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On a roll to big screen debuts

A north-east film festival is the target; learning all the crafts to be a success is the challenge. Judy Mackie reports

In a crowded Aberdeen classroom, a budding young film-maker is giving it his best shot to pitch the storyline to an award-winning Scottish production designer.

"Our film is a fantasy, a spoof of The Lord of the Rings.

There's a genie and an enchanted branch that grows leaves whenever there's danger I There's a big scene where one of the central characters falls through a rickety old bridge but manages to hang on to one of the rotting planks I" Mark Leese, who works in the film and television industry, smiles encouragingly and waits for the conclusion of the magical tale, which has prompted raised eyebrows among others in the room. Then he asks: "Have you thought about how you're going to create all these scenes and special effects?"

The question is welcomed by the S2 Banchory Academy pupil and his production team, triggering an animated discussion about creative ways of working the practical issues posed by the script.

The others at the workshop on short film design - 10- to 18-year-olds from schools and community groups throughout Aberdeenshire - are also eager to participate, having undergone the same process of pitching and discussing the challenges of their scripts. They include several fantasies, a ghost story, a morality tale, a nightmare vision of a nervous breakdown and a love tragedy.

Today the film-makers are all learning the basics of production design, which Mr Leese defines as "creating an environment that performers can believe in and perform in to the best of their ability". Interesting anecdotes, examples from short films - including the BAFTA award-winning Home, which showcases their tutor's settings for a stark portrayal of care in the community - and practical exercises are helping them to understand the key role that props and set design play in adding atmosphere and authenticity.

They learn that even the smallest prop needs to be carefully selected and some must be available in quantity to support the large number of takes that can be required for any scene. They also begin to realise the many different jobs that come under the production design umbrella.

Equipped with fresh insight into the importance of detail, the 11 amateur film companies participating in Aberdeenshire Council's film-making project have passed another milestone in an exciting year-long journey which will conclude in the autumn. By then, the students will also have benefited from professionally-led workshops on storytelling, screenwriting, music composition, art direction, animation, drama, camerawork, lighting and sound production, using equipment and facilities provided by the council's media unit.

From the Mountains to the Sea is a project supported by the Scottish Executive's Excellence Fund. "It's the first initiative of its kind in this part of Scotland," says executive producer of the project Robin Palmer.

"The idea is to explore film structure and to inspire young people from the region's six areas to look at new ways of telling stories and interpreting their ideas using visual language, to reveal the things that are important to them."

Mr Palmer explains that in giving children the experience of working alongside professionals to produce a film that is very much their own, Aberdeenshire's media unit is hoping to generate greater interest and public awareness of film-making as part of the region's culture and history, as well as strengthening its ties with Scottish Screen.

"The whole project is a great educational experience at every stage for both the young people and the adults supporting them," says Olwyn Dester, a development worker with Turriff Area Rural Youth Forum.

TARYF member Amy Kitching, who is 17, says: "We're really enjoying working with the professionals and finding out how things are done in real life.

"It's also good to work with all the other groups and to give and receive feedback as we develop our films."

As well as forming clearly defined production teams, each film company will form an exhibition and distribution team to organise showings at the senior schools for a wide local audience and matinees and question sessions for younger pupils.

For everyone involved, the climax will come in October with the screening of the 10-minute films at the North-east of Scotland Film Festival at the Belmont cinema in Aberdeen.

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