Report: BFI NETWORK South West's New Producer Lab

Rising producer Jess Bartlett unpacks her time on this flagship initiative

12 January 2021

Over three days of online workshops and talks, myself and eight other producers recently participated in the BFI NETWORK South West New Producers Lab led by Bristol-based producers Kate Cook and Jayne Chard. Due to the strange circumstances of the year, the course was run remotely by BFI NETWORK Talent Executive Alix Taylor, and led us through all stages of production (for both shorts and features) with useful advice from Kate, Jayne, and other guest speakers.

On Day One, we started with brief introductions to get to know the other participants on the course which was a nice start – before the New Producers Lab, I didn’t have many other contacts that were at a similar stage in their careers as me with the same aspirations. The course began by guiding us chronologically through the stages of production, beginning with ‘finding projects, scripts, partners, and new talent’. The importance of networking in your area in order to find like-minded creatives and opportunities was a main takeaway, as was the importance of securing an established executive producer on higher budget projects as a way to give confidence to investors.

When it comes to the world of pre-production, I learned that you should sell your film as if it is any other product – it needs to have a market and wide appeal. I found this particularly useful as I’ve only experienced small budget shorts, and starting to consider how to approach the world of feature film funding and investors was extremely beneficial for my future plans. Kate then continued with a presentation on packaging your film, which covered the value of having a business plan in place for your project when approaching funding. She also explored how to present an effective pitch-deck, look book, and sizzle reel. Director Paul Holbrook of Shunk Films (Hungry Joe, A Girl and Her Gun) concluded the first day with an interactive talk that offered his advice on making successful shorts and the vital importance of having a good producer onboard your project.

Day Two began with a talk from Jenny Van Der Lande of Bristol Screen Producers, who spoke of the importance of identifying the right project for you, and selecting the appropriate talent to bring the story to life. It was especially useful to hear Jenny discuss the constructive ways to both sensitively and effectively give feedback to writers from a producer's standpoint .

This led nicely onto Farah Abushwesha’s talk about her experience as a producer and her advice to us starting out: don’t be afraid to reach out to other producers and ask for advice, team up with other producers and play to different strengths; do your research and talk to sales agents!

The rest of Day Two covered pre-production and production, with topics including scheduling, casting directors, agencies, insurance, and contracts. With some prior knowledge on this from my time studing film production at university, I found this day extremely beneficial in filling in any gaps.

Our final session focused on post-production, delivery, and distribution. The day consisted of an extremely informative line-up of speakers from the industry: Tom George of Happy Hour Productions and Principal Film Finance, followed by Rebekah Louisa (The Film Festival Doctor) who focused on festival strategies. Distributing Consultant Beatrice Neumann offered crucial advice, and finally Rich Warren, Festival Director of Encounters, commented on this year’s adjustment to digital events.

After three extremely instructive and inspiring days learning about our role as a producer in-depth, each of us had a one-on-one session with either Jayne or Kate to receive constructive criticism on a pitch-deck for a chosen upcoming short film. Presenting my first independently made pitch-deck to Jayne has really helped me understand what information is integral.

I’ve taken away lots of helpful advice from the course and will implement this knowledge in my future endeavours. Within my Bristol-based production company Terror Arcade, we aim to produce our debut feature film in the coming three years after our award-winning slate of short films, and so the insight I have received from the course will greatly assist me in taking the leap toward features. I now feel more confident proceeding onto my next project, and have recently got a new job as an Assistant Producer.