Give kids the film treatment: Young, restless and want a job in telly? Get yourself down to Youth Cable Television. Morgan did. Rhys Williams reports

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The Independent Culture
THIS IS Morgan's story. He is 14 and was kicked out of school in west London two months ago for stealing from the school safe. Until the council finds him an alternative school, he is spending two hours each weekday at a council-run education centre in north Kensington, where he does a bit of English, a bit of maths and even less art. 'It's like school,' he says, 'but not as much.'

The rest of the day he idles at home in front of the television or on the streets. It is a classic scenario - a young boy drifting without guidance from school who could end up in a crowd that deals in petty crime and drugs.

You could probably make a film about it. The chances are, Morgan will.

A fortnight ago, a friend encouraged him to go along, with about 30 others, to a weekend workshop at YCTV (Youth Cable Television), a fledgling film and television project for teenagers based in west London which the founders hope will one day become a full-time cable channel.

The following Monday, after his classes at the centre, he wandered back through YCTV's door wanting more. In three days, he has written two stories.

He is learning about the production process - writing scripts, camera work, wardrobe and editing. He is helping out on a three- part documentary about young people in London. Otherwise he types, photocopies and makes the coffee. It may not sound like much, but thousands of graduates would kill to do it if it meant a chance of breaking into television or film.

So Morgan is the lucky one. 'I like it here because there is more work and there is more point because you can get like an O-level in what I'm learning.' Sabrina Guinness, the project's founder, was 'thrilled' when Morgan came back. 'I just wanted him to have somewhere to go. What is there for him to do out there?'

Last year Ms Guinness returned to Britain after nearly 10 years in Hollywood, where, as an assistant producer, her film credits included Mississippi Burning and Sweet Liberty.

While Ms Guinness was picking her way through the social devastation wrought by the Los Angeles riots, she came across City Kids, an inner-city project helping teenagers to channel their frustrations and boredom into music - 'a cool option to being on the streets,' she says. North Kensington and Notting Hill are hardly South Central or Watts, but the undercurrents of tedium and worthlessness she sensed were sufficient for her to imagine a similar project (film instead of music) taking root in west London.

In the short term, workshops in make-up, acting, editing and any aspect of films you care to mention will, she says, allow non-academic children to mature and develop creative skills. 'To give them a sense of worth and responsibility, to provide a learning place, and in some ways a refuge or sanctuary. We had someone in at the weekend whose teacher had said, 'I don't know why you bother coming to school. You're useless' '.

But YCTV does more than just hand a bunch of kids a camcorder to keep them out of mischief. The long-term goal is jobs. 'By 2010, audio- visual is going to be employing more people than any other industry. And what is Britain doing about it? Nothing,' says Ms Guinness.

The cable company Videotron has already contracted YCTV to produce an hour's programming a week for local cable transmission. Channel One, Associated Newspapers' cable venture, has asked for weekly youth news strands as soon as the studio is fully geared up in the new year. The company has also agreed to offer two traineeships to students.

YCTV has also secured two scholarships a year, worth dollars 42,000 ( pounds 28,000) each, for an 11-month course at one of the US's leading film schools, the Full Sail Centre for the Recording Arts in Orlando, Florida.

Thames Valley University has guaranteed some places on its media studies course and agreed to develop National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) for YCTV alumni.

British film and television have historically thrown up barriers to entry that have proved tricky to breach. 'The idea,' says Ms Guinness, 'is to open up avenues for these people. The industry needs people who have learnt about the practical sides of the business, who can go for a job interview with a portfolio or tape of their work. The tape is their credibility.'

She also believes that the audio-visual revolution, which should see cable in 13 million homes by the end of the century, presents an enormous opportunity for local programming. In that, she sees a dove-tailing of needs -the cable companies need people to produce their programmes and a community dimension to increase subscribers; communities benefit from employment and tailored services.

Weekend workshops will continue until January, when YCTV kicks into a daily operation. The intention one day is to introduce masterclasses in specialist areas - Jerry Hall has promised one on make-up, Mick Jagger has agreed to be an interview guinea pig, Stephen Frears (Grifters) will help with writing.

Theresa Russell has already been offering acting tips, Mike Figgis (Internal Affairs) oversaw the direction on YCTV's debut short film, while James Deardon (Fatal Attraction) has advised several young scriptwriters.

Ms Guinness is anxious the project should not appear to be some celebrity play toy, but represent a serious attempt to draw valuable and valued young talent into film and television.

Above all, she says, YCTV must fuse with the local community. It is already co-operating closely with Holland Park School and the council's education officers. A new estate housing 350 families will rise from the wasteland behind its studio - not only a fertile recruiting ground, but also a possible real-life setting for a new cable soap. 'The West 10-ers,' she says, not entirely jokingly.

For all the industry time being devoted gratis, the project still desperately needs money. Challenge Anneka converted the red brick, listed building into a state-of-the-art television studio over three days during the summer, an undertaking that ordinarily would have cost pounds 250,000 and lasted nine months.

Nevertheless, start-up costs still ran to pounds 300,000. The money was raised through donations, sponsorship and grants. A further pounds 563,000 is needed to see them through to the end of next year.

Morgan has scripted his story. After robbing the school safe, he tries to escape on a pair of roller blades. He calls the work Hell On Wheels. He and his project are, as they say, 'in development'.

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