One of our roster of in-house director-camera operators, Matt O’Brien has been part of the Spectrecom Films family for 18 months now. One project he’s been working on for nearly the whole of that time is an extensive and wide-ranging video series for Newcastle University.
That series, created on behalf of Newcastle’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS), has recently been completed. So what better time to catch up with Matt and ask him to reflect on the project overall…
Question: What were the key messages that Newcastle University wanted to convey with this HASS series?
Matt O’Brien: One of the big things was Newcastle University’s solid links to the arts and the financial, private and public sectors in the city and the region. Each HASS course makes use of these links to provide hands-on experience for students so by the time they graduate they’ve already acquired that professional knowledge which is so sought after by employers.
And of course, each school wanted to make sure its fantastic facilities, tutors and spaces were shown off in the best possible way.
Q: What was your own approach to the series?
MOB: From the outset, I knew we had to make sure each school’s film had its own identity, to give potential students a strong flavour of what they would spend their time doing whilst studying there.
I felt a big sense of responsibility to make sure the films struck the right balance between appealing to potential students, whilst conveying Newcastle’s key messages.
Q: This series has been a long-term project for Newcastle University and for you. How do you think your skills as a director have developed over that time? MOB: When I started working at Spectrecom about 18 months ago, we were in the very early stages of making films for the individual schools. Newcastle HASS was one of the first shoots I went on, and our then-Creative Director was directing the films. I learned a lot by watching how he did things, not only creatively but also in terms of preproduction, time management on-location and working within a tight budget. Following that first shoot, I was asked to take over the project which I saw as a great opportunity. We would shoot a film a day in three-day blocks, going up every few months. Between these shooting blocks, I edited the films whilst simultaneously planning the next shoots. As this process continued, I definitely got better at learning how much time to dedicate to each area of the production process. Q: What were the biggest challenges this project presented? MOB: One early battle was convincing some schools to keep on top of helping us source exciting and relevant locations. An interview with a student on a boat on the river in a sunny city centre is far more engaging for a viewer than one shot in a cold white waiting room! It became easier to get schools’ assistance with this once we’d finished the first few films, as we could use these to show them just how effective video is in showcasing each school.
Q: How did Newcastle benefit from commissioning the series as a whole, and how did having the same director throughout the series help make the films even better?
MOB: With each new shoot, I got to know the city better and better. So when it came to planning the next film, I was able to suggest locations I already knew would be great to shoot in.
I carried out recces, allowing me to meet each course leader and the students I was going to be filming. This meant I already had a relationship with the contributors by the time it came to shooting, making them feel much more at ease by the time it finally came to press record.
This in turn meant the limited shoot time we had could really be maximised, which translated into a better series of films.
Q: These films cover a broad range of topics. What did you learn while making them?
MOB: I probably know more about the city now than most of its residents! When we were shooting the Urban Planning and Geography films I learnt a great deal about the history of Newcastle, which gave me a good understanding of how the region has evolved into the multicultural city we know today.
Another great aspect about working on these films was that I’d often find myself shooting in a certain room or building that not many other people get to see, which was pretty cool.
Q: Having spent 18 months working on these films, how do you feel about them now they’re finished? MOB: Making these films was sometimes very challenging. But I got amazing support from the superb team of camera operators and editors here at Spectrecom, as well as my partner in crime at Newcastle, (Marketing Manager) Ali Richardson, who provided a lot of ideas throughout the process. The end-result is all the schools at Newcastle HASS now have a set of films they’re proud to use across social media to attract new students.
Spectrecom Films is a market leader in UK student recruitment filmmaking. We’ve worked with more than 45 universities. Take a look at our education page to find out more.
If you’re eager to use video to tell your university’s story, get in touch with Kathy or Oliver, our account managers for universities. Both have years of experience working within HE marketing and communications, and are passionate about producing fantastic content on behalf of our university clients.