Twelve went to Birmingham

The 2018 DocLab crew kick things off with their residential training week. Here they share some memories of their inspirational opening days...

DocLab Birmingham 2018 participants

DocLab Birmingham 2018 participants


Kat Cashman

After getting to know everyone over dinner the night before, I felt my nerves turn into excitement for the week ahead. Our first day introduced me to a multitude of documentary forms, techniques and films that sparked my imagination, making the idea of pitching later in the week less scary.

The 'bring it on' attitude definitely grew as we all became more comfortable. After Debbie [producer and facilitator - Deborah Aston] took us through the elements of different documentaries, we got to share clips from our favourite documentaries with each other - I now have a long list of fabulous factuals that I can’t wait to watch! It was great to see what everyone enjoys in a documentary, and it really showed what a wonderful mix of interests this year's DocLab has. The day's speaker, producer and journalist Carol Nahra, wowed the group with various sub-genres of documentary and added to our watch lists with her examples of the genres.

By the end of the day, you could see everyone's heads whirring with new ideas, inspiration and anticipation for what the next few days would bring. There was such a positive energy in the air and I began to realise truly how special the DocLab scheme is, especially being in a group of such talented young people! Smiles all around!

Maria McNally

After a lovely Sunday evening socialising and getting to know each other, I was eager to begin the DocLab training week with the rest of the group. I was unsure what to expect from Day 1 of the training programme, least of all predicting to enjoy it as much as I did. The session was definitely intense, with a wealth of information provided on the different conventions and styles of documentaries by guest speaker Carol Nahra. She was a brilliant addition to the day, giving us a very insightful talk that excited me even further to get into the industry.

My favourite exercise of the day was when everyone presented a short clip of one of their favourite documentaries to the group. It was impressive how different everyone’s clips were, and I found myself creating a large list of must-see documentaries to go away and watch. It was great to converse with like-minded people and explore our shared joy of documentary. The atmosphere in the group was very supportive and enthusiastic, and continued to be so throughout the following days in Birmingham.


Preston Hartley

The second day of the Grierson DocLab was incredibly engaging with a wide variety of knowledge shared about developing a documentary idea. Having an idea of how a documentary looks in your head is sometimes hard to transfer into a tangible story for others to understand.

However, looking at the specific elements of the idea such as the hook and audience, made me think far wider in considering all the elements in the documentary and how certain aspects can relate people who will eventually watch it. I also enjoyed the little tips & tricks along the way for how to get coverage of a scene, how skills can be transferrable and various techniques that can be used beyond the conventional observational mode.

Lauren Howard

Day 2 of the Grierson DocLab 2018 gave us the opportunity to soak up as much information as we could regarding the importance of story. Debbie Aston talked to the group about character development, hooks, and the pacing of a documentary in order to carry the audience through an engaging journey.

We were then given tasks and split into groups to put this into action. It was a brilliant day, encouraging us to think of new stories we would not have necessarily considered before. I was partnered with Kat Cashman and together we pitched a documentary tackling fly-tipping in Birmingham, which progressed to consider our nationwide plastic consumption and the world's environmental waste crisis. From learning various techniques in the sessions at DocLab, we incorporated innovative filming techniques such as fixed-rig and the use of drones to film landfill sites, and consciously decided to pace the story so it travelled from the local perspective, to the wider community, and then back down to the personal again.

The DocLab has been a great experience, it has created a safe environment for the participants to collaborate with each other and gain confidence knowing we have a future as innovative story-builders. Day 2 had a buzz of excitement about it - a creative energy and a real focus for story. The residential as whole was an amazing opportunity that I am very grateful to be a part of. Listening to industry professionals, learning more about documentary form and production techniques, and working alongside other young creatives has been amazing.


Naomi De Souza

Entering our penultimate day, I came into Wednesday's session feeling energised, familiarised and thoughtful about what we have learnt, and how I would best put that into practice. Having got to know the group, the sessions had moved from slightly tentative, to a supportive environment where we could bounce our ideas of each other.

A particular high note for me was the emphasis on regional hubs and the discussion surrounding more out-of-London opportunities. Having Tom McDonald from the BBC discuss that was a highlight. It was encouraging to see that the tides are changing and there is a concerted effort to address creating opportunities across the country.

