Six promising film and TV producers, directors and writers were given an in-depth look at the industry recently during a Young Films Foundation residency in Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.
Taking placed at Ionad Iain Nobail and the Fas studios, the programme gave the participants one-to-one mentoring from some of the most experienced operators in TV, including former head of drama at Channel 4, Beth Willis; Chase Robinson, vice president of production at Canal Productions ; Wendy Mitchell, former editor of Screen International; and Liz Lewin, commissioning editor at Sky’s drama department and executive producer of sit-com ‘Derry Girls’.
On Friday, the Free Press was invited to spend the day with the participants who were treated to a detailed conversation between screenwriter Francesca Gardiner – whose credits include ‘Killing Eve’ and ‘The Night Manager’ – and Chris Young, founder of Young Films and producer of ‘The Inbetweeners’ and Gaelic drama ‘Bannan’.
Ms Gardiner is currently working on a series derived from Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy and was due to submit a script for an episode on Wednesday of this week, with a read-through by the actors scheduled for next Wednesday. Her big break, she told Chris Young, came when she was a runner for the BBC on a programme that Frank Spotnitz, a writer on the science fiction series ‘The X Files ‘, was hired to work on. This was Ms Gardiner’s first experience of the American ‘Writers’ Room’ style of script development, where six or seven writers work 9-5 every day in the same room for months on end, under the watchful eye of a ‘showrunner’ – the writer in ultimate charge.
That programme was cancelled but Mr Spotnitz then asked Ms Gardiner to work on the TV series of the successful film ‘Transporter’.
She added: “I had to learn how to write an action script, and now I relish writing action.”
She said the ‘Writers’ Room’ concept hasn’t really taken off in the UK, mainly because of the money it takes to employ so many writers, including a showrunner, for so long. It can be an “exhausting and demoralising” process, she said, and her own preference would be for a less structured working week. Advice for screenwriters included the need to have an active (not passive) protagonist, how to use silence, and how to write a strong antagonist.
During the week, the participants in the residency had several ‘Bannan’ actors on hand to help interpret their short film scripts, which were shot in the Fas studio and edited by BBC Scotland’s post-production editor David Woods. In October, the participants will get a chance to pitch their ideas to BBC Scotland’s commissioning executive Gavin Smith.
The six selected to take part in the residency were John Murdo Macaulay, Daisy Costello, Emma Lennox, Omar Raza, Ali Taylor and Michael Lee Richardson.
Mr Macaulay, from Point in Lewis, works for Stornoway-based Corran Media and hopes to produce/direct an adaptation of Donald S Murray’s novel about the Iolaire disaster ‘As the Women Lay Dreaming’.
He added: “We are trying to figure out the best approach to tell the story on screen – which is what I hope to get out of this week – and then we will try to find a writer. Once we find one, we will start to look for development funding.”
Isabel Davis, executive director of Screen Scotland, was delighted to be on Skye supporting the programme. She said: “We have committed to this residency as a funder and also as a strategic partner as we are helping choose the participants. The panel, which includes the broadcasters Film 4 and BBC 4, select the most promising people and the people who we think will get the most out of the week.
“They are selected on the basis of having a project that will benefit from having this week with a range of mentors who are brought in from the industry. It’s about pulling through people who are new to the business, who are showing promise and exposing them to the industry in a way that is very supportive.”
Chris Young was pleased that this year’s residency was even better than last year’s pilot.
He added: “The projects were stronger across the board and the marked progress and development of each project and each participant across the week was palpable. We have found our stride with the programme in creating a context in which ideas, stories and scripts can truly flourish.
“We have also built on the huge success of last year in bringing exciting new talent into direct contact with established high profile film and TV producers, directors and writers, candidly sharing their insight and experiences from hit shows and films like Derry Girls, Killing Eve, The Inbetweeners, Silver Linings Playbook, Wild Rose, Kiri, National Treasure, Wuthering Heights and of course our very own Bannan.
“And to have new head of Screen Scotland Isabel Davis join us as well as partners from Film4, BBC Films, Channel 4, BBC Alba and HIE brought home the importance of this event for the future of Scottish film and TV. It feels like we have started something now which will run and run.”
Written by Michael Russell