Published on 29 May 2020
Six University of Sunderland filmmakers are ready to take the movie industry on after receiving months of intensive guidance from Lord David Puttnam.
This year’s Puttnam Scholars – the University programme named after the Oscar-winning producer – have been creating, developing, and honing their skills since February this year.
This is the third year the film producer and former Government minister has launched his unique scheme with the University.
But with the outbreak of Covid-19, the group of six were faced with a unique challenge – creating films in lockdown.
As the pandemic took grip, Lord Puttnam asked his apprentices to make a movie using their iPhones and laptops to reflect their isolation experience. While some chose to make documentaries, others opted for comedy or drama.
Short clips of some of the films can be seen here.
The six films were showcased online earlier this month from Lord Puttnam’s studio in Ireland and the intention is to enter the films in festivals as a chronicle of the UK’s time in lockdown.
Luke Smith, 23, from Red House in Sunderland, recently completed his Masters Degree in Media Production (TV and Film).
He said: “The whole experience has been something of a whirlwind. At first it was very intense, and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, wondering if I was good enough.
“But that is the amazing thing about Lord Puttnam – he makes you feel like you deserve it, that you are good enough.
“He would always respond to my questions very quickly and I’ve been able to take on-board all the advice he gave out.”
Luke is now preparing to work on future projects and hopes one day to get involved in making feature films.
Katie Stubbs, 19, from Cleadon in South Tyneside, is currently studying Screen Performance at the University.
She said: “The feedback from Lord Puttnam has been invaluable. I found his lecture on creativity and identity inspiring, teaching me that I need to see a little bit of myself in everything I create.
“Being mentored by someone with his experience is priceless, it made my future seem so real, as though I was being pushed in the right direction.”
The programme saw the students taking part in a series of interactive seminars overseen by Lord Puttnam.
This year’s group met with the Labour Peer at the House of Lords, to discuss and launch the programme prior to the pandemic outbreak.
Abboud Mahjoub, 27, from Gateshead, a Digital Film Production student, said: “This experience has made me realise how much I would like to work in a production house once I get started.
“I know now how much work I have to do and what is involved in making a successful career.”
Lord Puttnam, a former Chancellor of the University and an Oscar-winning producer of films including Chariots of Fire, The Mission, The Killing Fields and Midnight Express, has been an inspiring figure to all those taking part in the programme.
Amelia Bourke, 20, from Darlington, is a third year Digital Film Production Student.
She said: “This programme enables me to understand a more sophisticated way of looking at film.
“Lord Puttnam made us ask the right questions of ourselves and how we created – not so much the technical side – but the way you actually make a film.”
James MacNeil, 24, a third year Media Production student, said: “As part of the programme we went down to Westminster and that was actually the first time I had been to London.
“My self-confidence has improved so much and the guidance of Lord Puttnam has been invaluable.”
João Chambel, from Portugal, who is studying Film Production, added: “I was able to get behind-the-scenes knowledge from an experienced name in Hollywood.”
Speaking about this year’s students and the challenges of mentoring them during the pandemic, Lord Puttnam said: “As a mentoring programme, I think the 'Puttnam Scholars' at the University of Sunderland has worked incredibly well.
“By gathering a small number of students together from different disciplines, we've been able to share many valuable conversations about film and its place in our rapidly changing world. But, beyond that, a longstanding dream of mine has always been to bridge the distance between technology and learning.
“Ironically, it has taken the worst of times to drive this goal forward. By thinking creatively about how to deliver lectures, and supported by a CISCO operated video-conferencing facility, I was able to work with individual students - all of whom were forced to stay in their respective homes - from my office in south-west Ireland, and I think we managed to do so in a truly meaningful way.
“This was no more apparent to me than during our final Sunderland session when each student presented the 'isolation film' they had produced.
“We are all working in adverse circumstances, but I think the past seven weeks of remote teaching has shown me that these circumstances are also capable of allowing imaginative and committed students to find enlightened ways of achieving their ambitions.”