Working with Debbie (the course facilitator) on our pitches was a golden opportunity to get feedback on the ideas that we would be taking to Sheffield Doc/Fest. Two things I took from her session are that change is happening right now, and going in with a great attitude is what will get you trusted and employed further down the line. It may sounds simple, but simplicity is sometimes so often overlooked!

On reflection, these four days have been monumental in reaffirming some thoughts I had, and introducing some fresh perspectives on the industry as a whole.

Tammie Ash

By the Wednesday, we were into the third day of the course and for me personally, it was the best day because we’d been introduced to Tom McDonald from the BBC who is also a Grierson Trustee. We’d walked in quite exhausted after such a busy week but Tom seemed to wake us all up with his enthusiasm and generous advice-giving. It was great to hear his journey and the experiences that have led him to the BBC. He was very insightful and fuelled us with optimism. Later that day, we delved deeper into what a pitch actually is and how we can best sell our ideas but we also had some much-needed time alone to work on our documentary ideas, ready for the pitch the next day.


Rhiannon Walsh

I woke up on Thursday and started each day as I did the day before, with a peppermint tea and a sense of excitement for what we would be getting up to for the day ahead. Today though, a sense of nervousness was intertwined as this very morning we would be given the task to present our pitches for our original documentary ideas we had been working on all week. My idea was a feature documentary inside the world of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) videos on YouTube which aim to make viewers head's tingle.

The morning started at The Bond where we enjoyed a lecture from Debbie on branded content and how more and more companies and charities are utilising documentary film in order to sell products and services and make people aware of causes in unique and gripping ways. Having this lecture before our pitches allowed us to settle any last-minute nerves and enabled us to feel more prepared for our upcoming pitches.

We each did a three-minute pitch on our documentary which included obvious staples like the title and purpose of the film and answers to questions slightly harder to sum-up in the 180-second time frame like target audience and why this film should be made now. We all received feedback from Debbie and Yen and any of the other Doc Lab participants who felt they had some constructive guidance.

While the thought of the pitch was nerve-wracking at first, the ability to stand up in front of peers and have a practice run before presenting our pitch to industry professionals in Sheffield was invaluable. We got to see our strengths and weaknesses and where we can all improve when it comes to the real pitch in a couple weeks. I for one learnt that my use of language should be more assertive and that the use of VR and multi-platform mediums would be an asset in delivering my documentary.

After sandwiches and soup, we met Production Manager Amy Panesar who started her career on CBeebies and has since worked on various productions such as Celebs Go Dating and a new series ShipMates. Amy discussed how the role of Production Manager is one always sought after by productions as there is a lot of demand but as the job is perhaps perceived as “less glamorous”, it is one less likely to be filled. For me, Amy opened my ears and eyes to a role I didn’t even think about in regards to TV. Her position is one that is imperative to a production running smoothly as she oversees the health and safety of a shoot, as well as the budget and managing a team but is one you rarely hear about when you think of stereotypical TV roles. Amy showed that for someone who has more organisational, managerial and business skills, the TV world can still definitely be a place to start your career in.

After Amy's interesting seminar we, as a group shared our thoughts and feedback on the past week. I definitely felt it was a week which taught me a lot about the industry, which I wouldn't find anywhere else. It opened doors for me and asked me questions of where and what I want to be in regards to documentary film and the TV industry and for that I am entirely grateful to the Grierson Trust and everyone else involved. I look forward to Sheffield and everything else that is coming our way!

Wrapping Up

Didem Gormus

The DocLab training week in Birmingham was brilliant. It was so lovely to meet like-minded people and I already know that I have made life-long friendships. We learnt so much in just four days and it has given me an extensive insight into the industry and the demands of it. It has equipped me well for when we go to Sheffield Doc/Fest; I am so excited to put everything we have learnt into practice.

It was amazing to learn from industry professionals and to hear them talk about their own experiences of getting into the industry. It was such a unique and eye-opening experience; I felt incredibly grateful to be able to be given advice from industry experts in such a relaxed and comfortable environment. Everything about the training week has instilled in me a great confidence and I feel ready to forge a successful career for myself in documentary film. Bring on Sheffield!

Published: 7 June 2018

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