Q&A: NFTS Cinematography MA student Angela Neil
BAFTA’s UK Scholarship Programme is part of their charitable activity to support talented people at all stages of their career in film, television and games.
The programme is currently open to applications from British Citizens in need of financial assistance to take a post-graduate course in the UK. Each BAFTA Scholar receives up to £12,000 towards their annual course fees, as well as mentoring support from a BAFTA member and free access to BAFTA events around the UK.
Aspiring cinematographer and WFTV member Angela Neil (pictured) was a recipient of a BAFTA Scholarship in the last round, and it’s helping her to complete her second year on the Cinematography MA at the National Film and Television School. Angela was one of three chosen applicants to be awarded a Prince William Scholarship funded by Warner Bros., meaning in addition to all of the above benefits she will receive a short, funded work placement within the Warner Bros. group at the end of her course, access to a Warner Bros. mentor, and invitations to a series of industry masterclasses.
WFTV decided to catch up with Angela to find out about her MA, how the Scholarship has helped her so far and what her aspirations for the future are.
“Seeing how productions were shot and meeting DOP’s just got me hooked.”
What experience had you had in the industry before applying to the NFTS Cinematography MA?
I originally studied Photography at degree level 10 years ago, before spending most of my 20’s doing all manner of jobs, from hotel managing in the alps to Yacht deliveries across Europe! After a few years, I went back to photography and assisted some amazing photographers, building my portfolio in fashion and underwater work. One photographer I assisted was in need of a videographer, so I taught myself everything I could about moving image. Eventually, his company grew and I became his full-time camera operator for EPK’s and promos. I worked on some brilliant BBC and Channel 4 Productions such as Sherlock, Utopia, Call the Midwife and many more. Seeing how these productions were shot and meeting DOP’s just got me hooked. So I began 2nd AC’ing on a few productions and shot a couple of short films myself, and then applied to the NFTS.
Why did you decide to apply for the course?
Everyone in the Industry knows the NFTS and knows it is the best school around, especially for Cinematography. I knew that if I tried to climb the ladder through assisting it would take years, and breaking through doors would be a struggle. I wanted to shoot and create films… maybe I was impatient, but I felt I had spent enough time assisting and I wanted to shoot myself. I didn’t apply anywhere else; I decided I would go to the best school or not go at all.
What has it been like so far?
Throughout the first year there were lots of useful workshops with visiting tutors, but most of the time was spent shooting. We were put into production teams – with directors, production designers, sound editors, etc – and shot several short films (nearly everything was shot on 16mm, which is a great way to learn!). I’m now in the second year and we have moved to digital. We’re pretty much straight into major projects and graduation shoots. Throughout the year there are masterclass invitations and screenings at the school too, which adds to our education and helps us to make industry connections.
“The teams at BAFTA and Warner Bros. have been incredibly supportive. If there is something you want to do, they will always try to help you do it.”
How did you hear about the BAFTA Scholarship Programme and what was the application process like?
I heard through the NFTS. After the written application there was an interview process with a panel. They were very friendly, so it wasn’t as intimidating as I had expected!
How has the Scholarship helped you so far?
On top of the obvious financial benefit and receiving invitations to BAFTA’s incredible programme of screenings and talks, the teams at BAFTA and Warner Bros. have been incredibly supportive. If there is something you want to do, they will always try to help you do it. I’ve met so many people from the industry – really big names – and they are always happy to chat and give advice. And I’ve been to Gala nights and even got a ticket to the BAFTA Film Awards this year!
Then there’s the Mentoring element to the Scholarship programme. Kate Reid (also a WFTV member) has been my mentor and she’s absolutely great. We meet up and chat for a few hours at a time, discussing ideas and talking about our experiences of working in the industry. The Warner Bros. team are just as helpful and I have another mentor with them. He’s an industry expert and having him as a personal contact is so great, I can ask him anything.
It has been amazing meeting the other BAFTA Scholars and alumni, too. It’s one big family and everyone helps each other out. In fact, I’m currently working on two productions outside of the NFTS with people that I met through these events.
What’s still to come on your course?
I’m currently shooting a graduation animation, which is great fun. The film consists of live action miniature sets and CGI characters. The animation directors at the NFTS are so creative. Once it’s finished, it’ll be straight on to shooting my graduation fiction piece, which includes getting a fighter jet onto our main stage for me to light and shoot! I also have to write a dissertation (I’m planning to focus on women in cinematography), and we still have regular workshops and trips to attend as part of the course.
“Are you creative? Are you hard working? Are you a team player? Are you ready for the industry? It’s your own unique experience that will make you stand out.”
What are your career aspirations for after you graduate?
Eventually I hope to work on TV dramas and films, but I also enjoy a good documentary shoot. A few weeks ago I was out in Bolivia shooting a graduation documentary piece about young children living in prison with their mothers. It was a beautiful place and an amazing experience. At this stage in my career though, I’m open to working on all kinds of projects. If it’s a good idea, you’re open minded and creative, and have a good team around you, there are no limits!
What would be your advice to someone who is thinking of applying to the BAFTA Scholarship Programme this year?
Do it! And be yourself. That may sound a bit basic, but I don’t think they are looking for someone who knows everything about their area of study, it’s more about your potential and enthusiasm. Are you creative? Are you hard working? Are you a team player? Are you ready for the industry? It’s your own unique experience that will make you stand out.
To find out more about the BAFTA Scholarship Programme and to apply, click here.
The deadline for applications is: Monday 12 June.
If you are a female cinematographer and would be willing to talk to Angela about your experiences in the industry for her dissertation research please e-mail her: firstname.lastname@example.org.