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Cinematic sounds: new film and live music project takes the spotlight in Write Start, the annual award that’s a catalyst for creativity

It’s the annual award backed by a global screen star that helps emerging artists see their creative ideas take flight.

Write Start, established by actor, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist Sam Heughan, encourages students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to join forces to develop original new work.

And this year’s winner will shine a spotlight on the forgotten history of women in early cinema in a live film and music event that will premiere at Glasgow’s famous Britannia Panopticon, one of Britain’s oldest Victorian music halls and former silent cinema, before setting off on a tour of historic cinemas in Scotland and England.

Niall Docherty, a third-year Composition student and Molly Sellors, third year BMus – Performance, will receive £5,000 to develop their project, which will bring together experimental scores with screenings of female-directed films from the 1920s.

The music will be written and performed by Hoolan Ensemble, a group of RCS students dedicated to making and performing new music, co-founded by oboist Molly and composer Niall.

The scores will be written by Nancy Johnstone and Niall, with the small ensemble comprising fellow RCS students Christopher Lo (saxophone), Molly Sellors (oboe), Amy Wood (flute), Reese Carly Manglicmot (keyboards) and Niall Docherty (electronics). Also in the ensemble is guitarist Kieran McCrossan while Edinburgh College of Art filmmaking graduate Sára Ní Eithir will create the new film material.

Here, Niall and Molly share how it feels to win Write Start and their exciting plans to take the project on the road.


How does it feel to win Write Start?

We feel so grateful to have won the Write Start award. We’re only just starting out as an ensemble, so to have support for our project and ideas at an early stage is very encouraging. It’s really motivated us to get to work!

What inspired you to enter?

We were inspired to enter the competition because of the emphasis placed on collaboration. When we first came together as a group of musicians last year, we knew we wanted to develop performances that involved other art forms.

This seemed like the perfect chance to mount a project that could lead us to new collaborators, venues and audiences, pushing us outside our usual recital environments to find a way of creating contemporary classical music within a more unfamiliar context.

How would you describe your project and how do you see it evolving?
Our project will be a combined film and live music event that aims to celebrate the forgotten history of women in early cinema. We will present a screening of female-directed films – accompanied live by our experimental scores – that combines classic work from the 1920s with brand-new material made especially for the event.

With so much recent discussion happening around the continued lack of female representation in the film industry behind the camera, it’s amazing how little is known about the pioneering contributions to the art form made by female filmmakers in the early 20th century, especially within the fields of experimental and political film.

We’re really excited by the idea of using this history as raw material, and so we want to create a performance that engages with the forgotten legacy of women in film whilst using it to inspire something new.

In keeping with our film history theme, we will first perform the project at the Britannia Panopticon, one of Britain’s oldest Victorian music halls and a former silent movie theatre. We’ll then take the event to Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre before touring to three other historic cinemas in Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool.

It will be especially interesting for us to see how the new material evolves, and to learn the process of collaborating with a filmmaker in creating the music. It’s a great challenge to do something that tries to spotlight a neglected area of art history while creating something fresh and original in response to it, and we can’t wait to begin the process.

Can you share your thoughts on the importance of awards like Write Start, that help get ideas off the ground and into production?

The existence of an initiative like Write Start is centrally important to early-career groups like ours, especially when undertaking a project with multiple art forms and collaborators involved.

We really believe in the importance of creating our own performances from the ground up, and we’re quickly learning how much time and effort is required to make ideas come to life: without the financial support and mentorship offered by competitions like Write Start, we simply wouldn’t be able to begin developing these skills whilst still in education, so we’re absolutely thrilled to be given this opportunity.


Image top row, from left: Niall, Nancy, Christopher

Bottom row, from left: Reese, Molly, Amy

Write Start, established by actor, author, entrepreneur and RCS graduate Sam Heughan, is the annual award that celebrates collaboration across art forms, where students are encouraged to join forces to create original new work.

Outlander star Sam returned to RCS in 2021 to launch Write Start and introduce a ten-year scholarship programme in his name. He personally funds three annual scholarships for undergraduate students in the School of Drama, Dance, Production and Film.

Sam said: “There are so many wonderful disciplines here at the conservatoire and when we see people from all walks of life or different departments collaborating, that’s when real creativity can shine.”

Read about the previous winners: John Black in 2022 and Hayley McGuire and Jayme Bartlett in 2023.