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University of York students set scene for feature film

For a student movie enthusiast like Ainslie Harris, working on a major feature film is the vacation job opportunity of a lifetime.

Ainslie is one of five Electronics students from the University of York who were asked if they wanted to spend their summer holidays working on post-production on The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, featuring Hollywood stars Tom Berenger and Joely Richardson.

They jumped at the invitation from York-based KMA Creative Media, the company called in by writer and director, Bill Clark, to make digital changes and additions to the finished film that is based on US children’s best seller of the same name by Susan Wojciechowski.

US company Bauer Martinez shot the picture entirely in Shepperton Studios in the UK using spectacular sets built on blue screen stages. KMA and the students are creating beautiful computer-generated scenery that completes the production’s design. The work mainly involves compositing (keying out a blue screen background and replacing it with a 3D-modelled background) and camera tracking (tracking the motion of a shot).

The students’ involvement is one of the first of what the University hopes will be regular collaborations between its new Department of Theatre, Film and Television, to be launched next year, and locally-based creative industries, through the Science City York partnership.

The Miracle of Jonathan Toomey is a gentle study of the redemptive power of creativity in which Tom Berenger plays the title role, a woodcarver who lives as a recluse on the edge of a village. When recently widowed mother Susan Mcdowell (Richardson) and her son, Thomas, played by Luke Ward-Wilkinson, moves into the village, they ask Jonathan Toomey to carve a nativity scene in time for Christmas to replace one they have lost. The widow asks the woodcarver if her son can watch him work, a relationship builds, the woodcarver's broken heart is healed and his faith restored.

KMA’s Kit Monkman, who established the new media company with University of York music technology graduate Tom Wexler, said: “I became aware of the University’s skills in media post production through John Mateer, who I met through the Creation Network. Faced with the task of completing 40,000 frames of material I approached John to see if he knew of any potential student interns. The response was fantastic. The students we’re working with are extraordinarily talented.

“What we are doing is a modern version of old-fashioned scenery painting. Work such as this has never been done somewhere like York – it’s normally done by London-based effects companies. If we do this well, the chances that we will be offered another film are increased. It’s a big adventure for all of us.”

Ainslie Harris, 22, said: “A chance to get a credit in a feature film is the opportunity of a lifetime! The work can get quite demanding at times, when there are difficult scenes to work on that require a lot of detail. However, as an engineering student, almost everything I do on my course involves detailed work and patience, so I guess I’m well prepared!

”This opportunity has been great because I have learned new skills. Having a credit on a feature film is not something that many university students have when they get out of school, so this opens a lot of doors for me.”

Many more graduates are seeking placements and jobs in the film industry than there are available. But by gaining real production experience, the students hope to give themselves a head start when they graduate next year.

The students Ainslie Harris, Nezih Savaskan, Andrew Fensom, Michael Gelfi and Lewis Saunders are studying for BEng and MEng degrees in Media Technology and Music Technology.

John Mateer, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Electronics and the University’s new Theatre, Film & Television, said: “We were delighted when KMA approached us about the project. It represents a unique opportunity for our students to put theory into practice while gaining valuable industry experience.

“We are constantly looking for ways to get our students involved in real-world productions and we greatly appreciate KMA making it happen. With the launch of the new Department of Theatre, Film and Television next year, we hope to be involved with many similar projects in the future.”

David Garner | alfa
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