With great power there must also come great responsibility …
Madeline Silton is a third-year undergraduate studying English at St Andrews. In this blog she describes why she became interested in filmmaking, the experience of making her first film and how being a student here has given her the opportunities and the support network to pursue this awareness-raising artform as a potential career.
I have been passionate about writing since I was six years old. My interest in filmmaking – specifically screenwriting – grew out of my desire to turn this passion into a career.
By chance, when I was sixteen, I was offered a job as a production assistant on set for Best Buy Corporation, which is a US electronic company. I loved the fast-paced nature of being on set and the creativity of filmmaking. This led to regular work for commercial sets, and ultimately to several features and short films.
Once I had had experience of working on other directors’ sets, I began to plan the script for my own film – ‘Empty Space’. The script follows Matthew and is in two parts. It begins with him alone, navigating an empty town, until the second part when it is revealed that his solitude is in his head: the emptiness is just a representation of his depression. The more I drafted the work, the more I realised how important it was to tell Matthew’s story.
After developing this idea, I was able to secure funding from Stephanie Dillon – an amazing Executive Producer – who in turn helped to connect me with the Twin Cities Film Festival and a producer for the film. I then began to plan the production early in 2019 so we could begin shooting that summer.
To make sure that the day of the shoot ran smoothly, I spent several months in pre-production finalising the script, gathering crew, securing locations, coordinating catering, trucks and gear and – perhaps most importantly – making a list of all the camera shots with the Director of Photography and the rest of the team, then story-boarding this list (see an example below).
When we had successfully completed filming, my team and I spent several days viewing the shots scene-by-scene, in the correct order, to make sure the finished project was exactly how we wanted it.
‘Empty Space’ was premiered at the Twin Cities Film Festival in October 2019, with most of the crew and cast present. It was exciting to see my film on the big screen and it was helpful to hear feedback from people who weren’t familiar with the project. I am so thankful that we were able to show it before the pandemic struck!
The film was also accepted for the Loch Ness Film Festival in Inverness, but we will have to wait until 2021 until it’s shown there.
This summer, as well as taking online film classes during quarantine, I have also been working on a short film currently entitled ‘Ghost’. Due to social distancing guidelines, I have had to limit the crew to about four or five people.
This project has required a lot of creative thinking: I needed to write a script that required the minimum number of crew and actors and could cope with flexible scheduling. I therefore opted to use voiceover from actors instead of having actors physically on set. This project is due to have a web-release in late August 2020.
I have also been working for a Netflix television show called ‘Patriot Act’ with Hassan Minhaj. This involved me being a production coordinator for a Youtube digital exclusive entitled ‘Hassan And Keith Ellison On Justice For George Floyd’. Filming took place at the Minnesota state capitol, and I worked with many of the same crew from my own short film.
This project – with its role in raising awareness of the murder of George Floyd – made us all much more aware of the importance of the art form of television and film, and how it can be used as a positive conveyor of change. As a filmmaker you become aware of the power of stories, and of the power you hold as a teller of those stories. To quote Spider-Man, ‘With great power there must also come great responsibility!’
St Andrews has been an incredible resource to me, enabling me to grow as a writer, a filmmaker and a student: I have been encouraged to take initiative and be an adult in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened if I had been at a US university.
In particular, I have been given the opportunity to explore my filmmaking in new and creative ways through being a part of several societies’ committees. This year I worked with the committee of the charity fashion show Don’t Walk – a group of like-minded artists interested in photography, fashion, videography and art. There are many other committees that offer just such opportunities to anyone wanting to pursue them.
I am incredibly lucky to attend this amazing University and to be a part of a community that places such high value on music, art, photography and fashion.
Television and film are new-age art forms that are widespread and accessible to millions. I am proud to be involved – even in a small way – in this ever-expanding world of content and hope to continue growing as a filmmaker and storyteller as I progress further into my career.