03 February, 2013

Southport's Young Moviemakers

This blog post has been contributed by Club member Paul Bagshaw, who is currently producing a new group production Fork in the Road.

About seven years ago, three teenagers arrived at Southport MovieMakers.  Like many similar film makers’ groups, our membership then consisted largely of those who had retired or were soon to do so.  One notable exception was Nigel Barton who first appeared at the age of thirteen, and is now an outstanding award-winning film producer.  The three who appeared in 2006 were generally well received by older members, but there were one or two who did not appear to welcome their presence, complaining that they did not mix with the older ones.  Oddly, it had not occurred to them to make the first move by talking to the new arrivals.  The young members attended the Club for just over twelve months, before branching out and making their first production ‘Chocolate Moon’, which was shown on BBC2 and is available for viewing on YouTube.  Soon afterwards, two of them – Mike and Alex decided to start their own company, Serenity Pictures, rather than to follow film courses at university, even though they were qualified to do so.  Alex is and actor/writer and Mike is a cameraman/director/editor, who also works part-time at FACT in Liverpool.  The promise they displayed at seventeen has matured and developed.

When Southport MovieMakers have given presentations at other clubs, and have included younger members in the visiting group, the question raised has often been, ‘How do you manage to attract teenagers to join?’  There are several answers to this, one being the value of an attractive website.  If, as sometimes happens, a young individual turns up, it is unlikely that he or she will return unless there are other young film makers present.  They should be encouraged to bring friends next time they come, for that will increase the possibility of them attending regularly.  A few years ago, a larger number of young people joined the Club, and were keen to become involved.  One well-intentioned older member, who became their mentor, demonstrated some of the procedures of film making to them, but whenever shooting took place, he set up lights, operated the camcorder, and directed the project, with most of the young ones standing watching.  It must be obvious to everyone that learning by doing is best.  You cannot learn to swim by watching from the side, or to drive by sitting on the back seat of a car.

Before you can make a good film, you must make a few moderate films, learning as you go, and making sure that what you do next is better than what you have just completed.  Waiting for ‘inspiration’ can take a long time, so it is sensible to start with a fairly good idea, and to improve it as time passes – mark the page.  The amount of film making in amateur clubs varies, but there is a tendency for some older members to prefer viewing, whilst younger ones are more keen on making.  Over the past twelve months, Southport’s members aged 16 to 21 have grown from seven or eight to twelve – roughly a third of the total membership.  Not surprisingly, the number of films in production has more than doubled, and two seventeen-year-olds, Andy and Lewis, have just held the première of ‘By The Light Of The Sun’, a 91-minute feature film.  Its predecessor, ‘I Live On The Deaths Of Millions’, recently won an award at the North West IAC Film Festival, and can be seen on YouTube.

Our message to the young members is that, as with the other arts, film has no rules.  Of course, there are many traditions and recommended procedures, such as that relating to ‘crossing the line’, but there is nothing that is ‘against the rules’.  Some amateur film makers strenuously avoid ‘jump cuts’, but if you want to make a jump cut, go ahead and do it.  Brian Percival’s 2001 short film ‘About A Girl’ is composed almost entirely of jump cuts, and won a BAFTA Award for Best Short Film in 2001. It is available on the DVD ‘Cinema 16: British Short Films’.  A casual look at the history of the arts reveals that many of those who made significant contributions to artistic development – Beethoven, Samuel Beckett, Marcel Duchamp, Le Corbusier, James Joyce, etc - were themselves ‘rule breakers’.  Something else to consider is that there is no need for films to be word-driven, where the main focus is upon people talking.  Good film makers are aware that the medium is audio-visual, and that stories and ideas can be conveyed by images as well as by words.  A film is not just a radio play with added pictures; so young screenwriters should be encouraged to think about ‘How’, as well as about ‘What’.

One young member, Josh, is not only in the third year of a film degree at Edge Hill University, but also in his third year as Chairman of Southport MovieMakers.  The majority of our members would agree that the influx of younger people has done a great deal to invigorate the activity of the Club, and to increase the number of films made, or in production.  Although many will leave to go to university or employment, those remaining will encourage others to join.  At a time when many clubs are shrinking, ours is managing to retain numbers, with an average weekly attendance of about twenty-five, half of whom are 21 or under.  A few older members of moviemaking clubs can be a little conservative in their aspirations, and that may make them unnecessarily cautious.  However, there is no advantage to be gained by importing that caution into artistic activities.  Older and younger film makers have much to offer each other.  The great benefit for the young is that they are receptive to change, and that they can get away, for much of the time, with living in the present.  This invariably confers energy, freedom, immediacy and risk aversion upon their film projects.  In a mixed-age moviemakers club, that approach can be infectious. Currently there are seven films in production at Southport MovieMakers.  Five of these are by younger members.

Paul Bagshaw

Chocolate Moon
The Making of Chocolate Moon
I Live On The Deaths Of Millions

Film Poster: By the Light of the Sun

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