Ready to roll: new films to take flight at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland thanks to Write Start award created by actor and graduate Sam Heughan
It’s a catalyst for collaboration that helps young artists bring their creative dreams to life … backed by a global screen star and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduate.
Write Start, established by actor, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist Sam Heughan, is the annual award – now in its second year – that encourages students across music, drama, dance, production and film to join forces to develop original new work.
And this year, it’s a trio of filmmakers who will see their ideas take flight.
The winners, who receive a £5,000 bursary to develop their vision, are Hayley Louise McGuire (below left) and Jayme Bartlett (below right), third-year BA Filmmaking students. They’re co-collaborators on Baobhan Sith, a psychological thriller set in Glasgow, that draws inspiration from Scottish folklore, Pre-Raphaelite art and the work of Robert Burns.
Runner-up Ariana Crolla (below) a second-year BA Filmmaking student, receives £1,000 to progress her film Frank, centred on a young homeless man who believes he’s the reincarnation of St. Francis of Assisi.
The three remaining finalists will each receive £500 to progress their projects.
Sam commented on the quality and variety of this year’s Write Start entries: “Once again, it’s wonderful to see the care and consideration that has gone into each pitch, and I thank everyone for sharing their concepts – there’s so much talent within the walls of RCS, a wide variety of ideas and creativity.
“Congratulations to this year’s winners, Hayley Louise McGuire and Jayme Bartlett, and runner-up Ariana Crolla – both pitches had clear and engaging narratives and eloquent presentations and I’m delighted that there is such a strong representation for female filmmakers. I can’t wait to see how their films develop!”
Hayley said: “We’re absolutely delighted to win Write Start and thankful for this wonderful opportunity. We’re also really grateful to Sam and RCS for making this happen.
Jayme added: “Winning is a dream come true for us, especially as two female filmmakers about to step into the industry with a startup company. It gives us an immense boost of confidence and allows us the resources to do our vision justice. It means the absolute world to us. It’s such an incredible opportunity and our crew are beyond excited to get the project going.”
Baobhan Sith is a ten-minute short film which follows central character Matthew in 1970s Glasgow.
“Matthew is a tortured young art student dealing with the recent death of his abusive mother,” explained Hayley. “He tries to escape his pain through his art, but rather than helping him heal, it actually leads him to madness.”
Baobhan Sith will bring together students from across RCS: “We’ve built an absolutely amazing team, from Production Arts and Design to Masters Composition, Traditional Music, and of course, filmmaking,” said Jayme.
Hayley continued: “Petra Crace and Jenny Fleming from Production Arts and Design will take the helm for our set design and props. Masters Composition student Michael Maftean is our musical director and will collaborate with students from Traditional Music course to create our soundtrack, and of course, we have our fantastic crew from BA Film, including our constant collaborator, Bobby Donaldson. We also plan to reach out to the costume department and Junior Conservatoire.”
Hayley explained that the inspiration behind Baobhan Sith was sparked when she came across the story of the 1954 Gorbals Vampire hunt, where a group of schoolchildren were convinced that a seven-foot monster prowled the city’s Southern Necropolis.
“Through my research, I ended up developing Baobhan Sith and the metaphor of the vampire mother was born, representing the concept that we all have our demons and sometimes they can be found in the faces of our loved ones. Scotland has a strong culture full of myth and lore, so it really is the perfect backdrop for this unnerving yet whimsical tale. On a personal level, we’re deeply passionate about the themes traversed in this story. With varying degrees of familial discord, we feel strongly that this is a unique story we need to tell.”
Jayme added: “Now we’ll be diving right into pre-production, getting deep into the writing process, finding the visuals and bringing it to life.”
Hayley and Jayme established their production company, Blade and Bow, in August last year: “We love telling stories and by forming Blade and Bow, we strive to not only bring to life the stories that resonate with us but also create a space to collaborate with other voices and continue to push for more diversity in film.”
Commenting on being named runner-up, Ariana Crolla said: “This has given me the chance to make real headway with my project. Write Start is such a unique opportunity because it’s so rare for a funding initiative to give you complete creative freedom, the one requisite is that you simply fulfil your own idea: no rules, guidelines or specific subject matter.
“This is such an incredible experience and I’m really grateful to have been considered. A huge thank you to Sam Heughan and everybody involved at RCS for this chance to bring my script Frank to life.”
The idea for Frank came from observing street preachers in Glasgow, specifically on Sauchiehall and Buchanan Streets: “I wanted to write something from the perspective of someone who truly believed their identity was that of a prophet and explore how that would bode in our increasingly non-denominational society.
“At the same time, I had been doing research through A Way Home Scotland, a charity working extremely hard to get young people off the streets and together this became the nucleus for Frank.
“Inspired by A Way Home Scotland, I wanted to write something that centred on youth homelessness and depicted the community in an empathetic light. Almost 10,000 young people were registered as homeless in Scotland in 2020. That represents one-quarter of the Scottish homeless population, even though young people make up only 12% of the nation’s total population. I’d never seen these statistics reflected in our media anywhere, so I decided to address it myself through this project. Film was the obvious choice: you put a camera on someone, you can’t deny that they exist.
Frank will tap into talent across the disciplines at RCS: “To make a film, you need more than just crew and actors, it needs post-production, musicians, composers and performers of all kinds. It’s the most inclusive art form and a medium that can only benefit from collaboration, so I’ll be recruiting from almost every sector of RCS to create this film.
“In terms of crew, I have a great resource in the three BA Filmmaking year groups and so far, many of my classmates have come forward showing an interest in bringing Frank to life, namely director of photography Kieran McLaughlin, assistant director Madeleine Miles and post-production sound and video editor Missy McNaught. I have previously collaborated with Masters Composition student David Ford whose work in film scoring is exceptional. I’m looking forward to casting from the incredible pool of talent in BA Acting.”
Write Start’s first winner in 2022 was John Black, a second-year BA Filmmaking student. John wrote and produced Bucket of Sunshine, a stage play about three naval officers in a Vanguard-class submarine that questions the moral and ethical dilemmas of nuclear weapons.
Write Start followed the announcement in July 2021 of Sam’s commitment to a new ten-year drama scholarship at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Sam, who graduated from the BA Acting degree programme in 2003, is personally funding three annual scholarships for undergraduate students in the School of Drama, Dance, Production and Film.