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In schools and colleges all over the country, students interested in the Performing Arts are thinking about what their next step should be.
There have been lots of exciting developments in the performance subject area  at University Of The West Of Scotland in the past year.
We have formed a teaching partnership with the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr.
We have brought BA (Hons)Musical Theatre in-house to our £81 million campus in Ayr.
We have a brand new Technical Theatre Degree delivered through our partnership with the Gaiety .
Most importantly, all our Performance-based degrees are now 3 year Honours with entry levels at second year (Level 8) as well as third year (level 9).
All degrees require an audition, but students can apply to the courses in second year with :

3 Advanced Highers BCC or plus English at Higher level and Maths at Standard Grade 3 or above, National 4 or Intermediate 2.
3 A levels BBC or
An HNC (120 points) or
A B Tec 4 or
Intermediate 2 or
An International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma: 28 points.

All our degrees also have a level 9 entry with an HND or equivalent to our DRAMA UK recognised degrees.

With all this expansion, we want the best students to come to UWS Ayr. Every year , more and more students apply through UCAS, and the standard of work and quality of candidates is increasing.

Two of our students from Edinburgh College, Emily Barr and Jennie Walker have made a short video about life at UWS.
If you have any contacts at your old college or know of any British or Overseas students who might be interested in a 3 year honours degree, please share this post with them so that they can get an idea of what it’s like being a student at UWS Ayr.

Also, here are the links for anyone of your friends or relatives who may be specifically interested in our 3 years honours degrees.

BA(Hons) Musical Theatre
http://www.uws.ac.uk/ba-musical-theatre/

BA(Hons) Performance
http://www.uws.ac.uk/ba-performance/

BA(Hons) Contemporary Screen Acting
http://www.uws.ac.uk/ba-cont-screen-acting/

BA(Hons) Technical Theatre (subject to validation)
http://www.uws.ac.uk/sp…/technical_theatre_(3rd_year_entry)/

Please feel free to share this and spread the word to your old colleges , colleagues or friends. If you think that your old college would like a visit from UWS staff to talk to students, then please let us know too.
Any questions, email stuart.hepburn@uws.ac.uk


I have blogged in the past about using new media platforms as a learning & teaching resource. The entire content of our  BA (Hons) Contemporary Screen Acting Programme at the University of the West of Scotland is delivered using Twitter, Posterous and Youtube at the very core of Teaching , Learning and , crucially Assessement. From it’s inception in September 2010, student engagement with these platforms was developed gradually over the first 15 weeks of the programme. In the second trimester of the programme there is now 100% participation from  the students and participating  staff across a wide range of New Media . However I had carried out no empirical research on the pace of takeup from the students. This was due to the fact that September 2010 was the first time I had run the programme and I had other things on my mind more pressing than research.

However it has become clear from the level of student engagement and their enthusiastic and positive feedback that the experiment of using the new media in this way been a qualified success. Obviously I was hampered in that I had no data to demonstrate to what degree this had been the case . I also did not know if the alacrity with which my small group of 15 Performance students engaged with these new platforms could be replicated across the board with other Creative Industries students. The students had, after all, been interviewed and recruited on the basis of using these new media platforms as the key deliverer of their creative screen acting work.

My colleague John Quinn and I teach a module on the Film Making and Screenwriting Programme here at UWS titled “Team Writing For Television.” You can read about the background of TWFTV as I have blogged previously about the module here .We
decided to attempt to use Twitter as a platform at the centre of the module for student feedback ,f eedforward and reflecti0n, using the #TWFTV hashtag.

Since the start of the Module in February 2011, there have been over 300 (and building)  separate #TWFTV responses from the students. You can carry out your own #TWFTV search on twitter to have a look at them right now.  They range from reflections on  lessons, suggestions for new themes and Television Series to studied , and real time comments on shows I have asked them to watch out of class.This has been a voluntary process. Every time John or I get an interesting tweet on #TWFTV, we RT this to our own followers. There are no marks or brownie points for the students, other than the fact that we have shown them that we read their tweets, and will respond to them if we can. The sight of a student’s face when you reveal that you are indeed going to analyse their favourite long running TV series because of a casual mention on Twitter makes the whole exercise worthwhile. Thus, they KNOW that we listen to them , and the engagement goes up steadily as a result. A point to note is that the content of the students tweets,( contrary to fears expressed by colleagues) has been overwhelmingly positive and creative as the take up has grown steadily. It takes a bit of courage to throw open the doors of the classroom to one billion potential eyes and ears, but so far no one has flamed us online, and even if they did, as is the way with Twitter, the dogs would bark, and the caravan would move on. At least I hope that is what would happen. We shall see.

