General Assistant at Centre Screen Productions

Centre Screen Productions is a medium-sized multimedia production company based in Manchester. They produce a lot of work for the ‘leisure heritage’ industry – museums and visitor centres – and some corporate work. As well as videos, they produce a lot of interactive work, including touchscreen kiosks and walkthrough exhibitions.

The first time I worked at Centre Screen was way back when I was 15 or 16. Our high school would send the whole year out for two weeks’ work experience. You were encouraged to find your own place to work and as we knew one of the owners of Centre Screen, I went there. It was a pretty big deal at the time. It was the first time I had to deal with commuting from Wilmslow into Manchester and the first time I experienced office life.

This was back in the middle of the 90s and some of the things I remember seem pretty crazy when I look back on them. I used the internet for the very first time at Centre Screen. They had a dial-up connection and the e-mails for everyone in the company were all received on the one machine. This was also the first time I ever used a Mac and the first time I ever saw a dual screen computer.

They had an Avid they would edit their work on but this was before the time that desktop computers could deal with uncompressed video so, once the edit was locked, they would take the EDL to an online facility where the sequence was rebuilt using a tape-to-tape setup and the simple effects, like picture in picture and text, were done with dedicated pieces of hardware. We also went to a facility that had a Silicon Graphics machine for more complicated compositing. This machine was worth hundreds of thousands of pounds and, from what I remember, did basically what After Effects could have done on your desktop only a few years later.

I don’t remember if I had already had an interest in media before I went to Centre Screen for these two weeks, but I was definitely interested afterwards.

After a false start studying physics at Nottingham University, I ended up at Nottingham Trent University on the Multimedia Production Course. I decided that while I was back in Wilmslow over the summer holidays it would be good experience if I went back to Centre Screen.

During my first summer there, I was initially given stuff to do that was for in-house use, rather than client projects. This included jobs like scanning stuff and taking screen grabs of work to hang on the walls. This is when I first started to use Photoshop. After a while I got to work on some proper projects. I went out as a runner on shoots, I logged and digitized footage on the Avids and helped with research. If I was working on in-house stuff I only got paid £10 a day, if I was working on a project I got £50 a day.

I went back with the same arrangement during the second year’s summer break too. This time I spent most of my time working on client projects. I was still covering a wide range of roles, which was good as it gave me plenty of experience. One of the best things about working at Centre Screen while I was still studying was that I could see how things were done in ‘real life’. Most of the teaching staff were pretty good at Nottingham Trent but you will only ever learn the textbook ways of doing things in a classroom. It’s hard to learn the extra stuff, like dealing with clients, working with other people and the business side of the multimedia industry without actually working on real projects.

I graduated from Nottingham Trent in 2004, went back to Manchester and worked at Centre Screen again. I can’t remember for sure but I think I started on the same pay arangement as the other summers as they couldn’t afford to hire me full-time and I was happy for the experience. I was living with my parents so could afford to be in this situation for a while.

After a few months, Centre Screen offered me a more permanent role. They had gone into partnership with a guy who was trying to set up a company producing content for the interactive features of a new digital TV platform that was being rolled out. I was asked to project manage the production of a bunch of games that were run on a short-lived games channel. During this time, I was still based in the main Centre Screen office and was still helping out with Centre Screen projects.

In 2004, the DVD format was well-established for Hollywood DVDs, but it was just getting to the point where clients were expecting companies like Centre Screen to be able to deliver DVDs too. As I had taught myself about DVDs for my final year project at university, I was usually the one asked to create them at Centre Screen. This led to me doing other encoding and learning more about the tapedecks and edit suites, as well as a bit of After Effects. Without meaning to, I created a new role for myself and became quite valuable to Centre Screen. After a while, they decided the interactive TV stuff wasn’t working out for them and offered me a full-time role back on the Centre Screen projects.

As well as the techie tasks, I got to do some more editing and a little bit of graphics work. I also spent a lot of time searching for library footage of wildlife for a couple of big projects, a new wetlands conservation centre in Hong Kong and work for the Natural History Museum on the Isle of Man. I really enjoyed the editing and decided that that was what I wanted to do more of. Centre Screen did try to help me out and give me more editing but they had two full-time editors and plenty of other stuff for me to do, so I didn’t get to do as much as I would have liked.

Centre Screen was a good place to work. I felt I could have ended up staying there forever if I didn’t make a point of getting out to try and do some editing elsewhere. I had a trip to Australia booked, so I decided to use this holiday as the break I needed to make a change. I handed my notice in before I knew where I was going to work next.

I learned a lot at Centre Screen and it was a great place to get a taste of a lot of the different roles in the industry before I decided which road I wanted to head down.