Archiving my Future

By Ashley John Moses

The start of a incredible experience

Archive Trainees Ashley Moses

In 2015, I completed the Creative Skillset Media Archive Traineeship. Throughout the course there was a great sense that every trainee was experiencing something unique. With informative and resourceful site visits and training, we all felt a great sense of achievement in being selected for such an exceptional course. Each trainee brought their own background, education and experiences, but we all shared the same passion for film and interest in preservation of archival content.

My own background is production. I studied film at university and have worked as a freelance filmmaker and editor ever since. I saw the course as an opportunity to further my understanding of the technical skills required to work with archival content, and also the history of such mediums. I hoped to develop an understanding of such processes in order to get a sense, not only of the past, but also where things are going in the future. Particularly in reference to my home country, Northern Ireland.

What Archives mean to Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has been growing significantly as a film hub in the last few years. Beyond the obvious financial incentives it's also extremely rural, and thus 'timeless'.

This is why HBO's Game of Thrones continues to be shot here (my dad and brother regularly partake in work as extras), and in recent years films such as Your Highness, with James Franco and Natalie Portman, and Killing Bono, with Ben Barnes and Robert Sheehan, have been shot locally. The growth of film production in a country as small as Northern Ireland has renewed interest in other related sectors, such as archival management.

Northern Ireland has its own long and unique history of film and television production, but one that without access to the archives could easily be lost. For example, during my placement at NI Screen, I was at the public records office helping assemble footage for a film about Irish steam locomotives. It was my responsibility to plough through the archive and select suitable clips for the presentation. 

The publicity surrounding the growth of Northern Ireland's film sector has created an interest in archive content and a demand for a national archive. 

A baby-faced Liam Neeson

One clip in particular immediately caught my attention. It was from an old BBC documentary presented by none other than a baby-faced Liam Neeson, long before he acquired his very particular set of skills. That clip, although interesting, wouldn't have had nearly the same appeal had it not featured Mr Neeson in what I later found out to be his very first TV appearance.

There are two major broadcasters in Northern Ireland, BBC NI and UTV (ITV’s regional channel for NI) and both operate commercial archives. During my traineeship I was lucky to visit both establishments, completing a ten-week placement at UTV. Both use their archives for news shows and documentaries, but they also sell and license clips to third parties. However, their archives are not public and the only publicly accessible archive in Northern Ireland is NI Screen’s Digital Film Archive. That said, even they do not physically possess the content, having no storage facility of their own.

It's strange that a country with such a rich visual, cultural and political history has no national archive, but steps are being made in that direction, and there is hope for the future. 

The traineeship offers work placements all over the UK, sampling various national, regional and commercial archives, but I opted to get as strong a grip of the Northern Irish scene as possible.

Coming from a production background, I also wanted to keep one foot firmly planted in that sector. Having developed a personal interest in the archive-built documentaries of Adam Curtis and Michael Moore, I figured my best course of action would be to develop a grasp of content in Northern Ireland, and think about how they could contribute to stories that I feel need to be told.

A unique and enlightening experience

Watch old style family life 1940-1950sAt UTV I worked with the sales team, gathering suitable footage for a documentary due to be broadcast on Sky Sports later this year about snooker icon, Dennis Taylor. In my second placement at NI Screen, my role was primarily concerned with outreach projects and the educational aspects of their digital film archive.

At first, it was a big change from the newsroom of UTV and I was unsure of how I could perform in a curatorial role, but very quickly I got a sense of the importance of archive material as an educational and historical tool.

I also had to deal with new acquisitions to the archive, visiting members of the public who were interested in donating their collections. One lady donated her husband’s collection, in which he had shot everything from travelogues to short fictional films, on both 16mm and super 8mm film. He even won a Maltese Academy Award for a short documentary he made whilst on holiday in Malta.

This outreach activity was a great experience and it was a thrill to meet people and hear their stories. I also worked on digitising and uploading old transmission tapes that were starting to decay, helping to preserve them for the future. This gave me a real love and understanding for video tapes, and I’ve since added clips of camcorder style footage to some of my own show reels and fictional work, experimenting with the various film formats I encountered on the traineeship.

Towards the end of my placement at UTV, I started accompanying crews and reporters as they set out to record what is known as their 'daily package' (the 2-3 minute slot a story has on the 6pm news). This helped me to develop a real understanding of how broadcasters function from start to finish; from the morning meeting where the producers assign stories to each reporter, to producing and airing the piece, all the way through to archiving the tape.

A new sense of direction

I would thoroughly recommend the Media Archive Traineeships. From class-based training and guest lectures from the likes of the BFI, YouTube and Nicolas Cage’s babysitter (honestly!), to site visits and several days spent at Sheffield Doc/Fest, I found the course insightful, interesting, and – more than anything – inspiring. 

For myself, working in production where you have to think about every stage of a film’s life – from concept and shooting, to marketing and distribution – the course has not only helped me become more competent in these areas, but more importantly it’s given me a sense of direction in terms of the type of productions I’d like to be a part of, and want to create myself.

Fancy becoming a Media Archive Trainee?

Creative Skillset are now taking applicants to the 2016 Media Archive Traineeship programme, click here for more further information

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