St Andrews brings film-making to you

Everything you need to make your first film is right here in St Andrews, even your camera is sitting in your back pocket.

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(C) Wikimedia

Film-making is becoming increasingly accessible to all of us. Reaching into our pockets to grab our phones and record the experience we are taking part in now blurs the line between a conscious decision and a reflex. Whether it’s an uplifting moment at a concert, a rarely seen animal crossing our path, or simply our friends doing something crazy, owning a phone provides the opportunity to preserve our memories and perpetuate these moments as mini motion pictures. Being struck by inspiration, pulling out a mobile, choosing a filter and making some last minute edits before hitting upload are an imitation of the first steps of making a real motion picture.

A common misconception about film-making opportunities for students is the need for “proper” equipment. With the most accessible recording device being a phone, this can easily be considered a privilege for a starting point. For owners of more refined devices such as portable sports camcorders or DSLR cameras, there is, of course, a higher chance to manipulate light, capture movement, and record in more extreme locations. However, these aren’t necessary. Experimenting with expensive equipment is similar to earning power-ups in video games – it’s better than square one, but not indispensable in reaching your goal. There are no exclusive requirements to making a movie besides ambition.

But do you need to study film to make a movie? Of course not! Many filmmakers end up in the industry without any prior education in film studies, a prime example being St Andrews alumnus Ian McDiarmid, who studied psychology before moving on to play the Emperor in the Star Wars franchise. If you have an idea, it’s worth bringing to fruition regardless of your experience in film.

However, finding an audience might be a harder task. The search for contests online certainly requires time and effort, but there is plenty out there aimed at amateur filmmakers. Film fests such as the Mobile Motion or the Smartphone Film Festivals accept entries produced entirely with phones. For those aspiring to engage in communal projects, “Shooting People” assembles students and experienced filmmakers in an attempt to provide the necessary collaborative talent for first films. They also organise film contests, and writers can submit their drafts to Script Pitches. There is a regular participation fee of £39.95/year, but students can benefit from the discount of a promo code, which decreases this to £24.95. A similar online community is Hitrecord, which is not exclusive to film-making and accepts submissions of any artistic nature, including music, poetry, singing, graphic design, photography, etc. The company is owned by (500) Days of Summer star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and helps members find the right people for passion projects. Unlike for Shooting Star, there is no required entry fee here.

To narrow down the perspective on film-making opportunities in St Andrews, there are multiple film festivals usually happening early in the second semester. One of these is the Green Film Festival, which is a non-profit, week-long event first organised in 2013. This year’s festival took place between 6 and 13 February, but the committee hosts discussions and debates throughout the year. According to their website, the Green Film events are “targeted toward individuals of all ages, with the hope that they will engage in productive discussion of environmental issues and the ways in which they can be addressed.”

The upcoming Culture Y Film Festival accepts short films that explore the influence of aspects of culture on identity. Films should be five to ten minutes long, and any sort of equipment is permitted to create the projects.

“Culture Y is a film festival dedicated to premièring student-created short films that showcase the diversity and artistic expression of the St Andrews student body”, states the information pack on the team’s Facebook page. With the creative freedom and the communal experience guaranteed by Culture Y, students can find new ways of self-expression as well as forming bonds with others based on mutual interests. The screenings of this year’s entries will take place in April.

A major film-related event in March is the 60-Hour Film Blitz, which encourages participants to create 3-minute short films based on a theme. One of the major attractions of the Blitz is the involvement of Joe Russo, one of the directing brothers behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier as well as Civil War. Russo returns this year to join the jury in selecting the projects that will receive awards in their respective categories, gleefully imitating the Oscars. Kit Klaes, School President of Film Studies, highlights, “It’s a community film festival. We try to emphasise that it’s community-wide because some people think they have to be in film studies, but you don’t even have to be a student, you can just be from St Andrews and get involved.”

Ms Klaes is also a member of the committee behind the Blitz. Directing her attention to the organisation process, she went into detail about why this event is special for aspiring filmmakers in St Andrews. “In the past few years, (…) during the first semester, Robert Burgoyne from the Film Department, Karen [Drysdale], the Department Secretary and I will meet to make sure the dates are booked.

“We try to do it right before the break, then I email out film students to see whether they want to be on the organising team. We always get a very large poll of students that are interested in engaging with it. We start meeting and brainstorming. The past few years we did ‘be inspired by a song’ and ‘be inspired by a painting’, and this year it’s ‘be inspired by a poem.’”

“We think that in the short time frame the films should have some sort of restriction. When you tell people ‘Oh, you can do what you want’, they end up being a little nervous, so this gives them some direction. Two years ago, we had this idea of ‘be inspired by music’ in a way to combine different forms of art and see how they can inspire each other. So this year, the committee decided to do poems because when you read something, there is one way of imagining it in your head, and it’s another way to bring those ideas to life.”

Ms Klaes also addressed the dilemma surrounding equipment. “I think that people sometimes get inside their head, ‘If I don’t have a fancy camera, I can’t make a film.’ Most people will have a phone equipped with some sort of camera, but we do have a list of resources from lighting to cameras and tripods that people can rent.”

“The Department [of Film Studies] has recently developed an inventory of equipment that we purchased last year for the Blitz, and now we have a policy. Students can come for them any time of the year, except for during the Blitz because we need them for it.”

When asked about further possibilities to make films, Kit highlighted an upcoming project led by Bubble TV. “In the past, [Bubble TV] has been more involved with journalism in terms of reporting on events and making videos of events in St Andrews. This year we’re working on a short film; we accept scripts until 1 March. We’re accepting scripts of up to 10 minutes and then we’ll produce one or two.”

And if you’re still in need of inspiration look no further. Check out Sean Baker’s 2015 film Tangerine, shot entirely on an iPhone 5s, or the music video to Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes’ No Love Like Yours, filmed using an iPhone 6s and directed by actress Olivia Wilde. Start small (maybe the memorial to beloved cat Hamish) and who knows where your film-making journey will take you. One thing is certain, St Andrews offers the perfect beginning.

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