If you came up to me and told me at any point in my life, before I was accepted into my BA Digital Media degree, that I would end up wanting to make my own films, I honestly would not have believed you.
Even as recently as 2018, filmmaking was not something I was actively pursuing. I was, first and foremost, a writer (the “traditional” kind); and secondly, a photographer. Since 2016, that’s where all my major effort went to: pursuing a career in photography. (Or even a career in Computing, with photography as a side job.)
However, life quickly took me into another direction, for various reasons — the main one being, I felt like I wasn’t making any progress in Perth (where I lived at the time). Although I did have clients, I had higher ambitions for my photography: I wanted to photograph the bands that I loved, I wanted to put my photography out there in a meaningful way; and, most importantly, I truly wanted to grow my skills and achieve a certain “target” for my photos that I had set myself. (I would eventually reach this target when I became a contributor for RockShot Magazine.)
At the same time, after participating in a two-day writing workshop, I remembered how much I love writing and telling stories. It brought me back to my roots.
Soon after this workshop, I decided I wanted to try pursuing a career in publishing. It became evident from my research that having a degree would help me achieve that goal. Not only that, but I knew deep down that my feelings of “being stuck” and “not making progress” were interconnected with living in a small town and not being in education. It became clear to me that a) I wanted to move; and b) I wanted to learn new skills and challenge myself with something new and creative (but that could also lead to a career in publishing). Hence my application to the BA Digital Media at the University of Stirling.
With its first two years at Forth Valley College where there was a lot of emphasis on practical skills and projects, it couldn’t have been a better course for me. Although I already had a pretty solid knowledge of photography and copywriting, I learned a ton of new skills. Some of these skills were, of course, video and radio production.
The first year had a big focus on documentaries: we had to produce a documentary for video production class, which was also a group project; and one of the assignments for radio was its own 8-minute documentary, which we had to produce solo. These assessments involved a lot of different skills: planning, researching, writing, filming, recording, editing, plus interviewing and team-working skills. They were sometimes stressful, but as somebody who prefers practical assessments over writing essays, I wouldn’t have changed them for anything in the world!
Then Graded Unit was introduced — and here, I decided to challenge myself the most: I decided to make a short film.
I had never made a short film before. All of my experience with video came from video production class and the bits we filmed and edited for our group documentary. I watched movies, sure, but I had never tried making them.
And then I made Connected.
With Connected, a lot of things changed and a lot of new discoveries were made.
Connected taught me a lot of different things: firstly, that I enjoy making films. What better experience to teach me this than making a short film? I remember being so confident in my choice of project for the Graded Unit as well; of course I was going to make a short film — what else? Being around highly creative people who were also making films, being in an environment where that was almost normal and not frowned upon at all, and having extremely supportive lecturers, friends and classmates was really the push I needed to undertake this journey. I worked tirelessly on my planning document, to the point that it went over the minimum word count by quite a lot, and felt confident that I would have a finished film at the end of it.
Connected taught me that I enjoy the creative process. That was the most valuable lesson I took out of making my first short film. While I felt confident choosing a short film as my Graded Unit, I didn’t approach this project with arrogance or vanity; rather, I looked forward to the process and to learning as much as I could. (If I hadn’t been in a situation that encouraged me to undertake this, I don’t know if I would have; which is to say, please always be supportive of your friends’ creative endeavours!) I wanted to push my creativity and my skills first and foremost. The whole process itself taught me a lot about filmmaking, as I undertook the roles of director, producer, writer, cinematographer, camera operator, sound recordist and editor. And I loved every bit of it!
Connected taught me that I enjoy telling stories, especially through film. Before my degree, I wrote stories, but more in the “traditional” way. However, through this, I realised the incredible storytelling power of video. I could cut something a certain way, light a scene in a certain way, add music, colour grade — do all of these and more to tell my stories in a way that used all the senses. Filmmaking is, as I always tell my friends, storytelling on steroids.
Connected taught me a whole new set of skills. Through the whole filmmaking process, I was able to add a whole new repertoire of writing skills under my belt, namely writing scripts (fictional and documentary), treatments, call sheets, location recces, plus some totally new creative skills like storyboarding.
Through Connected, I developed further as a writer and as an artist. I realised what values I want to put into my stories, what is important to me, what stories I want to tell, and what difference/impact I want to make with my short films. I discovered more about myself as a creative during this project and I grew exponentially as a person and a storyteller because of it. I came closer to finding my own voice, I discovered that I am a visual person, and that ultimately I want to tell stories in a way that is engaging and makes people feel something. Some of the most amazing comments I received about Connected were from people who had told me my short film had made them tear up. I honestly cannot put into words how that made me feel.
Finally, everyone’s positive reactions to Connected — including that of the audience at the GMAC, where it was warmly received — taught me that I should be more confident in my stories instead of constantly doubting everything. A healthy dose of doubt is always good, because it pushes you to do better; but an unhealthy dose stops projects from ever being realised or taking off, and that’s the type of doubt Connected helped me get rid of. (Who knew all I had to do was make a short film!)
And now I’ve even changed my career goals, and am trying to enter the tv/film industry instead of the publishing industry. I never would have thought that this would happen! This experience made a filmmaker out of me.
There are some more things I want to talk about, but they’ll be in a separate post about the “making of” of Connected.
So if you’re considering making a short film, or undertaking any sort of creative endeavour that is new and scary and uncharted territory, all I want to say is: go for it! Do not be scared, for there is a lot to be gained from such an experience.