Friday, 26 October 2012

#FINDOUTFRIDAY with...Rebecca Amissah!

Have you missed us?!

Back for the next cycle after a brief hiatus, #FindOutFriday and Yours Truly return with a feature that's been a long time in the planning...

In this week's hotseat is a multi-talented young female on a dedicated path that differs from the typical. I first met her wearing her 'Singing Hat'; but was pleasantly surprised to learn about her day job. Entirely by chance, I discovered that she was a key team member of the Art Department staff from some of my (and your) favourite sets in Music, Film and Television history - who knew?!

So that's the singing thing, the prop-making...OH and she just so happens to have come up with the brainchild for a course or few, designed to bolster the self confidence of those too shy to step out into the spotlight - you might even be familiar with a few of her trainees...

Meet Miss Rebecca Amissah...

Hi Rebecca, welcome to #FindOutFriday! Pleasure to get a long overdue chat under my belt, so I’ll get straight down to it!

1. The reason I wanted to get you into the hotseat when we first spoke early in the year, is because you represent an area that we've yet to delve into on the blog; can you explain exactly what 'Technical Art' is, in layman’s terms and how you got into it?

Rebecca Amissah
Hello, thanks for asking me! My degree was in Technical Arts and Special Effects. But the types of jobs I got after I graduated are better defined as Technical Arts. I went on to make props and dress the sets for music videos, documentaries, short films, TV programmes, theatre and feature films. I also worked in prop houses including Madame Tussauds.

I loved to make things as a child and have always had a very strong artistic streak in me, but it did not occur to me that I could turn this into a career until I was studying for my A-levels. I went to an art fair in Brighton and it showed all the different types of jobs you could do in the realms of art and I fell in love with Special Effects. I applied and got into the London College of Fashion; did an Art Foundation course and then went onto study for my degree at Wimbledon School of Art.

2. Now I obviously first met you in connection with your singing, but it was that portfolio you showed me that blew me away. Can you talk me through the film and TV projects you've been involved in, what you actually produced for them and how you went about it?

This Madame Tussauds replica is web famous
in more ways than one...
Thank you! Anyone in any creative industry will tell you, that apart from talent you need to be in the right place at the right time; well I am no exception. My first job, through a friend from University; was for Andy Kelly (who has gone on to become a fantastic Art Director). He needed an extra pair of hands and I was available...I was the Art Department Assistant on a Roni Size music video. I made a good impression on the team and went on to work with Ollie Williams (now a top Production Designer) over my summer holidays, working on videos such as Louise Redknapp’s 'Pandora’s Kiss', Sophie Ellis Bextor’ 'I Won’t Change You' and Liberty X’s 'Jumping'. I then worked with the BBC on a TV series called Rome and made an impression on the then Art Director (now a leading Production Designer), Richard Bullock, who continued to ask me to work with him on feature films where he was the Production Designer; such as both Streetdance 3D and Horrid Henry

3. You had a job with a very reputable company last time we spoke; how easy a sector of the Industry was it to break and what was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

It’s a very hard industry to crack and a lot of people that I know, have gone on to pursue slightly different avenues. You need to live the job, the hours take over your life and they can infringe on your personal life massively - but it’s a lifestyle choice. I guess the biggest obstacle to overcome is looking for the next job. You need to stay positive and focused, in my opinion, the current economic conditions have made it more important to have transferable skills so you can apply for a wider spectrum of creative jobs.

4. Which is harder to create for, Screen or Theatre and in what way?

I don’t think one is ,harder than the other really. It all depends on the budget and what either the audience or the camera will see. With a big budget you can labour over the finish of the product and use the top materials, which can be quite satisfying. With a small budget, you have to get creative and think on your feet, which is just as enjoyable because it pushes you.

5. I know that you take inspiration from all forms of Art; can you give me some influences for the props and sets that you build?

Whether you are on set or in the studio, you are following a brief from the Director or the Designer, to help a vision come alive. I have been extremely lucky that the Designers and Art Directors I have worked for, have given me artistic licence. My skills and input have been trusted. A way to gain a continual source of inspiration is by creating mood boards and style bibles that are constantly referred to. It’s a good way to fully immerse ourselves in the world we are trying to create.

In my own work I am very interested in drawing from my Ghanaian heritage. One of my sculptures was a fusion of Greek classical sculpture and Black Urban culture, so I took inspiration from the 'classic' pose and gave the sculpture African features and ‘low riders’ i.e. baggy jeans.

