This year BAFTA welcomes 550 new full members and almost 900 Connect members to our community. We spoke with eight of them to find out about their roles in the industry, why they joined, and what they’re most looking forward to as new members. Here’s what we learned..
Pictured, clockwise from top left: Natalie Mitchell, Kish Hirani, Arne Meyer, Ray Rajadorai, Melanie Lenihan, Kirstin Hall, Jenny Monks and Jules Cornell.
As anyone working in film, games and TV knows, it’s not the most linear of career paths – a marathon rather than a sprint. Whether through strategic left-turns or chance encounters, you’ll frequently find yourself staring at new opportunities and working out how to re-engineer your skillset.
BAFTA's membership benefits - including access to events, screenings, masterclasses and career workshops, and the huge number of networking opportunities this represents - help members rethink their place in the industry and adjust to new environments.
In speaking to a number of new BAFTA members who joined this year, the question of why they joined is just as important as when.
For some, they’ve been identified as being from an underserved technical niche who can bring value to BAFTA; make-up and hair designer Melanie Lenihan was invited to apply after sitting on a BAFTA Cymru jury last year.
For others, it’s been a long-time goal; they were just waiting for the right moment, like Supergiant Games technical artist Ray Rajadorai, who seized the chance to join a community of others working in roles like his and expand his knowledge.
Editor and producer Jules Cornell, meanwhile, has been a BAFTA juror and has been involved in several of BAFTA's events - but it took until his children left home for university for him to secure enough free time to get the most out of it.
It is, he says, the “real sense of community” of his previous BAFTA interactions that made him want to join: “It’s great to be in the company of a broad range of talented people working in the industry, and to hear opinions outside of your immediate bubble.”
This seat at the table is particularly energising for producers like Jenny Monks who, despite a wealth of experience on British feature films – including recent critical hit Scrapper – felt at a remove from the heart of industry conversations.
“As a regional producer, you can sometimes feel geographically and socially isolated from the industry,” says Monk, who recently launched the North West England-based indie, The Fold, alongside fellow producer and BAFTA member Michelle Stein. “Being part of BAFTA offers incredible value in terms of offering further connection.”
Irrespective of background or location, all members we spoke to identified networking as a core motivating factor for joining. That can mean meeting direct peers who could become future collaborators, notes writer Natalie Mitchell.
For Cornell, it also offers a chance to gain a fresh outlook beyond his day-to-day concerns. “You never stop learning in this job, and I hope that meeting a broader group of people across the industry will inspire me and help make me better at what I do,” he says.
Similarly, for those in technical roles like Motion Picture Company VFX supervisor Kirstin Hall, it’s a chance to look out more widely. “Attending events, voting in awards, and meeting other filmmakers will allow me greater access beyond my specialised field,” she says.
Being part of a recognised community rather than an isolated freelancer is, says Mitchell, “legitimising” for anyone who ever feels “imposter syndrome”.
“Though it’s not the be-all and end-all, outside validation in the form of BAFTA membership makes me feel like I’m in the right place, I am good enough, and I deserve to be here.”
Others agree that it’s a badge of honour: Kiss Publishing chief technology officer Kish Hirani said BAFTA’s reputation didn’t hit home until someone else said they were impressed.
Arne Meyer, meanwhile, the California-based head of communications and culture at game developer Naughty Dog, said he was “humbled” to have his application accepted, not least as it speaks to his mission to have games aligned with film and TV.
“It’s significant that BAFTA recognises the video game industry equitably – it’s still young relative to the other moving picture arts and likely has more growth and maturity in its future as an industry, and as an art form,” he says.
In the year he joined, membership applications in North America opened at a significant moment in his career, and he is excited to be positioned to help BAFTA advance the internationally-expanding games sector and open the door to new applicants.
“I want it to continue championing our industry as a whole and prop it up as equitable to the other arts,” Meyer says. “It can play a significant role in increasing the visibility of amazing games developed by creators who may not have millions in their budget to raise awareness of their creative works.”
