Students and graduates from the University of South Wales Film and TV School have worked in a wide range of roles on the production of the new season of acclaimed Netflix drama, Sex Education.
First aired in January last year, Sex Education focuses on the issues facing a group of teenage classmates as they navigate high school, tackling all aspects of sexuality with a refreshing frankness and humour.
Filming for season 2 took place across South Wales during the summer of 2019, predominantly in Caerleon, with other locations in Cardiff, Newport and the Wye Valley.
After a number of successful graduate placements on season 1 during 2018, production company Eleven Film arranged for 18 work placements for USW Film & TV School Wales (FTSW) graduates across the whole production – including costume, art, camera, sound and other areas – with many lasting several weeks. During the production, several trainees went on to longer term roles, and a number have since gone on to work on other Netflix series.
Current FTSW students also secured a number of short-term unpaid placements, whilst a number of USW Drama and Performance students found themselves on-screen roles as extras or in minor speaking parts.
Tom Ware, Director of Production & Performance at USW, said: “We’re thrilled that, once again, students from our Creative Industries courses were able to gain invaluable experience both in front of and behind the camera on the second season of this brilliant drama.
“With more than 20 graduates from our Film & TV School courses working in roles across the production, as well as actors from our Performance courses appearing on screen, it’s a joy to see so many of our most talented students be given an opportunity to be part of this production.
“We’ve loved working with both Eleven Films and Netflix and look forward to
building closer ties with both as part of our bigger ambition to provide clear
and sustainable progression routes for young people into the Wales film &
Andy Wain BA Film graduate Andy, 39, worked as a camera trainee on season 2 of Sex Education.It was his first job after studying – starting work on set just a few days after graduating.
Having done some work experience on Doctor Who, Casualty and Keeping Faith, Andy was initially overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the production.
“Sex Education was a whole other level of TV show – definitely a baptism of fire for me,” said Andy.
“There were around 170 locations used for the production, which posed an incredible logistical challenge of moving all sorts of kit.
“At first I felt completely out of my depth, but it wasn’t until my next job that I realised just how much I’d learnt on the series, and how naturally some of the skills were coming to me.”
Andy spent 10 weeks on set as a camera trainee, which involved setting up monitors, making sure batteries were changed, helping to set up for the next scene, among other things.
“I was basically a pair of hands for anything that should need doing,” he said.
Andy came to USW as a mature student, having decided to pursue his dream of working in TV and Film after several years of ‘drifting’ between jobs.
Having made a mockumentary with the help of a friend, he realised that studying
Film was what he wanted to do.
“Studying at the University of South Wales was the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Andy.
“I learnt about Film but also a lot about myself. Having that extra life experience helped me really focus on my goals and realise what I was capable of.
“The facilities are fantastic for Creative students, and to be in the heart of Cardiff was wonderful too. There are so many opportunities here, and I feel as if I’m very much in the right place at the right time.”
Lucas, 21, from Barry Island, is a second-year Theatre and Drama student. He
plays the role of a teenager who has been diagnosed with chlamydia, in season 2
of Sex Education.
Having worked for a short time on season 1 of the comedy drama, he jumped at the chance to join the team again – and this time, to be given a featured role.
“This is by far the biggest series I’ve had the chance to be part of,” he said.
“I’ve been an extra on Casualty, Poldark and Brave New World, but this has been such a fantastic opportunity, especially while I’m still at University.”
And Lucas has acting to thank for helping him overcome a stammer, which he suffered from while at primary school.
“I found that when I was pretending to be someone else, my stammer would disappear, so I owe a lot to drama for allowing me to develop that confidence and realise my potential.”
Of the many memorable moments Lucas has from working on Sex Education, the most surreal was beatboxing with Asa Butterfield, who plays the lead role of Otis, between takes.
“I was just killing time and Asa randomly joined in,” he said.
“It was such a great experience spending time with him and connecting on that level – plus it’s a great story to tell of my time on the show!”
As part of his role, Lucas portrays the experience of a teenager who has been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection while trying to navigate the ups and downs of secondary school.
He said: “It was really important to me that these issues were shown in a sensitive and realistic way. If it helps just one person going through this situation, then the series has done its job.”
Masters student Kay, 21, was a supporting artist on season 2 of Sex Education.
Having graduated from Performance & Media at USW, and returning to study an MA in Drama, the comedy drama series was Kay’s first ever acting role.
Kay, who identifies as non-binary and uses ‘they/them’ pronouns, applied for a role on the show through casting agency Mad Dog 2020 – and was surprised to find that their mobile app was not as diverse as they were expecting when registering as an actor.
“I helped Mad Dog to develop their app so that it included an option to sign up as a non-binary actor,” said Kay, who is originally from Stoke-on-Trent but now lives in Cardiff.
“It’s important to me that organisations, particularly in the creative
industries, are sensitive to transgender issues and treat all performers
After a positive response from the agency, Kay continued their trans-awareness efforts while on set, working closely with the third assistant directors and other members of the crew, who were keen to develop their strategies in providing an inclusive environment.
“When I first started on Sex Education, the production team would organise ‘line-ups’ at the end of the day where, traditionally, women were told to stand on one side of the room and men the other.
“But through being persistent with advising on the appropriate terms, eventually the language was changed to ‘people wearing masculine clothing’ and ‘people wearing feminine clothing’, and later it became groups of the cast, so ‘jocks’, ‘nerds’ and so on.
“It feels so rewarding to have been part of positive changes on this series and, hopefully, elsewhere in the industry.”
Having had their first taste of acting, Kay is now keen to continue in the TV industry alongside their work as a trans consultant.
