There is no doubt that Covid-19 has had a catastrophic impact on the creative sector.
The industry has halted the production of many films around the world, both large and small scale, and forced everyone to consider the future of film making and reimagine the opportunities.
The most daunting prospect is that it might not go back to ‘normal’, especially for those big budget large-scale productions such as ‘Outlaw King’ and ‘Outlander’, which have a fantasy, semi-mythical story with hundreds of extras and a huge crew.
However, it is not all doom and gloom; I see this as an opportunity. I am one of several film makers and producers with an audacious vision to build a motion picture industry in the region and create feature films for global audiences.
Working together, we can craft a contemporary new narrative about who we are, showing the diverse, multi-cultural society we live in, that is beyond the kilts, battles and castles. It is time to focus on the growth of smaller scale productions that tell the stories of Scotland in an authentic way. Not only is there is an abundance of great authentic stories across the Highlands and islands just waiting to be told, Scotland is largely a freelance screen workforce and we are well used to adapting the essential skills needed to work in this competitive field.
With the current challenges to usual face to face interactions, producers now must look to new methods of film production. There is an urgent need for digital creativity, using innovative ‘virtual techniques’ and post-production solutions.
‘The Future of Film’ report published by King’s College London earlier this year placed emphasis on the future of film being inclusive, sustainable and ready to reward innovation and creativity. With working remotely becoming more widely accepted and the gap between professional and amateur technologies closing, there is potential for more economically viable and environmentally sustainable film making post pandemic.
We do make films in Scotland. There are some truly skilled film makers in our region with multi-disciplinary skill sets that are bringing together diverse worldviews and perspectives to educate, inform and entertain through film.
The Highlands and islands has been my home for over 25 years, and from this stunning location I successfully run a production company, lead the Contemporary Film Making degree programme at the University of the Highlands and Islands and I continue to work for national and international broadcasters as well as film, theatre and radio production.
These are challenging times for the creative industries, however during the pandemic I have been fortunate to be able to continue to collaborate remotely with another film maker and a producer based in the south of England, on the adaptation of a novel, set in the Highlands, for a screenplay.
With my partner Ali Murray, our film production company ‘bigboxnetwork, based in Caithness, has retained its schedule of feature films in development and for production. All the films are based on narratives from the Highlands, and we shall begin filming on location in the far north this October. The need to work with actors and crew in a safe working environment will be facilitated by deploying a very small film crew, with two performers working in a socially distanced manner.
Having originally trained as an actor/director and obtaining my degree in Theatre at Dartington College of Arts, I benefited greatly from working with many touring theatre companies and theatre makers. I am extremely passionate about nurturing autonomous film makers of the future and have been fortunate to be involved in the development of the BA (Hons) Contemporary Film Making programme at North Highland College UHI.
It is important to provide our learners with a solid understanding of the practical application of narrative storytelling through moving image and sound, plus equip them with the skills they need to operate globally and adapt to ever changing environments.
I am proud that in its first intake the programme has attracted students from all over the world. We currently have students on the degree programme from South America, Poland, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Italy and France as well as students from the Highlands and throughout Scotland and the UK which has put the Highlands and Islands of Scotland on the map for film education.
This is the first film course of its kind in the UK to be delivered in this way and I often have industry contacts and universities asking ‘how is it possible?’, especially now due to the issues caused by the pandemic.
The University of the Highlands and Islands has the experience, knowledge and practical skills to deliver the course in this fashion having been delivering a personalised learning experience to our students for over 20 years. The teaching approach combines the use of online technologies with real time support and some face to face teaching opportunities, which means that our students can access the programme from wherever they are in the world.
Students are challenged to be self-critical when looking at their own practice and that is not always easy. Reflecting on what was a challenging final academic session with the suspension of face-to-face teaching and several students having to cancel their shoots, it also provided learning identical to industry.
Whilst several students had shot some of their work and were able to complete their films, for others they had to change their projects and complete the work in a lockdown environment, not always possible for a narrative that includes several characters and a site-specific location.
However, like everyone else, we have made the best of the situation and adapted where possible and we were delighted that so far, some of our students in our first graduation class achieved first class honours, producing work of exceptional scope, quality and entertain.
Keep watching the end credits for the next wave of talented film and screen makers – home grown in our region, entertaining the crowds and sharing the unique stories of Scotland in their own distinctive ways.
Charlie Wilson is the programme leader of the BA (Hons) Contemporary Film Making University of the Highlands and Islands and is a director at bigboxnetwork.