ZTE Media celebrates one-year anniversary after forming to help online drama groups to carry on creating
Adoption, immigration, falling in and out of love and the joys and perils of growing older are just a few of the subjects tackled by a group of local writers and actors.
Former headteacher and actor Graham Tyrer, writer and researcher Nick Le Mesurier, director Pam Hickson and actor Laura Hayward began working together during lockdown.
Unable to meet in person and with all the town’s theatres and local drama groups closed, they turned to video calls, mobile phones, Facebook and YouTube to write, act and edit a series of short films.
One year on, Hickson (ZTE Media) has its own YouTube channel, has screened almost 300 hours of work and chalked up more than 5,000 views.
A year ago, when the not-for-profit project launched, Graham had no idea how to upload videos to YouTube, let alone set up a channel.
“We’ve had to teach ourselves all sorts of new techniques and skills and have encouraged each other to try different technologies that might make a piece more interesting,” he said. “Nick’s been very inventive and has started using green screens.”
He added: “It’s amazing how many royalty free videos for background and music for soundtracks are available online and we’ve learned that you don’t need a £10,000 camera to make a great film.”
The team mainly film on smartphones and edit on laptops and although they began making 20-minute videos, they’ve found that five minutes or less goes down far better with audiences.
Some of the stories they screened that came out of the pandemic were about people feeling trapped in their homes or marriages, or coping with serious medical conditions during lockdown.
In a piece about a character searching for his birth family, Graham drew on his own experiences of being adopted as a child. He wrote about discovering his birth mother was one of more than a million Poles deported from Soviet-occupied Polish territories during the Second World War and banished to concentration camps in Siberia.
Nick wrote about the challenges of adapting to life after prison, drawn from his experiences of mentoring former prisoners.
For those who love the classics, there’s also a series of five-to-ten minute videos which include extracts from Shakespeare, Marlowe and Ovid.
What started as a local project for a few friends has grown to a team of 18, after contacts in other parts of the country liked what they saw and asked if they could get involved.
The YouTube channel has even attracted viewers from the US and India and has led to ZTE working with an Italian-based community group Persona Theatre.
“We want to tell real stories for real people from our hearts and some of the pieces we do would probably not be commercial enough for another medium,” Graham explained.
“None of us are big fans of committees or meetings or minutes, we just love telling stories. The lovely thing about this group is it’s more a case of ‘Ooh, I’ve got an idea…’ and you can film it in your own house, garden or street.”
Graham, 61, who lives near Stratford with his 15-year-old daughter Keira and is involved with several Stratford-based community theatre groups including the Bear Pit, Second Thoughts and The Loft, says he’ll continue both digital and real-life writing, acting and directing.
ZTE, which releases a new story about once a fortnight, is always open to new talent. And writers who don’t want to perform their own work needn’t worry.
“We can always provide actors to perform pieces – we actors will read a phone book if there’s an audience - or even if there isn’t,” Graham joked.
The team also produce regular podcasts but rather than chasing celebrities, he says they prefer to hear about people’s everyday lives and experiences.
“Each one of us has stories about ourselves that are incredible and so much more bizarre than anything in Shakespeare. His plots are tame compared to the lives of some of the people who sit next to us on a bus,” he added.