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  • Writer's pictureBen Anstruther

An Introduction To My Project

Over the past few years, I have enjoyed making films of a variety of different genres and forms - some to great success, others not so much. At the end of first year, I was sure that I wanted to go into documentary film-making but my passion for that has pretty much deteriorated and, despite having some areas/subject matters that I wouldn't mind exploring in film, I think there are too many swing factors to consider before settling on an idea. I'm not opposed to returning to documentary film in my own time but not for my graduation film.

Another thing which I’m not interested in, and this is something which I have tried to engage with, are low-key dramas which are, I suppose in vague terms, slice of life, not focussed on narrative and reliant on subtext which I have to say I struggle with. It’s not that I dislike these films, not at all, but they just aren’t what I want to make. On the other hand, I am also not interested in overt genre films. I don’t really enjoy watching B-movies and I think most student productions which are focussed on genre become that.

So what am I interested in? I am interested in areas which haven’t been explored before, stories and subjects which have not been on screen before or aren’t the norm. And then from that foundation build an unconventional narrative which hopefully feels new and refreshing for audiences whether they are deeply-passionate about film and go and see everything that’s on at the cinema like me, or just causal viewers who are looking for something entertaining.

I like films to have a heightened reality. I don’t mind if some viewers perceive (my) films to feeling scripted because I personally prefer exciting and witty dialogue to more naturalistic dialogue – I also enjoy it more. I am also very interested in satire (what my dissertation is focussed on). Whether it’s something like Succession that is a very stark reflection of our timely concerns or something like Life of Brian which takes place in a historical setting and uses it to parody and satirise Britain in the modern day.

So, with that in mind, I have developed an idea to make a film set in the world of the crown office and procurator fiscal service – exciting, I know. Firstly, I haven’t found any films, short films, television programmes or even documentaries about the fiscal which I was surprised by, in some respects anyway. Secondly it’s a subject matter of which I am familiar with. I have family who work within the judicial system and there were times when I was younger, over summer break for example, were I would have to spend time inside court and the offices within and so from a young age I’ve been subjected to that world. I have been involved myself in a case (as a witness, don’t fret) that took place in October 2020 but didn’t go to trial until June of this year.

I have been able to speak to people who work in and around the fiscal service about the issues they face and having done so, I think that it could make for an interesting film.

The fiscal service had a backlog before the pandemic and it’s not surprising that it has only been exasperated since then. Like so many public sector bodies in the UK, it is under-resourced and under-funded. Many of the staff use it as a platform to get into the bar or advance their career, and so they often become de-motivated and uninspired. The technology is fairly antiquated and the whole thing is structured around a complex bureaucratic system. Another problem which is by far most prevalent in Scotland, is a number of cases going to trial which really are vexatious and not worth the attention of the court. Some of the examples of this have made my blood run cold.

Why is this a problem? The fiscal are spread thinly across a number of departments – processing complaints and arrests from the police, building cases from that and then prosecuting them in court. This is especially problematic in smaller sheriff courts where there can be as little as four fiscals working there. What this can mean, through the lack of resources, the overly complex system, failing technology and individual incompetence, is that important evidence can be omitted which in the worst case scenarios can cost trials and allow defendants, who may be guilty, to be acquitted.

Enter my idea (in its current form).

Working Title: Roll

Logline: Set over the course of one hectic morning, two fiscals scramble to prepare for the most important case of their careers.

Synopsis: Nina has been working as procurator fiscal for the best part of four years and cannot wait to leave. The technology is dysfunctional, she cannot stand her colleagues and she constantly has to contend with a rising number of summary complaints – and that’s not taking into account the trial that is about to take place which has captured the media’s attention. As the morning progresses, it becomes apparent that Nina, and her older and irritable colleague Gordon, discover that they do not have all the evidence to win the prosecution and hasten to uncover what they can before the court is in session.

The idea would be to have the film play out in real time, with the narrative structure following the structure of a working morning of a fiscal – impossibly slow until suddenly it’s a race against time to get everything in order. I love films which make me panic or at least feel panic-stricken and if I can come close to capturing that kind of thing with this film then I would be delighted – not in a perverse way obviously.

Having experienced both sides of this world, I feel like I am in an informed enough position to build a narrative which addresses the issues I have outlined convincingly but not in an overt or patronising way. I am lucky enough to have been granted access to shadow some fiscals during a working day so I can really gage what a working day looks like. I also have been people who can help me with all the legal jargon and such.

My aim really is to make sure that I get all the language and procedures right and then incorporate my own style and voice into the visuals and characters and how they interact with each other. A debate I am having right now is whether or not to incorporate comedy into the film and if so how much. It’s obviously very hard to and is just so bad if done poorly.

Anyway, really excited to get developing this! I have a lot of ideas about the cinematic and design elements which I have thought about but not explored thoroughly. I look forward to discussing them here in later posts!


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