As the module has progressed,John Quinn and I have been monitoring, reflecting and reacting to the tweets, and have now carried out a short interim survey of the up take and use of Twitter and feedback from the students, to see if we can draw any general conclusions. We are specifically interested in exploring the use of Twitter as a tool for enhancing the Teaching and Learning experience from the perspective of the student.

There have been some serendipitous events as a result of this process. Peter Kosminsky (@kosmoSFL )  tweeted back to us on our response to his recent mini series “The Promise”. Francis McKee of the CCA in Glasgow  ( @CCA_Glasgow) RTd one of our responses also using the hashtag.  Reaction to our discussions have come from followers of The Glasgow Film Festival, Step2CollaboTV, and even as far afield as the States and Australia. In this way, the #TWFTV hashtag, which started off as a modest attempt to engage some students in Ayr with their teaching and learning has spread its wings far afield. It’s no Justin Beiber, but at least it is causing a small ripple or two in the Tweetoshpere. I even recieved an email from New Zealand asking me about the module and if we taught it by distance learning!

Below are some of the preliminary data and findings of this anonymous survey.
It is worth noting that the *12.82% of students who had used Twitter in the past for academic communication were all studying on my Contemporary Screen Acting programme. None of the remaining students had used Twitter in this way before. This survey was carried out in Week 5 of a 15 week module, so we are one third of the way through the process.

Response rate 78% (39/50)

1. Prior to the start of the TWFTV module, had you ever communicated with your tutors about class matters via a social networking platform?
Yes: *12.82%
No: 87.18%
2. Since the start of the TWFTV module, have you communicated with your tutors about class matters via a social networking platform?
Yes: 53.85%
No: 43.59

3%. Do you think that social networking platforms are a useful tool in communicating feedback to your peers and tutors?
Yes: 94.87%
No: 5.13%

4. Would you like to see more modules using social network platforms for class feedback and engagement?
Yes: 82.05%
No: 17.95%

5. Do you prefer using tools such as Twitter, Facebook and Google Docs to the university VLE Blackboard for feedback and communication?
Yes: 76.92%
No: 23.08%

We also asked for comments from the students about the use of Twitter. These were almost wholly positive .

One note of criticism was that ” It’s not fair that students who don’t use Twitter have an advantage by getting their views across.” my response to that was , if you think that they are gaining an advantage, then engage!

Another comment was ” You should use Facebook. Students don’t like Twitter”

Actually we ARE using Facebook, all my Tweets are delivered to my Facebook site, and at least two of our  teams use Facebook pages to communicate with one another, as well as Googledocs and , suprise surprise, Blackboard. However I am happy not to use Facebook directly, as that’s where students tend to hang out and discuss…well everything. And I don’t want to hear everything, I only want to hear about stuff relating  to TWFTV. I don’t have to follow them or find out what they did on Friday night, but I am able to key into their thoughts and comments every time they decide to use the TWFTV  hashtag. I make sure that I do a #TWFTV search once a day , and then RT any interesting material, and also ensure that I act upon any good suggestions. One very interesting corollary to this is that it is many of the most reticent students who use Twitter, the ones who never ask questions in class, the silent majority. Twitter gives them the ability to ask questions and make points without having to intervene at class.

I should add that Twitter is used exclusively as an ADD ON platform to our VLE, Blackboard. All important messages, assessments,dates, pdfs of lectures and the like are posted on Blackboard, and these are supplemented by a weekly videocast from me which you can see on the blog above.

