Former Suffolk student tells about working on Star Wars, Mr Selfridge and designing sets at Pinewood Studios
16:11 29 January 2016
At just 20-years-old, former West Suffolk College arts student Alex Unsworth has an impressive CV, having recently landed a job designing sets for a horror film after learning his trade on the latest Star Wars movie.
The talented artist, who went to school at Bury St Edmunds St Benedict’s Catholic School, works in art production in both film and TV, including a stint on hit ITV Drama Mr Selfridge.
In the summer of last year he was working alongside the greats of the art production world on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, an “inspiring” experience for Alex, which has now opened the door to his dream career.
“From day one of working on Star Wars I realised this is what I want to do,” he said. “I was an intern, distributing designs and storyboards to the actors, directors and everyone involved on the film.”
Working on a film the size of Star Wars meant Alex, from Thetford, was rubbing shoulders with superstars of the film world, including Daniel Craig, but for Alex the sets on Star Wars were often more impressive than the stars.
He explained: “With the new film they were trying to go back to less CGI and more set design and costume design – it was incredible to be involved in. I even got to walk around the full size Millennium Falcon.
“Working with these people who are at the top of the game with years in the industry was just inspirational. The sets were something else.”
Some of Alex’s encounters with the stars of Star Wars were a little too close. “I was walking between stages,” Alex said. “And as I came out Harrison Ford was driving through and he nearly took me out. It was a surreal, unbelievable, situation to be in.
“A moment that will really stay with me was when the supervising art director on Star Wars and Tim Burton [producer] walked into the studio. The arts director started leafing through my work and really taking an interest.”
After finishing his course at West Suffolk College in 2014, Alex trained at Pinewood under legendary Aliens and Batman art director Sir Terry Ackland-Snow before starting a university course in Norwich, which he has put on hold to work in the film world.
“To be honest, I got more out of my time here [West Suffolk College] than I did at university,” Alex said, after visiting the college to talk to current students yesterday.
Alex admits that the industry is hard one to break in to. He said: “A lot of people are there because their dad’s friend is so and so or they are related to someone big.
“I don’t have that – my mum is a nurse at West Suffolk Hospital and my dad is an engineer in Cambridge. But that also earns you a lot of respect, people know you had to work even harder.”
As for how to get a job in film, Alex’s advice was simple. He said: “You need to make a good cup of tea and work hard. Networking is important so you impress the people you meet. It is as much about who you meet as it is about how good you are as an artist.”
Alex credits his contacts and work on Star Wars with getting him his first big job – storyboarding for a Pinewood Studios horror film that is set for cinema release.
“I can’t say anymore than that,” explained Alex. “Storyboarding is where you sit with the director and help them create the look of the film and each scene.
“Getting this job for me is better than being involved in Star Wars, it will be my own work that will affect the whole movie.”