The Creative Access team travelled to Bristol last week for our creative industries showcase, hosted by the BBC Natural History Unit at BBC Studios, to highlight all the creativity and exciting roles on offer in the area. We were joined by a panel spanning curation, TV, animation, publishing, theatre and PR who demystified the sectors they worked in, offering up their advice for our audience on how to break in.
Lorna Harrington, senior designer at Aardman Animations
Senior designer Lorna knows how disheartening rejection can be when you’re first starting out. Whilst now she’s at her ‘dream workplace’ and her day-to-day looks like creating Shaun the Sheep pyjamas for a high street brand to designing posters for Aardman Animations movies, it wasn’t always the case. She had a tough time finding a role post-university as an illustrator but didn’t give up: she decided instead to teach herself Photoshop and go down the designer route.
“Don’t give up and keep trying. If you’re a designer or filmmaker or photographer, don’t get disheartened and feel pressured by other people’s successes. Make sure you present yourself online and shout about your work so that people notice you”
Lorna stressed to our community that whilst it’s easy to compare yourself to friends and peers who seem like they have the ‘dream’ job and you haven’t got there yet, to keep trying. For any budding designers, she says that even things like designing a super creative CV can be what makes you stand out for the crowd, and in fact, this is what she cites as helping her get the job at Aardman.
“Use free online websites like SquareSpace which is easy and cheap. I think Instagram profiles are a great way to display your work too. It doesn’t have to be this big thing; it doesn’t matter if it gets one like, it’s important to get it out there and you have something to show”
Saphia Abrahamovitch-Venner assistant curator at Spike Island
Like Lorna, Saphia also studied illustration, however became interested in collaborative work whilst helping organise exhibitions during her degree and realised that’s what she wanted to do. Saphia completed an internship at Bow Arts and Christies via Creative Access in 2018. She explains that “being able to talk about curation because of my projects at university helped me get my first gallery roles”.
So, what does a curator do? Saphia’s work at international contemporary art centre, Spike Island, involves everything from coordinating the centre’s artist development programmes to curating public workshops. She explains that traditionally a curator at an art gallery or museum would have a specialist knowledge of a particular era or art movement, however in contemporary visual arts spaces, the job is quite similar to producer roles in other arts organisations.
“Curation takes commitment and patience – it’s quite common to be in a more junior role for a long time e.g. 5 years before you become a senior curator. So, keep patience and focus. Attend training and develop your skills to prepare you for the next level.”
Saphia says that it’s a very hands-on role where she facilitates about four events a month both in person and online. She loves the practicality of working with artists and producing events combined with the administrative jobs that go alongside it.
Her advice for our audience is that unfortunately, a lot of jobs will come through someone you know, so make sure to develop your networks!
Zulekhá Afzal, assistant editor at Baskerville, John Murray Press, Hachette UK
Zulekhá has been working at the crime and thriller publisher behind authors like Mick Heron, Natalie Marlow and Rose Wiling for two years now – ever since Hachette opened its Bristol office.
Although Zulekhá really wanted to get into publishing, she struggled to find a book publishing role in the South-West (although she does say there’s lots of cool magazine publishing opportunities in the region!). So, she worked in marketing for eight years instead, however when she saw that Hachette was opening offices across the UK, she said she ‘basically refreshed the page for a year’ waiting for a role to come up… and it did!
But how did she manage to switch careers and make herself stand out in an industry she hadn’t worked in before? Zulekhá said relying on her transferrable skills was key. Because the imprint was new, it was operating like a start-up, she used the fact she’d worked in lots of small companies before to show she worked well in these environments.
This ability to work on multiple projects across a small team clearly came in handy as in her role as assistant editor, Zulekhá liaises with both author and agent and the book going to print, as well as provides copywriting, editing and proof-reading, she also helps out with social media, drawing on her existing experience in this area. She also tells our community to consider roles other than their ‘dream job’, for example if you want to be an editor, you could look at marketing and publicity roles in publishing as well.
Here’s her advice for any publishing hopefuls in the South-West:
“Put yourself out there. One thing I struggled with was finding internships. But Bath has wonderful festivals that you can volunteer at and flex that muscle, network and communicate with people in the industry you’re interested in.”
Chase Mnatzaganian, assistant producer at BBC Natural History Unit
Fellow Creative Access alumni Chase starts off by telling our audience, “I always say my career began in my grandma’s garden when I was 10 just filming everything that moved, including my cousins impersonating Steve Irwin.” Despite the long-time passion Chase had for documenting animals and nature, they never thought they could do it as a job because firstly they didn’t know anyone who actually had that job and secondly, they never saw themselves on TV in those roles.
