Monthly Archives: April 2001

Celluloid Dreams III

“What we’ll do is get it done on Tuesday and Wednesday and mix it down to a Dolby 5.1 surround, then (yadda yadda yadda)…” Yeah yeah. I’ll believe it when I see it. God, I’m unimpressed and that’s an understatement.

Was I unimpressed? Was I? No really, was I?

Okay, so the sound guy called me in the week and said, “Saturday, definitely Saturday.” Then I spoke to him on Friday and he said, “Michelle can’t do Saturday, so it’ll have to be Sunday.” I just phoned him and he said, “I’ve just spoken to Michelle and she can’t do tomorrow, so it’ll have to be during the week. But we will get it done.”

Bzzzt, click. “We will get it done!” Bzzzt, click. “We will get it done!” Bzzzt, click. “We will get it done!” As I try to disengage this scratched CD that is film postproduction, I am vaguely aware that he is lining up the next shot. He gets the cue solidly behind it, bangs into the white and pots a conversational colour: “I’m going away next weekend so we’ll have to get it done next week.”

I dance a little jig, it is such a joy. No really, it is.

A Beautiful Destination II

Brrrnnggg Brrrnnggg! Brrrnnggg Brrrnnggg!

I rush to the phone and pick it up. It is Melanie, one of the actresses in Fate & Fortune. We talk about life, the universe and the commitment to a career for a while and arrange to meet up for a beer in a few weeks time. She mentions that she has been getting a lot of parts in short films lately and has updated her CV (resum�). Do I think there’ll be enough of her in the film to add to her showreel? Of course. “I was Fate wasn’t I?” she asks. “Um, no you were Fortune.” Oops. I really MUST get this finished!

Brrrnnggg Brrrnnggg! Brrrnnggg Brrrnnggg!

It’s a friend wondering where I’ve been and do I want to come around for a cup of tea. I can’t I’m on my way to work in two hours. Where are the film-related people who were going to call back?

Brrrnnggg Brrrnnggg! Brrrnnggg Brrrnnggg!

Maybe it’s the sound re-recordist or the graphics people this time. I spring forth with enthusiasm at the prospect. “Hello. This is City Vintners.” Who the hell are City Vintners? Do I detect the fine bouquet of a scam involving me putting my non-existent Monopoly money into their business? I think I do…

“I’m not trying to sell you anything,” the voice says. Of course not. This is one of those altruistic phone calls at their expense solely for the benefit of little old me. Right.

“Do you invest? Our customers have seen returns of twenty to thirty percent annually for the past ten years. Would you be interested in a business opportunity like that?” Let me put it this way, can I pay for whatever it is in shirt buttons and get a return in hard currency? Could you spin the pile of old videocassettes on my landing into bullion? Is your name Rumplestiltskin? As I suspected…

Telephone marketers, you are the weakest link. Goodbye.

A Beautiful Destination For What It’s Worth

The phone rings. It is the sound editor. You guessed, didn’t you? We engage in the little ritual dance before getting to the point. I say, “Hi how are you?” He says, “Fine, how are you?” I say, “I’m good. How is everything going?” He says, “Well, it’s going really well. We’ve done quite a lot over the past couple of nights. Unfortunately we can’t finish it tonight because Michelle has got another job that starts at five and finishes at nine and we can’t really ask her to start again at nine o’clock.” I think, ‘I could. I’ve done worse things.’ I say, “No, of course not.”

So my friendly neighbourhood sound editor says we can probably finish tomorrow. I say I’m working tomorrow evening and there’s no way I could get in. He says Saturday then and that sounds good. My God, does that mean this thing will actually be done before the weekend is over? You know, this Sunday? Should I break out the bunting, assuming it hasn’t decayed to dust with the age of centuries? If you’ve got to know (and I think you have) I am actually so far past excitement that it has merged with the vanishing point on the horizon behind me.

Yesterday I spoke to that nice Ted at the labs and said I was thinking of only going as far as a super16 print with Last Train and then getting that transferred to video. That will save me �2,500 of the Monopoly money I’m thinking of paying the overall bill with. This is fine and I can get a 35mm print done later once it’s entered in a few festivals. Fate & Fortune must be the priority, however, as I’ve said before.

