Barbara Waters (Lecturer in Fashion Enterprise and Student Placement Coordinator at The University of Manchester) approached me because she wanted to make a short film to promote placement years to undergraduate students in the school of Materials. I knew that the school of Materials deals with material science, and I have some notion of what this is because of my work with postgraduate researchers, but I did not know that there are also a number of fashion and textile degree courses within this school too. One of the fashion students explained it to me:

Doing a bachelor of Science definitely sets us apart. When I was studying in first and second year I didn’t understand why we were doing science lectures. I didn’t listen half as much as I should have, but they were invaluable on placement. Understanding why certain fabrics cost more when you are in supplier meetings, understanding what fabrics will take certain prints, why a print is more expensive than another print.

The primary medium in fashion is fabric; there are many processes and decisions within the manufacture and supply chain that require knowledge of material science.

fashion_headshotOne of the best things about working at the university for a nosy curious person is getting an insight into lots of different tribes. The two undergraduate audiences for this film did not look or sound like each other. This was both a bonus and challenge for the project; as in general contrast is a good thing in an interview driven narrative, but having to manage disparate focuses without boring one half of the audience or losing the thread of the story can be tricky.

The aim

I set out with the aim of trying to answer these questions:

– What is a placement?
– What isn’t a placement?
– How do you get a placement?
– Why do a placement?
– What sort of things do you do when you are on a placement?
– How does doing a placement year change your life?
– What did you think about your placement year after you had done it?

I needed to have a mix of material science and fashion based interviewees. I needed not to bore either audience (or myself), and to make sure that the film had a coherent narrative and a strong key message.

The characters

Fashion studentThe most obvious people to ask about this were students who had just returned from a placement year. They would hold the most credibility with the audience, and be able to give a real insight into what being on placement is like.

I was also able to interview a number of people from companies who commonly offered student placements.  I hoped they would give me some insider tips about things that made applicants stand out.

There was also Barabara the lady who had commissioned the work, she coordinates all the placements in the School of Materials so she was the natural choice for subject matter expert, the central narrator and anchor of the film.

It was an ad-hoc (or vérité if you want to be fancy) shoot with a tight schedule based around a 1 day event; unfortunately on the day I only had access to students on the fashion degrees, but I hoped I would be able to fill in some of the material science gaps with the placement employers.

contextual visual of studentsI was able to shoot contextual visuals of the students whilst they were taking part in a discussion about evaluating their placement experiences before I interviewed them. Eavesdropping on this event was brilliant because I got an insight into how the subject/audience of the film felt about going on placement, what their expectations and concerns were before the placement year, how this contrasted with the reality of being on placement, and ultimately how the placement had changed their lives. Content from this preparatory discussion enabled me to choose my interviewees, and prepare a rough structure for the film before I began shooting any of the narrative interviews.

The placement employers were also attending a careers fair on the day of the shoot so didn’t really have any time to prepare and I wasn’t able to have any discussion with them prior to shooting and interviewing them. I think this comes across a little as some of them did not really get enough time to become comfortable in front of the camera.

When shooting documentary footage at events I like to shoot handheld (I need to practice this much more!) and use a 50mm lens because the resulting footage looks so much more like what I see with my eyes (and for the lovely buttery bokeh). After a while I stop thinking about coverage and the shooting just becomes a way of seeing. Afterwards I find it hard to switch off and shoot and cut sequences in my head on the way home.

Here is the resulting film:

It is not perfect, but it is better than the last one. I think that I answered most of the questions in the original list, I am happy with what I have achieved considering the constraints. There is some inconsistency with the sound as there was an intermittent fan in the room where I interviewed and shot the employers.

My client is happy with it. I will be making some more short films for the school of Materials soon.

Hopefully, it will encourage more undergraduates in the school of Materials to consider going on a placement year.


I am building up a portfolio of what I am calling promo-mentary work. I like this work because I am interested in people and their stories.