Academic-industry model offers template for future film-making

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A ground-breaking academic-film industry collaboration is providing a new model for independent feature film production. The innovative partnership between Heslington Studios - the commercial arm of the University of York’s Department of Theatre, Film and Television – and Green Screen Productions is lowering costs and opening the door to the internationally distributed films market.

John Mateer

“This kind of new business model lowers the cost of entry and the overall capital requirements of a production, as well as helping to generate the next cohort of film professionals."

Its first feature film, The Knife That Killed Me, is at the late pre-production stage and will be distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures UK at the end of the year.

The new model involves Heslington Studios providing post-production facilities, as well as recent York graduates working alongside well-established industry professionals at Green Screen Productions. These include Oscar-winning producer Stephen Evans (Henry V, The Madness of King George).

The partnership grew out of an earlier collaboration between the University of York and some of Green Screen’s principals - Kit Monkman, Alan Latham and Tom Mattinson - on the 2006 film The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, featuring Joely Richardson and Tom Berenger. York Music Technology and Media Technology students carried out a significant portion of the visual effects work.

John Mateer from the University’s Department of Theatre, Film and Television is the driving force behind the new business model and the visual effects producer for The Knife That Killed Me.

Before joining the University, he worked as a producer and director with companies including Jonathan Goodson Productions (in association with Paramount Studios), Gabriel Films Ltd., Ogilvy & Mather and LucasArts (as part of the First Cities project).

John Mateer, a Senior Lecturer in Film and TV Production and one of the founder’s of the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at York, said: “Although general industry collaborations in other disciplines are not uncommon at universities, they are rare in film and television. The Knife That Killed Me is particularly unusual in that it has the backing of a major studio.

“This kind of new business model lowers the cost of entry and the overall capital requirements of a production, as well as helping to generate the next cohort of film professionals.

“For the University there are obvious benefits in terms of raising its profile within the film industry, helping to keep our teaching and practices current, and providing revenue to maintain our excellent facilities and kit. It’s a win-win arrangement.”

In addition to The Knife That Killed Me, post-production work will be carried out on a further four films at the University’s new £30 million facilities over the coming year. In return, Heslington Studios receives a minimum fee for each project based on a Capital Investment Allocation.

Green Screen Productions, specialists in computer generated imagery (CGI), is employing recent York graduates to work on the films under a Knowledge Transfer Partnership agreement. Since September, six graduates have been working on The Knife That Killed Me and more will be taken on later in the year.

John Mateer said: “Initially, it will be postgraduate students and recent graduates who will be the main beneficiaries. They will gain real-world experience working alongside highly creative established professionals, as well as a production credit. There is also the potential for undergraduates to gain work experience through the partnership during University vacations.”

The Knife That Killed Me is set in Yorkshire and chronicles a boy’s spiral into knife-crime. Green Screen Productions is shooting the film almost entirely on green screen at its new northern film studios at Bubwith, near York. Most of the action takes place in the principal character’s head, so cutting-edge CGI techniques are being used to create a distinctive, stylised look.

Alan Latham, Producer and Managing Director of Green Screen Productions Ltd, said: “Having just launched our new Northern film studios near York, we are very excited about working with Heslington Studios. The Theatre, Film and Television building offers us exceptional post production facilities and access to top level graduates particularly in the field of Computer Generated Imagery.”

The new Theatre, Film and Television building, which was officially opened last year, is purpose-built to support and foster interactions between the University, researchers and business.

Together with the former Head of Department, Professor Andy Tudor, John Mateer spear-headed the development and oversaw the design, specification, procurement and fit-out of all production and post-production areas of the new building.

Wholly owned by the University of York, Heslington Studios boasts two HD broadcast TV studios, a 140-seat preview cinema, a multi-purpose sound stage, as well as superb sound and picture post-production facilities.

Andrew Manns, 23, graduated from the University of York last year with a Masters Degree in Postproduction with Sound Design. He is working as a visual effects artist on The Knife That Killed Me, gaining experience in every aspect of the film’s production from storyboarding to visual effects post-production.

He said: “In the first six months I’ve been working for Green Screen I’ve gained more experience than I could have hoped for even from years in the industry. It’s very rare to have such privileged access to every stage of a film’s development and the contacts I make along the way will all be invaluable in the future.

“Most people start work in the movie industry as a runner. Some places you even have to start in the kitchen. I was very lucky getting a job with Green Screen in that I managed to skip the runner stage entirely.

“Not only that but, unlike working at a huge company where you are a little fish in a big pond, the other graduates and I have regular contact with the directors and producers of The Knife That Killed Me and so have a great deal of artistic influence. Our ideas are valued and taken on board.”

For further information contact the University of York Press Office on +44 (0) 1904 322029 or pressoffice(at)york(dot)ac(dot)uk

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Caron Lett
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