Screen Academy Scotland

By Pepe Petos, Lili Sandelin, Hermann Karlsson, Mattias Karlsson, Damian Wood, Paul Gray, Lin Anderson, Catriona Craig, Kelly Neal, Astrid Bussink, Joseph N Feltus and Neil Gillies

river-child-damian-wood-2.jpgRiver Child, 2007


This issue, Learning Curve welcomes the students from Screen Academy Scotland. Up there in the north, they prepared the content for the following pages. With a significant emphasis on practice, their writings not only reflect on what a film school is and should be, on student’s achievements and their own practices, but crucially on what it means, and how to imagine, new British films and new futures.

The response from students to our brief has been plentiful: so much so, that many articles and other submissions had to be left out, however their message about new films being made and new contexts being set transpires clearly. Now, critical discussion must follow.

Thanks to all,

Pepe Petos,

Section Editor


I feel that British filmmakers are still making films for the funders (for example, UK Film Council and Scottish Screen) rather than because they are passionate about a particular subject. A lot of feature films are cliché ridden purely because funding bodies seem to fund certain stories over others. From a foreigner’s point of view, Scots seem to suffer from alcoholism, poverty and drugs; Middle England is full of gangsters, dysfunctional families and working class values; and the Home Counties sell an outdated view of cream teas, thatched roofs and stiff upper lip humour.

But we may be starting to see two ways of making films in the UK. There is the established way of the bigger production companies where a handful of people are developing most of the bigger budget UK films, and as a work environment alienating women, ethnic minorities and those not from middle class backgrounds. This seems to be the model that new and emerging production companies follow.

But a younger generation used to mobile technology, the internet as a marketing tool, and making do with ultra-low budgets, is slowly starting to bring out exciting feature-length projects. At the moment, a large proportion of these films are made in the developing film markets (for example, Far East Asia, South America and Africa). It would be interesting if the UK film schools started to support the making of longer projects through this guerrilla way of filmmaking instead of continuing the tradition of short films featuring stereotypical Britishness.

Lili Sandelin
Producer, MA/MFA Advanced Film Practice

dog-hermann-karlsson.jpgDog, 2008


A mixture of 2D computer-drawn animation and painted-cell animation, written, directed and animated by Hermann Karlsson with music by: Matt Elliot.

Dog is a narrative film with the text and imagery running in parallel. Most often I get my ideas from everyday life events or texts of some kind, but I love seeing a good film or a quirky animation.

Hermann Karlsson


I would like to see the Screen Academy Scotland becoming a hybrid between a traditional film school and a local production base where ex-students and local filmmakers could feel comfortable working together with the current students. This would allow for a rare dialogue between professionals and students, as well as potentially a very rewarding mentoring system. The jump from being a film student to getting your first job outside would also be made a little easier by making meaningful contacts throughout the time spent at the Academy.

Lili Sandelin


Writer Lin Anderson, Producer Mattias Karlsson and Director Damian Wood in conversation about their short film collaboration River Child

Lin: The idea for River Child was inspired by a real life account of a woman who had saved a drowning baby from a weir when she was a child herself. The experience affected her deeply and changed her view of life. I wrote the screenplay as an exercise never dreaming it would be made. Thus I visualised the story without worrying about how such visuals might be realised (and paid for).

Damian: I met Linda and told her I wanted to make the film. We decided to go ahead and further develop the script and see if we could persuade Mattias to come onboard as producer. When he finally said yes, it turned it into a live project.

river-child-damian-wood-4.jpgRiver Child, 2007

Lin: When Damian asked to direct it I was delighted and I must admit amazed. The project would involve children and babies and water! I had already met Mattias through a feature script of mine. He told me later he’d heard me pitch River Child at the Screen Academy and remarked to his neighbour ‘I pity the producer who takes that on’. It took Mattias, a wise and cautious man, six weeks to come aboard.

Damian: There weren’t any unexpected surprises working with water on a river in Scotland with kids and lots of parents. I knew it was a stupid idea. But there was a certain beauty in the story that I couldn’t stop myself coming back to and wanting to work with.

Mattias: It was about going all in. You can make three short films. One for zero money, the next going a bit further and maybe the third will be a big one. But if you go all in, you’re skipping the first two steps. That was the challenge of it. It was like a low-budget feature film in terms of people and scale. I thought, if I can do this, I can do low-budget features especially with all the releases for kids, health and safety, river shooting and everything else.

Damian: Matt negotiated a deal between the Screen Academy and his company Storymix. That allowed us to interact with the outside world and was hugely beneficial. We were able to get money from Mark Geddes at the South West Scotland Screen Commission and other extra funds that enabled the film to be made.

Mattias: The script development was great. We had a fantastic time and would send notes back and forth. It’s great when you’re not afraid to say things. When you have a bold thought, knowing you can say it opens up your creativity.

Lin: We three discussed the script at length. I loved those sessions. The story changed very little, but the way it would be realised grew and developed. It became clear that a writer, director, creative producer is a powerful combination.

Damian: The great potential of film school is meeting people with whom you might have lifetime collaborations. I’ve met people who are not just friends but who I’d really like to work with again. And our collaboration on River Child has turned into the development of a feature film, A Grave Digger's Tale.

Lin: As a novelist, I have to work with my editor to produce the best book I can. Some novelists forbid their editor to change a single word before publication, believing their work cannot be improved upon. There is no room for such preciousness on a film project. Collaboration is essential. A good triumvirate is more powerful and creative than its individual members. If you find yourself lucky enough to be part of such a team then know you have struck gold.

waiting-for-the-42-paul-gray.jpgWaiting for the 42, 2006

AUDIENCE INPUT ON FILM: Waiting for the 42

Waiting for the 42 is about a guy who finds himself stranded in the countryside and has to find his way back to the city. Standing at a bus shelter, he meets some interesting characters. It’s a slow film and that was the intention. It’s about conveying a magical realism. But I learned a lot about the role of narrative. The narrative is far more structured, and far more part of the language and the rules of cinema than in other visual arts. Coming from a background in visual arts, it was a constant consideration that I didn’t rely on language appropriate to a gallery or art context. Film is a different medium.