These findings were  presented and discussed at the Student Engagement in Learning & Teaching Forum (SELT) in the classroom of the Future at the University Of The West Of Scotland on Thursday 3rd of March at 10.45 GMT. We carried out a real time discussion with the students and staff, and  demonstrated  a real time Twittter Ticker on display. The idea that a group of students can contribute any where , any time , to a discussion about the delivery of their own teaching and learning is a relatively innovative idea, and one that I will continue if I present the final figures. Another interesting point which came up in discussion is that we fully expect the students to continue engaging in online discussion using #TWFTV after the module has finished. We will archive the searches and use them as a resource for next years class. It may be the case that this cohort of students will carry on this method of feeding back in other classes. Time will tell.

We will continue with the monitoring process as the weeks go by, and share our data and findings in a concluding blog. along with a set of  conclusions.

Watch this space, and for a real time update, carry out a #TWFTV search on Twitter right now.

I will be presenting the final results at the TeachMeet event at UWS Ayr on Thurs  April 23rd.


Logo of the British newspaper The Guardian

Image via Wikipedia

Once in a while I get loose from the UWS Mediaacademy and get out more and I spent a truly inspiring day at the Media Guardian Edinburgh Internaional Festival Network event the other day. The Network  (formerly TVYP) is run in parallel with  the International TV Festival and is committed to identifying and developing young  creative  talent who are interested in a career in Television. Thousands of hopefuls apply, and this year 80 successful delegates descended on Edinburgh for   four free  days of masterclasses, workshops and career chats.


"Writing's fine, but I really want to direct"

These  included….

– Learning the key ingredients for getting a start in TV
– Discovering just how huge and diverse television is
– Getting your hands dirty and finding out exactly how a camera works
– Meeting fantastically talented TV and showbiz types
– Understanding what all the people on a TV show’s end credits do
– Questioning TV execs who have the power to give you a job

As the Network website explains

“The Network  is now in its 20th year,  each year The Network delegates have the opportunity to meet, work with and learn from leading creative industry figures  ranging from scriptwriters to producers, presenters to publicists, programme schedulers to commissioning editors. Past contributors have included Chris Evans, Russell T Davies, Davina McCall, Jimmy Carr, Sir Trevor McDonald, Simon Amstell, Kirsty Young, Jana Bennett, Director of BBC Vision, Tim Hincks, Chief Executive, Endemol and Jon Snow.”.

My particular workshop was sponsored by the ALCS , and through them  I was fortunate enough to be able to discuss creativity and screenwriting on an individual basis  with 15 of the delegates this year, and an overwhelming and humbling experience it was too.

The cliche about “teaching” is that when it’s working well, the teacher learns as much pupil, but I can honestly say that after speaking in detail to the young delegates, I really did learn a lot. I learnt that the future of British TV, if this lot have anything to do with it, is in good hands. All of them had well formulated ideas to pitch, all of them were willing to listen, and all of them taught me something I didn’t know before. They even had Business Cards, putting me to shame..(Memo to self. Must get business cards printed.)


Tash Collie pitching her new Radio Drama.

The feedback from the whole event is just in, and modesty forbids me repeating it all here. Suffice to say the delegates went away brimming with ideas, enthusiasm and creativity. If you are a creative young person who wants to be involved in the TV Industry, keep an eye on the Network Website for details of next years initiatives. It’s well worth it, even for the old fogeys like me  who are supposedly “teaching” you.

Special thanks has to go to James, Suzy and Holly for all their hard work and for providing me with the photos.


Jim Sweeney, Kolin Ferguson & Stuart Hepburn

I first  met screenwriter Kolin Ferguson on a rainy Sunday in East Kilbride about three years ago.We were working on a short film by Write Camera Action Director Linda Campbell called “Stub It Out”. I was acting, and Kolin  was holding a mike boom on what could loosely be described as a “Geurrilla Shoot”. In other words there were three of us! He told me that he was no sound assistant, but was  a screenwriter, and was developing  a 12 part TV Series about Glasgow Gangsters called “The Crews”. Not only was he going to write it, he was going to shoot it, with little or no  budget. Along with Director Colin Ross Smith, and actors Jim Sweeney and Robert Harrison, they had the revolutionary  notion  that if they actually shot the first two episodes, then they would be able to raise the cash to finish the project. The whole thing was to be shot in HD, with broadcast quality sound. Oh and they were going to nip over to Amsterdam for a couple of days to shoot there too.  I nodded and smiled benignly . I admired their chutzpah, but doubted their ability to carry it off. Nevertheless, later that year,  Kolin  and Colin came down to talk to our students on the Performance Programme at UWS and we watched their short film Sandwich, which also introduced me to their hatchet-faced co-star, Robert Harrison. I asked them how “The Crews” was going, and they told me they were going ahead with the plan. They had bought an HD  camera, and it was all systems go. They thought it might take them six months.

