From screen acting master’s degrees to green screen workshops, drama schools are increasing the proportion of training in TV and film work for students. Samantha Marsden looks at a selection of what’s on offer
Historically, the focus of drama school acting training used to be stage work, but increasingly training institutions are focusing on screen performance. We look at what applicants, whose focus is on acting for film or TV, can expect from a range of drama schools.
The BA (hons) Acting for Live and Recorded Media has four modules dedicated to screen acting and students finish the course with a showreel. The school works closely with the Manchester Film School and has access to all of its facilities. Both Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg techniques are taught at the Arden. Graduate Saoirse-Monica Jackson, who stars as Erin in Channel 4’s Derry Girls, says: “It was great to have the privilege of screen acting on the curriculum at the Arden – this isn’t something that’s always available with other courses, it was great to have that experience behind me once I started working professionally.”
Central offers an MA in Acting for Screen with classes in camera, acting, voice, movement, casting and text analysis. The principles of study derive from psychophysical methods, particularly the techniques of Michael Chekhov and Stanislavski. During the MA, students make a series of short films and shoot showreels. These films screen at major national and international film festivals, including the Sundance Film Festival.
UCLan is a university and offers an average of 18 contact hours per week, whereas more traditional drama schools tend to offer 30 hours or more a week. However, UCLan is working to increase contact hours. It offers a well-established and very practical BA (hons) in Acting. This course has a high success rate of graduates, including Mandip Gill (Doctor Who), Alexa Lee (Hollyoaks) and Jordan Reece (Emmerdale). Gill says: “Training on the BA (hons) Acting course at UCLan set me up for life as a professional actor. I gained valuable knowledge, skills and professional contacts that helped me start my career.”
The school has excellent facilities, with a multimillion-pound ‘media factory’, which includes a newly refurbished HD TV studio and gallery that has just had a £550,000 upgrade. Each year UCLan Acting produces 18 TV shorts as graduate showcase material.
LAMDA has a fully soundproof screen and audio suite, complete with editing and ADR facilities, it has even had an on-site set of a spaceship (pictured above). Graduating students on the BA (hons) and MFA Professional Acting courses all feature in professionally written and directed short films.
Industry professionals are invited to a film premiere at LAMDA, and then the films are made available online. LAMDA graduate Leah Harvey says: “Screen training didn’t just teach me how to utilise my instrument in front of a camera. The focus on how to audition for screen and how to produce a great self-tape was my saving grace once I entered the industry.”
RWCMD has its own director for Acting for Screen modules: Eryl Phillips, who is an experienced TV and film actor, director and producer. The BA (hons) in Acting has its own acting for screen modules every year, and the MA in Acting for Stage, Screen and Radio also has specialist acting for camera modules. At RWCMD the emphasis is on practical work with intense sessions on camera in a studio. Recent graduate Viveik Kalra was the lead in feature film Blinded by the Light, and final-year acting student Callum Scott Howells is currently filming as one of the leads in the new Russell T Davies drama Boys for Channel 4.
OSD’s new principal Edward Hicks was the head of film, TV and radio at RADA for 11 years. Hicks says: “Having now joined Oxford as its principal, I’ve bought a lot of my screen curriculum with me.” Screen work at Oxford starts in the first term. Then, in the final year, students go on location and experience a shoot with commissioned scripts. These are often used by students on graduating as a showreel.
Additionally, the school runs a casting thread of classes that look at every type of casting scenario including self-tapes, commercials, as well as more traditional TV castings. This year, OSD has specialist screen workshops planned, which include topics such as green screen, ADR, press and publicity responsibilities (including social media) and creating your own content.
ALRA offers a BA (hons) in Acting, and an MA in Professional Acting, both with a focus on acting for the screen. It has recently added a TV and film studio to its premises.
Billy Geraghty, film and TV acting tutor at ALRA South, says: “Film and television sets can be intimidating places for young actors. To ensure my teaching is accessible to all students, the learning environments I use are flexible and conducive to creative expression. All spaces, whether they be interior or exterior, can become film sets and I design exercises that require exposure to all environments in order for students to experience conditions they may well find themselves working in as their career’s progress.”
At RCS, acting for screen is a part of a wider module – Professional Practice. Acting students work closely with BA Filmmaking students. There is an edit suite dedicated to the film-makers and actors, and they are trained to use the editing software to cut their own work, including short films, self-tapes and showreels.
Ali de Souza, associate head of acting, says: “We start working on screen with the actors from week two of their training. The actors see it as integral to the training, not a bolt-on.”
RADA’s principal partner is Warner Bros Entertainment. The partnership, which has been in place since 2008, has rooted film training within the classical acting curriculum. All students on RADA’s BA (hons) in Acting have classes in acting for screen, threaded throughout the three-year course.
Pamela Jikiemi, head of film, television and radio at RADA, says: “Our students work with exceptional teachers, directors and industry practitioners. We believe that actors in training learn how to excel in the dramatic arts by doing, so all our training is based on practical experience in conditions that will prepare them for the professional world.”
LIPA has recently launched a BA focused on screen performance. Will Hammond, head of acting, says: “BA (hons) Acting (Screen and Digital Media) is a response to industry needs and offers students the opportunity to work alongside our lecturers and partners to put themselves at the forefront of industry change.”
LIPA’s Sennheiser Studio Theatre has undergone major renovation and is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for film, TV, virtual reality, green screen work and motion capture. Duncan Riches, a graduate from LIPA’s BA (hons) in Acting, says: “You’re encouraged to make your own work, practise and even add to your showreel yourself.”
Before choosing where to train, think about what you want from your course and ask drama schools for detailed course outlines if they are not available. If you are offered multiple places, watching showreels, and speaking to alumni can help you discover if the course is for you.
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