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My work experience story – Elle Mikkola, Downton Abbey

Highclere Castle, Hampshire, UK
Highclere Castle, Hampshire, UK
EMily M Wilson (EMily M Wilson (Photographer) - [None], England, Hampshire. 2 May 2017. Highclere Castle. Jacobethan style country house, seat of the Earl of Carnarvon. Setting of Downton Abbey.
Written by
Sophie Kassay
Published date
11 December 2018

Second year BA Production Arts for Screen student, Elle Mikkola, recently undertook work experience on the television show ‘Downton Abbey’, where she worked mainly on prop making.

We spoke to Elle about her experience of working on a television set, how her course prepared her for the role and what she is enjoying most about studying at Wimbledon.

Can you tell us about your experience of working on Downton Abbey?

I found out about the opportunity through university. Our course leader, Kerry sent out an email to all the students letting us know about it and I replied to her right away. Afterwards I actually emailed her a second time letting her know that I really wanted to do it because I thought it would be so beneficial for me. I think she noticed my enthusiasm so offered me the opportunity!

I did six days in total; 10 days is the maximum that you can intern for free. I started out just doing one day but they asked me to come back the following week, which was really nice. We worked from 9am until 5pm, which was great because they really respected that we were giving our time for free so they never asked us to stay longer than that.

I mainly worked on prop-making or cleaning and polishing the set and props. Interns don’t have much responsibility but it was still fantastic to see the sets and how an art department works. Sometimes we would work on just one prop for multiple days, and it would only be used in the show for a couple of seconds. It’s amazing how much work goes into making sets and props for a period TV show.

Set model of a paper girl standing in front of a window
Set model created by Elle Mikkola

Do you think the skills you’ve learned on the course equipped you to work on a real TV set?

A lot of what I’ve learned on the course was very useful. Especially now that we are in second year and we are working on an art direction project, so we are doing lots of technical drawings and model making. As I was working with the art director on Downton Abbey, I got to see their own technical drawings and it gave me a lot of insight into what actually goes on in an art department.

Is there anything that surprised you about working on a TV show of this size?

I’ve done quite a lot of work experience and it’s always very different. I think what surprised me was how relaxed the crew were. I thought it would be more of a high-stress environment but everyone was really chilled out and cracking jokes, so that was a bit surprising.

I’ve done lots of work experience in Finland, where I’m from, mostly working in costume. Here in London, I have worked on music videos and commercials. I hope to get to work on a large-scale feature film sometime in the near future.

A still featuring a woman all in white, wearing in a big white hat sitting in front of a dinner table in the woods.
A still from Lxandra’s music video ‘Dig Deep’, designed by Elle

What have you enjoyed most about the course so far?

I really enjoy how technical it is. You have to know everything about how things are being built, what kind of materials you will use and then also you need to understand stories, characters and history, which is my favourite part.

What are you working on at the moment as part of your course?

It’s a bit like inverse engineering, so we take a film set from any film of our choosing and investigate how the set was built and the dimensions. Then you have to make a technical drawing and a white card model of the set, and also create it in AutoCAD and SketchUp. The film I’ve chosen is ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’. I thought it would be simple because it’s a small set, but it’s so wonky! Every wall is at a strange angle. It’s been quite a challenge.

A technical drawing for the film ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’
Elle’s technical drawing for the film ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’

What is your dream career after you graduate?

I know in the film industry there is quite a strict hierarchy, so I’m aware I need to start from the bottom and work my way up. If you want to make your own designs, it can take a while to get there. It would be amazing someday to be the head set designer on feature films. But after I graduate, I’d like to focus on smaller projects that I could design myself, like music videos for example.

I’m not sure yet if I will go back to Finland after I graduate or stay in London. There’s so many good opportunities here, but then it’s easy for me in Finland because I have a lot of contacts there. Who knows? I wouldn’t mind travelling back and forth between the two for work.

You can find out more about Elle and her work by visiting her website.

Learn more about studying BA Production Arts for Screen at Wimbledon College of Arts.