Making video work for you with Birkbeck’s Derek Jarman Lab

This post was contributed by Nick Eisen, an alumnus of Birkbeck’s Postgraduate Certificate in Journalism.

Birkbeck’s Derek Jarman Lab, runs four-day training courses that address the internet’s increasing demand for video in getting your message across. For an example of the Lab’s work see their video Ways of Listening with John Berger and Tilda Swinton.

The Lab says in its publicity that “Film can be a fantastic tool” and “can add greatly to the impact of your work”. As a Birkbeck alumnus working in media, I decide to try the course, which takes place over two weekends.

On the first morning, Managing Producer Bartek Dziadosz shows me to the Lab, in the basement of 36 Gordon Square (entrance round the corner in Endsleigh Place), a few doors north of the School of Arts. Also there are students Nikki and Liz, from Pittsburgh, and Yunus, a Birkbeck economist with plans, one day, to make a film about personalities in economics.

The day begins with an introduction to the equipment – lots to take in, but much becomes clearer with practice.

The afternoon brings classes on film theory referencing Roman Polanski’s Chinatown; an exercise filming a conversation between two gallant volunteers from the Lab team, Bea and Lilly; a class from Lilly on film production, and one-to-ones on the projects we have each planned for the course. Homework is to prepare shooting schedules for our pieces.


Next day, we shoot. Nikki and Liz are making films about London; Yunus casts me as Alex from a Clockwork Orange in a tour of Anthony Burgess’s local haunts; I am filming an interpretation of the poem The Spider And The Fly.

Yunus and I start off at a Burgess local – the Duke of York pub. It’s shut. Yunus improvises by turning an interior sequence into an exterior one. He has me standing outside the pub, grinning and holding a glass of milk like Malcolm McDowell as gang leader Alex from Kubrick’s film of A Clockwork Orange. I am surprised how quickly I ignore strange looks from passers-by.

For my project, my main sequence is to speak the poem I’ve chosen to camera. I want to shoot this in a pub, but settle on a restaurant where the staff prove friendly.

Playing a human spider in a crowded restaurant doesn’t bother me. I’ve now grown used to acting strangely in public.

Yunus and I adapt to circumstances through the afternoon – that’s movies… !

Back at the Lab, Bartek downloads our work and gives a class on lighting.


Left - Right: Walter, Yunus and Liz

Left – Right: Walter, Yunus and Liz

The following Saturday, Walter, the Lab’s Head of Post-production, takes us through editing with a lesson on theory, then an introduction to the equipment – software and computers now, not the bulkier mechanical desks of yore – but we still talk about films and cutting, though celluloid and scissors have practically gone.

Practice brings increasing confidence, and Walter shows how intercutting and juxtaposition of images and sounds can resonate in surprising ways.

Paul, the Lab’s Head of Teaching, helps us with the further editing that comprises the final day, which ends with a screening of some of our work. Nikki has created a beautiful collage of London. Yunus’s use of effects and music suggests a vivid take on A Clockwork Orange, and my interpretation of The Spider And The Fly is kindly received. I can see how I would do it differently now, which of course is part of learning.

The Lab team have been friendly, patient, supportive and encouraging, making for a well-structured, rewarding two weekends.

Taking the course

At £250 (for Birkbeckers), this course is great value, particularly for those with audiovisual elements in their studies, though it’s a significant sum on a tight budget. So maybe start by confirming what you want from the course and how you expect it to give this to you.

To find out more, contact The Derek Jarman Lab.


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