Summer School 2019 – Behind the Scenes with Lisa Doherty

Mad About Movies, GMAC Film’s Summer School programme returned this year over two weeks in July and August. 33 passionate students aged 15-19 were selected to work along industry professionals on an original short film. After a three-year break caused by lack of funding, GMAC Film managed to breathe new life into the beloved project, with additional financial support provided by the Robertson Trust, Screen Scotland and the Garfield Weston Foundation.

The first week of Summer School consisted of training activities at Glasgow’s Trongate 103; we introduced young people to film, the crew and then distributed them among the six work departments (production, postproduction, technical, art, acting, behind the scenes). During the second week mentors and students relocated to Wiston Lodge, South Lanarkshire, for a thrilling four-day residential. 

It made for a very busy summer for Lisa Doherty, GMAC Film’s Project Manager. A newer addition to the GMAC family (she started in May 2019), Lisa took on the assignment of managing and delivering GMAC’s first summer school programme in three years. Without any previous experience in the film industry, but with a solid background in youth work, community development and project management, Lisa played a key role in successfully bringing back a project of great tradition on the Scottish film scene.

Working closely with fellow GMAC Film staff Beth Armstrong (Creative Director) and Anthony Chalmers (Project Coordinator), Lisa’s responsibilities covered everything from logistics (location, transport, food) to interviewing prospective interns, reviewing student applications and acting as the on-location safeguarding officer. She was also responsible for ‘outreach’ – looking out to different community organisations in Glasgow, in an effort to introduce GMAC Film to a new generation.

We sat down with Lisa for a lovely chat, in which she took us through the Summer School selection process, talked about the benefits of signing up and revealed what the experience meant for her.

Can you tell us about the selection process? How did that go?

The main criteria we asked for was that young people showed their passion for film. They didn’t have to have any experience but a clear excitement for film was essential.

GMAC have very robust targets as well in terms of making sure equality and diversity is very high – it’s at the heart of everything we do. Therefore, we encouraged applications from target groups, such as BAME, care experienced, young people living in the top 20% areas of deprivation in Glasgow and surrounding areas. 

What was your impression of the students this year?

I was really, really impressed with them. They were focused, very well-behaved… They were very subdued to begin with. I was quite taken aback by how quiet they were in the first few days. I have some youth work experience and I think they were the quietest and possibly the most well-behaved group of young people I’ve ever worked with. They were really dedicated; I’d say they took it really seriously. They obviously had fun, but you could tell that they viewed it as an opportunity, they wanted to get most out of it. It was very inspiring to work with them. 

What do you think the students got from signing up for Summer School?

I know from speaking to quite a few of them they never actually considered going into the film & TV industry as a career; now, quite a lot of them applied to do another project that we are going to do with the BFI. They stay in touch with GMAC, some of them are looking to go into college or university, they’re signing up to different courses. We’ve got about ten signed up to do BFI Film Academyat the end of September. They’ve expressed interest in joining our Youth Team as well. So, I think it has benefited them quite a lot in terms of their progression, staying involved with GMAC, but going to other things as well. 

During ‘filming week’ you were at Wiston Lodge, South Lanarkshire. How was that?

It was amazing!

Did you have good weather?

We did, actually. It was dry, which was the main thing – the weather didn’t really impact the filming or the experience of staff and young people. Again, being on residential with young people, I was really taken aback by how committed and dedicated they were – working before breakfast, choosing to work after dinner… The filming days were pretty long, they chose to work right up to nine o’clock at night. They were very inspiring. They also picked up the technical side of things very quickly, even with no prior experience of film.

Can you tell me about Playtime, the film that was produced?

Playtime was written and produced by a young filmmaker. We launched an online competition – we put out a brief, we showed the pictures of the location, gave some criteria. We specifically said that we didn’t want a scary movie or a zombie movie. It had to have two characters, an indoor scene, an outdoor scene (we were trying to pre-empt the bad weather). 

It was written by a young writer called Katie Veitch. We got some really amazing scripts from young writers, but we thought Katie’s fitted best with the location. Part of the prize was that she would get to work with an industry-level writer, who would mentor her and guide her through the script. We took her out to visit Wiston Lodge as well, so she could get a proper feeling of the development process. She got to see everything in action, which I think must be quite hard for a writer – feeling like it’s her idea and it’s being taken over by other people… I think that being part of that process was really good for her development.

Do you know what the future of the film is? Is it going to be distributed?

We are having a premiere screening at the Glasgow Film Theatre in October and we’ve submitted it to the FANS Youth Film Festival as well. We are hoping to get it circulated on the festival scene. We will also be showing it at one of GMAC Film’s Café Flickers at some point. 

Would you like to describe the experience from your own point of view? Was this something exciting for you personally or professionally?

My background is mainly in youth work, community development and project management. I’m very, very new to the film industry. My experience of film before starting at GMAC was just going to the cinema and enjoying movies. It was really exciting for me at this stage of my career to get the opportunity to learn about a completely different industry and then try to set up a filmmaking project. I was apprehensive at first, because I didn’t have any knowledge of how film sets are run, things like that… Luckily, I’ve been surrounded by a really good team. 

I feel like just from being on set and being around filmmakers I’ve already learned so much about the filmmaking process in a way it has ruined film and TV for me (laughs)…

Not ‘ruined’, that’s not right… I just notice things more, but it has also made me appreciate how much time and effort goes in just to even get a minute and a half of amazing footage. It’s making me appreciate independent films more, doing things on a really small budget.

I’d still like to learn a bit more about filmmaking and at one point I’d quite like to do a course just to understand the process a little bit more. Over the next year I’m hoping that in different projects I’ll be involved in I’ll just keep on learning, developing and getting a better understanding.

So, you’re planning to stay in the film sector for a while…

Yeah – I’ve always been passionate and supportive about creative arts. I think it’s just a really amazing platform for young people to have. 

Also, I think there are lots of misconceptions about getting into the film & TV industry. Scotland, I think, is viewed as very exclusive and elitist, in a way; it’s actually not the case. You’ve got amazing organizations like GMAC Film that are making it more accessible. For years they’ve been here to give people that platform… The thing I love about GMAC as well is that all our programmes are free; you don’t have to have rich parents… It’s a great starting point if someone is willing to pursue film further.

What was your favourite part about the Summer School?

It was definitely the residential – you could really see from the start, from when everyone came in, they were a little apprehensive, they were quite shy; no one was really mingling, which I was actually really worried about in terms of youth development. By the end of it you could tell that they really bonded, they made friends. What’s been really nice for us is that the majority of the young people are actually coming together in their own time and they’re working together to make their own films. They got in touch with us and asked if they can come in and use the office as a meeting space. Just to see that development in them was amazing. We had lovely feedback from young people saying they really appreciated the opportunity. A couple of them hadn’t really considered careers in the film & TV industry, but now they’re starting to pursue it. 

Seeing that a short-term project like that has actually had such a big impact… I think we’ve done our job right.