“But’, I said patronisingly, “NOBODY does it that way. It costs too much time and energy to do that. What you have to do is write the first episode, complete a one page synopsis, and punt it round the broadcasters. That’s what EVERYBODY does”. “We’re not everybody”  they said, and ignored me. I am glad they did, because these brave, creative innovators have  at a stroke,   re-written the text book on  TV Script Development. I know this because on Tuesday night, a full two years after our conversation at the UWS,  I sat with an enraptured audience at Cineworld in Glasgow and watched the completed first  two episodes. All proceeds from the 300 tickets (sold out)  were going to Spiritaid, and I was happy to be there for  the good cause. Because of the way in which The Crews had been developed,  I had prepared myself  to be in turns embarrassed, bored or  even  mildly impressed. What I was not prepared for was to be  completely blown away by the whole event.  “The Crews” rocks!   Using complex  techniques such as  fractured narrative, flashback within flashback, and a bewildering  multiprotagonist storyline,” The Crews” is ambitious, demanding and unsettling TV. Its the sort of thing we normally see on HBO or  AMC. “The Crews” is tailor made for BBC4 or Channel 4. It’s the sort of show  which  unfolds at glacial pace and with the cadence and  authenticity of work  such as Simon’s  “The Wire” ( 2002)  and Scheuring’s  ” Prison Break” (2005). The  joint creator’s bill “The Crews”  as “The Glasgow Sopranos” , but for me, it has more in common with David Simon’s televisual masterpiece from Baltimore. You thought Omar Little was nuts? Wait till you meet Stevie Turner.

Whatever it’s worthy progenitors, while it’s Glasgow through and through, what makes “The Crews”  unique is that to my uncertain knowledge,  no one in the UK has ever done anything on this scale before . It’s no exaggeration to say that if this makes it to the small screen, this impressive product out of Dennistoun by East Kilbride and Ayr  could prove to be one of the most important developments in the history of British Television making, and you can quote me on that.

At the moment, the finished DVDs are with the BBC, and STV, and the guys are planning to take on the States at some point in the future, to see if funding can be attached. I am a writer and actor and no expert on the distribution side of things, but it seems to me that they need a selling agent or exec producer to convince a broadcaster to come up with the development and production money. They have personally spent more money than they can afford to get this far, and when I look at the standard of some of the stuff on TV at the moment , and think of “The Crews”, there is no justice if it doesn’t get made and seen by a wider audience. Kolin has the detailed plans for the rest of Season one, and , wait for it, has sketched out a full five season 60 Episode Arc.

Caveat Emptor! I can’t enthuse too much about this as I am a cast member too . The silver-tongued KColins managed to cast me in a small role. (In fact, the banner above is a still from ” The Crews”  taken by the Show’s make up artist, Yvonne Lynch. Yes, it was that sort of shoot!) On top of my cameo as DCS Watt, about 10 of our  Performance BA Students were involved in the project, with special mention to great performances from  Martin Haddow and Suzanne Morrison, and if you look very carefully you will see that quite a few of the locations were shot at our UWS Ayr Campus. Does this make it sound like some sort of an amateur profit share film? Possibly, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. “The Crews” is professional in all but name, take it from me. David Hayman’s another cameo player in the mix, and he shares my opinion that this work must be seen by a wider audience, and all the professional actors involved are of the same mind.

The point is, will the industry listen? My hunch is that middle of the road  TV exec  types  will  probably look on “The Crews”  with mistrust . Why? Because this is a done deal. The talent is in place, the roles cast, the director decided, the first two episode shot and edited. Conventional Producers and Broadcasters( in Britain at least)  tend to defend and implement  their right to make major creative decisions over the heads of the real creatives at the cliff face. Will any of them have the stomach to  put their money and reputation  into something as left field as this which has been created by a bunch of  virtual unknowns from Glasgow? Only time will tell, but I for one won’t bet against Colin and Kolin  making it against all odds. All it will take is one broadcaster or commissioning editor, one cable company or distributor  with enough courage   to back them.