There are cultural references in the film that aren’t Scottish and then there are cultural references that are. It’ll be interesting to see what cultural cinematic references an audience will bring to it. It doesn't go for the gritty realism often associated with UK cinema. The references are more European, perhaps Scandinavian.

I loved the experience of making it. One of the reasons I wanted to make films was the experience of working with a group of people to do it. You have to trust the people that you’re working with and communicate your ideas in a way that allows everyone else to bring what they want to bring to the project. There’s nothing better than starting off with an idea and then it just gets better because someone else’s huge talent has been added.

The most important thing about film school is meeting like-minded people and building relationships that can actually develop into the future. I found that my relationship with my DoP was crucial. We had a number of chats about what was required. He identified issues that might be difficult or impossible and we resolved them beforehand. On set, we got a feel for it and there was a lot of dialogue between us about where shots could change while still keeping it within the overall idea.

It was great to have total confidence in what the DoP was saying. Being a first time director, there were times when I just didn’t know the answer. Knowing that your DoP understands what you’re trying to do and being able to make that happen, is great.

Paul Gray


I think we should be trying to create a real cottage industry in Scotland. It would be great if we could achieve a high turnover of low-budget films like they do in Ireland. They make about half a dozen films a year over there for budgets of around half a million. A surprising number of these make their money back. Once, a musical set in Dublin, won the Audience Award for World Cinema at Sundance this year and was made for around a quarter of a million Euros. That inspires me. If the story is good enough and the acting’s good enough you can make a good low-budget film, which might not conquer the world but may still be appreciated by audiences. Not everything needs to compete against the Bourne Supremacys of the world.

Catriona Craig, Director, MFA-Advanced Film Practice

shu-shu-mu-shu-kelly-neal.jpgShu Shu Mu Shu, 2007


Director Kelly Neal followed the ups and downs of Bulgarian Sumo wrestlers and an extraordinary nine-year old Sumo wannabe; produced by Lili Sandelin.

Shooting Shu Shu Mu Shu was an extreme experience. I lived in Bulgaria for three months with my DoP Russell Beard and we could go from spending a day shooting on farms and being fed cow’s head stew to spending the next evening at the Japanese ambassador's home. The more we went on, the more it snowballed until we were accompanying the Bulgarian sumo team to Osaka for the World Sumo Championships. The learning curve was steep as I was doing my own sound as well as directing, but there’s not much about the experience I would have changed.

Kelly Neal, Director, MFA-Advanced Film Practice


Writer-Director Astrid Bussink on the making of The Angelmakers

I read about the story of the homicidal women in an encyclopedia of Female Killers. It struck me as a strange story, especially as it was unknown to me until then. If there really was such a murder epidemic, why was it hidden so well? It intrigued me, and so we went to visit the village, to see what the story really was.

angelmakers-astrid-bussink-1.jpgThe The Angelmakers, 2005

Making The Angelmakers was an amazing experience. We hooked up with the Hungarian film school to collaborate with its students on the project. Because I didn’t speak the language I was largely depending on them. We were all students, and very much open to each other’s way of working, which I found very inspiring. Also, working with so many people who did this without getting paid, just because we believed in the project, was quite amazing. We learned a lot from each other, and made of course, lots of mistakes, but the drive to go ahead and tell this story made up for all of them.

For me, the most important thing about film school is to know that it’s still okay to make your mistakes and learn from them. It’s a safety net that you can use when you need it. To know that there are people with knowledge and experience standing behind you is very valuable.

Astrid Bussink
Mdes Visual Communication – Film and TV

solo-duets-joseph-feltus.jpgSolo Duets, 2006


Animator Joseph Feltus describes his award winning stop-motion film

The main theme of the piece is a deep sense of remorse, which I tried to describe through the confrontation of Rainer's character with the figure of his younger self, the self of the distant past still untainted by regrets. Wanting to avoid talking puppets, I used the duel on the piano, with Erik Satie's Gymnopedie III as a substitute for dialogue, in which the elder loses his pride and ends up wanting to lean on the shoulders of the younger, his past, the unrecoverable.

My background is in painting. In my work I search for that harmonious balance between the dance and the emotional movement that a painting suggests, and the possibilities that the actual movement in film can give. It’s a struggle of keeping that timeless composition of the painting against the backdrop of the ever shifting and changing nature of film. I chose to study animation because it seemed to me the perfect bridge between these two mediums.

An animator is in complete control, as with the brush strokes on the canvas, immediately controlling each movement of the characters. Actors will inevitably move between shots, making it terribly frustrating to maintain a certain detail in the composition. Of course, maintaining this control is still difficult in animation, but it is in principle much more possible, and this fascinates me.

(Solo Duets won Silver Dragon for Best Animated Film at the Krakow Film Festival, the Special Jury Prize at AniFest and the Best Scottish Short Film, Jim Poole Award)

Joseph N Feltus


My experience of film schools and film education has taught me that the most successful courses are project centred, aiming to arm the students with the skills to make the best project they can. Film schools should create a collaborative atmosphere with less emphasis on the student director and more on teams of individuals who have been given the skills to make quality films. Graduates of such an environment are much better placed to enter the workforce and the film industry can only benefit from having a wider, more skilled talent pool from which to draw.

Neil Gillies
MA Screen Project Development