Freelance Director for creative communications agencies
Graduated in 1998
Former BA (Hons) Media and Communications student, Duncan Crowe answered a few questions for us about his time at Birmingham City University and what he has been doing since he graduated in 1998.
Why did you choose to study at Birmingham City University?
I was looking for a course that combined both practical elements of media production as well as the theoretical side. The course I chose to study had quite a good reputation for producing people who went on to work in the industry, which for me was a big draw.
Did you know the area of the media you wanted to work in while you were at University?
I originally thought I wanted to work in feature films and TV and assumed that they were interchangeable industries, where you could move freely between both. After leaving university I managed to get a job as Junior Researcher for a TV company. TV work seemed more regular with a few more opportunities than film which is why I ended up leaning in that direction, but they are separate industries and people rarely switch between them.
Did the course help you in your chosen career?
It gave me a broad understanding of different aspects of media and taught me how to think critically about the media. It opened my eyes a little and helped me look at things from different perspectives.
Were the industry placements useful to you?
Yes. By doing placements you get to see how people in the industry work and I realised it was something I could actually do. I did a four week placement at the BBC in London and I got to try my hand at various jobs. The most important thing for me was just being in the environment of all those people, some of whom were really talented and smart. I realised that I wanted to be part of it.
What career are you in now?
I now work as a Freelance Director for creative communications agencies, making online content and films for large businesses. If you'd have said that to me while I was at university I'd have thought it sounded awful (in fact, there was no online content back then) but the media landscape has changed so much over the last 10 – 15 years that what we think of as a 'corporate film' today bears no resemblance to when I was at university. Some of the best creative work comes from communications agencies and most of the time the budgets and production values are better. Something I've also noticed is that many of the young producers I work with have bypassed the TV industry altogether and have gone straight into a junior role at an agency, which can be a great way to pick up lots of skills and knowledge.
I've also just written my first novel, a comedy adventure titled 'Scoundrels', with a friend of mine who I met through work about 15 years ago. This is more of a fun, creative side-line but there's no way I would have done this had I not been in the creative industries, working with other creatives who have their own projects on the side and getting the confidence that it was possible.
If you could go back in time and give your student self some advice, what would it be?
Be more assertive. You have to push yourself a bit in the media and there are plenty of other people who are willing to do the same and only a finite amount of jobs out there.
Do you have any advice for students who are looking to enter the industry?
Most of the corporate/TV/film industry is freelance and being a freelancer takes a certain mind-set. When I was at university I wrongly assumed that once I'd done my first job the rest would just follow naturally, but that's not the case. You have to fight for it sometimes, even now after doing it for over 15 years I still have to fight a little to get the work.
You should also try to have some currency beyond what your job entails. For example, the ability to edit, use a camera, write copy or speak another language. Nowadays the traditional roles sometimes blend into each other and you have to be able to do a few things. Not only do I direct, but I shoot and write too. I sometimes get sent on jobs where the budget doesn't allow for a director, a camera operator and a sound recordist, so I do it all myself. That can be the difference between working and not working.
What has been the favourite part of your career so far?
One of the best things about the job is the access you get to other people’s lives and the places you get to go to, that you perhaps otherwise wouldn’t. My job often involves travel to other parts of the world. In the past year I have filmed in over 20 countries including Thailand, South Africa, Colombia, America, Guatemala, Ukraine and Mexico. The coolest thing I did last year was filming a black rhino being transported from a zoo in the Czech Republic to a reserve in Tanzania for DHL. I got to travel the whole way with the rhino, even on the cargo plane!