You can get an idea of the show from this interview on”  The Culture Show” , if you go to 17 mins and 15 Secs , or have a look at this trailer on Youtube.

If anyone deserves a break, it’s the  KColins and all those who backed them from the start.

If you want to support them, please forward this blog to anyone you think  may be able to  help get this on screen.

The UWS Crew. Anna Barclay, Suzanne Morrison, Garry Hogg,Kirsty Bagan, John Quinn & Evelyn Caputa


Csi2

Can Students Invent?

Well, here we are at the end of the creative process in the UWS Module, Team Writing For Television. This  20 Credit  module is part of the Filmmaking And Screenwriting Programme at the UWS Skillset Media Academy at the University Of The West Of Scotland  in Ayr,  and is delivered at Level 9. The class is made up of  60 students comprising  9 Writing  Teams, creating 9 Series Bibles, and with each student responsible for writing an individual episode of their team series. Three tutors oversee all the creative elements of the students work, with 3 teams allocated to each. Thus the tutors act as defacto Showrunners.Now, after 14 weeks of intense work,  the students have finally handed in their assessemnts.

What the written  assessments amount to is 9  full  breakdowns for a brand new long running television series .  Bibles, Scripts, Character Arcs, Viral Ads, Music, Design,  and  even Springboards for the second series. So rather than being in the customary  position , as academic  assessors, of surveying 60 separate examples of students work, the tutors  are more like directors or producers, sitting down to read a new, integrated  creative artefact.

Stuart Hepburn "working the grid" at BBC Scotland

We   start with the Pilot Episode, usually written by the student whose original idea was adopted by the team, and read  on as the series unfolds week by week by week. Each team was jointly responsible for creating the Characters arcs, Series Arcs, Episode Breakdowns and Springboards for the new series. Each team MEMBER was responsible for writing their own individual episode ensuring that it fitted in with the overall plan and development grids.

Throughout the process, the teams have engaged with  their tutors and one another in a whole series of  ways.

1.Weekly short lectures exemplifying contemporary team writing with reference to  individual Long Running Series such as True Blood, Glee and The Tudors.

2.Weekly team meetings where the students hammer out the team series grids for a couple of hours, ending with  class plenary feedback sessions.

3.Daily Online Team  discussions using the Virtual Learning Environment, Blackboard.

4. Nominated Scribes publishing  a weekly  Team Blog on the VLE  evidencing their progress to their classmates.

5. Communicating  with team mates  creatively  in live chats  using the Wimba Pronto suite.

6. Publishing their collaborative  team bible on their individual Team WIKI.

7. Pitching their Bible in an assessed session  to top industry practitioners.

8.Creating, developing and writing their own individual episode,  feeding back and forward to their individual tutor through their individual shared ePortfolio.

9. Finally writing their own reflective 1500/2,500 word essay on particular aspects of the creation of Long Running Television Series.

This has been a  mountain of work, totalling over 2000(and counting)  separate messages, posts, ammendments and digital artefacts. Some of it has worked better than we hoped, some of it worse than we might have expected. There have been ICT glitches, team breakdowns and team buildups, but the main thing to say is that the whole has been greater than the sum of the parts. I have been stunned at the quality  and coherence of the best work.

My colleague John Quinn and I will spend the summer doing a bit of number crunching and analysing student feedback  to work out exactly what worked and didn’t work, and why, and we will consolidate this work into developing the module further next  academic year. You can expect a paper or two to emerge from this which we plan to publicise in the Autumn. In the meantime, I would like to thank my colleagues, John Quinn and Dr Gill Jamieson, who have supported and encouraged the entire creative experiment. My greatest thanks, however, goes most of all to the  students at the UWS School of Creative and Cultural Studies, for their energy, commitment and creativity.

“Did I ever tell you the one about the zombie killers in a space hotel? It’s a kind of CSI on the Moon meets Buffy….it all starts one day when this spaceship finds a beacon with a very strange message………….”

Stuart On Twitter

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