“Coming to USW was the best thing I could have done, personally and professionally,” they said.
“Cardiff is such a welcoming place to be with so many opportunities. I actually got lost on the way to my audition [to join the course] but I didn’t feel lost. It was like coming home – something I’ve never forgotten.”
Performance and Media graduate Abby, 21, worked as a rushes runner and floor runner on season 2 of Sex Education.
She applied for the role through the University’s creative industries training scheme, which provides placements and paid projects with a range of partner organisations.
Abby, who is from Clevedon, Bristol but regularly works in South Wales, was asked back after having done work experience on season 1 of the popular comedy drama, which first aired on Netflix in 2019.
She said: “A typical day on set involved me waking up at 4am, driving to the main set in Caerleon, collecting the footage from the previous day and driving it to the editing studio on Oxford Street, Central London, then returning the footage to Caerleon so that the team had an empty memory card.
“It was hard work and a lot of hours spent on the M4, but it was also a really varied role as sometimes I would be picking up extra costumes or equipment. Then when I got back to the set at around 11am, I’d have a full day ahead of me as a crowd runner, which involved looking after the background actors and making sure they were in the right places for filming.”
Towards the end of the shoot, Abby was offered a full-time position as a floor runner, which saw her looking after cast members and making sure the production crew had what they needed for the filming to run smoothly.
“I learned so much during my time on Sex Education,” she said.
“I saw how so many different departments worked together, which really helped me to work out where I want to go with my career. It was an amazing experience.”
Abby’s time on the show has brought several more work opportunities, including a stint on fantasy drama series His Dark Materials, which was produced by Bad Wolf for the BBC / HBO.
She added: “Cardiff is such a brilliant hub for media and television, and that
was one of the biggest things that attracted me to the University of South
Wales. My decision to study here has really paid off as I’ve been fortunate
enough to secure continuous work since my degree, and have made so many great
connections and contacts in the industry.”
But these are just two challenges that University of South Wales (USW) graduate Emily Barker tackled when undertaking her first job after studying - working on the second series of South Wales-filmed Netflix hit series Sex Education.
A former pupil of Radyr Comprehensive school, Emily, 25 from Tongwynlais, near Cardiff, studied TV and Film Set Design at USW, graduating last summer. But it wasn’t a traditional route into university life, it was something she undertook after realising her initial choice of career wasn’t for her.
“I wanted to do something creative, and did a diploma in art and design at Coleg Y Cymoedd in Nantgarw, but didn’t think I could make an actual career out of art,” Emily said.
“It seems ridiculous now, but I thought I had to find a ‘proper job’, so I fell into law and got a job as a paralegal and was studying conveyancing. For three years I believed that was my path.
”But after being told by a colleague, who had gone in the opposite direction,
from TV to law, that I should follow my passion, I looked online at what was
available, decided to give up law, and went from there.”
Taking up the TV and Film Set Design degree, Emily learned all the skills she needed to secure a job in her chosen sector, and was offered a job after being pointed towards the Netflix production by one of her USW tutors.
“The lecturer gave the students an email address to forward CVs, five were interviewed, and I got the job from there,” Emily said.
“I was interviewed by the production designer Samantha Harley and supervising art director Samantha Jay Cliff, and showed them my portfolio with examples of my work, demonstrating the skills I developed in university. I worked on the series for six months, finishing in September last year.
“It was a fantastic introduction to the sector. I started as an art department trainee, helping everyone in the art department, doing surveys, draughting, graphics, and model making, using all of the skills I learnt at university.”
One of the more startling parts of Emily’s role was getting involved in the ‘adult’ creations featured on Sex Education – it is, after all, an 18 certificate – which involved drawing intimate body parts.
“My role involved things like drawing and painting body parts - which is something I never expected to do on my first job in TV – as one of the main characters, played by Gillian Anderson, is a sex therapist, and a lot of the décor in her house is based around specific private body parts – I was also drawing sets, making props, and set dressing.
“This was also an amazing opportunity to develop my painting skills, which I'd hadn't had the chance to pursue since leaving college.
“I was also Gillian Anderson’s - who plays Jean - ‘handwriting double’. She’s got a notebook in the series, and I basically had to fill it full of embarrassing problems that the students talked about with her during their sessions. Anything you see on the screen that is her handwriting, was actually written by me replicating Gillian’s handwriting.”
Emily’s skills were also called on to produce drawings that could be used when the construction team made props that are central to the storyline.
“On my first day in the Sex Education I was given a technical drawing to do, which was of Jean’s box, where people write down and put in their sex problems. I’d never drawn anything that was actually made into a prop, so that was amazing.”
Being involved on such a high-profile series could have been quite overwhelming for someone just starting their career, but Emily was not fazed by the challenge, grasping it with both hands.
“There were so many standout moments. I have worked with an amazing team of people, and feel like I suffered heartbreak leaving the people on the show,” she explained. “It was such a great collaboration between so many different people that made the look and feel of the series what it is.
“The actors are all lovely and I got to spend time with them outside of work as well, which was lush.”
Looking to the future, Emily has already secured further work.
“On my last day at Sex Ed I had another job opportunity on a series called Brave New World, and from there I hope the work should continue to flow,” she said.
And, as for the benefits of studying at USW, Emily is keen to see more people
following in her footsteps.
“Everything I learned in university I’ve used so far in the real world. All the skills that I’ve learned have allowed me to be confident in my ability, which I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t come to university,” she explained.
“I believe you should follow your passion, and try not to worry about the future too much. If you're ambitious and passionate about the magical world of TV/Film, you will make a career for yourself.”