Hollywood cinematographer opens Manchester film school - and gives student £30k bursary

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Fabian Wagner has worked on some of the biggest films and TV series of recent times, including Game of Thrones

A budding film-maker from Greater Manchester has been given a helping hand to break into the industry by an award-winning cinematographer who has worked on a string of major Hollywood and TV projects.

Muhammed Bittaye from Bury has secured a £30,000 scholarship after impressing Fabian Wagner, who has worked on smash hit fantasy epic Game of Thrones.

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Fabian awarded the scholarship as he officially opened Screen and Film School Manchester in the city.

And he decided to give the money to Muhammed after being impressed by his work.

Scholarship recipient Muhammed Bittaye with Screen and Film School Manchester principal David Thompson and Fabian WagnerScholarship recipient Muhammed Bittaye with Screen and Film School Manchester principal David Thompson and Fabian Wagner
Scholarship recipient Muhammed Bittaye with Screen and Film School Manchester principal David Thompson and Fabian Wagner | Screen and Film School Manchester

Who is Muhammed Bittaye and why has he been awarded a scholarship?

Muhammed is originally from The Gambia and, along with his mother and little brother, moved to the UK seven years ago and applied for asylum on their arrival.

They settled in Bury and Muhammed studied at Bury College.

In December, his short film 5 Senses of Black won the Minute Shorts competition.

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And both the quality of his work and the story of his life struck Fabian as he decided to make Muhammed the recipient of his £30,000, three-year Fabian Wagner scholarship.

Muhammed was almost lost for words as he attempted to take in the financial boost.

He said: “Firstly, a huge thanks to Fabian for giving me this opportunity, I am very happy and grateful, and this motivates me to work hard so I can hopefully be able to do the same thing for someone else in the future.

“I still haven’t had a chance to tell my mum, as she’s at work today! I have been in shock all day since finding out. I’ll tell everyone later today, and we’ll celebrate. I’m going to make the most of this opportunity.”

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Muhammed also spoke about his work 5 Senses of Black and his ambitions to put his West African home country on the international cinema map,

Students at staff at Screen and Film School ManchesterStudents at staff at Screen and Film School Manchester
Students at staff at Screen and Film School Manchester | Screen and Film School Manchester

He said: “It’s the type of film-making I enjoy. I always try to put positive messages in my films that can improve peoples lives and motivate them. So even if it’s just one person, I’m happy with that.

“I’ve never seen someone from The Gambia make it in the film industry, so I want to be the first one.”

Fabian also spoke about how he decided Muhammed should receive the scholarship.

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He said: “For years, I’ve tried to give young people opportunities wherever I can. Someone who feels restricted may be inspired to go for it with this scholarship.

“I saw something in Muhammed Bittaye. He has a passion for filmmaking. The list of applications was long and full of talented young students, so settling on a winner was extremely difficult, and I took the final decision seriously.

“Supporting young filmmakers and aspiring cinematographers have long been a passion of mine, so I’m delighted to be giving this opportunity to another fantastic talent in Muhammed.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how he develops and supporting him in whatever way I can in the years to come. I will be there to support Muhammed every step of the way, as will everyone at Screen and Film School Manchester.

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“My advice to Muhammed would be to take everything that he possibly can from the three years with us.”

Who is Fabian Wagner and what is his connection with Screen and Film School Manchester?

Fabian is a leading cinematographer in Hollywood and has worked on Game of Thrones, The Crown, Sherlock, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which have earned him two Emmy nominations.

He is the patron of Screen and Film School Manchester and recently visited to officially open the facility.

Fabian’s career started in the north of England on shows such as Jimmy McGovern’s The Street and The Accused, DCI Banks and Scott and Bailey.

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After officially opening the film school, he led a Game of Thrones interactive workshop, discussing his career and answering questions.

Fabian Wagner cuts the ribbon to officially open Screen and Film School ManchesterFabian Wagner cuts the ribbon to officially open Screen and Film School Manchester
Fabian Wagner cuts the ribbon to officially open Screen and Film School Manchester | Screen and Film School Manchester

Asked what makes a student successful in the film industry, Fabian said: “There’s no one path to follow. There are many different ways to achieve what you want to do. It’s about staying true to yourself and collaborating with as many people.”

The first-year students then watched a Game of Thrones scene before Fabian invited them to take roles behind and in front of the camera to replicate the scene with Game of Throne props from Stockyard North.

Fabian Wagner leading an interactive workshop based on Game of ThronesFabian Wagner leading an interactive workshop based on Game of Thrones
Fabian Wagner leading an interactive workshop based on Game of Thrones | Screen and Film School Manchester

Fabian guided students through how to use the film school’s equipment to maximum effect along with his long-time gaffer James Bridger.

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College principal David Thompson said: “It’s so exciting for Muhammed and all our students to have Fabian Wagner as a patron. He is at the top of his game.

“Fabian was incredibly giving with his time and agonised over his decision to receive his scholarship. He’s also keen to support the other shortlisted candidates wherever he can over the coming years.

“These are inspiring times indeed for our Manchester students. Students want the industry to teach them and be introduced to industry contacts, which happened with Fabian and James.”

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