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Ready for a close-up?

Teenagers get in front of and behind the camera at North Lanarkshire's first film, reports Mitchell Miller

Time costs money but even the lowest budget film-makers generally get more than three weekends on location and considerably more than two months to learn the disciplines of their craft.

The first teenagers to join LensHeads, Bellshill Academy Learning Centre's film school initiative, had just eight weeks to master the core skills - script writing, acting, lighting, shooting, editing and post-production - and make three short films.

Lensheads was conceived by Kevin O'Hara and his colleagues at the school's Learning Centre as part of their remit to train in the digital arts and new media. It is the realisation of their ambition to set up a film school for 14- to 18-year-olds in the whole North Lanarkshire area.

Funding was secured only at Christmas time and the spring exams were looming, so the timescale was tight. In February, 14 pupils from eight schools (none of whom had met before) started meeting on Tuesday and Thursday evenings for their first taste of film-making; the sum of their experience beforehand was occasionally holding a camcorder.

Two months later, their families, friends and teachers gathered in Bellshill Academy's assembly hall for the premi re of Carpe Diem. The film boasts an admirably well-developed sense of social surrealism, a Michael Jackson figure worthy of Bo Selecta! and an impressive degree of competence (even audacity) in the skills that Mr O'Hara and the Learning Centre team had set out to teach the LensHeads, and all on a low budget and without dedicated props departments.

Preceding the premiere, a series of short documentary and exemplar films showed the various stages of development they had come through together, rudimentary exercises in photography, storytelling and editing (and impersonating Michael Jackson). As well as technical proficiency, they had to learn to work effectively together, finding their roles and gaining confidence.

With cunning, a healthy degree of invention and close-up camera work, you can achieve convincing results. Carpe Diem is a well photographed and crafted short film, with good visual as well as verbal jokes.

The students admirably captured the spirit of an earlier North Lanarkshire movie mogul and ice-cream shop proprietor, Enrico Cocozza, who used Wishaw as the backdrop for his home-made comedies, gangster flicks and melodramas in the 1950s, shot with an 8mm camera.

Mr O'Hara says the students had to learn through experience the difficulties of the meticulous and complicated process of making a film pixel perfect. Nevertheless, their enthusiasm was rarely dampened and their commitment did not waver.

For the students, the project has not only built up their confidence but also their ambitions; many want to take their studies to the next level.

They have also developed a more professional eye as a result of their experiences. "It's changed how we watch films," one notes. "Now we can see how they were made and what tricks they're using - and ones that we used."

Mr O'Hara's grin shows his satisfaction with his students' achievements.

But next time he hopes to have more than eight weeks to complete the course.

www.thelearningcentre.orglensheads

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