Getting Screen Machine Back on the Road

The old and new tractors side by side. Photo credit: Iain MacColl.

Screen Machine audiences rightly marvel at our expanding venue, opening out from a standard truck trailer to a full-scale cinema auditorium. But they might not always pay enough attention to that other crucial piece of equipment, our tractor, without which we wouldn’t have the ‘mobile’ in ‘mobile cinema’! Our present tractor has been in constant use since we launched the current Screen Machine back in 2005, making it one of the oldest haulage vehicles still in daily use in the UK. And of course a great deal of its time has been spent on ferries, or parked up at the coast, so we have a constant battle against corrosion.

Over the past year the tractor has really been showing its age, with a number of unpredictable, and often costly, breakdowns which have led to us having to cancel or reschedule screenings at short notice. So we were absolutely delighted to be awarded funding by Creative Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to enable us to purchase a brand new tractor, and ensure the continuity of the Screen Machine service for years to come. We’re particularly grateful that both funding bodies were able to make such a commitment at a time when the pandemic is placing significant burdens on all public funders.

So, our grand plan was to return to touring on November 12 with our splendid new tractor, purchased from Scania, and all decked out in the Screen Machine livery. But, with a service as unusual as the Screen Machine, there’s always scope for the unexpected. A key part of preparing the new tractor for service was the transfer of our on-board generator from the old tractor unit. Now, while we replaced the generator itself just four years ago, the custom-built generator casing dates back to 2005. So it wasn’t a complete surprise when David Philp Commercials, who’re carrying out the transfer, informed us at the weekend that the base of the generator casing (which of course no-one had seen for 15 years) was far more corroded than anyone had anticipated, and would require a further two weeks’ work to make it fit for purpose.

But we were due to open our tour in Fort Augustus this Thursday! And with a number of special screenings for Fort Augustus Primary, kindly supported by Fort Augustus and Glenmoriston Community Company. We couldn’t possibly let the children down. So this is where the Screen Machine team swung into action. Portree-based Operator David collected a rented pickup and drove to Thistle Generators in Glasgow to collect a hired portable generator. Senior Operator Iain drove the old tractor back to his home in Tighnabruaich to collect the trailer, then on to Fort Augustus, ready for the first screening on Thursday morning. For the next two weeks our former Operator Neil (now our much-valued back-up Operator) will follow the Screen Machine, towing the portable generator, from Fort Augustus to Dornie, and from Dornie to Kyleakin, returning home to Kinlochewe in between. And then in Mallaig, fortunately, we’ll be able to use a three phase power supply at the harbour, as there’s no room for our pick-up and generator on the Armadale-Mallaig ferry!

All being well, we’ll finally be able to bring our new tractor, and our old trailer, together on Monday 23rd November, to start a new chapter in the story of the Screen Machine, a story that began way back in 1998.

Robert Livingston
Director, Regional Screen Scotland


Picking Your Seat

Using Our Online Booking System

With Screen Machine returning to the road this week, we thought we’d highlight how you pick your seats when you book your tickets.

Currently, all tickets must be purchased online up to 2 hours before the film’s scheduled start time. Cinemas in Scotland must operate with 2 metres-plus physical distancing. In order to meet this while also making as many seats available as possible, we have organised Screen Machine into 20 seats (25% our normal capacity) divided into 10 pairs, all of them numbered.

When you book your seats, you will be asked to pick your seat(s) from this floor plan.

You can pick your seat(s) by clicking on them. As you can see, row A is closest to the screen, while row J is at the back. When you complete your booking, you will be reminded of your seat number. Please bring this with you when you visit Screen Machine as it will make it quicker to get you settled in.

With the introduction of the tier system, we ask you to please be aware of the restrictions in your area as this might mean that two friends from separate households will have to sit in separate pairs. (Click here to see what tier your area is in). The pairs are fixed to maintain physical distancing, so please do not sit in any other seat than the one you booked.

We will continue to monitor restrictions for cinemas, and will communicate them with you all when any changes are introduced. You can read about all our Covid-related changes here.


Small Screen Machine

Our weekly recommendations of great films on TV

This week’s Top Pick is a triple bill of Sean Connery films, chosen by Angie, while Drew has four other films, making this week’s Small Screen Machine recommendations a whopping seven films!

Triple Bill of Sean Connery films
Film 4, Sunday 15th November
Time Bandits at 1.30pm (1981, PG)
Robin and Marion at 4pm (1976, PG)
The Man Who Would Be King at 6.10pm (1975, PG)

For my main pick I hope it’s not cheating to choose this triple bill of films in memory of Sean Connery.

I saw Sean Connery and Michael Caine, speak at the Edinburgh International Film Festival Closing Gala in 1997. Sean was a patron of the Festival for many years, and he’d selected Edinburgh for the world premier screening of a new 35mm print of The Man Who Would be King. He’d invited his co-star. They had great banter between them. At one point, Michael teasingly boasted, that whilst Sean may have got the girl in the film, he, Michael, got the girl in real life, and married her. His wife of many years, Shakira, was laughing along with us in the audience.


Dirty Dancing (1987, 12A)
5STAR, 5.10pm on Saturday 14 November
A classic 1980s romanic drama in which Patrick Swayze’s dance instructor teaches Jennifer Grey’s middle-class teenager how to express herself through dancing. The film catapulted Swayze to global recognition.


Shrek (2001, U)
ITV2, 5.05pm on Sunday 15 November
Animated fantasy about the eponymous anti-social green ogre with a Scottish accent who teams up with a talking donkey to rescue a princess. Featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow.


Shoplifters (2018, 15)
Film4, 11.10pm on Monday 16 November
Japanese drama about a family of unrelated people stuck in poverty in Tokyo, shoplifting to make ends meet. When they bring an abused girl into their group, they must keep her safe and away from police attention. In Japanese with English subtitles.


Blade Runner 2049 (2017, 15)
ITV4, 11.55pm on Tuesday 17 November
The long awaited and beautifully shot sequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic. Ryan Gosling’s android blade runner K searches for an android girl from his implanted memories. This leads him to Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, and revelations that could have catastrophic consequences.



We’ll be back with more news next week. We hope that you all have a great week and stay well.