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In Conversation with Lord Puttnam: From Ridley Scott to Lee Hall - an exclusive series

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Published on 24 February 2021

Lord Puttnam by Justine Walpole
Lord Puttnam by Justine Walpole

This spring the University of Sunderland and Northern Film + Media will present a series of exclusive lectures by Academy Award winning filmmaker Lord David Puttnam.

With support from Pinewood Group, the six sessions will feature some of the biggest names in the film industry, including multi-award winning directorSir Ridley Scott, as well as high profile writers, directors, and producers from across the sector.

Each of the 90-minute conversations will examine a different side of the film industry and will be essential viewing for students ready to embark on their career and screen professionals wanting to build their knowledge and networks.

From Rocketman and Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall, to Mad Max: Fury Road producer Iain Smith, guests will discuss the current challenges and opportunities facing film and television production.

One of the main aims of the series will be to raise awareness of the skills shortage in the UK, and to highlight the strengths, opportunities and potential for growth in the creative industries throughout the North East region.

Lord Puttnam said: “At a time of extraordinary challenge and uncertainty, the creative industries - including film and television - represent a unique and growing opportunity for satisfying and well-paid employment.

“Filmmakers and documentary producers can also change the way we see the world; which makes it difficult to imagine a more worthwhile career.

“The purpose of these seminars is to open a window to these careers, and all their possibilities.”

The seminars will be hosted by the University and Northern Film + Media with support from Pinewood Group – who are working hard to raise awareness of the variety of career opportunities available in the creative industries.

Graeme Thompson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for External Relations at the University said:

“The UK is a world-leader in the production of film, television, animation, gaming and other creative content. We want to use this series of conversations to give insight and confidence to students and early career professionals so they can navigate their way through the opportunities that exist here in the North East and beyond.”

Alison Gwynn, Chief Executive of NFM, said: “We are thrilled to be working with the University on this exciting series of Lord Puttnam in Conversation digital events. 

“The series will showcase the opportunities and realities of working in the Screen Industry and are ideal for both those considering entering the industry or for screen professionals building their careers.” 

Details of the series are released as Lord Puttnam marks his 80th birthday on February 25th.

Other guests in the series include Sunderland-born Oscar winning film producerDavid Parfitt (Shakespeare in Love, The Father), the brilliant emerging British Director Sarah Gavron (Suffragette, Rocks) and the multi-Oscar winning documentary maker John Battsek (Searching for Sugarman, One Day In September, Hillsborough, Manhunt – The Search for Bin Laden). 

In Conversation with David Puttnam is the latest in a series of projects in which the university’s former Chancellor uses film to explore current challenges including climate change, fake news and social injustice.


Seminar One :

Date: Friday 12th March - 10am - 11.30am

Title: Golden Rules – Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 30

Guest: Lee Hall

Lord Puttnam is joined by Billy Elliot and Rocketman screenwriter Lee Hall.

The pair will consider the A-Z of what to do – and what not to do to build a career in the industry.

What are the different roles that are needed to bring an idea, a book or a play to the screen? How can people make themselves more useful and employable at entry level, especially in an era of Covid 19.

The pair will discuss how entry level jobs don’t necessarily determine the areas where filmmakers eventually find themselves.

This session is an essential guide for everyone working, or seeking to work in the creative content sector.

You can now register for the first seminar here


Seminar Two :

Date: Monday 15th March - 2pm - 3.30pm

Title: The Production Business - How to finance and produce successful content

Guest: David Parfitt

Using the experience of their own careers, Lord Puttnam and film producer, actor, and co-founder of Trademark Films, David Parfitt will consider how best to get projects off the ground through co-productions, production funds, investors, and loans.

They will also look at the importance of personal resilience, and bouncing back from rejection in a notoriously fickle industry. For instance, while you are waiting to make your dream project, you may need to juggle other, less ambitious projects or jobs simply to pay the rent and keep yourself engaged with the marketplace.

You can now register for the first seminar here


Seminar three:

Date: Monday 12th April - 2pm - 3.30pm

Title: How Technology has Changed Storytelling

Guest: Sarah Gavron

In an era in which it’s become easier than ever to get your content online, how do you ensure you stand out from the crowd?

How important are technical standards when you can shoot content on your iPhone? Special effects and animation are increasingly being used in mainstream content – what’s the best forum for finding people with different skills with whom to collaborate?

Technology is also driving consumer habits. For example, binge watching box sets online, rather than waiting for scheduled weekly instalments on broadcast channels. What’s the next consumer step-change?

Lord Puttnam will be discussing this and many other issues with British film director Sarah Gavron, whose most recent film, Rocks, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and opened to critical and commercial acclaim in cinemas in 2020.


Seminar four:

Date: Friday 23rd April 10am - 11.30am

Title: The Great British Skills Shortage – Where the jobs are

Guest: Iain Smith

Creatives often have their own ideas on how to get started, but this session will be of particular interest to those looking into working behind the scenes – reinforcing the opportunities for production co-ordinators, production accountants, designers, make-up and hair specialists, and the creators of special effects.

The current reality is that most work is based in and around London, but that’s beginning to change, and new studio production hubs are being developed in places like Reading, Liverpool and Leeds.

So why not the North East?

Lord Puttnam, together with one of the UK’s busiest film producers Iain Smith will be discussing how one of the greatest hurdles can be a lack of confidence on the part of would-be creatives.

They will also be examining the importance of building contacts and networks. They will ask ‘what are the skills and practises being learned right now that will equip individuals for satisfying future careers in content creation?’.


Seminar five:

Date: Friday 30th April 10am - 11.30am

Title: Producing Content in an Era of Fake News – The growing importance of factual and documentary makers

Guest:  John Battsek

Two Northern Film + Media schemes are being launched after Easter with The Guardian and BBC.

The aim is to commission young and diverse stories from content makers in the North East – the sort of content not normally developed by more established producers.

The schemes recognise the importance of factual documentary makers producing content for social media channels. It’s a way in which new voices – younger, northern, working class, more diverse – can be heard online.

It underlines Lord Puttnam’s work in holding platform operators to account for the development of a pandemic of misinformation through unregulated influencers spinning fantasy in place of facts.

The popularity and scale of documentaries now being commissioned by streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix enables a whole new world of opportunity to address injustices and misleading conspiracy theories.

In this session Lord Puttnam, along with multi Oscar winning documentary film producer John Battsek, will attempt to underline the fact that news, current affairs, documentaries and factual entertainment now offer more entry level opportunities than ever


Seminar six :

Date: Tuesday 11th May - 2pm - 3.30pm

Title: The Films of Ridley Scott

Guest: Sir Ridley Scott

It’s impossible to overstate the iconic stature of Sir Ridley Scott in his native North East.

His global success is an inspiration to anyone from the region with an aspiration to make and become successful in the world of creative content production.

What lessons can we learn from the way in which he overcame barriers in his early career? How does he spot (and rate) new talent?

A growing number of talented creatives from the North East have followed Sir Ridley Scott in leaving the area to pursue careers in London and LA.

How can we create sufficient critical mass in the North East to enable more productions to be made here? Can Sir Ridley’s experience help make it easier for the region to develop work experience, work placements and mentoring within established companies?

Find out more about these seminars and how to register by visiting here