Durham Student Film and Durham Student TV merged recently to become Durham Film and Television. I caught up with President James Llewelyn, and Vice-President Zenia Selby, to talk about their vision for the new society, and some of their exciting upcoming events.
What was the thinking behind the merger?
Zenia: Durham Student Film has been running for eleven years and Durham Student TV started lasted year. I was originally President of Palatinate TV, but we realised that by making DSTV a separate entity we would be able to get more funding and make more ambitious projects.
James: As a society DSF has grown exponentially in the last two years, and we have been managing a huge influx of people coming in. Now we finally have the resources and manpower to make DSTV a branch of the society.
What are the aims of the society?
Z: To support our members’ creativity, and to provide a good training ground for people who just want to have a go with a camera.
J: If students have a programme or film that they want to make, then we can give them a good boost. We also want to help produce regular content that people in Durham will actually want to watch!
How exactly does the support you provide work?
Z: When I joined the society in first year, I’d barely held a camera before, and learnt a lot through the workshops about everything that goes into making a film.
J: A lot of people come as writers, directors, editors and cameramen looking to get involved with the more technical side of filmmaking. At the same time there are a lot of people with no experience who come to be trained, and we show them the ropes.
If a new person arrives and wants to find people to make a film with, how do you group them together with others?
J: We try to let teams build themselves, running the society in a way that everyone really gets to know everyone else, and what their ambitions and tastes are.
Sometimes it can be good to shake groups up to find combinations of people who produce exceptional stuff together. Once you’ve got a great dynamic then it’s important to step back and let it flower.
Z: At the start of the year, we run a three-week filmmaking project to help get groups of filmmakers together. This year we went with the theme of crime dramas, and guided members with writing a script and then actually filming.
J: After this, we have a 48-hour film festival, which is a really great way to get people started – it’s short and intense, so every member can get very involved!
Z: And after that a lot of the time we just let people bring their own ideas for what they want to produce.
What are some of your current projects on the TV side?
Z: We are currently in a partnership with the Indoor Market, where they sponsor us, and we feature their offers and stalls in some of our videos. We have two regular features – Durham’s Deals as well as Durham’s Delia, which teaches about how to make student-friendly meals. We are looking to make more adverts for local companies, and in return for financial support, we can help them to attract more business from students.
J: The TV branch of the society will organise a comedy roadshow (happening on March 6th) with student comedy groups like Durham Revue and Shellshock, which we’re looking forward to.
What kind of equipment does Durham Film and Television have at its disposal?
Z: At the society we try to provide opportunities for members to work with industry level kit.
J: We ourselves currently own a Canon DSLR, a couple of tripods, and a couple of handicams, whilst the Union also owns a lot of equipment. They’ve just agreed to buy us a lot more, which is fantastic news!
People also come to the society with their own kit, and we try to supplement that so that everyone has what they need. Sometimes when people get very involved they also end up purchasing equipment over the course of the year.
For one film, we are hiring something called a Gimbal – a very expensive piece of equipment – and it’s great that the society now has the budget to be able to do that.
How do you make a video go viral?
Z: There’s no secret to creating a viral video unfortunately! People have tried to crack it, but it doesn’t happen by formula. You’ve just to make something that is high quality, and good to watch.
J: It’s always important to have a great story, that provides opportunities for actors to give fantastic performances. Even stunning production cannot make up for a bad story.
I understand that you organise trips outside of Durham?
Z: We have at trip to BBC Newcastle coming up soon – last year we organised the same thing, and it was really successful. We also have a filmmaking trip to Stockton, to make the most of the local area, and include their students. With the X1 being free we can really widen out our location shoots, to places like Sedgefield, and Bowburn.
What are your ambitions for the future of the society?
Z: At the moment we have been nominated for awards for our films, but we want them to be award-winning.
J: We are trying to ramp up the quality of what we produce. What’s really special about what we’ve got going on at the moment is that the entire exec this year have learnt their skills within the society, and it’s important to pass down that training. At the same time it’s important that members are always coming in with new ideas, bringing fresh unsullied perspectives.
What were the nominations for?
Z: We had Catherine – a film about a vampire that was made last year.
J: It started out life as part of our Horror Film Festival, before being heavily adapted and becoming much more of a character drama. We entered it into multiple film festivals, and it was nominated by Short of the Month last December for Best Editing.
Tell me about some of the upcoming special events in Durham.
Z: We have the Durham Film Festival taking place on the 20th and 21st February. It’s part of the society, but organised by a separate committee. We’re working with Bede Film Soc to produce it, so all the festival entries will get screened in Caedmon Hall, and the workshops are happening there.
J: It’s our biggest event of the year. We have judges coming up from all over the country to watch the screenings.
Z: Last year the Oscar-winning cinematographer Chris Menges came up to run workshops – he worked on films like The Reader and The Mission.
Do you have any big speakers like that booked for this year?
Z: We have an old Durham alumnus – actually a classicist like me! – Richard Edwards-Earl. He’s a filmmaker and camera-operator, and he’s worked on projects such as Paddington. He should provide an interesting insight as he’s experienced with graphics and data wrangling, and he’s also doing a screenwriting workshop – about how to tell a good story, write for screen, build a narrative.
J: We’ve booked Chris Terrill, a documentary maker who’s done films in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Z: There’s also Marion Milne, who made a biopic about Audrey Hepburn that’s been shown on the BBC.
Aside from the upcoming festival, have you got anything else significant planned on the horizon?
J: For the University Arts Week we’ll be running 48-hour film festival, which is happening post-exams. We’re going to try and have some workshops running, and hold some screenings of our work.
Z: We have some joint formals going on with Bede Film Soc – we’re trying to link all the societies and create a big film scene in Durham.
Finally, how can students get involved with Durham Film and Television?
Z: We meet Mondays at 19:20, in PG21 on Palace Green. If you want to get involved making films in any capacity come along and we’ll support you. We’re not intimidating – in fact we have a reputation as one of Durham’s most inclusive societies.
J: We won the DSU’s Most Improved Society award last year, and we’re going for Best Society this year!