Young film-makers hit the festival

5th September 1997 at 01:00
The Edinburgh school pupils got themselves into position to interview film-maker Pete Travis. Almost ready to start, the "runner" went off to collect the film-maker, while others adjusted the camera focus and microphone leads. The interviewer stood calmly waiting to get into action.

The pupils were all members of SKAMM - Scottish Kids Are Making Movies, and were making a video about the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where Travis's film, Bill's New Frock, was being shown.

The interviewer, 16-year-old Alan Martin from Portobello High School, stood discretely "off camera" while firing his questions at Travis. "How did you get into film making? What do you feel is important about your film? Would you recommend it for children or adults?" Interview over, Travis said, "Good questions."

Working alongside Alan were Adrian Westaway and Ninian Doff, two 15-year-olds from George Heriot's School, and Lily McNamee, aged 13, of Boroughmuir High. Together they swept off to the next location to catch a few moments of freneticism at the Film Festival's delegates enquiries desk.

Lunch break was coming up but there was still time to collect some more footage. An exclusive reception was on hand and ready to be gate-crashed. "Did you get anything out of that?" I asked when they re-emerged. "Yes, food, " said Adrian.

The team had clearly acquired one of the primary skills of low budget movie-making - freeloading. SKAMM is a limited company which has emerged from three years of campaigning and fundraising, initiated by Edinburgh Filmhouse's education officer Shiona Wood, for a young people's film unit.

Currently running on funds from the Carnegie Trust (Pounds 15,000 over three years) and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Pounds 8,000), SKAMM meets all year round, offering workshops to around 20 Edinburgh school pupils.

It was a particularly dedicated core - the ones that had attended planning meetings and workshops since the campaign for the unit began in 1994 - that were making the Film Festival documentary.

The plan was, in the space of a week, to make a short video in a collage of styles including off-screen interviewing, video diary and fly-on-the-wall footage. Helping the young film-makers was cameraman Iain Riddock, who aimed to pass on what he described as the "social art" of documentary making. That meant a lot of preparatory talk to define what the group wanted to portray.

On the list were film makers (both high and low budget), the festival's atmosphere, its audiences, organisers and acting stars. Answers to questions about censorship were also to be sought. Riddock advised them to pick up tips from the professionals.

The Film Festival shoot is not the first major project for the SKAMM team. With Ninian Doff as director they have, for example, completed a four-minute drama called "Seen Kevin?", which will be screened at the Co-operative Young Film Makers festival in Manchester in October.

Working on a SKAMM movie involves working long hours. It is a small price for the youngsters to pay, however, to have access to tuition and equipment in a field they feel passionate about - and which is likely to throw up satisfying career options. It beats school-based media studies courses hands down, according to Alan Martin. "All you get out of a media studies course is a certificate. You get a film out of this," he said.

The organisers are aware, however, that SKAMM's benefits have so far been limited to Edinburgh pupils. A lottery cash bid is being prepared to enable up to five young people's film units to be established around Scotland.

Fund-raising is a constant challenge to the development of SKAMM. The more people who express an interest in SKAMM, the stronger its clout with funders, I was told.

To find out more about SKAMM, contact Shiona Wood at Scottish Kids Are Making Movies, Filmhouse, 88 Lothian Road, Edinburgh EH3 9BZ, tel: 0131 228 6382.

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