No problem with getting the super16 print. Now if I just had that EDL from Simon, the neg cut could be checked and we’re in business. I’ll need titles and credits on super16 too, though, so I call the graphics people. “How do I go about signing off on the graphics?” I ask. “You’ll need to sign our special release form,” they say. “We’ll fax it to you.” Naturally they don’t. I will have to call them again later.

The only thing missing now for Last Train is the sound. That’s already been mixed down to Dolby Surround so I call the company that did it. “The number you dialled has been changed to (blah blah blah blah blah).” I redial. It’s one of those funky new switchboards that informs me the switchboard is very busy but I can press one and enter the first four letters of the person I wish to speak to. I try this. Three times. I then get bored of the game and hang up.

Later I try the sound people again and get the same machine again. And again. And again. I watch TV, I surf, I shop, I cook. I clean my fingernails so often that they appear to be growing before my eyes. Today I try once more and I get through …to the receptionist. “Oh, the person you want’s in the middle of mixing at the moment. Can he call you back?” Sure! Why not? Nothing would make me happier. In fact I think I’ve found a bit more grit threatening to upset the tranquil beauty of my thumbnail so it’s not like I haven’t got other things to do.

I leave two phone numbers knowing I may as well be shouting a pizza order to a guy on a bike ten blocks away who is cycling away from me during a hurricane.

Now that’s all well and good and, hey, Last Train may actually get finished in the next couple of weeks. Or let’s say three to be on the safe side, shall we. I’ll have pristine nails to attend the first screening and my adoring cast and crew will thank me from the heart of their bottoms. Nevertheless, Fate & Fortune is still more important.

I spoke to Simon The Editor on Tuesday this week and explained about the EDL situations. Now Simon has a problem. Because Simon isn’t using a UK TV standard 25 frames per second 625 line PAL edit suite. Oh no. He is currently using a USA TV standard 30 frames per second 525 line NTSC edit suite. This of course bears no relation to anyone else’s regular professional or domestic kit in the country and it certainly can’t output tapes we can view here.

I am reminded of my friend Tim telling me an anecdote about someone whose girlfriend had cheated on him and caught a disease. The cuckolded lover adopted a strong West Country pirate voice and shouted the following: “Tharr be no morrr fay-vorrs from now arrn! It be straight A’s for you, me proud beyoo-tee!” Which doesn’t mean she’s going to get a good report card. No. It means he’s not going near her original temple of love.

Yes, my chums. We appear also to be bent over in the ‘straight A’s’ position. Because what your hero (me) has done is to re-edit the film, not on Simon’s edit suite, but on two tape machines to remove six of the eight title cards which were going to cost �100 apiece plus tax. All well and good but the problem with that is that there’s no EDL because it was done on primitive editing kit. Like stone age.

The solution is to sit down with the tape and write down the electronic time code marking where each edit is on that the tape and send that to Simon so he can adjust the EDL accordingly. I also need to dub off an extra tape for him and one for the neg cutters. And where is the only copy of the edited tape that I have so lovingly reworked? Why, it is with the sound editor. You love this game, don’t you. Really.

Celluloid Dreams II

What did I write? “I call the sound guy to see how we’re looking to do the promised final mix in beautiful digital Dolby surround on Sunday…He’ll call me back to confirm. I’m not holding my breath…” Good farking job I wasn’t.

Hey, guess who just called? “Err, the dubbing mixer can’t make it this weekend — she’s got too much work on…” Oh, really. I am SO surprised. Look at the amazement on my face. No, that IS amazement. Really. No, you’re not telling me a familiar story at all. Oh, no.

So tell me more. “…but we’re going to do it during the week next week. In the evenings. I’m going to have to do some of her work for her so she has time to do it…”

Am I grateful? Well, of course, I am. But let me put it this way — when someone has sat on your freaking project for twelve freaking months the temptation is to freaking scream at them until their freaking ears bleed. So my capacity for gratitude is pretty much gone and, yes, I did just go back and change the word I originally typed instead of ‘freaking’.

Oh, yes. Twelve months; I realised the other day I actually gave them the sound material last April. I remember how young and spritely I was when I started this film, to say nothing of poor old Norman, one of my actors. He was 85 then. I only hope he lives to see it.

“What we’ll do is get it done on Tuesday and Wednesday and mix it down to a Dolby 5.1 surround, then (yadda yadda yadda)…” Yeah yeah. I’ll believe it when I see it. God, I’m unimpressed and that’s an understatement.

