AQUEST for Scotland’s future filmmakers has been launched which will not only see seven would-be scriptwriters commissioned by a major broadcaster, but will also bring in actors and writers like Karen Gillan and Neil Gaiman as mentors.

Lucky applicants for the year-long Young Films Foundation project will also be paid industry rates for the commission.

The talent development scheme evolved out of a week long residency in Skye for new film and TV writers which began in 2018 and is the brainchild of Chris Young, the creator of hit show The Inbetweeners.

He is being aided in developing it into a year long paid project by Beth Willis, former Head of Drama at Channel 4, who took part in the week long residencies and was impressed by what they achieved.

The pandemic meant the 2020 week had to be shelved but this gave the pair the chance to create an even more ambitious project as both see a real need to develop talent in Scotland and make the industry less London-centric.

“I feel that is a problem and I have spent all my working life trying to move the centre of gravity away from London,” said Young, who is originally from Edinburgh but has been based in Skye for over 20 years, commuting to London on a regular basis for work.

Following the success of The Inbetweeners he was able to persuade BBC Alba and Creative Scotland to invest in a long-running Gaelic drama made entirely on Skye, employing Gaelic speakers and teaching them to creHeraldScotland: ate a programme rather than using established actors and writers and translating everything at the last minute.

“In making Bannan I inadvertently found myself running a film school up here,” said Young. “I had a lot of people helping me get Bannan moving and I thought it would be great if there were more things in Scotland made with new talent. I also thought it would be good to make London come here.”

He had already created a studio hub at the Gaelic college employing eight people and decided the next step would be to do “a kind of Sundance on Skye” event.

Based loosely on the US Sundance concept where film and TV industry representatives are brought out from the city to an idyllic location to write scripts and make films, Young decided to bring a number of new script writers to Skye, then invite some big names up from London to help them in masterclasses and workshops.

The initiative revealed a huge demand, with over 100 people applying for the first six places. Young was heartened at the enthusiasm shown by wellknown directors and producers like Danny Boyle and David Puttnam who saw potential early on in the project and were delighted to spend some time on Skye.

For the first 12 participants it was a “gamechanger” with all now working in the industry but Young felt there was a need for an even more ambitious scheme.

With major broadcasters keen to invest money in Scottish talent, Willis suggested they ask them to commission a total of seven scripts – ranging from feature films, TV comedy or TV drama - paying the writers an industry standard script fee, a token rarely offered by other comparative programmes. For 2021, these broadcasters include BBC Drama, BBC Films, Sky TV, Film4, Channel 4 Comedy, Channel 4 Drama and MG Alba/BBC Alba.

Masterclasses will also be held regularly with the likes of Steven Moffat and Douglas Mackinnon talking about how they made Doctor Who and Sherlock.

After nine months of honing scripts, the seven will then be invited to Skye for a week of classes and informal dinners with their mentors and commissioners. “The dream is that it will get made,” said Young.

“We can’t guarantee it but if it doesn’t they will still have a very polished piece of work which they can use to get an agent and an agent can use to interest producers. We think Scotland needs this. There has been a recognition that it has been shortchanged in terms of these kind of things and there is a need to generate work from here. Outlander is great but it is American.”

Young added he had been inspired by the willingness of people like Gillan and Gaiman to help with the project. “They all said they would love to do this as they really want to help new talent,” he said.

In addition there is the bonus of real interaction between the writers and inspiring talent in the industry as well as broadcasters, allowing them to have support throughout the process and make vital contacts.

“It is an effective way of turbo charging the learning experience and letting the writers not just get a foot in the door but enabling them to explore the corridors of industry,” said Willis.

“That’s so valuable and I have been overwhelmed and quite moved by the number of people – not just Scottish talent but across the board – who have been very up for getting involved and lending a hand. They see how important it is to encourage the next generation.”