Geraldine Abrahams talks to the man in charge of Scottish Screen Training, John McVay, about positive and negative images
The blossoming film and television industry in Scotland over the past few years has highlighted the growing need for skilled practitioners to carry the industry forward to a position of strength in world terms.
Such expertise, however, is dependent on quality training and it seems that while there is accredited training available, there is also damning evidence of courses being run by inexperienced staff using outdated equipment, with little real knowledge of - or credibility in - the film and TV marketplace.
When Scottish Screen was created on April 1 this year, it enveloped all the different strands of the industry, including training. John McVay, director of training at Scottish Broadcast and Film Training, has continued at the helm of Scottish Screen Training.
"It was recognised in Scottish Enterprise's Scotland on Screen report that training and skills are a fundamental part of any growth in an industry in terms of sustaining an industry and a culture," he said.
"Training brings in new young talent and ensures its survival in a very competitive industrial context and it would be absurd to look at increasing production in Scotland without looking at the role of training."
According to Mr McVay, all training under his auspices is built around an analysis of industry needs defined by employers and freelances. While the industry bodies assume some responsibility for practitioner training, those on the brink of entering the film and television industries are much more vulnerable.
With little advance knowledge, and faced with intensive hype, it is extremely difficult for them to distinguish between authentic vocation-based training and courses which provide trappings without substance.
"They need to ask around, to try to find out as much as possible from colleges or universities about the qualifications of those teaching the courses and whether they are from the industry," Mr McVay said.
"They have to find out about the level of equipment and whether there is the appropriate teaching staff to operate it. Otherwise they might find themselves being taught no more than to push buttons without developing the critical skills they need to become adept programme-makers.
"We receive applications from people who haven't really asked enough questions prior to going into education and it is often too late when they find that the course that they have embarked on is really not appropriate to their talent and skills."
Two recent graduates from two West of Scotland further education colleges have very different stories to tell in terms of the quality of the training they received. While one reported very positively on the breadth and quality of the practical experience he enjoyed, the other is still struggling to come to terms with disappointment at finding himself with a qualification that has not prepared him adequately for working in film and television.
The first student, who has worked on productions including a documentary and a promotional video since leaving college, followed an HND in video production which involved script-writing, producing and directing short videos, learning multi-camera techniques and working on a live studio shoot, as well as sound and post-production and finally, an industry placement.
The tutors on his course included a feature film animator, a sound recordist with 10 years' experience and others who run their own video production company.
The other student's experience has been less positive. His course was an HND in television and video production, and he was led to believe from the start that it would be a passport to jobs in the industry. The course involved specific modules such as lighting and scriptwriting, and directing, producing and camerawork, where basically the students were told: "Here's the camera, here's the leaflet, now go out and make a documentary".
While he is sympathetic to the lecturers, who had some limited experience in the industry, he blames the lack of quality on the course leader who had no practical experience of the media industry and therefore saw no need to upgrade obsolete equipment.
The structure of the course, too, came in for some criticism since he felt that subjects such as French and psychology were of little relevance to working in the film and television industry: "I think that the course needs more relevant modules, placements, more people from the industry teaching on it, people with their fingers on the pulse who have contacts. If they don't get the right staff and relevant equipment, it can't work."
The inadequate standard of such courses is alarming and ultimately must damage the overall quality of training provision. Scottish Screen Training has chosen to follow the SVQ route through the Open University with Skillset as the lead body. That decision was taken by the industry in Scotland before the Scottish Qualifications Authority was set up and is tied in with the need to provide a coherent single awarded structure for the UK, vital in such a mobile industry.
"We wanted to make sure of the clarity of perception between an SVQ and an NVQ, between Scotland and England," Mr McVay said. "By using identical awarding bodies there is the NVQ in England, Wales and Ireland and the SVQ in Scotland, awarded by Skillset through the OU."
For newcomers to the industry, Scottish Screen Training offers a New Entrants' Scheme which lasts for 18 months and involves formal short courses, job replacement, mentoring, personal development, business training, and specific training for the jobs they are doing. Evidence of competence is gathered throughout. Trainees are automatically registered for SVQ Level 3 and all students have progressed into the industry. But there are around 500 applicants each year for the eight places on the scheme.
Scottish Screen also runs writer training courses such as Movie Makers, is introducing other schemes in the comedy and factual writing areas, with continuing discussion about the launch of a pilot scheme for training young producers, and is offering short courses including writing, production, research and post-production, primarily designed for practitioners.
The National Film and Television School at Beaconsfield is another major source of media education and the Glasgow and Edinburgh Film and Video Workshops which offer subsidised "hands-on" access to facilities are seen as providing real opportunity to young film-makers.
At the moment Scottish Screen Training is the assessment centre for camera, lighting, sound and production - all at SVQ Levels 2, 3 and 4 - and will add editing in six to eight months time. Despite all the "in-house" activity, John McVay says that the industry in Scotland needs to involve further and higher education in training and stresses the importance of teaching school pupils about the media as soon as possible.
"I think that understanding the media should be part of the mainstream curriculum. We will be appointing a new media administration officer at Scottish Screen and I am very keen for that appointment to look at new ways of working with primary and secondary schools, to develop new programmes. Clearly that affects teachers' time resources and that is maybe something that we could help with in terms of helping to co-ordinate projects."
At higher level courses in FE and HE, Mr McVay would like to see more work produced using skills of a standard recommended by the industry. "The ongoing relationship should make sure that the talent we want to see developed is coming out ready to hit the ground running."