It’s not particularly surprising for the final day of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) to begin with a selection of short films on the big screen in Filmhouse 1. Admittedly, it’s a tad unusual that all the films shown on Sunday 1 July were the work of non-professionals.
What is utterly unique about the programme was that none of the films had even existed when the festival opened on 20 June — in fact, they didn’t even exist the previous weekend!
The EIFF’s Science Fiction Filmmaking Challenge dared budding filmmakers aged between 16 and 25 to make their own short science fiction film, with a maximum running time of five minutes. Nine teams took up the Challenge to shoot, edit and submit their film by 4pm on Monday 25 June. Given that some teams only came together on the Saturday morning, that didn’t leave much time for hesitation.
The Filmmaking Challenge was a joint project between EIFF and First Light, which supports and provides filmmaking opportunities across the UK for young people, especially those who have not necessarily had the best start in life. “What we’re looking to fund and deliver are training opportunities which have a merit in the industry,” says Paul Hewlett, First Light’s Operations Director. “That’s not to say all the young people will go into filmmaking, but for those that do, we want to make sure they get the best start. Having professional filmmakers involved in this really helps.”
All First Light-supported programmes are very much about enabling young people through training and support, and the projects are generally directed by what the participants want to achieve. Given the time constraints involved, however, the Science Fiction Filmmaking Challenge was slightly different in that, except for an initial masterclass given by Jon Wright, the director of one of EIFF’s European Premieres, the horror comedy Grabbers, the nine teams of filmmakers were then left very much to get on with it.
That said, there were given some constraints. The film had to be science fiction, and had to include both a given line of dialogue — “Where did that come from?” — and a randomly assigned prop. “I know from personal experience — I’m a writer myself, as well as working for First Light — that being given some very specific criteria makes you work a lot harder,” says Paul. “It gives people a kicking off point that can take you to a creative place that you wouldn’t necessarily have gone to.”
James T Harding of team Shattered Speed certainly agrees. “We were given a set of whisks — not one whisk, a whole set of the damn things,” he says. “It’s a crowbar job, we told ourselves. We can put it in the background somewhere, it’ll be fine.
“But sitting around in the Filmhouse bar bouncing ideas around we hit upon the idea for a space-age update of Come Dine With Me, which we christened Come Ingest Nutrients With Me,” he adds. “I think the prop was like the bit of grit that gets into an oyster and causes it to make a pearl. Without being given something as unexpected and awkward as a whisk set we’d never have come up with the idea we did.”
When ReelScotland spoke with Paul Hewlett the submissions deadline had just passed, so the results were still very much an unknown quantity. “I am really keen to see where they’re going to take it within 48 hours, how they can surprise us as an audience. I’m really excited,” he insisted.
While successfully putting together any short film, from initial script to final-edit, in just over two days will be a genuine achievement for all involved, just how useful an experience will it be for those seriously wanting to enter the industry?
“I personally think making shorts is a very good way of learning to be a feature film maker because the limitations that you experience in short films are small-scale versions of the limitations you’ll experience in low-budget feature-making,” says Grabbers director Jon Wright.
“The reality is that, if you intend to live in the UK or Ireland — and Europe probably — and want to continue being a filmmaker here, then you will be making low budget films.”
Find out more about First Light and their work on their website.