Nik Raised The Bar

Sunday Sept 5th was the 50th anniversary of the National Film & TV School, celebrated by a barbecue and blessed by excellent weather.

When I attended back in 2005-7, what is recognised as the Film School now was actually the carpark back then. I was there at a time of great ferment, out with the old and in with the new, the Chosen helmsman being erstwhile producer, Nik Powell, a man who could see the film school was in dire need of new blood, new energy; to be dragged like it or not, into the new millennium.

For all its myth, its great training and star-studded alumni, it was still a motley spread of prefabs, scattered around the periphery of a large vacant lot. The focus on the training, not so much the facilities or how it might appear to the rest of the world. Just an ancient, timid two-storey white-wash skulking at the back and a studio barn to one side, the last vestiges of what used to be a bustling film studio to John Mills et al, back in the day.

But once installed, Nik galvanised the Industry, the network, the Great and the Good. He could see what needed to be done. He also opened the annual student intake out from what used to be just six per discipline when I was there, to as many as twelve, bringing in far more revenue, on top of the burgeoning short course roster.

One of the new HoD’s he brought in was Corinne Cartier as Head of Screenwriting, someone I knew well from her days running the Performing Arts Labs for screenwriters, down in Bore Place under Susan Benn. A great hotbed of learning and nurturing for fledgling screenwriters in its own right, I’d been on the course as an actor, workshopping the nascent screenplays.

I’d met Nik whilst in Post on my first film, the doomed ‘Offending Angels’, a Rom-Com picked up in Cannes Market, only to fall foul of the Sales Agent (Ardent International) going down with all hands and then the Tax Man erroneously believing I’d made the film for purely cynical purposes, having undertaken a Sale & Leaseback tax break enabling me to complete the movie, only for Angels never to make a sale when the Agency then died on me. A long story, for another blog.

So between these two, I felt in very good hands. They for me, for my experience there, were the heartbeat of the place, underpinning all that happened as I undertook my two-year MA. So, it was with no small amount of sadness that my return for the Anniversary be tinged with a fair amount of trepidation and melancholy, that neither of them should be there to see the magnificent fruits of their labours. Corinne dying too early of cancer in 2015 and then Nik soon after, in 2019.

The new building resplendent, energetic, studded throughout with markers, celebrations, nods to those who had gone before and made it all possible. And, of course Nik’s Bar in full swing. It was unrecognisable even in the short time I had been absent. I’d no idea how it must have been for those that graced its hallowed grounds back in 70’s, when it was a Director-Only pursuit and as a free and easy pursuit of Art, students sometimes stuck around for years before graduating.

It was good to catch up with some familiar faces, tutors and grads alike, as well as meet more, previously unknown to me. All of them with interesting stories, all of them driven. I attended very late in comparison to the vast majority, turning 40 whilst a student, having been an Engineer and then an actor first. So it was interesting and scary to see the latest crop looking so young, even though I’d only graduated myself 13 years previously. It did make me feel old.

But above all, my sense was it was vibrant, excited, lively and optimistic and with good cause; as any school should be. Hats off to Nik, for surely, more than anyone, that is down to him. A glass raised at his bar.. and here’s to the next 50.