Into the heart of darkness

BULLYING, absent parents, broken homes, foster care – enough to make most teenagers, already coping with the often-fraught move from childhood to fully-fledged adult, disappear off the rails.

But one group of city youths have instead taken those troubled experiences and channelled them into a gritty new film shot in some of the darkest corners of the Capital.

The script for the 30-minute drama, Mum's Birthday, was deemed so promising by River City bad guy, actor Tam Dean Burn, that he insisted on taking a role in the production.

Over the past five months, the Edinburgh-born actor, who previously starred in films including The Acid House and Young Adam, has worked alongside a tight cast of youngsters to create the latest offering by community film-making group Pilton Video in locations such as a dingy flat in Newhouse and among the tombstones of Grange cemetery.

The film sees single father Alex trying to piece his life back together and develop a relationship with his son, Stephen, after a tragedy hits the family. Tam took on the part of Alex's father – Stephen's grandfather – whose role explored how a person's relationship with their parents can affect future generations.

The hard-hitting drama was penned by local film enthusiast and Screen Academy Scotland student Graham Fitzpatrick who, like the teenagers selected to play the main roles, was inspired by testing personal experiences.

He reveals: "I wrote the script based on my life. Three years ago I lost my own partner and was a single parent to a six-year-old lad. You can't easily explain the emotions so I wrote the film over a series of months.

"I was already visiting schools in Craigmillar and Pilton, children's homes and young care groups to give drama and film-making workshops so my own project tied in quite nicely.

"During some of the classes, some kids used their own difficult experiences to get very creative and some real talent shone through. I knew a few people would be perfect to fill the roles."

When Tam later saw a copy of the script, he admits that he was gripped by its gritty nature and the emotional spectrum it covered.

He says: "I was really impressed because it was genuinely well-written and the detail was incredibly strong. The single parent father figure isn't one that is often represented in dramas so I volunteered to take on the part.

"The commitment of the young actors was incredible, but these kids are not in the film to become famous, they are involved because the subject means a lot to them."

Of the 15 children involved, Tam believes that two lead teenage roles, Stephen, played by 15-year-old Chris Robertson, and Stephen's best friend Chelsea, played by Ashleigh Shephard, also 15, were portrayed particularly well.

Ashleigh, from Niddrie, explains that she drew influence from her personal run-in with bullying. She says: "On the estate where I live it's pretty rough and is hard to make friends with the other kids. I think I was an easy target because I was shy, but my shyness didn't come through during filming.

"My family background also helped. Like Chelsea, I don't know my real father. I think having real experience of a situation does enhance your acting."

Graham adds: "Obviously we were dealing with kids who have had a rough time and have been brought in up rough areas, but some of them opened up when we were filming, so I guess it was therapeutic for them.

"We started off during the workshops with hundreds of kids and were surprised how many people were still standing and interested when we started rehearsing in May. It goes to show that there are a lot of kids out there looking for creative avenues."

The Pilton Video project wrapped up filming earlier this week after five weeks of shooting. It is set to premier at the Filmhouse early next year.

Graham adds: "Hopefully our audience can see the genuine and powerful nature of the performances and will take something from it too."