Students & Alumni. Film and TV Production.
Agata graduated from our BA (Hons) Film and Television Production degree in 2022. She currently works as a Technical Operator at BBC News in London, mostly mixing sound for live programmes and bulletins.
How did it feel going straight from your degree into working with an organisation like the BBC?
It feels great. It felt very unreal in the beginning when I was starting, I felt like maybe I should not be there that early in my career, but of course I was really happy about it. It's a great place to work at, develop skills and be around people with similar interests and who know much, much more about the job than me. So it's a really good environment and a lot of adrenaline, fast-paced work which I love.
I was a little bit lucky because when I was still studying I was introduced to the Heads of the Technical Department at BBC Cambridge, and started a job there as a freelance autocue operator. I got some extra training on the sound equipment and gradually started doing sound for the news there, which I was really, really grateful for, all that trust that put into me. But sadly BBC Cambridge was closing, so I started looking around for another position within BBC.
After an interview for a sound position in London I felt really excited, but I didn't get the position straight away. Luckily, there was one more spot after the first recruitment process and they got back to me offering me that position. So in the end, it was some experience and a lot of work, but also a lot of luck and good timing that got me the job.
Where did you study before ARU?
I was studying in Poland at a general high school with some extra subjects in maths, IT and physics - a completely different field. I just went to one of the good ranked high schools without thinking much about what I wanted to do. In Poland we don’t really have many art subjects that are generally introduced to students. If you wanted to do something specifically arts-related you would need to go into a private or specialised high school. And when you are 14 or 15 and choosing your future, you may not really think about going into a private one at all. You haven't tried yourself in the art fields, so you don't know if you would even like that.
I thought I was going into computer programming. I don't regret that decision because it helped me to develop some really quick and strict thinking, but it also showed me that I really didn't want to be without creativity and art for the rest of my life. That's when I decided to make this a little bit crazy decision, going into film out of nowhere with no experience and moving to another country, but I just followed my intuition.
Did you always know that you would go to university?
Yes, I always knew I wanted to go to university and I always, from the age of 14 or 15, had the thought of going to a university in the UK. It was my teenage dream, to go to the UK. English was my favourite subject along with Maths at school, so developing my language while studying a different subject was something I really wanted to do. And I loved that the UK had courses with subjects that were really broad. You could choose anything. You could choose IT with Writing! For me it was mind-blowing, and I thought I would give it a try and see how it goes.
It was hard in the beginning. I thought I might be wasting my time, because the system in the UK is much different. In Poland you have around 40 hours of university classes a week and then you prepare yourself for exams in your own time. In the UK I had 12 hours of strict learning and we were expected to learn by ourselves to do the projects. This turns out great in the long run, but in the beginning I just couldn't understand it. I was not sure if I was in the right place, but as time progressed I started doing side projects and feeling that I was in charge of my own education, I have tutoring, access to equipment and a lot of time on my hands. It was up to me what I do with it. It was a really good way to learn, and I learned a lot.
Is there any one thing that inspired you to get involved with film in the first place?
As a teenage, I was writing a lot of fan fiction during and before high school, and editing video trailers for them to engage my readers and show my creativity. Discovering how good it feels when certain frames and stories cut well together with the music and tell a whole story is what got me into editing. That’s when I started having an idea that maybe that was a path for me - it was creative, but also technical. So it was a little bit random and totally not related to what I was doing in high school!
Once I started the course my attention was drawn to different professionals in the industry, and I was taking a lot of inspiration from them. For example, for our final film Roots we followed the style of Tarkovsky, and The Tree of Life’s cinematography. We were taking inspiration on purpose to get as much out of it as possible, but in the context of specific films it wasn’t one person that was driving me or my colleagues, it was the experimentation and freedom we had.
Did you achieve any successes on the course that you’re particularly proud of?
One of our films, Roots, that I was Director of Photography on, has been screened at a number of festivals including Cambridge Film Festival and some some smaller festivals all around the world really, not only in the UK but in other countries. We also won an award in the 2022 Bill Vinten University Awards for Cinematography, from the Guild of Television Camera Professionals. We literally attended maybe two months ago, so that’s still a fresh thing, and really nice to be part of. Additionally, we are nominated for Cinematography on the Watersprite Film Festival, taking place in Cambridge in March!
