The British film industry is thriving and so are the courses on offer
British cinema has undergone something of a renaissance. At this year's Oscars, Atonement is up for seven awards, while Julie Christie is nominated for best actress for her role in Away From Her. Such success has prompted British universities to set up courses aimed at budding directors, screenwriters and special-effects artists – and some of them have January or February start dates.
The University of Westminster's MA in screenwriting and producing for film and television has just entered its fourth year. Although most students will take two years to complete the course – which is offered part-time – some will aim to complete it in one calendar year, taking their first step towards a film career.
Westminster's long-running BA in film and television production launched the careers of Neal Purvis, screenwriter for the Bond movies, and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, who is Oscar-nominated for Atonement. This year's MA intake includes an award-winning Channel 4 documentary maker and a Romanian advertising guru looking for his big break.
"The bizarre thing about screenwriting is that it takes so long to finish anything and get it made," says Steve Hay, leader of the MA programme. "But about half the people get commissions while they're still with us – often my job is more acting as an agent and introducing the students to the right people. Now I'm just waiting for my first thank you at an Oscar ceremony."
The 19 students enrolled on this year's MA will spend the year working on a feature-length film, writing or producing. It's now too late to apply for a place on the 2008 course, but prospective students are encouraged to think about putting themselves forward from March – although there are no strict deadlines.
"We accept applications right until the day before the course starts, because talent is what counts," says Hay. "It seems silly for us to say no to someone just because they were unaware of the course until it's about to begin. Some of our best students don't apply until October or November – it's something about the nature of writers, they tend to prevaricate."
If you're a cinema buff looking for a late-starting undergraduate degree, then the new BA in special effects offered by Thames Valley University is worth a look. Although the course kicked off in October, the university is a champion of the second semester start. In fact, if you're quick, you can still get a place on the special-effects course through Clearing, as it doesn't reconvene until 11 February.
The degree covers everything from prosthetics (making artificial limbs) to animatronics, which uses computer technology and electronics to create animated robots or puppets. The course leader, Johnny Issapour, has targeted it at students who have done a broad range of A-level subjects.
"It's very interdisciplinary, a real combination of art and science," he says. "There are elements of engineering that you have to be aware of, but it also touches psychology, sociology and physiology. If you're creating a creature, for example, you have to be aware of how it will appear to people, and how it will properly communicate with an audience."
The degree managed to attract 18 students in its first year, and Issapour is hoping to see a few more new faces next month. It's exclusively assessed through coursework, and by the time they graduate, students are expected to have produced a series of lifelike models with design reports to prove that they know how and why they work. So if you fancy working on the next King Kong or Jurassic Park, it could be the degree for you.
"Some of the students have already produced some lovely work," says Issapour. "There's a growing job market in the UK at the moment, so when they graduate, they could go into anything from animation or CGI modelling to prosthetics, biomechanics, computer games design – even make-up."
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