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How to get the most out of studying Film, Media and Cultural Studies

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We had a chat with Dr Martin Shingler, Programme Leader for Film and Media Studies to find out how to get the most out of studying Film, Media and Cultural Studies at degree level.

St Peters Campus

You'll be based at our riverside campus, The Sir Tom Cowie Campus at St Peter’s, within walking distance of miles of stunning coastline.

What attracted you to the University of Sunderland and why is it a good choice for students?

"I’ve been here just over ten years and the instant attraction for me was the location, it is just so beautiful. It’s here on the river, and the building is full of light and has such a sense of space. It just looked like such a nice place to work and it had a really good research culture," says Martin. "I knew about a lot of people here because of their work before I came. There was a real sense from the moment I arrived that there was a buzzing research culture with conferences happening and research papers happening, and it just seemed to be a really intellectually stimulating place to be. It’s also the kind of institution that I feel very comfortable in – I think it’s that ethos of being able to work with first-generation students, they’re on a massive learning curve and how they transform over three years is fantastic.

"This University has got that ethos of being life-changing and I think it’s true. For the kinds of people that come to us, going to university puts them in a completely different environment and opens up opportunities for them that they would never have had otherwise. I don’t think that’s always true with privileged universities – they’re already on that road. One of the things I find satisfying about my job is that I see the lightbulb come on at a certain moment for a student and they suddenly get it, and that’s a marvellous thing to see. Then it's about helping nurture that and to guide that through to the final stages, it’s really rewarding work."

“We've got this absolute priority of getting students their first foot in the door."

What opportunities are there for students to interact with industry figures?

"We have our masterclasses that happen every week with people coming into the University from the industry. The Screenwriter, Jeff Pope, who won a BAFTA for his screenplay for Philomena, working with Steve Coogan and Judy Dench, had just completed working with Sheridan Smith on the Cilla programme when he came to talk to our students. He's very very high-profile in the industry, he's right there at the centre of things, his career is absolutely at the best place it can possibly be, and he's coming in and talking to our students about his career in a lecture format, but that breaks down so students can come and have a smaller workshop with him. We have people like that coming in who are very receptive to looking at student work and scripts and we invite them to get in touch with our students and if there's an opportunity to plug them into a production of some kind, we'll do that.

"We also have Employability Manager, Joanna Makepeace-Woods who is our industry link. She plugs our students into internships, placements and productions that are going on, things like Wolf Blood, Vera – any of the TV programmes that are being made in and around this area we can get students involved in. We have graduates working on those as well.

"Vera came to film where I live and there was a big buzz because Brenda Blethyn was there and the whole team were there, and I just happened to strategically walk past while they were filming and low and behold there was one of my ex-students who was involved in the production working as an Assistant Editor. He got that because he had got plugged in through our industry liaison contact who started to get him work. He started to build that up and build relationships with particular production companies who liked him and he's been doing that ever since.

"Those links are really vital for getting people a foot in the door, and one of the outstanding things about Sunderland is the time, effort and focus on providing those opportunities to have real-life experience with real people. It's not just textbooks, that's not what we're about here. We've got all of that – we've got theorists who are writing books, who are giving the lectures, who are working closely with students on their research projects and dissertations, but we've also got this absolute priority of getting students their first foot in the door. I think that's where this University is outstanding."

What is your academic background and what do you teach?

"I did an Art History course, and then I majored more and more in film and did a Masters in Film. I then moved on to a PhD in Film and started teaching as part of my PhD.

"I got into things like radio drama, and because we had courses about radio that were practical I started to build up some more theoretical and historical courses around that. I ended up co-writing a book on radio, so my first major publication was a book on radio. Because I was particularly interested in radio drama, I did a lot of work looking at and developing scripts and then I got into scriptwriting. I’m one of those people who likes to try something new and keep expanding a little bit each time, so when I came here I had the opportunity to teach both radio and film.

"My job was as a Senior Lecturer in Radio and Film, which meant I could combine the two interests I have. What’s nice about the Radio courses here is that they’re not pure theory courses. I’m doing a theory and practice-based course. I’m working with producers and people who want to work in the industry and it's great to be in a workshop environment which is less traditional. The cross-pollination opens up film students to listening to film a lot more, having felt very involved in radio I started to hear films in a way I never had before. Once I’d done the radio, I really started to listen to films and got involved in the area of sound studies, which drew people together across the sonic arts area, from film sound, design, radio production, and electroacoustic music and it brought people together from all of those different backgrounds which was very exciting."

What practical experience can students gain at Sunderland?

"I teach on the second year Radio Production module where students make a short drama and short documentary and a drama. In the third year they can go on to specialise in a radio drama course and spend 15 weeks working on a radio drama, writing the script, directing, producing, mixing it, acting in it, and we work with drama students on that as well. Half the group are Drama students and half are Media Production students, and that works really well. Other students can take a module in Radio Documentary and spend 15 weeks just making a documentary, and we get Journalism and Media Production students and they work really well together.

"I guest lecture in Film History on the Film and Media programme and there’s a Contemporary Cinema module, and I give lectures on stars, acting and performance, contemporary Bollywood and American indie cinema as well. In the second year, I teach on the American Film and Society course – looking at how films reflect society, and looking at representations of race and gender and sexuality. I’m also teaching a course on Film Theory and Criticism and we’re looking at some of the main theories within Film Studies such as psychoanalysis, postmodernism and ideology.

"One of my big research areas is around film stars and with my colleague Susan Smith we co-edit a series of books for the British Film Institute."

What kind of opportunities are there for students?

“We have a big event called Movers and Shakers which introduces lots of our graduates to people in the media industry. I bumped into one of my ex-graduates this morning, Jay Sykes, so he was rubbing shoulders with lots of big wigs in the media industry and he's involved a lot with Spark FM (the University's award-winning radio station). It's really great to see Jay developing as an academic, but also able to keep his own practice going because of the connections he makes through the University. We've got the MediaHub, which is a fantastically vibrant space that brings together Journalism students with Radio students and students from Film and Media."

What advice would you give to students thinking about studying Film, Media, and Cultural Studies?

“Being here at the University isn't just about going to lectures and seminars, you need to plug yourself in, get involved in Spark, and if you're interested in film do a film review programme on the radio, develop some radio presentation skills, but find an outlet and an audience for your interest. Make yourself known in the local environment. It really is a fantastic space where lots of students can come together creatively to work together, to find an outlet for themselves, make a bit of a name for themselves in the area and get plugged into events that are taking place.”


Published: 12 September 2017

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