Keith Bruce tracks a Tartan Short.

THERE is always a particular pleasure in knowing the instant when a

project was conceived. Writer Liz Lochhead is far too direct and

unpretentious about her work to seek to clothe such moments in mystery.

During the Edinburgh Festival last year she visited the Camera Obscura

next to the castle, the clever Victorian contraption of lenses and

mirrors that gives tourists a living movie of the Athens of the North.

The woman operating it would little know what her explanation of its

beginnings would lead to, or that her translation of its name (''it's

Latin for a dark room'') would provide the title for one of the most

eagerly awaited products of the Scottish film industry.

The reason for the anticipation is down to a short, but impressive

pedigree. Latin For A Dark Room is one of the second batch of Tartan

Shorts, and follows the conspicuous success of the first year's product.

Intitially planned to span three years, Tartan Shorts is a

collaboration between The Scottish Film Production Fund and BBC Scotland

and provides grants (#30,000 last year, #35,000 this) for the making of

short film dramas. Two out of three of last year's projects -- Eleanor

Yule's A Small Deposit and Peter Capaldi's Franz Kafka's It's A

Wonderful Life -- have been nominated for next month's Baftas.

Capaldi's film already has a couple of awards -- including a Scottish

Bafta -- under its belt, so expectations of this year's Tartan Shorts

are riding high. Latin For A Dark Room is the hottest tip. Directed by

Joe Ahearne and produced by Catherine Aitken, it was filmed last week in

Glasgow and Edinburgh, with Siobhan Redmond and Neil Pearson (stars of

BBC's Between The Lines) in the main roles.

Location work has included Calton Hill and the Royal Pharmaceutical

Society's Victorian pharmacy in Edinburgh, and Glasgow School of Art.

The camera obscura itself was recreated in the BBC's Glasgow studios,

designed by Annette Gillies.

Lochhead is at pains to point out that ''the story is a complete

fiction,'' but the similarities with the truth have extended uncannily

beyond her knowledge when she began the project.

Edinburgh's Camera Obscura was created by optician Maria Short in

1853. Married to an older man, she scandalised Edinburgh society with

her affair with a younger sculptor. Lochhead's Maria, as portrayed by

Redmond, conspires with her artist and photographer lover (played by

Pearson) to murder her older husband (Bob Carr). Then she begins to

doubt the fidelity of her putative partner-in-crime.

The team chose to site the camera obscura on Calton Hill to avoid the

complication and expense of dressing the Castle Hill tourist trap (where

it is now located) to look suitably Victorian. In fact it turns out that

Short only set up shop by the castle after she was asked to leave Calton

Hill by the Royal Society, following the revelation of her affair.

Partly also inspired by last Festival's mammoth Waking Dream

photography exhibition, Lochhead says that the film is concerned with

ways of seeing things, and so in some sense it is about cinema itself.

When she says that she wrote the script ''like a poem'' (not to say very

quickly, with the deadline for the Tartan Short awards approaching), it

is clear that there are layers of meaning beyond the simple narrative.

There is still room for the performers to influence the story. ''What

you've written as a double entendre comes out as a Freudian slip,'' says

Lochhead, who wrote the piece with Redmond in mind. Their association

goes back to the writer complimenting the actor on her performance in a

university show.

''But we have had no chance to work together recently, because she's

been doing such fabby things,'' says Lochhead. It happened that Pearson

also had a week-long gap in his schedule before the pair start filming a

new series of Between The Lines.

Although most of the film's budget has been spent by the art

department on set and costumes, there has been little of the reliance on

favours that has become a self-defeating part of the Scottish film

industry. Catherine Aitken confirms that ''nearly everyone is being

paid,'' even if some people have accepted a reduced fee for the

oportunity to extend themselves into a new area of work.

In terms of budget, however, it's a far cry from Lochhead's last movie

project -- writing a voice-over for Theresa Russell to link the five

segments of Bill Forsyth's Being Human, which stars Robin Williams and

has been on the stocks for longer than the whole Tartan Shorts

initiative has been going. She loyally defends the film and Forsyth's

unique vision against reports that she was involved as part of

post-production salvage job.

''The editing took a while, but there is nothing abnormal about

that,'' she says.

Latin For A Dark Room, however, will be complete and ready for showing

by the early summer. Aitken hopes to have it attached to a feature for

commercial screening and if Being Human takes much longer to appear, it

could turn out to be the obvious film. Trouble is, if the Cassandras are

correct, it might blow it clear off-screen.