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Olly Ginelli - BA (hons) Film and Moving Image, 2012

Olly Ginelli, a Film and Moving Image graduate from Leeds Beckett University, made the news in 2020 when he surprised his family by performing live on BBC playing the piano, a skill he had learned in secret over the last ten years.

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Man in cap with camera

Olly wasn’t initially intending on going to university and was instead planning on going straight into work and continue his career in dance

He explained: “In all honesty, my mum made me go to university to study. While I was at university I started realising the career lifespan of a dancer wouldn’t take me much past my late thirties, so I slowly started becoming more serious about my degree and a potential career in directing and cutting back on the dance commitments. It was like a long slow divorce for a better relationship that I knew I needed.

“I think the best experience I got from my course at Leeds Beckett was working with other people and the kit. Especially for young men, it’s really important to get over yourself as quickly as you can and stop pretending you know what you’re doing, so that you can start learning and improving your skills.”

During his time at university, Olly started learning the piano after his dad made a bet with him. Olly's creativity led him to document his journey of learning the piano over the next ten years, which came to fruition in ways that he didn’t expect.

“It was a bit of a bet with my dad when he laughed at me for telling him I’d one day learn to play jazz piano. I then went on to learn in secret and documented the whole process. The way that it eventually blew up with the media interest was completely unexpected.”

Olly managed to balance his studies alongside his newfound hobby and after a decade of practice, he was finally able to showcase his talent – and with the impact of the pandemic, his new skill took on another important angle.

Olly explained: “The ability to connect with people remotely using music was heart-warming. Although the bet was with my dad, I decided to surprise my Nana first. The lockdown really affected my Nana negatively, so it was a no-brainer to repurpose the project to lighten her lockdown a bit. It meant a lot to her and she cried quite a bit.

“I could never have guessed I would have revealed the surprise in this way, or that the press coverage would have been this big, it was just luck that the year I chose to finish this project was the year the pandemic hit.”

With Olly’s dad still in the dark, Olly sent a video of him playing for his grandma to the BBC. This then led on to him surprising his dad by playing the piano live on the BBC for his 70th birthday. It went out live to 2.3 million people, reached over ten million on social media, and was featured in the Daily Mail and The Today Show on NBC in America.

Olly has used the creativity he has shown in his piano challenge throughout his career. Olly has spent a decade doing advertising for some of the world’s biggest brands and advertising agencies, along with a selection of music videos. He now specialises in short films and music videos where his creativity thrives.

He explains: “My current role is pitching on music videos and adverts with directors’ treatments, then when winning those pitches and going on to shoot, edit and deliver the final products to those clients. I enjoy this area of film because it is creative and allows me to help make something people will care about.”

Olly’s advice to current students is simple: “Say yes to every single job that comes your way in the first few years after leaving university, even if you take on a full-time job with a production house or diary service. Take on as many side projects as you physically can, ask as many questions as you can, and people will respect you more for your humility and curiosity.

“Make as many mistakes as fast as you can, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking your time is worth more money than the lesson you might learn from taking on a job.”

“Make as many mistakes as fast as you can, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking your time is worth more money than the lesson you might learn from taking on a job.”

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