Addressing the Skills Gap in the West Midlands Cultural Sector

May 3, 2023

Filming Performance Bootcamp

Images by Hayley Salter

As we look back at the Filming Performance Bootcamp at Solihull College & University Centre, delivered in partnership with West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), The Space and ScreenSkills, we are delighted to celebrate its success.

The six-week bootcamp brought together 15 talented artists and creatives looking to develop in-demand skills, learn the techniques needed to film, capture and digitise live theatre content and promote the arts and cultural sector. As this year’s bootcamp ended, we caught up with the tutors and bootcampers to learn more about this innovative programme and how it’s changing the game for performance filming in the West Midlands.


Developing in demand skills for filming live theatre content

The first programme of its kind, the Filming Performance Bootcamp was developed to address a significant skills gap in the cultural sector and to support the post-COVID recovery of theatres and live arts performances in the West Midlands, Coventry and Warwickshire. 

“There seemed to be a real gap in that area, and we wanted to see what we could do to support the recovery of theatres by digitising and archiving live theatre content in a more connected way,” Sophie Jolly, Creative and Cultural Bootcamp Leader from Solihull College & University Centre, explains. “We run a lot of bootcamps on production at Solihull and Stratford College, so we wanted to see if we could transfer that knowledge and expertise in filming theatre performances to people working within the industry.”

Kim Hackleman, a freelance producer, director, actor and writer, who has worked with the Belgrade Theatre Coventry for over a decade, was one of the first to sign up: “During the pandemic, we had to enter into this digital way of working without having a lot of experience or training. So we were teaching ourselves as we went along. I was involved in many projects during Coventry UK City of Culture. Because of that, I became very interested in what digital can do with theatre and was keen to learn more.”


Bringing together a diverse group of creatives

One of the programme’s key successes was bringing together a diverse group of applicants from a ‘melting pot of creative disciplines’, including actors, producers, artists, technicians, production company owners and a puppeteer. Sophie cites bursary support from ScreenSkills as instrumental in widening access to the course. By enabling freelancers to take time out of paid work, they could fully immerse themselves in their development and career advancement. 

Peer to peer learning

Creative Director and Producer Hayley Pepler was the Course Director of the Filming Performance Bootcamp. She notes that the peer-to-peer learning was central to the programme’s success: “As well as learning from the experts, they had a great variety of creative skills they shared with each other, and that created a generous atmosphere that allowed everyone to flourish. It culminated in a confident and bonded cohort who produced solid, considered, inventive and well-executed work.”

Bonny John, a video producer/director and director of Horizon Collective, a production company based in Coventry, found working within the group dynamic one of the highlights of the bootcamp: “I loved being part of a cohort of people with very creative, different backgrounds. Normally I’m just leading the project and working with others further down the line. But, being part of a group, we were all in it together and helping each other.”

The Bootcamp Experience

Across the first four weeks, the bootcampers attended workshops and masterclasses with industry professionals, where they broadened skills and understanding in all aspects of multi-camera filming of live arts performances. Then, in the fifth and sixth weeks, the cohort was organised into smaller production crews to work on filmed projects for their portfolios.

The bootcamp culminated in an exciting opportunity for the participants to work on a real-world commission: a multi-camera capture of the international University Poetry Slam finals, UniSlam 2023, at Birmingham Hippodrome. Again, the team rose to the challenge. The YouTube stream was watched by audiences in the USA and Singapore.


Empowering Creatives with New Skills and Confidence

The aspiring filmmakers have left the programme with new skills and confidence in their abilities, enabling them to work in various roles required to film live art performances. Bonny notes: “Courses like this are important because professionals can share knowledge, quickly upskill and be placed into industry-standard productions – as a runner, in a vision mixing role, or even as an assistant producer. We’re all capable of that now, which was the powerful thing about the bootcamp.”

A series of networking opportunities provided by the bootcamp has also plugged the cohort into the wider creative economy of the West Midlands, with plans to collaborate on several future regional projects already in progress. “This is just the beginning for our bootcampers. The bootcamp has opened the door for the cohort to join the creative industries in this region,” says Hayley. “It’s great to see that we are genuinely starting to bring together creative and cultural economies through these initiatives.”

If you have been inspired to learn more about live performance filming and are based in the West Midlands, Coventry or Warwickshire, register your interest in future bootcamps via [email protected].

Projects made by the Filming Performance Bootcamp will be shown at a special screening at The Belgrade Theatre on 18th May.