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Big Skye

I met the indefatigable Chris Young at Cannes in 2018, when our mutual friend Mark Adams introduced us, thinking I’d want to know about Chris and all his work with my Screen International hat on. Chris told me about a lot of exciting film productions he’s working on and also about a new sort of mini Sundance Lab-inspired event he was launching on the Isle of Skye for the flrst time that month (May 2018).


We stayed in touch this year and he invited me to attend the second-annual residency. And what an experience it was.


Chris – whose credits as a producer include The Inbetweeners Movie -- started the lab because he’s passionate about Scottish talents and wanted to give them some new opportunities. He lives on Skye and has already made a huge difference to the local industry as one of the creators of the Gaelic-language drama Bannan (about to shoot its seventh season for BBC Alba).


The set up for the residency is that six participants (writers, directors or producers) are selected from about 100 applicants. They come to Skye for six days to pitch their projects to industry, have one-on-one mentoring meetings, and also they have to direct one scene from their project. For the latter they were given studio space, equipment, and a talented bunch of actors at their disposal. Throwing the participants into the the deep in to direct (even if they have no directing ambition) was a really eye-opening exercise. I was very impressed with what they achieved with such bare-bones resources (no costumes, no music, etc) and very little time.


As with most residencies/labs, it’s particularly intense for the participants – one told me they’d been up until 5 am one night rewriting their final pitch. It was intense for many of the mentors too (not too bad for me, I did some moderating, hosted a very quick seminar about press strategy and then was on the feedback panel for the final pitches).


There were so many great people here, all so generous with their time and their advice. Mentors experts included the likes of producer Margaret Matheson (Run, Lore), actor Joe Thomas (The Festival, The Inbetweeners), director Jonny Campbell (Informer, Westworld), writer Olivia Hetreed (Girl With a Pearl Earring) , Dan MacRae (StudioCanal), Dionne Farrell (BBC Films), Celine Coulson (Film4), Isabel Davis (Screen Scotland) and producers Beth Willis (Kiri, National Treasure) and Liz Lewin (Derry Girls).


Of course it’s the non-official conversations that are often the highlights – for me that was moments like chatting about Killing Eve with writer Francesca Gardiner in the car from Inverness, talking obsessively to director Jonny Campbell about casting Claes Bang (!!) as Dracula for BBC1/Netflix, discussing wild swimming with Olivia Hetreed, learning that editor David Woods was an expert author on space exploration -- all those magical moments between sessions.


The week certainly allows for serendipitous moments, we all fell in love with one power couple’s two adorable daughters who joined us for a short film screening and a cèilidh. An older American dude that was friends of some mentors was hanging around a bit, and turned out to be a business coach, giving some great pitch tips unofficially to the participants one night at dinner.


Confession: part of the reason I said yes is that I had never been to Skye before. What a magical place. Stunning views everywhere you look (although I didn’t spot any of the famous seals). We lucked out with a mini heat wave (nearly 30 degrees one day!) and only got inundated with midges on one final night. The Foundation treats its guests very well, putting us up at Skye’s top hotels and hosting lovely dinners every night – I had the best fish and chips of my life at Gasta, and went on a fun short tour of Torabhaig Distillery.


Throughout it all, there was Chris Young as ringleader/mentor/Michael Parkinson, sharing his advice, hosting in-depth chats with assembled experts, and of course being the first one on the dancefloor at the ceilidh. He really does seem unstoppable and Scotland is lucky to have him.


It was hard to leave this bubble of creative people and amazing views (and, errr, I might now expect tattie scones every morning for breakfast).


The news story at Screen here

More info on Young Films Foundation and the residency here.

Lots of photos below


just a typically beautiful Skye view

New distillery at Torabhaig

Because I don't drink whisky I HAD to sample some other local wares

Left to right: John Murdo MacAulay, Omar Raza, Ali Taylor, Emma Lennox, Daisy Costello, Young Films’ Chris Young and Sandra MacRae, and Michael Lee Richardson.

cèilidh action

Views from the residency’s closing-night venue, An Crubh


Loch view from the residency HQ, not at all distracting...




Wendy Mitchell is a film and entertainment journalist, film festival consultant, and panel and Q&A moderator.