There was also Colourblind, a film that I made during COVID. I made it by getting in contact with people all around the world online, because I wasn’t able to meet anyone anyway. I did a couple of audio interviews with them about how they see the world through their colourblindness, and their struggles, and then colourgraded a film to show that perspective- because colourblindness can lead to a number of challenges and accessibility issues that we wouldn’t think of. That film got recognition at the Royal Television Society Student Awards. It was nominated for three categories, and won one in the end, alongside with my other film Chromesthesia being nominated the following year.
A couple of smaller films got some recognition from festivals and other competitions too. It’s going really well, and I’m really happy that our films are screened and people are able to watch them, because that’s really the biggest prize we can get – for people to watch our work, to give us feedback and get in contact with us after the films, that’s really the main part of it all, and we are really, really proud of it.
Which aspects of the course most helped your career development, and why?
It will sound a bit dull when I say that the soft skills were the primary thing I got from the course, because obviously people don't go to study to get the soft skills, they go for the technical skills or any other specific skills. But I would say that, even though I considered myself to have pretty good soft skills, the university shifted them to a whole different level, I wouldn’t even think about them in such terms before. I think it’s really important to be aware of that.
Soft skills shape, I would say, more than half of the job. Obviously you have to know the area, you have to have some skills, but you can always learn technical skills. Some of them come later, some of them take more time. In most jobs they will train you anyway, depending on where you are going. But when it comes to soft skills, if you don’t develop them and you are on the other side of communication, or you don’t know how to work in a team, it will be really hard to present yourself as a good candidate.
So even though I learned a lot from a technical point of view, and obviously gained skills I wouldn’t even think of, soft skills were the main factor that got me into the jobs and projects I was doing later. Because in the film production environment, teamwork is the essential factor. You can not know things, but if you have a team working together and wanting to develop one another, and thinking about the project as one big thing that the team creates, that’s all you need really. So teamwork was the main factor when working on the course.
What’s the most valuable thing you took away from your education?
Apart from the soft skills, I will add confidence, and believing that anything is possible. We went through so many hardships because of studying during the COVID lockdown, but also any idea that we had, we just developed it and it came to life. It didn't matter how ambitious or unrealistic it was, we just made it work. And I think that showed me that really anything I want to do in the future - I can. It's just a matter of time, developing my skills and working on it, and it will just come. It's not magic - it’s a matter of developing and going towards that.
I think that's the confidence that our tutors put into us; the trust, the motivation for us to do the impossible -that's what showed us that we can really go into the world and just do what we want to do. The work environment is something that everyone has to go to at some point in life, but you can really work in any field that you want, even if you don't have the skills. For example, I was not taught anything about the sound desk during my course, because our TV module was rather short and I just didn't think about sound at the time, I was doing the other positions. But there I am, working as a sound mixer. If you show that you are dedicated, that you have passion, you go further and work your way up. That's the main thing I would take out of my course - the confidence that it gave me. I don't think I would be brave enough to go into film if it wasn't for university.
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell myself to believe in myself more, because I didn't believe in myself enough to apply to a music course that I wanted to study, which I really don't regret because I think film is my place now. But I wish I had more confidence.
I would also tell myself that all things will come in their time. You know, if you keep working and keep pushing towards the direction that you want to be at, it will come. It may take some time, but it will come through. You just have to really stick to it.
What was your favourite thing about studying in Cambridge, and what did you learn about the city that you didn’t know before?
I loved living in Cambridge, because it was so close to anywhere I wanted to be, I could get there in 15 minutes on a bike. I was also much, much sportier than now I live in London because I don't cycle that much and I take the underground everywhere.
Cambridge is really small, which makes you feel like you're in a lovely city, not much traffic going on, a lot of people that you meet all the time. Culturally it is a great place to visit and walk round all the beautiful university buildings there. It's a really nice place to just go for a walk, and just enjoy the river, architecture. There are shops everywhere, and it's so easy to get access to everywhere around.
What projects are you currently working on, both at work and outside it?
Obviously at the BBC I’m doing the live news and recording, so that's something that I specialise in at the moment. But I'm also doing some side projects. For example, I'm finishing editing a Foodcult project. It's a project that was shot for a very long time, so it also takes a very long time to edit.
I’m hoping to jump on more side projects, because now that I’m working and have certain hours and income, I can really do anything I want with them. I’m planning to open my own business and do commissions for little businesses all around the UK once I have enough equipment, which I’m investing in at the moment. That’s what I will be doing in the future.