With membership comes a voice and a chance to have your say about the future direction of both the industry and BAFTA itself. After all, both have an evolving mission in terms of diversifying and regenerating the talent base, and change needs to happen from within.
Mitchell says she wants to help BAFTA enable the industry to escape a self-perpetuating cycle, in which decision-makers – even those who genuinely feel they champion diversity – come from “a narrow stratum of society”, with their own baggage and unconscious biases.
“By ensuring its membership is diverse in every way possible, supporting people to be develop and be considered ‘safe pair of hands’, the outlook begins to change,” she says.
Monks emphatically agrees, arguing it’s BAFTA’s duty to help the industry stay in step with the UK’s economic and skills challenges.
“As someone who came from a regional background, with no network or formal training, it’s imperative to ensure the door remains firmly open for the broadest range of talent to tell their stories and develop their careers, both above and below the line,” she says. “As a BAFTA member, I can show future members that being a regional working-class individual isn’t a barrier to success.”
Cornell, who is hearing-impaired, agrees that it’s essential to “make people feel like they truly belong, with a path to develop their career – and not just on a scheme to improve a company’s PR.”
BAFTA must grasp the nettle, he adds, to champion the myriad unsung production roles more vocally, if we are to inspire the next generation. “There are so many people that contribute to the success of a film, TV show or game, and we need all roles to be visible and celebrated,” he says.
Mentoring is one practical way to help that, and it’s significant that everyone we spoke to identified the chance to pass on their knowledge and experience as one of the most potentially rewarding aspects of raising their profile as BAFTA members.
Meyer says that in games in particular, mentoring is still an emerging discipline. “I’ve received invaluable assistance from mentors and bosses, but I’ve long felt that in games, this is an area of opportunity that has still not sufficiently met the needs of those who need it,” he says. “Having done what I can at events and online, I’d love to help others within a more organised structure, especially if that means assisting diverse, under-represented voices to find their place in the games industry.”
Hirani, who chairs diversity group BiG (BAME in games), adds that BAFTA membership ideally places people in conversation with decision- and policymakers that grassroots creatives find hard to reach. He also argues that the more members BAFTA secures from technical backgrounds, the better grip creatives will have on how to learn to live with, and use to their advantage, disruptive technologies like AI.
In specialist disciplines like editing, mentoring opens conversations and fosters collaborations as much is it does advance skills and career progression.
“A lot of assistant editors spend very little time in the edit seeing how conversations go with directors, execs and commissioners,” says Cornell. “Many find themselves just handling ingest and exports rather than how to cut a film and tell a story.” Formal mentoring, or even just cups of coffee, can, he says, help junior editors to step up a gear and establish a shorthand with their colleagues. “At its best, my job is one of collaboration where we each inspire new ideas from the other.”
“It took me ten years before I found a mentor,” says Mitchell. “I would love to be that person for someone else following a similar path. Just having someone to ask, Is this right? How should I deal with this? is incredibly valuable.
Being a BAFTA member isn’t solely about mentorship; it's about expanding networks, seeking collaborations across sectors, opening up to new ideas and influences, and voting in the awards. And there’s plenty of events and screenings on offer, whether you're in the UK or North America. But the idea of paying it forward is certainly a motivator for new members.
“I’d like future creatives from a similar working-class background to mine to be able to look at the things I’ve achieved and feel this career is possible for them too. If you can’t see it, you don’t know you can do it.”
Words by Robin Parker.
BAFTA – the British Academy of Film and Television Arts - is a world-leading independent arts charity that brings the very best work in film, games and television to public attention and supports the growth of creative talent in the UK and internationally. Through its Awards ceremonies and year-round programme of learning events and initiatives – which includes workshops, masterclasses, scholarships, lectures and mentoring schemes in the UK, USA and Asia – BAFTA identifies and celebrates excellence, discovers, inspires and nurtures new talent, and enables learning and creative collaboration. For more, visit www.bafta.org. BAFTA is a registered charity (no. 216726).