Creative Producer Lab - 5 years onStories from our Producer development programme
We catch up with Creative Producer Lab alumni and look to the future of filmmaking in the North.
Applications for the 2023 edition of Creative Producer Lab are now open. With the arrival of the Lab’s 5th edition, we’re looking back on what the programme has achieved so far.
First: the numbers. Since its launch in 2019, Creative Producer Lab has trained and introduced more than 50 new Producers to the UK film industry. 34 of these filmmakers are based in the North of England, with 25 based in the Midlands following the programme’s expansion in 2020.
In the world of production, 10 short films supported by Film Hub North with BFI NETWORK Short Film Funding have been produced by Creative Producer Lab alumni. And a further 6 micro-shorts have been produced by Lab alumni as part of the Hub’s Scratch Me character development programme.
Second: the people! In May 2023, alumni from the first 4 editions of Creative Producer Lab gathered at HOME in Manchester for the first regional Producers meet-up. We headed along and sat down with Luke Davies and Radha Bhandari to talk about their experiences of the Lab, its role in the industry and the importance of having skilled, passionate Producers in the regions.
Where were you in your career before the Lab and where are you now?
The Lab was a very pivotal experience for me. I’d come from working in TV development and I didn’t actually know what a Producer did until I went onto the Lab. It was the catalyst for starting my career.
What I brought to the Lab was a love of story; a love of development and working with Writers from the early stages of an idea. But I didn’t really know what that meant in terms of having employment in that area.
More and more, I realised that I was passionate about queer stories and marginalised voices and fresh perspectives. And that passion was nurtured by the Creative Producer Lab.
The Lab enabled me to find the first project that I produced and, from there, my production company Polari took off. The company then started producing more short form content and that led to me getting a BBC Three commission for a documentary.
It’s been a strange experience to have these projects - from short films to this big documentary - running in parallel, but they’re all based around those common themes of inclusivity, authenticity and creative authorship that I developed during the Creative Producer Lab.
Before the Lab, I was working in factual TV. I had worked in a couple of development teams and I was working regularly with one production company.
At the same time, I was making shorts, music videos for friends, and I was working on my friends’ shorts as well.
When I took part in the Lab, I had maybe made one and a half shorts. I felt fairly junior within the cohort and there were times where it felt overwhelming, but I was also able to learn from some of the more experienced participants.
The programme breaks the production process down in a really accessible way. You learn how to take something through production and into post-production. It’s very on-the-ground, and learning that process as a junior Producer is essential.
After the Lab, I made a few shorts whilst still working in my factual TV job - and then, eventually, I was in a place where I could leave that job and move into working in scripted development across feature films and television . That move happened in the year following the Creative Producer Lab.
What’s happening today at the Regional Producers Meet-Up?
Today, the Producers from all of the previous editions of the Creative Producer Lab are getting together at HOME in Manchester.
Hopefully this the start of a regular meet-up for Producers in the region. It’s a place to meet and find solace and empowerment in a career that can sometimes be very isolating and insular.
I think doing the Creative Producer Lab made us all realise that there’s a lot of like-minded people out there; people who are ambitious and who want to champion regional voices.
It’s been great. You get a sense of solidarity and community by getting together.
When you’re working from home for your own company, or you’re working as an independent Producer, it can feel like there’s a competitive mentality to things like funding and getting your project off the ground. But by meeting with other Producers working locally, you humanise those connections. You realise that everyone has everyone else’s back.
I hadn’t met all of the different Lab cohorts before. Even my year of the Lab took place all on Zoom, so it’s really nice to meet in-person.
We need Producer solidarity. It’s a really hard thing to do - especially at the independent level, and especially in shorts. Going into that world is such a baptism of fire. So when we’re all able to get together in a room and connect, it’s really good.
People have been telling me about the amazing projects they’re working on. They’re working at creative development companies; they’ve made shorts that have gone to international festivals. It’s great to hear that, and I would expect nothing less of them.
What role does the Lab play in the industry?
In the North, there’s a small group of us working as independent Producers. It’s not proportionate to the number of Writers and Directors that want to get their stuff made and that are actually really good. It’s difficult as a Producer to not be in a position to take those projects forward.
There’s a skill shortage, so it’s good and it’s necessary that there’s things like the Lab and these meet-ups to bring more Producers in.
Barrington (Redbag Pictures) and Holly (Diploid Productions), who led the first editions of the Lab, saw that skills shortage and had the conviction to bring people in and improve that situation - and that even goes beyond the Lab. They wanted to introduce people into the sector who would actually make work. And days like today are a real testament to that - everyone here is working.
They put their resources and their connections into this. And it’s started to make headway into addressing that skills shortage; people are working and are making the films that they want to make.
That process is working. The hope is that it continues to work. That’s why we’re all here today.
And what difference has it made for you personally?
Before I took part in the Lab, I wasn’t happy with the work I was doing. I had done every job under the sun and they weren’t satisfying me. When I took part in the Lab, I was at a point in my life where I felt I could break free from that and I could pursue my dream of starting my own company.
For me, it boils down to the question: “Am I going to take myself seriously?” Because it’s not anyone else’s responsibility to take me seriously. Once I had decided that, it became about how much I had to learn as a Producer - and that’s where the Lab came in. Producing is still a huge learning journey for me, but people respond to that; collaborators want to go on that journey with you.
I’ve come to realise that there’s no ideal “win” in producing, and some of the projects you love will never get made. Your job is to do the best you can with the situations you’re presented with; to keep on learning, and to make your next film your best yet.
Luke Davies is a Creative Producer based in Manchester. He runs Polari - an independent production company focused on uplifting queer and marginalised voices.
Polari’s shorts What Would Julie Do? and On Rest & Movement are currently on the festival circuit. Stranger in My Family - a documentary about Luke’s search for his birth father - is coming to BBC Three this autumn.
Luke took part in Creative Producer Lab 2019.
Radha Bhandari is a Development Executive and Producer based in Manchester. She works for independent production company Public Dreams Ltd.
Radha produced the short film For Heidi which premiered at Opening Night of the BFI London Film Festival 2022. She was Associate Producer on Naqqash Khalid’s feature In Camera, produced by Public Dreams Ltd & Prettybird UK, which received its world premiere at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2023. Her latest short film, As For Me won BBH's Differently Does It Award 2022 and is on the festival circuit.
Radha took part in Creative Producer Lab 2020.
Creative Producer Lab is hosted by Film Hub North and Film Hub Midlands, and was originally set up with Diploid Productions and Redbag Pictures.