Film experts fear experience being ignored in £50m training scheme

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The behind-the-camera heroes of the British film industry said yesterday that their experience was being ignored in a new £50m training plan to create the Oscar winners of the future.

Guilds representing editors, cameramen, sound engineers and other experts who have won Oscars for films such as Gladiator and The English Patient said the new scheme risked perpetuating problems in the industry rather than solving them.

They fear that it could produce highly educated film graduates without the technical skills actually to make a movie, when what was needed was more hands-on training with experts such as themselves.

One critic said: "At the moment we are getting people who can't even change a plug. We don't want more of that."

The scheme was announced last month by the UK Film Council and Skillset, the body set up by the Department for Education and Skills to tackle the problem of an ageing skilled workforce and to provide vocational training for new recruits.

Part of the plan involves "kitemarking" the plethora of further and higher education courses so that students know which ones are regarded as truly excellent by the film industry across a range of skills from accountancy to costume-making.

But the Cine Guilds of Great Britain, an umbrella body for guilds representing more than 1,500 film designers, special effects experts, stuntmen and others, has been excluded from the strategic committee in charge of implementing the plan, while members of film unions and the funding bodies behind the scheme are included.

Joe Dunton, chairman of the Cine Guilds, said it was wrong that the people closest to the industry were not at the heart of the plan. "The Cine Guilds represent the most experienced and respected members of the workforce that actually makes the movies," he said. "Surely it is essential for the Skills Strategy Committee to include members with experience and knowledge of where the funds should be spent?"

Guild members to have won Oscars include Ken Weston for sound in Gladiator, Ivan Sharrock for sound in The English Patient, John Bloom for editing Gandhi and Billy Williams and Ronnie Taylor for cinematography on the same film. Ken Adam won an Oscar for the design on The Madness of King George and Peter Lamont for design on Titanic. There have been nominations for numerous British experts on films including Sense and Sensibility, Shakespeare in Love and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

Mr Dunton said he feared that government hopes of getting half of school-leavers into university meant that university courses would take the lion's share of the funding. Small existing schemes providing practical experience, such as FT2 (Film and Television Freelance Training), would be "at the end of the queue".

Evidence supplied by FT2 to a recent parliamentary inquiry said it increasingly found that people with media degrees were applying for its apprenticeships "as without significant industry work experience on industry standard equipment they do not have the skills to be employed in the industry".

The skills deficit has been largely created by the collapse about 20 years ago of apprenticeships in studios and production companies. But a UK Film Council spokesman deniedthat film makers were being excluded from the training strategy. He said they had been involved in its development and would sit on working groups to carry it out. "The steering group is a small group made up primarily of the organisations funding the programme. The fact that the guilds are not members does not mean that we do not want them fully involved in making sure it works. They have been told just that."

At the launch, Stewart Till, chief executive of United International Pictures film distributors and deputy chairman of the UK Film Council and Skillset, said he was confident it would make a "significant impact on the long-term success and sustainability of our film industry". He said: "The British film industry is only as good as the people in it. It is the classic people's business. And what we've got to do is attract better and brighter people and then train and educate them so that we can be even more successful."