Well, fingers crossed for Norman’s sake.

Guilt Trip

‘What’s your biggest regret?’ I’d put that question to one side for much of my life because, although I was always pretty sure I had regrets, they were all linked in with other things and difficult to make distinct enough to point to as regrettable. But I was thinking about it walking home from the station yesterday afternoon and I realised I do have two major real regrets where I want to say sorry really badly. Those regrets have names too. Because they’re people. Gillian Darby and Kenton Harding.

Gillian Darby was the first girl I ever kissed. Kissed properly I mean, like with tongues and stuff. I was at a party and 17–yeah, late developer. Or maybe not. I don’t know. We were drinking vodka and Coke or maybe it was straight brandy or even whisky. Who knows. You know what it’s like when you’re a teenager–some evenings you can drink anything until the cows come home and still not have a hangover. I’m sitting in a big chair in someone’s parents’ living room and the music is pounding loud enough to rattle the pictures on the walls. Their carpet is rolled up on the staircase to avoid it getting damaged. I remember sliding down it earlier that evening using a hairdryer as a ray-gun and being warned not to be childish.

So I’m sat in the big chair and looking around in that unfocused intoxicated floating on sound state and Gillian came and sat on the arm of the chair and we started talking. She was in the year below me at school and was a friend of someone’s girlfriend. I knew her because she was at Girl Guides with my sister and also she’d gone out with another friend of mine but they’d split up. She had long dark hair right down to her waist and wasn’t fully a woman yet if you know what I mean. Okay, small breasts. There. I said it. Anyway, it’s not like I was a man. We were both kids and she was there sitting next to me and of course we had to shout right into each other’s ears just to make ourselves heard. And that’s kind of awkward so before I knew it, she was on my lap.

Having a girl sat on your lap wasn’t so unusual in those days. It used to happen to me all the time in pubs and at parties. Maybe that’s just a measure of how nave I was. Anyway Gill is sitting on my lap and that’s good and we’re having one of those conversations where you can’t quite hear the other person distinctinctly but you really want to keep the conversation going so you’re being extra interested in how they’re communicating as much as the content. You’re following their body language really closely and looking into their eyes and, well, you know, you’ve been there. Around us other sweaty teenagers have turned the room into Make Out Central and the party is in full swing.

And there came a Moment, a place outside time, where I looked down at her and my arm is around her and she looked up at me and her arm is around me and we looked at each other and I thought, hey, I could kiss her. So I did. And it was good. It was way better than I was expecting. I think we came up for air about half an hour later and had another one of those looking in each other’s eyes Moments and a sip of whatever was in the glasses. And then we carried on. The hands went all over the place and we grinned big grins when we weren’t ‘snogging’ and her long plait came undone and it carried on like that for the rest of the night. It was great.

So why should I feel guilty about that? Well, I don’t. And it wasn’t anything to do with the Kenton character. That’s a completely different story. No. My regret that eats me up when I think about Gillian Darby is more what happened the next day. You see, I had this huge crush on a girl in my class who also happened to be a really good friend. She also happened to be the most popular girl in the school.

This other girl hadn’t been at the party and I felt like I still wanted to go out with her. So I gave Gillian the cold shoulder. The poor girl stood outside the sixth form common room crying her eyes out wondering why I wouldn’t speak to her and I rationalised it all by telling my ‘mates’ that she was too ‘uptight’ for me and really it was me who was too far up my own backside to even have the courtesy to go out of the room and speak to her.

I was scared. Scared of ending up having a long term relationship with Gillian–even though I had no idea what that meant at the time. Scared of not having a chance with the other girl. Scared of having to deal with a crying confused female and having to tell her that I didn’t want to see her. And I should have seen her. I should have gone out with her even. She was actually a nice person and we would probably have had a really great time.

Yeah yeah. I was young, dumb and full of come and what can you do? You can’t live your life over again and I’d probably screw up in all the same ways even if I did. But I want to apologise to Gillian Darby because she did nothing wrong and I behaved like a total ratfink a-hole. Hey, I got to be really good friends with the other girl, the most popular one in the school, and she’s still one of my best friends ever after twenty years, but that doesn’t make it alright.

So that’s regret number one: I behaved like a gutless dork and I never apologised. Gillian, I wish I had. I wish I could.

