Studio still creating in independent era

Shahina Johnson, CEO and artistic director

Shahina Johnson, CEO and artistic director

First published in Features
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A WHILE ago David Yates, director of the last four Harry Potter films and multiple BAFTA and Emmy winner, got together for a project with David Collier, a TV writer and producer whose credits range from My Parents are Aliens to the updated Basil Brush show.

Their mission was to pay tribute to a place of which they are patrons, and which inspired and helped them on the road to success.

Here’s part of what they wrote: “We are excited to continue as patrons of Create Studios and proud that it is thriving and supporting new filmmaking talent as well as those working in the digital world of apps, web and gaming.

“Making your first steps in the world of film production is always an exciting and sometimes nerve-wracking experience. Having a story to share is a rare talent and bringing it to life with conviction is another challenge.”

Create’s main focus has always been on helping young people to explore their creative talents. It began in 1984, emerging from the Swindon Viewpoint cable channel with help from a government grant. Later it became Media Arts and was part of the council’s arts service, being renamed first cr8 and then Create Studios.

And then earlier this year, with austerity measures affecting council arts divisions up and down the country, there was another stage in Create’s evolution.

Shahina Johnson, CEO and artistic director, took up the story.

“Due to changes in the funding structure of community media we had the opportunity of going independent in April. It wasn’t a difficult or acrimonious thing – it was a positive change.

“The council supported us to go independent so we could get funding for Swindon from a wider range of places than we would have been allowed to if we’d stayed in.”

Backers include the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Arts Council and various other trusts and foundations. The Heritage Lottery Fund has granted £34,000 toward a local First World War commemoration. Three groups of young people and a digital artist will explore the work of Mary Slade, the Swindon woman whose comfort parcels for soldiers earned her an MBE and the admiration of thousands.

Shahina said: “There is going to be a range of films made, exhibitions and an app for people to find out more about the story.

“Hundreds of young people will be involved in making that work, and thousands of people will get to see it in Swindon and around the region.”

Independent status means Create can also apply for grants from the likes of Comic Relief and Children in Need. The council has contributed £55,000 this year, although this grant will be reduced over time.

The First World War commemoration is among an array of ongoing Create projects.

There’s ‘marking time...along the Western Flyer,’ for example. It’s a huge profile-raising project for the two-mile Western Flyer cycle and pedestrian route, which highlights the rich history of its locations. Led by Create and artist Scott Farlow it includes an app, four new films, a downloadable soundscape, a new photographic collection and a touring exhibition currently at West Swindon Library.

There’s the ongoing Next Generation project for budding young filmmakers. The two Davids, Yates and Collier, singled out the project and its participants for special praise: “The Next Generation films are great expressions of the film-makers’ vision that we’re sure audiences will enjoy and value. Stay enthusiastic and hungry for more filmmaking, and use every opportunity that Create Studios can and does offer.

“Congratulations on your first films, and we look forward to seeing more of the Next Generation of filmmaking talent emerging from Create.”

There’s also MassMedia, a young people’s media group which meets fortnightly.

“MassMedia has gone from strength to strength,” said Marilyn Fitzgerald, Create’s production and skills development manager.

“We meet fortnightly and they have industry talks from media professionals, they make films, they visit conferences and TV studios.

“It’s a really lively teenage group, and some of the older ones have gone on to get paid work with us on our film shoots.”

Other projects include the free Cultural Passport app for young people, which helps them to find out more about the arts and logs their visits to venues. A Create pilot funded by the Arts Council has now been picked up for national use.

One of the most spectacular current projects is an educational film for householders faced with flooding. It will involve furnishing the fire brigade’s practice house in Westlea to look like a suburban home and then pumping two feet of water into it.

The director is Gurchetan Singh, one of a number of freelance professionals based at Create.

Others include Gaz Bushell, of Fayju, an independent games company, and Mark Pepperall’s Hot Pepper Design.

The Create team promise more projects in the near future, and that there will always be opportunities for young people coming through its doors.

As the two Davids said: “Film and television have always been at the heart of our lives and careers since leaving Create, and it is fantastic to know that others from Swindon are planning and gaining dynamic and creative experience.”

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