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Be different, make a film

Media access centres across Scotland give everyone a chance to be a shining light in the silver screen industry, says Mitchell Miller

A few years ago if you asked a child to name a film director the likely answer would have been Steven Spielberg. Fans of Star Wars might have said George Lucas, but after that it was likely to be a struggle to come up with any more names.

Nowadays, children will not only tell you that Peter Jackson was the director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but they will also cite all of the main characters.

Seeing what can be, and often is, achieved on the silver screen makes a career in the film industry a popular and appealing choice. And thanks to the advent of digital video cameras, gaining hands-on experience of film-making has never been easier.

In Scotland, the staff and members of the country's media access centres are important to the wide appreciation of film as a craft and the development of creative potential. The centres share a common, very simple mission: to provide access for all to moving image technology.

"They give a voice to the marginalised and boost the confidence of young people for whom the traditional school programme hasn't worked," explains Paul Ryan of the Edinburgh Mediabase. "They also offer an alternative to the film school approach, offering those who can't afford to go to film school the chance to make their name."

Mediabase and its Glasgow counterpart G-MAC are particularly well-known and respected as industrial and educating centres, but media access centres can also be found in Aberdeen (Peacock Visual Arts), Brechin in Angus (ADMC) and Glenrothes in Fife (MI MAC).

What is exciting for the beginner is the opportunity to mix with and learn from experienced film-makers who also use the facilities. For Mr Ryan, getting young people involved is crucial. "We exist to help develop the next generation of film-makers and digital artists in Scotland, through educational and training projects that inspire young people, give them practical experience and hone their skills," he says.

One of the educational projects is First Light, a National Lottery funded Film Council initiative that aims to inspire young people to make films reflecting the diversity of their lives. More than 500 films have been produced over the past three years, two of which were led and supported by Mediabase.

One of them, The Babysitter's Worst Nightmare, a gory, special effects laden confection, won the best horror film accolade last year at the annual First Light awards ceremony held in London. After that experience, many of the young people involved went on to train at Mediabase and produce their own short films.

Mr Ryan firmly believes in the benefits to children of exploring their creativity, but concedes: "Of course, worthwhile effects need not mean worthy films. To get kids interested in film-making you need to let them make the sort of movies they would watch themselves, even if this means - and it normally does - a cocktail of slasher flicks centred around firearms and the loss of limbs. Pushing kids to make films that their parents would like to see them make denies them the chance to find their own voice."

In Glenrothes, the same ethic led to a successful collaboration between the Moving Image Media Access Centre and Burntisland Primary as part of the First Light initiative. Teacher Liz Whatmore is a MI MAC regular and this was her third film, but the first for the P4 children, who conceived the plot as a way of promoting the school garden.

No gore here, but a cocktail of animation, Oor Wullie patois and garden wildlife. Two snails, one French, the other Scottish, armed with a Stoor-Sooker and a flying lettuce, go in search of some missing objects from a famous painting. Such a fun storyline has proved immensely popular.

Ms Whatmore is passionate about the importance of creativity in school. "If we don't tap into it, we're going to lose it," she says. "Every child has a creative spark."

The project had unexpected benefits, she noted. Children who had been restless and difficult in class found themselves engrossed in the process of making a film, for which collaboration, compromise and supporting others is essential.

Ms Whatmore, who is completing research for the General Teaching Council for Scotland on the moving image in education, is now looking forward to a new class of P4s who can expect to be shouting "Cut" at some point over the next year. Any teacher interested in following her example need only contact their nearest media access centre.

"Every city and every town in the country should have an open access film centre where young people can try their hand at making a film, just as wannabe footballers have their local amateur club where they can learn their craft," says Mr Ryan, "because film-making is a craft, like any other, and people need a place to learn it that has the tools to work with - and that's where we come in."

For details of media access centres see

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