A collage from Cambridge Creative's instagram featuring Fabienne Marshall. FABIENNE MARSHALL

In March 2020 the creative industries shut down; film and television production ground to a halt, high-profile releases were pulled, and theatres closed their doors. In the world of Cambridge theatre, the ADC remained closed until the return of students in October, then closed again for the second national lockdown. Other venues like the Corpus Playroom and Pembroke New Cellars remain shut.

For Murray Edwards student Hannah Collins, the widespread cancellation of productions was “the inspiration and impetus for seeing that there was a vacuum that could be filled.” In collaboration with like-minded students Fabienne Marshall and Ele Forsdyke, she founded the collective Cambridge Creatives. They saw the opportunity that the respite of lockdown offered, and by May had begun a series of livestreamed Q&As with notable guests including actor Jonathan Pryce, composer Erran Baron Cohen, and screenwriter Rachel Flowerday.

“We are our audience, so we know what we would want to see.”

The founders want to go into the creative industries themselves, so in that sense “we are our audience, so we know what we would want to see”. They're interested in the behind-the-scenes gossip of the film industry and struggle with the same career choices questions as their fellow students. Fabienne found Hugh Dennis’s story of graduating, working for years in a corporate marketing job, then returning to entertainment and achieving success, particularly reassuring. “It was really invigorating to hear people that are the top of their field say that they questioned what they wanted to do.”

Female guests have emphasised the need for persistence and commitment – Hannah noted the importance of this advice for women in particular. According to the Office for National Statistics, screen industry sectors were only 38% female in 2019, versus female workers making up 47% of the British economy the same year. Advice from women who have achieved success shows younger women that they do have role models, encouraging them to enter the creative industries. The founders of Cambridge Creatives are all female: a possible indication that the industry is already moving in the right direction.

The Cambridge Creative founders.HANNAH COLLINS

Cambridge Creatives was set up to “fill those long lockdown hours; inspire people; make them have hope for the future and want to go into an industry that was at that point dead or stagnant.” The three founders were surprised to receive such positive responses from many of the industry professionals they approached and were pleased at their generosity. They gave their time and advice because “people weren’t really doing anything, and I think they felt really bad for students who couldn’t put on productions.”

The idea was initially for a film club, aspiring to fill the gap in film opportunities and groups in Cambridge (with the notable exception of the Cambridge University Film Association). Over the summer the collective opened up applications for roles on their committee, and envision the society expanding. A current goal is in-person film screenings, when restrictions allow, combined with post-film Q&As with those involved in the production. Fabienne noted that this “dearth of film” was open to be remedied because there was a lot of interest among students in getting involved in film: “The amount of people that I spoke to that said ‘Yeah, I’d love to do a film thing if you were up for it!’”.

Modern technology and video communications platforms have enabled the calibre and variety of guests they have had, and continue to speak with. Ele said “I think Zoom is going to transform the way that we can interview loads of different people” particularly because it removes the logistical and financial difficulties of travel. Likewise, social media has been invaluable in publicising the society and events. They even secured Lenny Abrahamson, director of lockdown hit Normal People, through a direct message on Twitter.

They agreed that their focus was ‘visual culture’, a wide definition which is reflected in their Q&A series, film reviews and future collaborations. When we spoke, Fabienne was keen to emphasise the variety of interest and matter that this opens up. She sees the society “as this super inclusive platform, where we want anyone that has an interest in theatre/film/fashion - anything - to get involved.”

One such opportunity is their inaugural scriptwriting competition (now closed). It was important that they run a project that the society could support from the writing stage through to the completion of a short film for the winning script. The panel of judges this year consists of four industry professionals including Hollywood scriptwriter Jay Basu, and Peter Ansorge, former Head of Drama for Channel 4.


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They will also be publishing film reviews written by students on their website next term. Cambridge Creatives can be found on Facebook; on their website, where they post their upcoming events, previous Q&As, and details of their screenwriting competition; and on their YouTube channel.

When asked about the long-term future of the society, Fabienne said: “I think that would be the most exciting thing, if I went back to Cambridge in 10 years’ time and saw that Cambridge Creatives was still running.”