Interview | Paul Mackow

SAE Film student Paul Mackow

SAE Film Production student Paul Mackow was among students from our Liverpool campus, including peers on our Film Production, Audio Production and Content Creation programmes, who took part in the 48-Hour Film challenge. 

The competition was organised as part of the BBC’s Bring the Drama initiative to give participants the opportunity to get creative, collaborate and work alongside each other to brief. 

We caught up with Paul to hear more about his experiences during the challenge and how his time with SAE is preparing him for a career in the film industry. 

What led you to study at SAE?

From a young age, I’ve always been involved in various extracurricular activities, with theatre being a passion. 

Knowing I wanted to go into higher education, I explored various universities offering film course degrees. However, I found that many of them didn’t align with my desire for a hands-on, experiential/experimental approach to learning. That’s when I stumbled upon SAE, which stood out for its practical curriculum and emphasis on learning by doing. What drew me to SAE was not just the promise of academic growth but also the opportunity to build a tangible portfolio while gaining invaluable industry insights with industry professionals.

Upon reaching out to SAE through UCAS, I was guided through the application process and offered support every step of the way. The course’s flexibility allowed me to collaborate with students from other degrees, fostering a dynamic environment where ideas came to life and flourished.

SAE’s unique approach created a perfect synergy, blending theoretical knowledge with practical experience; A combination that resonated deeply with my aspirations in the film industry.

How did you get involved with the 48-hour challenge opportunity?

SAE student Paul Mackow on set.

When the project was announced on campus, our lecturers mentioned it within the classes: an opportunity to participate in a short film project for a BBC challenge, promising a significant boost to our CVs.

Emails followed this announcement, detailing the challenge’s parameters and sign-up instructions. The challenge was to complete a short film encompassing all production stages within a mere 48 hours. Personally, I’ve always loved a good challenge, so naturally, I was intrigued.

Eager to jump in, I approached our Head Lecturer Carl Copeland, expressing my interest in joining the project as an Editor. However, he saw potential in me beyond that role and suggested I consider taking on the role of Producer, citing my strengths in that area. As a student hungry for growth and new experiences, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Could you talk about the brief? What were the specifics of what you had to do?

Paul Mackow student on set

The project kicked off on Friday, March 15th, at 6:00 PM, with Sunday, March 17th, at the same time for the final submission. Gathered in the lecture theatre, the anticipation was apparent as we awaited the unveiling of our topic.

With a dramatic drumroll, the word was out: Discovery. It was a broad theme, offering countless creative avenues to explore. To guide our brainstorming, we were provided with cinematic examples like Breakfast Club, Midsommar and Se7en.

But it wasn’t just about creativity; practicality mattered too. Our film had to fall within the three to five-minute mark, ensuring feasibility. With actors lined up, courtesy of our lecturer, Richard Thompson, and the CrossKeys Pub secured as our location by our campus director, Graham Lysaght, we were all set. Additionally, we had access to the equipment on campus to bring our vision to life.

Once the presentation concluded, we divided into groups. I was fortunate to team up with my close friends and talented Directors, Tyrone Gough-Blair and William Mckimmie, opting for a Co-Director role. As we mingled with the audio students from SAE, ensuring everyone was on the same page, I took the initiative to establish effective communication channels. This included setting up a group chat for seamless coordination, creating a contact sheet for everyone’s social media of preference to communicate and liaising with another group to ensure smooth production without clashes.

Moving swiftly into pre-production, our team divided responsibilities. While Tyrone collaborated with Screenwriter Max Wise, Carl Copeland, and Stephen Bell, William joined forces with our Director of Photography, Lucas Torres, to craft a shot list and scout locations. Meanwhile, I focused on organising the audio team, assigning roles, and initiating discussions on potential sound elements, such as background noise and music, envisioning a vibe similar to the series You on Netflix.

How did you find the experience? What did you learn from this?

