"Never work with witches and babies…" It's not quite the usual film makers' adage, but it is potentially befitting of the two short films currently in production on the Isle of Man, written, cast and crewed by Manx filmmakers.
'Closet' written by John Craine and 'Solace in Wicca', written by Nathan Russell Raby, are the latest screenplays to have been developed through the MannIN Shorts Film Scheme. Thanks to continued support from the Isle of Man Arts Council, both have just finished shooting at various locations around the Island this past week.
'Solace..' , Directed by Andy North, started filming in the dungeons of Castle Rushen last weekend before moving to Cregneash and Niarbyl. It tells the unfortunate tale of Margaret Inequane, the last alleged 'witch' to be executed on the Island and whose name is immortalised on the plinth in Castletown Square where she was burned at the stake. Dozens of locals gave up their time to be kitted out in period costume and wigs, shouting in Manx as Margaret, played by Isis Taylor, was led to her (staged!) demise by Wayne Kelsall's cruel Bishop.
The historic and factual nature of the film, as well as the decision to recount it in the Manx language, attracted the attention and support of Charles Guard and the Manx Heritage Foundation. Their generous funding, alongwith additional support from Cinema NX/Isle of Man Film, enabled the Production team to go to great lengths in the design of the film, with wardrobe mistress Jennifer Higson renting authentic costumes and wigs from respected costumiers in London and designer Sally Black paying great attention to detail with sets and props. Manx National Heritage also stepped in to offer heritage locations free of charge.
'Closet', Directed by Chris Gore and sponsored by the Isle of Man Arts Council, is the third film that writer/cinematographer John Craine has made on the Island in the past 18months. Set in the '80s, it deals with a challenging period in the lives of a group of teenage boys and their schoolmates. It stars amongst others free-running filmmaker Will Sutton as 'Bobby', one of the first times he has acted in a dramatic role. Producer Debs Gwinnell secured funding for the short from companies both on and off Island - including Annodata, Landscape Printing, Home Strategic and Typhoon House - with the Isle of Man Steam Packet coming aboard to help with the costs of transporting kit to and from the Island and Isle of Man Creameries helping to create 'rain on demand' with the loan of one of their tankers.
The screenplays are two out of six successful entries chosen as part of the MannIN Shorts writing competition held in January 2011. Since then, the scheme's founders Dave Armstrong and Christy DeHaven have run a series of free workshops in everything from Acting For Screen, to Directing, to Producing on a Budget and plenty more besides. The pair have often led the tutoring themselves, but with the help of funding from PokerStars in September 2011, they were also able to bring over respected UK professionals to hold specific courses: Leeds based filmmaker Danny Lacey, writer and script reader Danny Stack (Working Title, Pathe etc), actor Lee Boardman (HBO's Rome) and Director Lesley Manning from the National Film and TV School to name a few. The intention has been to grow the creative skillbase through the year, to the point where the winning shorts could be crewed and produced by the scheme's trainees, with continuing on site guidance from Island based professionals.
"The Isle of Man has been making a name for itself in the industry with films made by visiting productions for some time now" said Dave "but we want to prove that there is a thriving indigenous filmmaking talent here, passionate Manxies and Isle of Man residents who are wiling and able to produce homegrown material that will stand up on an international platform"
Two other shorts which have also come through the scheme - Adrian Hall's 'Hide & Seek' and Zoe Guilford's 'I Do' - have already been filmed and are now in the edit process. The two remaining scripts, by Chris Chambers and John Brimble, are in preproduction.
The scheme's students have also produced several workshop shorts over the year, where Dave and Christy have set tasks enabling them to experience film production in a training capacity. The recent 'Scene Stealer Challenge' tasked crews to recreate iconic scenes from famous films in as much detail as possible, with a view to learning about lighting, camera technique, editing, design, props and more, in a less pressured environment than an actual film shoot. The completed scenes, representing 'The Graduate' (produced by Emily Cook) and 'The Shining' (produced by Bev Lawley), will be shown together at a special screening with the crews talking through their experience (date tbc).
Several of the training videos and behind the scenes documentaries made by the scheme this year were shown in the SMP sponsored Film Tent at the Garden Party Music Festival. MannIN Shorts will also be hosting the Isle of Man Film Festival this year in September (provisional date of 14th-16th) with all completed winning shorts being shown at the Broadway Cinema as part of the 'Short Films, Big Ideas' night. The festival will also feature 'An Evening With Independents' (with invited guests Danny Lacey, Raffaello Degruttola, Oscar shortlisted Chris Jones and Sundance London winner Daniel Lumb) and an event sponsored by Isle of Man Film, who have invited a Director from one of the features recently shot on Island to introduce their film and hold a Q&A after the screening.
In the meantime, Dave and Christy have recently set plans for a MannIN Shorts web series 'On The Benches' and will be running this year's Summer Film School in association with Isle of Man Arts Development from August 13th-24th.
Photo courtesy of Christy DeHaven