AN EMPLOYEE-OWNED TV company has clinched a deal to launch a pioneering training programme for its staff and freelancers with the “world’s best film school”.
Caernarfon-based Cwmni Da has signed a three-year agreement with the National Film and Television School’s (NFTS) recently established Cardiff hub, NFTS Cymru Wales to boost its team’s skills.
The company has always invested heavily in training but what’s new is that from now on the tutors travel to Caernarfon instead of the other way round, with previous courses being held in places like Cardiff, London, Liverpool and Birmingham.
The upshot is that it reduces costs and staff time which means they can stage more courses and train even more people.
It’s now just over two years since Cwmni Da made broadcast history by becoming an Employee-Owned Trust which employs over 50 people and pumps £5 million a year into the local economy.
The then managing director, Dylan Huws, sold his shares to the trust so the workers could take over the running of the company as a mini-John Lewis.
Cwmni Da was founded in 1996 and has a long and successful track record making factual, entertainment, drama and children’s programmes, in the Welsh language for S4C but also for UK network channels and international markets.
The company’s output includes some of the S4C’s biggest hits like Fferm Ffactor, Noson Lawen, Deian a Loli and FFIT Cymru while the big-budget series, Llanw (Tide), in partnership with other Celtic broadcasters and LIC, the largest independent television production company in China, was sold to 50 different countries worldwide.
The deal with NFTS Cymru Wales was brokered by Cwmni Da’s current managing director, Llion Iwan, who is also a council member of Skillset UK.
The training includes courses on technical, production and business skills as well as research and interview techniques and pitching ideas.
The courses are delivered by some of the industry’s top practitioners, many of them award-winners in their own area of expertise.
Llion Iwan said: “One complaint throughout the industry is that budgets are so small, timetables become squashed and the one thing that suffers is the time for training.
“This was a fantastic opportunity to partner with NFTS which is consistently the only UK film school to be listed in the Hollywood Reporter’s top international film schools list and has been described in the Observer newspaper as the ‘world’s best film school’.
“We can also choose which courses to hold and crucially, the dates to hold them which gives us more control, reduces the drain on staff time and cuts costs, enabling us to invest in even more training.
“What we’re doing is creating a virtuous circle. By improving the skills of our staff, they will benefit personally from professional development while at the same time improving the quality of our programmes.
“That in turn will benefit Cwmni Da and make our output even more attractive to broadcasters.
“As we are an employee-owned company, the staff will be reaping the benefits of making Cwmni Da even more successful.”
Judith Winnan, Head of NFTS Cymru Wales added: “NFTS Cymru Wales is perfectly positioned to deliver training to forward-looking companies such as Cwmni Da and we’re delighted to be working with them to support their staff across the full range of skills required for future success and growth.
“The National Film and Television School is recognised around the world for the quality of training it provides to the industry and from our base in Cardiff we can now bring that same gold standard to freelancers and companies across Wales.”
The tutor on the latest course on directing and camera work was the distinguished. BAFTA award-winning documentary maker, Nick O’Dwyer, who has made programmes for BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV and Channel 4.
Catrin Jones, 26, was on her first day at Cwmni Da as a trainee camera operator and was delighted to have the opportunity to learn from an “industry legend” like Nick.
She said: “This opportunity is amazing, especially on my first day because I am being taught by one of the best in the industry. This is the perfect course for me. It’s very inspiring.”
Researcher Brengain Fflur Jones, 24, was equally thrilled.
She said: “My ambition is to be a director, so this course is definitely a step in the right direction. It will also help me with my confidence with different aspects of the work.
“I’ve learnt lots of new skills today but one thing that stands out is the way you should treat other people. If you want to get someone to do things correctly, then you have to treat them correctly.”
Also on the course was Sion Bailey Hughes, and experienced sound operator and camera operator who has been a staff member since 2014.
He said: “I think that learning about every aspect of the industry and, although I’ve got a few years’ experience under my belt, it’s vitally important to keep on learning.
“It definitely makes you think about the industry in a different way and I’ve learnt so much in such a short space of time.
“To me, I thought I’d know everything he had to say after working for 20 years in the industry but it’s good thing to be able to learn from someone new and thinking about things in a different way.”
Lowri Wynn, 31 said: “I do a bit of everything, a bit of camera work, a bit of directing, a bit of writing, and Cwmni Da is such a good place to learn a bit of everything.
“This course has been brilliant. It’s great to be able to learn more about the skill set without the pressure of doing it whilst working.
“Nick is brilliant and obviously knows a lot about the industry. He’s made a wide range of different documentaries, so we get an insight into a lot of different things and different genres.
“Being taught by someone with such a brilliant track record is fantastic. I’ve learnt a lot.”
For half a century, the National Film and Television School (NFTS) has developed some of Britain and the world’s top creative talent. The School is recognised internationally as a model of excellence in specialist higher education and is one of the world’s pre-eminent film, television and games institutions with hubs in Wales, Leeds and Scotland.