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11 November 2016

The new media requires a new set of skills

Nik Powell, Director of the National Film and Television School, explains why the NFTS is training a new type of producer

By Will Dunn

Government figures published at the beginning of this year found that the UK’s creative industries contribute almost £10m per hour to the economy. The sector as a whole is worth over £84bn per year, and makes up more than 5 per cent of the total economy. These industries are also growing and changing faster than almost any other part of the economy, and the skills needed for success are also changing. The National Film and Television School is one of the UK’s foremost centres of creative excellence; it is regularly cited as the best film school in the world and each year scores of its alumni are to be found in the credits of the Oscar and BAFTA awards. In response to the new multi-platform media environment, the NFTS has created a new MA programme in Creative Business, a programme that Nik Powell says will benefit the wider creative industries by creating a new kind of creative entrepreneur.

“We’re teaching the creative business,” Powell  points out, “rather than creativity itself, which is taught in most of the other courses. Creativity is a very wide word. A lot of what we teach here would traditionally be regarded as craft – we teach people to make their particular part of a film, game or TV show. I think someone’s creativity is a bit like their sense of humour – everyone has a sense of humour, it’s just a question of finding the particular things that makes them laugh. I believe creativity is not dissimilar; probably everyone has it, but whether they can be bothered to develop it depends on what’s important to them.” 

The business of bringing creative works to market, says Powell, requires not just the imagination to recognise the value of new ideas, but a broad-minded approach to developing them.  “The course was set up to appeal to people who are one step away from being, say, a producer of TV shows or films, or a developer of games. It’s set up for the kind of person who looks at an idea, and says to themselves, “do we start this idea, this story, as an album, or as a play, as a book, as a TV show, or a game? “ In other words, it’s going to attract the kind of person who is flexible in their thinking. The course teaches the different business structures and models that exist within the creative business sector, covering films, TV, games, theatre, records, publishing, and gives students the skills to decide what they’re going to develop an idea into, rather than saying “it’ll work as a film, so I’ll do it”, or “it won’t work as a film, so I’ll dump it”, as someone who is exclusively a film producer would.”

The Creative Business MA is a more ambitious project, says Powell, than creating an MBA for the creative industries. The intention, instead, is to create a new kind of creative businessperson, with the idea that these people would be a significant benefit to the whole sector. 
“The idea originated in conversations on how narrow some people’s experience is. Typically, most people will just do theatre, or films, or games. There was a role, we thought, which could vastly enhance the value of individual projects, and indeed the chances of those projects getting made, if there was a course that gave people of an entrepreneurial or executive bent a knowledge of the different types of entertainment that can be brought to market by a number of different platforms. When people develop ideas, they do so not just for one medium but for a number of different media. We felt that because this was a relatively new situation, or rather an increasingly important one, that to have people with these skills would be a huge advantage to producers, writers and directors – the people actually making films, TV shows and so on – because these are the people who will make it happen.” It is, says Powell, “both a reaction to, and an effort to exploit, the changing nature of the business.”

Every course at the NFTS incorporates a significant practical element, and just as many of the school’s alumni receive festival selections, awards and nominations for their graduation films, so Powell expects the Creative Business graduates to leave with “a real business” already underway. 
“It’s a very practical course, not in the sense of physically making things, but in the sense of developing real projects. In the second year of the course, students will take the projects they’ve developed to market, and get them funded.”

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They will also leave with contacts and experience of working with others who are likely to shape the future of the creative industries. “Fundamental to our operation at the NFTS is that our students have to excel at their craft, but at the same time they have to combine with the other students to make things within a team, within a group. We need both hard specialist skills, and the more general skills of being able to work collaboratively.” 

Powell says the UK’s hugely valuable creative industries will face their own challenges in the near future, and that it’s vital we don’t assume the UK leads the way in exporting its culture. “Every country exports its culture. We’re not unique. We’re a pioneer, but everybody has cottoned on, and many other economies focus on this area. Thailand recently announced that they intend to concentrate on technology and creative industries. Korea are brilliant at marketing their culture, especially popular culture, as well as their technology; they’ve now overtaken Japan as the biggest exporter of popular culture in their region, and that’s because their government got behind it and sponsored the export of their cultural projects.” The upside for the UK’s creative industries is that they’re able to adapt to change more quickly than almost any other part of the economy. If the NFTS succeeds in creating a new generation of Creative Business graduates, this fluid and fascinating sector will become even more adaptable.

To apply for the Jan 2017 Creative Business MA course, visit

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