Paul Mackow on set

The experience with the BBC project was genuinely exceptional, pushing each of us to our limits and emphasising the importance of prioritisation and focus. It was a profound learning opportunity, highlighting the significance of cross-departmental collaboration in film production. Engaging with different teams allowed me to gain insights into various aspects of filmmaking, enriching my understanding of the craft. I firmly believe in the continuous process of learning, and each collaboration offered invaluable lessons.

Moreover, the project underscored the power of effective organisation and planning in achieving remarkable results. Witnessing my teammates’ characters shine through amidst the structured approach was immensely gratifying. I take immense pride in the collective effort of our team and the exceptional quality of the final product, named Distilled.

It’s worth noting the commendable work of the other group, showcasing the calibre of talent fostered at SAE and the remarkable achievements driven by passionate, hardworking students dedicated to their craft. This project exemplifies the transformative potential of collaborative endeavours and underscores the ethos of excellence embodied by SAE’s creative community.

Could you talk about what you came up with?

In the brainstorming session we came up with a few ideas, some about an international student embracing a new culture, a comedy about finding a bag of money and many more, but we settled with our strongest one.

Our script was about a man who had lost his loved one and returned to the pub where she had lost her life. There, he sees a long time friend that he had lost contact with due to the passing away of his fiancee. As the story moves along, we start to doubt and uncover the truth. I don’t want to reveal any more than I have to so you, as the viewer, can appreciate and enjoy what we masterfully crafted.

What have been other projects keeping you busy at SAE?

Paul Mackow, SAE student

Every term, our lecturers assign a film project to work on to meet the term’s requirements.

We are encouraged to try a new genre or a different type of filmmaking every time. In term four, we had to create a production company to produce film and successfully market it. I paired up with some peers in my class and started getting to work. After producing and finishing the film, we continued this production company as we had a healthy synergy within our group. We named it ROF Productions. ROF means something to all of us in the group; It brought us together not just as peers but as friends. So, ROF is your answer to what has kept me busy at SAE. We produce high-quality films to the best of our ability as we want ROF Productions to grow and represent the best of what we can do, pushing us to make the best product for our university course.

As of recently, I’ve been working on one of my Lecturer’s films (Richard Weston). We started filming this at the end of term five. After the BBC Project, Richard offered me a position as a Line Producer for his newest project, Sparked. Working with someone who has taught me in the industry is an honour, as it shows my work ethic and taking on what SAE has taught me. In short, hard work pays off, and I’m grateful for the opportunities.

What have been the most important things you’ve learned in your time here?

Paul Mackow on set

There are many important things I’ve learned while attending SAE. First, collaboration with other departments within SAE makes your work process easier and your final product infinitely better. To be specific the sound department. Before we collaborated with them, we would struggle to master the film’s audio to make it sound realistic and crisp. Within term five, my group and I worked with them on two film projects; they have never been better. Another one that I have come across is when people ask for extensions. When you have to work in the real world, you’ll be on a probationary period or even fired if you miss a deadline. I have noticed that people who ask for an extension without good reason tend not to succeed in future projects.

One of the most essential things is listening to your lecturer. When I first came, I was always cautious of my projects as I wanted them to be my own. The lecturers would recommend something, and I would doubt it. As soon as I took their advice, my film quality increased exponentially. The lecturer’s interest is purely in you as a student doing well. To finish off some obvious ones, take pride in your work, as it reflects the quality of your projects. Treat people how you want to be treated. If you want to succeed in this industry, manners and respect will get you far. It’s all about the connections you make.

And what are you aiming to do once you’ve completed your studies?

Once I finish my degree with SAE, I would like to get a scholarship for a master’s in film production in the United States. I want the strongest degrees in the world, in the UK and the USA.

Ultimately, if I get offered a position with good pay and work satisfaction anywhere in the world, I would be happy to start as soon as possible, as I believe we never stop learning; no matter who I work for, there is always a process or a skill to learn unique to everyone. My ultimate goal is to climb the corporate chain in producing to influence the film industry.

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