Chase ended up doing a zoology degree instead and whilst doing an MA, they started researching into roles in the TV industry. This is where they found Creative Access who they cite as “demystifying all the different role available in TV, making me realise it wasn’t just camera operators.”
“Be yourself. I don’t mean that in the cliché way. It’s important to know what your skills are and bring them to the table. I’ve not done any formal camera training but my creativity came out a lot more in writing stories and drawing storyboards. Sometimes the skills you don’t think are important, turn out to the be the most useful even if it’s totally different.”
Chase started at BBC Natural History Unit at Springwatch in 2017 via Creative Access and hasn’t left since. Assistant producers, they explain, does a bit of everything. From beginning of production, to calling scientists and thinking about what stories will be compelling, to working out how the story can be brought to life, right through to budgets and how you can bring it to the screen. From there, you work with logistics and safety teams and even help out directing on location. Because animals can do anything, and the storyline may have to change, Chase says that you have to make dynamic decisions: “Producing on location is 90% problem-solving.”
Chase was also keen to reassure our community that TV & film is slower at the moment, but it won’t be forever; it’s good to be aware of so that you don’t feel disappointed if you’re not getting a role as quickly as you think you should. But for any aspiring wildlife filmmakers or producers, one positive is that more and more streamers and platforms want to make natural history content!
Sunita Ramani, account manager at Greenhouse Communications
“I really didn’t know I wanted to do this before I did this – if that’s you that’s ok, you will find something you love even if you don’t know what it is you’re looking for”
Like Chase, Sunita was always passionate about the environment however didn’t think that the climate space was something she could build a career in. However, she cites Creative Access as a ‘gamechanger’ for introducing her to an internship at her current company, environmental agency Greenhouse Communications.
At university, Sunita did lots of climate activism, however graduating into the pandemic meant frantically looking for jobs in an unstable market and applying for everything. Having done lots of part-time admin work throughout her time at university, she secured an admin assistant traineeship at Greenhouse Communications through Creative Access and from there became an account exec and has worked her way up over the past three years to now. She says:
“Be open to not the exact role you’re looking for. Through working in the admin side, I got to work with everyone and met everyone on the team. By the time I came to the comms role, I had a thorough understanding of how the company worked.”
A day-to-day role in PR and communications can involve creating media lists, writing press releases, pitching stories to journalists, drafting social posts, supporting with the website and managing client relationships. Sunita’s key tip for breaking into the world of PR and comms is to research the company you’re applying for! She says even if they don’t ask in the interview about your thoughts on their client list or their company ethos, you can use this information as a chance to shine and ask them.
Nancy Medina, artistic director at Bristol Old Vic
Our final and most experienced member of our panel Nancy shared the story of how she became artistic director at Bristol Old Vic and had some incredible tips for anyone in the theatre space and the arts more broadly. Hailing from New York, Nancy is from a first-generation family from Dominican Republic. Although she didn’t come from a family that went to the theatre, growing up in New York there was so much art and funding for young people to access theatre which resulted in her joining a youth theatre group in high school where she learnt her craft.
Nancy was clear to tell her audience that, although she loved theatre because it allowed her a vehicle for her thoughts, she didn’t have network available to her to study theatre and further on, couldn’t pursue theatre a full-time as a full-time career. She worked many jobs such as bartending to make a living and prop up her theatre projects over the years.
Nancy moved to Bristol and learning about the cultural landscape of theatre in the UK. Despite not feeling academic, Nancy went on to gain an MA in theatre directing. As an older student who had children, she says she was laser focused on her degree. She said: “I realised I know how to tell stories but I lacked the sophisticated vocabulary. But this was a good thing to know – that my intuition was right but it’s helpful to have the academic lens to use when I need it. Nancy explained that the MA opened up the door to finding opportunities, awards and grants, and networking programmes.
“Remember: no one can set the value of your work. For artists, it’s messy because our identity is so tied to our work. I try to remember that the system I’m operating in wasn’t designed for me so where are my entry points and how can I bring value?”
Nancy was balancing directing at lots of theatres in London and teaching theatre direction in Bristol when her current role came up at the Bristol. At first she didn’t want to apply however after some encouragement from friends in the theatre world she did. Her role is split between artistic director and joint CEO. As artistic director she takes care of the theatre’s programme, oversees the engagement work it does, as well as creates partnerships in the city as well as across other regions. As CEO, however, her role is more taking care of the day-to-day finances and strategising the theatre’s output and future.
She says that she thinks a lot about pathways, explaining ‘mine has been such a long and winding road – how can I help that become easier for people?’.
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