'Size Hero' by Rebecca Amissah
Another piece I did was whilst on holiday there, I called ‘Size Hero’ I was struck by the contrasting cultural ideals of beauty of women and their bodies. Whilst in Ghana, it felt so liberating not to be surrounded and bombarded by androgynous images of hipbones and vertebrae. The promotion of natural curves of the African women inspired this piece.

6. What’s the hardest lesson you've learned so far and how do you apply it to the next project build?

I guess for me the hardest lesson to learn has been that however closely you work with people, not everyone is your friend. For whatever reason, some people make life difficult. Maybe the competitive nature of the job is a factor. For this reason you have to believe in what you do and keep learning to stay ahead so you don't second guess yourself and fall into a trap of self doubt and inferiority, which I have seen happen. That’s the nasty side of the business. I once worked with someone who made life so difficult;  after a few weeks they said: "Have I put you off the industry yet?" In their own way, they thought they were trying to help me! At the end of the job they congratulated me on being so strong. That kind of pressure could have ended my career, had I not been so determined and focused on my own bigger picture.

7. What’s the most fun you’ve had on a set? What happened?

This is a difficult one as each job has its own special tales. I have been lucky enough to work with some great teams. But I guess you never forget your first. I had a great amount of fun on the music videos I worked on I still love being on set when everything is going on...

On the Streetdance sets it was incredible to watch the professional dancers do their thing. On Horrid Henry it was great to be on set with Anjelica Houston; as Addams Family was a childhood favourite, but my funniest memory was on the Liberty X shoot when I was painting the glass-panelled box that Michelle Heaton gyrates in. As the music was playing back for another scene I was dancing in the box and lip-syncing away with a hadn't noticed that one of the directors had clocked me! It was SO embarrassing, but all good fun. I guess that was the performer in me dying to come out!

8. 'Technical Art' seems to have taken a bit of a backseat now, due to all of your other projects. Let’s talk briefly about your singing career; you describe it as your 'First Love' and I happen to know through our shared history, that you've sung with a lot of big names! Who was a standout for you and why?

You say "back seat", but in fact I am fusing the two! The technical art will be very present in my stage shows, which I am very excited about unveiling next year, so watch this theatrical space!

Rebecca rockin a Mic...

I have been lucky enough to sing backing vocals for Omar and had studio singing sessions with Basement Jaxx. I have toured with Sona Jobarteh and I would say she has been a standout for me, as she is a female virtuoso Kora player - which is traditionally taught and played by the males in the family. She sings in many West African languages and the music is so rich and inspiring. During the last gig we did, she was 8 months pregnant and put on a fantastic show, during which her son came onstage and performed with us too. It was great to see her combine motherhood with her music career.

9. 'My Time to Shine' was an inspired idea of yours. Please explain its history, purpose and where you're hoping to go with it, for the readers...

My 'Time to Shine' was born out of the need for ordinary people who have a passion for singing but have let lifestyle or lack of confidence get in the way of their dream. I was meeting a lot of people who felt they had missed the boat, because they weren't 'signed' at 16 and I felt it was the wrong message.

If you have a passion, age has nothing to do with when you should do something about it. 

So I set up a series of workshops, guiding people through performance and vocal techniques and giving them the opportunity to be 'seen' by their friends and family, performing with a live band in a classy London venue. It’s in its second year and I am very proud of the difference it has made to people’s lives. A few of the graduates found the courage to audition for 'The Voice' which is a massive step, considering how shy they were before coming to me. The next programme will be taking place in 2013.

10. Lastly, even though Summer is technically over...let’s relive it for a moment - you have a family of Olympic and Paralympic performers in your household; how did that come about?

I was lucky enough to be involved and selected for the NHS section of the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games and my youngest sister was selected for the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games. It was easily one on the highlights of this year and will take a while to beat!  It was such a buzz to perform in front of the 80,000 people in the stadium, as well as the world at large...The atmosphere was incredible and I am very proud to have been a part of it; I even got a letter from the PM - I made London 2012, lol! :)


I want to take this opportunity to say a massive Thank You to Rebecca for taking part. It's always an honour to feature underground talent; but it's especially inspiring to talk to a young female who is so dedicated to giving back. 'My Time to Shine' is a hugely important scheme that you should absolutely look out for more on, as soon as the information is released in 2013.

In the meantime, let Rebecca know your thoughts and comments directly via her Social Media Catalogue...

Learn more about the next 'My Time to Shine' workshop by connecting via the Passion Arts Website...

And in case you've forgotten because of our little hiatus, Sharing is welcomed around these parts - it's how we know you care!

Thanks for reading and see you soon...
ES ;o)