The result? 16 incredible 90-minute films that encapsulate the students’ time at university, told through the eyes of the graduates and their faculties.
To find out how this grand-scale project came together, LBB speaks to Alexander Roberts, producer at The Chase Films, who shares the inspiration behind the films, what it was like to bring together stories from hundreds of students, and how they tackled production restrictions to mark this momentous occasion for the 2021 graduates.
LBB> What was the initial brief from the client and what was your reaction to providing alternative graduation films?
Alexander> Bolton University knew they wanted to give back to their students after what had been an incredibly challenging period. They had the ambition to turn what could be a rather prosaic visual event (graduation video), which rarely sustained repeat viewing, into an epic film that would be both memorable and unique.
Our initial reaction was how…? This could be vast, what could this entail? And then the brief grew to 16 films!
LBB> What was your ideation process like and what were the inspirations behind each film for the different faculties?
Alexander> Pivotal to this was director David Thacker (of Waking the Dead, Young Vic and Bolton Octagon) and his drive and ambition. He has a wealth of experience directing over 100 theatre and TV productions, guiding performances out of actors and making people feel comfortable sharing their stories.
David kept throwing ideas at us and producer Ed Newell would smile and work out how the hell he’d accommodate each request - a route very familiar to all producers!
Certain films really resonated with the predicaments the pandemic threw up. With the school of nursing and midwifery, for example, we interviewed students who’d worked on the frontline during their training, so it was very emotional to hear what they’d faced so early in their careers.
LBB> You mentioned you collaborated with some of the students on these films, tell us about this experience and how you worked together.
Alexander> The university was very keen to give as many students as possible the opportunity to work alongside a professional crew and as a company, we’re always eager to help people get experience in the industry when possible. It was heartening to see them step up to the challenge and operate as fully fledged members of the crew. It is testament to the quality of education they’ve received at BU.
There isn’t really a ‘warm up’ option with filming schedules, if you’re needed you just have to be there - often it was from 8am until 5pm. The students just got on with it, sometimes you’re waiting around for 45 minutes and then it’s all systems go, running between classrooms. You can’t always predict the day when availability of interviewees is limited, and considering many students experienced this process for the first time, they were always ready to jump to action! Can’t ask for more than that - attitude and willingness to learn really becomes apparent when you’re in the field.
LBB> The project involved creating 16 feature length films - that must have been a lot of work! - how long did it take to complete?
Alexander> A three-week shoot and a six month post-production matrix are testament to the scale of the project. The first discussions were had in mid-May 2021, and then we filmed late June through mid July. Post-production was basically July to delivery early December. An early Christmas present.
LBB> What was production like considering Covid-19 restrictions at the time?
Alexander> Having undertaken shoots throughout covid, we were pretty well versed and PPEd up to our eyeballs. Having a team of editors in the office was a pleasant challenge but we spread out and kept crafting away.
Bolton University also happened to be an absolute fortress against covid. With numbers rocketing locally, they took extreme precautions very early into the pandemic. As a location, they already followed many safe working practices and PPE installed as standard, which meant the integration of our filming practices made a very safe and comfortable environment.
LBB> What were some of the other most challenging aspects of this brief?
Alexander> Having 16 90-minute films to review was gargantuan along with the sheer amount of students involved. Also telling the story of a pandemic through a mix of stock and news clips, required negotiating the rights which was a lot of work.
LBB> What are you most proud of from working on this project?
Alexander> Hearing the feedback from the students has made the whole project something we’re immensely proud of. Also of the way the production and editing teams worked so diligently and put so much of themselves into the project.
This was a vast, logistical undertaking and the university deserves a huge amount of credit for working very collaboratively with The Chase Films to help realise David’s vision.
LBB> What was your reaction to the final films?
Alexander> I’m so impressed by how David and the editing team pulled them together. Sitting in our boardroom with the university’s Aris Matthiou, George Holmes and Barbara Davies and seeing their reactions and how captivated they were was incredibly satisfying.
LBB> What feedback have you received from the client and students?
Alexander> We received this lovely message from student Lyndsey Vaughton:
“Please can I express my thanks to everyone who was part of the graduation videos. I was so disappointed to not have a graduation ceremony in 2020, just receiving the degree in the post was very bittersweet.
I am extremely grateful to all involved at UoB for giving us the opportunity to have the alternative graduation, some would have written us off from 2020.
I was so emotional watching the video last night, it has been put together so well and is an amazing memento of the occasion. There doesn't seem to be enough words! Please ensure everyone involved receives a huge heartfelt thank you.”
LBB> Any other interesting creative insights to add from your time on this project?
Alexander> I think the leadership team at Bolton University and David Thacker deserve a huge amount of credit for putting their students first and wanting to provide them with such a notable reminder of their time. They’re a fascinating university who are liberated from the concerns of the Russell Group and are very innovative in how they go about their business. This is the first of its kind and it fits in with them blazing a trail.