Outsider on the Inside - By Raza Mallal


What are the chances these days of  an Asian succeeding in a  career in the Film and Television Industry in Britain?

 Well, considerably better than they were when I first trod that prickly and lonely  path  many moons ago. Hey, but don’t be under any illusion that it’s all now  become  an easy ride.

 Admittedly over time the Asian presence in Britain has not only changed us but more noticeably we have had a distinct effect  on the  way of life in Britain. Every day  Asians continue to make great  strides in almost every  facet of life and business in this country.  However,  we still seem to be left out of the reckoning when it comes to working in the media. Yes, there is a slow trickle pursuing acceptable or reasonable  jobs in  journalism,  radio and print.  However, there is a worrying under- representation  of Asians in mainstream film and TV so much so that even the broadcasters themselves sporadically blush at the embarrassing numbers they employ to “fairly reflect multi-ethnic Britain”. What are the reasons for this shortage of Asians in mainstream film and TV ?

 Are we simply not motivated enough to tackle the “closed shop" beast that the media industry is? Perhaps the rewards don’t seem clear cut? Or is it because in amongst all the traditional doctor, accountant, engineer, members of your family or friends you don’t recall a successful, director, writer, producer?    There just isn’t a role model to follow.?

Well it cannot be through a lack of suitable courses. When I first expressed a desire in wanting to study filmmaking my parents “firmly encouraged” me to do a business degree first. “There is no future for an Asian film director in England” I was told. On reflection at the time I guess this was good advice.

Surviving as  a serious professional Asian filmmaker was not easy. There were many moments of desperation, feelings of rejection, lack of support, many obstacles and hurdles had to be overcome. So I suppose knowing that I had a backup qualification that could get me a secure job was reassuring and made me perhaps more confident and determined to succeed. I got a business degree and then followed it up with a Diploma in TV production and film qualifications. Although I felt frustrated by coming up against  “closed doors” I didn’t give up. Sheer   determination and passion led me to write direct, edit and produce my 16mm film “Easy Money”. This film apart from winning awards all over the world in competition with established broadcasters also became my calling card for opening those very doors, which had remained shut earlier.

Today things are somewhat different. At least as far as courses are concerned. There are numerous media courses of all types all over the country. Even Yorkshire can now boast not only the degree and short courses offered by the Universities but two film schools: in Sheffield and Leeds, offering Diploma and MA courses in all aspects of filmmaking from scriptwriting, direction and editing.

1. Foundation Degree In Film and TV Production. A unique full or part-time course equivalent to the first year of a degree. This  course is well suited on a part time basis to the ethnic minorities and women especially as they may have other full time commitments . It incorporates film studies as well as filmmaking from tape to 16mm, culminating in the production of a High Definition  film and individual shorter SD  productions.

2. There are in addition numerous courses for beginners to filmmaking yet covering most of the modules of the certificate course. Two separate productions are generally made.

In addition to a recognised qualification, work experience, of a relevant nature, is just as important if you are to progress to any paid work in the industry. Until that secure job arrives and to improve your chances of getting one then I suggest you get out there and make yourself known. Who you are and what you are? Get as much experience as possible in the area you want to specialise in. If that opportunity isn’t immediately available, then take any other job in the media however menial. Don’t worry, because if you’ve got the talent your true ability will shine through that opening whenever it appears.

Get involved at all levels of media work. Any production, shoot, broadcast audio-visual. Whether it’s voluntary or not, at weekends, one day a week, during a religious festival…. work on a RSL radio station, local corporate production company. Get the experience! Hassle and hound the established media companies or the BBC or the one-man outfit doing wedding videos. Pester them to give you a work trial, a placement, a shadowing role (where you work alongside an existing employee gaining experience in kind of job you’re after.) You have to wedge that first foot in the door and then the first rung of the ladder will hopefully be within easy reach. Whatever it takes as long as you don’t compromise your integrity, principles, community, or religion - just do it!

 As you gradually gain more experience people will look at your track record and eventually you can be choosy about the work you accept and go for quality rather than quantity.

If your heart is set on being in the media then follow it with vigour, determination and passion. You’ll suffer and lets not kid ourselves about this, you’ll be humiliated, embarrassed, undervalued, and there will be occasions of depression and disillusionment but if you truly believe in your art, your talent and yourself you’ll overcome it all. You’ll in fact relish the challenges, the deadlines, the disasters, the traumas, and ultimately the end product.

 The power of the media especially the moving image cannot be underestimated nor ignored. More Asians need to get involved in every aspect of the industry and especially at the higher levels.

Interestingly enough recently some Asians from the Sub continent being aware of  “media clout” have set up independent production companies and channels targeted at their own communities. The pioneer being TV Asia now Zee TV, followed by Sony, B4U, Bangla and Pakistani Channels, and Prime TV. Soon to be joined by specialist Gujraati, and Punjabi channels. This sudden rise is of course primarily due to the advent of digital TV providing greater availability of broadcast frequencies. This is a big step in providing not only a voice for our communities but an opportunity for the employment of talent from those communities.

I have actively promoted media education ever since I was qualified enough to pass on the benefits of my knowledge and experience to others. It has been encouraging to see a recent increase in the number of Asians who enrol on these courses but even more so to discover how incredibly talented these Asians are. This talent should be harnessed by investors and businesses sponsorship so that whether you are a writer, director, camera man, make up artist, presenter, that you can clearly see on the horizon a vehicle for expressing and proving your talent and ability. It is the responsibility of members of the business community and investors to fund all manner of media projects at all levels so that the undeniable creative talent is not wasted in some mundane job.

These are exciting times for the industry as a whole. With the Internet and digital revolution.  New media technologies, web sites, streaming video and film will provide further opportunities to broadcast visual messages. Therefore it is of even greater significance that we have an effective involvement in film and TV.

Raza Mallal