How to make an award-winning student film project

Five essential tips for creating a student film or television programme 

July 3 2017

Marika Santala and Raphaël Beaulieu are graduates of the National Film and Television School’s directing and producing television entertainment master’s course. They recently picked up the Postgraduate Comedy and Entertainment Award at the Royal Television Society Student Television Awards for their programme The Love Gym. Here, they offer other student film-makers their tips on creating a successful film or TV programme. 

1. Build your film or TV programme around a fresh idea

Look at the lifestyle sections of the press for inspiration. You’ll usually find interesting articles highlighting emerging societal patterns. An idea based on a bubbling trend that is just about to burst into the mainstream is what you are after.

The idea of filming a dating show for our TV entertainment graduation project came to Raphaël while reading an article explaining how group workouts were, surprisingly, the ideal setting to find a partner. The idea of a dating show set in a gym felt entertaining and fresh, and perfect for young viewers who love working out and sharing things online.

2. Ask the experts 

Once you have a great idea, the next step is to transform it into a working TV or film concept. Those around you with professional experience have knowledge of what works and what doesn’t for TV or film and they can help you structure your idea in a way that will appeal to broadcasters and their audiences.

The network at our school was a great help. We were put in touch with development producers at Warner Bros. Television and Endemol Shine Group and given the opportunity to pitch The Love Gym idea. The professional feedback that we received made a difference in helping us refine our concept with clear format points and the right tone.

3. Identify the talents around you and use them

The strength of the film or programme ultimately resides in the talents of those you bring on board. Identify the talents you want to collaborate with, and stay open to their creative input.

Whether it was at the pre-production, production or post-production stages, fellow students from the cinematography, production design, sound editing and music composing MA courses at the National Film and Television School were essential in bringing our idea to the screen. 

4. Have a plan B

The rule of thumb in TV or film production is: if something is likely to go wrong, it will go wrong. Contestants may pull out at the last minute; technology could fail or, if you are filming outside, the weather may be awful. The more you have planned for things to go badly, the more prepared you are with a plan B.

On our first day of filming The Love Gym, a contestant dropped out a few hours before call time. We had just enough time to ring up a classmate – who was our plan B – get him into his sports gear, and have him flirt his way through our singles-only workout.

5. Be a master of all tricks

Overall, no matter what you are doing – whether it’s content creation or something technical – you’ll need to understand how things work. Over the duration of your course, explore every department’s role, even if it’s “not your job”, because the more you understand how programmes or films are created, the better you can communicate with your team and the better the end result will be.

Read more: Royal Television Society announces best student films of the year 

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