

The Network also got Lorene onto the set of the new Ken Loach feature ‘A Fond Kiss’ where she got to sit in the editing suite with the man himself. She said:

“I was terrified on Ken Loach’s set as no one is usually allowed in and everyone kept reminding me to keep out of his eye-line when he’s working. So when I got eye contact with him across the set and he started to walk towards me I was terrified. I had visions of Ken Loach throwing me off his set but luckily he shook my hand and introduced himself. He then asked if I wanted to be a coffee drinker in the background of a scene. I think I ended up on the cutting room floor but it was great fun. Sitting in the edit suite with Ken going through his approach to film making and editing was just the best! It was surreal but fantastic. Words can’t describe it! I felt so privileged that Ken Loach would take the time to show me how he does it!”

Lorene’s plans for the future are to build on the features experience she got through the Network. “I don’t want to lose the momentum the Network built up. The experience I’ve now got on my CV will hopefully make finding work easier and open up a few doors. And, of course, I’m going to keep plugging away at making those all important contacts.”

Darko Mocilnikar

“At the end of the day, what you get out of the Network is dictated by what you are willing to put in. It’s down to the individual trainee and I wanted to make sure I made the most of it.”

Sound trainee Darko Mocilnikar had already chalked up experience making shorts and corporate videos before reading about the SIF Network in a trade magazine. A year later he has features experience under his belt after assisting on Michael Winterbottom’s film ‘Code 46’. “I did a little bit of everything and generally just tried to stay out of frame! I was basically dropped in at the deep end and it was the best way for me to learn.”

Originally from Croatia and a big David Lynch fan, Darko’s ambition is to one day start mixing his own features “The Network has made me so much more confident and taught me about the right kinds of approaches to make. I found the workshops spread across the year real eye openers. I didn’t realise how useful it would be to learn about each others crafts like a camera lens workshop we did. Even though it’s not my field, it helped to paint the bigger picture for me and how my job inter-relates.”

Alex Smith

3 months after joining the SIF Network 24 year old Alex Smith landed a job at post production house Stardust. He’s been there for 9 months and is enjoying every single minute. “I’ve been busily forcing my way into other departments just trying to soak up every bit of information and experience I can. I’m working mainly on editing but getting a great grounding in theme tune composing and cutting animatics which is what I’d like to move into.”

Alex was recommended for the Network by South West Screen after he spent time doing work in both camera and editing. “The Network has given me so much just by association. People have heard of Skillset and the SIF and I’ve definitely benefited by affiliation in terms of credibility. It’s also been a great template of how the industry actually works. A lot of time was spent showing us the hierarchy and the etiquette and how you approach people for work which has been invaluable and will help me throughout the rest of my career.”

Kathryn Blight

Since joining the SIF Network, 28 year old Kathryn Blight has been working solidly. She’s currently coming to the end of 6 months hard slog as Wardrobe runner on Joel Schumacher’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’. “I spend so much time constantly shopping around Pinewood so I’m not complaining!”

Kathryn already had experience in theatre and TV but ‘Phantom’ was her first feature. “There’s just one word to describe it: BIG! At first, I couldn’t get over how massive the team of people bringing everything together was. And some days have just taken my breath away like the masquerade scenes we filmed. There were so many extras and the enormity and grandeur was absolutely amazing.”


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