The second story is several years later when I was running a television station which involved quite a bit of community programming. I had a number of people used to come in and work alongside the full time staff. They researched, produced, directed and crewed on programmes and many of them were unpaid volunteers who I organised specialised training for.

The volunteers were all very talented individuals and all worked incredibly hard. I’d say they worked harder than anyone on contract because they had full-time jobs to do during the week days and sometimes at weekends as well as making television. So to recognise this I organised an awards evening. We got a local business to provide a venue at their sports club, someone spent several days cutting together programme highlights, I organised voting among the programme makers themselves and Kenton Harding volunteered to compere the whole evening.

Now, Kenton was a local club DJ and an estate agent who had also been assistant producer on our series of live music shows, finding local artistes with original (uncopyrighted) material who would appear for nothing and also organising venues for location filming on a similar zero budget basis. Plus we wanted catering facilities and parking and a whole string of other requirements which he and the other AP’s made sure got fulfilled. In addition, he presented fifty percent of those shows and he was extremely good at it. A natural.

Kenton also organised coverage of the local town carnival, including being front man for the procession and on a stage in the park and getting sponsorship for the TV station through T-shirts and give-aways–something the cable company who employed me should have done but they were less than useless. Their centralised marketing department was a hundred miles away and barely knew the towns where the cable ran let alone anything about television. The people appearing in the programmes were far more motivated to ensure people watched. Oh, and Kenton regularly stepped in to present sports shows at the last minute as well.

In short, Kenton was a godsend sorting out marketing, producing and presenting shows and just generally always being there to step in at the eleventh hour and save the day. He even sorted out most of the awards evening itself with a free PA and audio visual equipment. Now, I’m not saying he worked harder than anyone else. There were a lot of people there putting in the same 200 percent. I can name at least twelve off the top of my head. And I did. And that’s where I screwed up.

You see, I decided to add some extra discretionary awards of my own in addition to the ones voted by the programme makers for technical and production achievements. I had twelve made and I forgot about Kenton. Inwardly I just cringe thinking about this. He stood there dressed up in his dinner jacket and bow-tie doing a fantastic job, cracking jokes and keeping it all flowing while making the presentations. Then I asked for the microphone and handed out those twelve extra awards.

It was only afterwards when Paul Thompson, my head of advertising, came over to me and said, “Er, I think Kenton’s a bit disappointed he didn’t receive anything.” that I realised. The poor guy was crushed. I am surprised he ever came back. I mean, he put a brave face on it and smiled when I went back to the mic later to give a special thanks to our compere for the evening but it was just plain wrong. Ugh. I vowed to do something about it the next year but the station was taken over by the same useless cable company marketing department that didn’t provide carnival T-shirts to volunteers making programmes for their subscribers and in a fit of phone-obsessed profit frenzy, the TV station was shut down.

So that’s my other biggest regret. I never said thank you properly to someone who really really deserved it and I undermined some of their motivation and enthusiasm from that point onwards. If you ever see this, Kenton, please know that you did good. You were one of the best. Thank you.

Edits And Decision Lists

Option number one for yesterday evening: meet up with my friend Jill who works in films usually producing and is finishing her first short as director. She phoned me up at lunchtime though to say she couldn’t make it. Why? The EDL for her film had problems and needed sorting out. The EDL needed sorting. Hahahahaha. Honestly, if my smile had been any bigger my jaw would have fallen off! I am SO glad it’s not just me!

“Yes, I totally understand,” I said. Understatement of the week.

So option number two became available: go to jive at the Old Town Hall in St Albans and meet Shauna and lots of other interesting women and dance for the evening. Did I do this? No. At 6.30pm I went to bed and fell asleep. How useless was that? Actually it was a good sleep so I’m thinking of it as quality time with myself and I got up early this morning (4am) which is okay. Although somehow I still feel sleepy…

If you’re following my film making saga, by the way, you’re probably wondering whether there’s any more news. Well, the latest is that the sound guy did call me back and it looks like the final audio mix for Fate & Fortune will go ahead on Sunday as planned. Still need to speak to the editor to get a new EDL (edit decision list – generated on computer) for both films for the neg cutters. Still need to find �10k. I’m trying not to think about that.

Today, I’ll call the graphics people and talk about getting 16mm titles for Last Train so it can at least be finished to a stage where transferring to video is possible without spending the whole �2,000-ish lab costs. Plus I can see how the Fate & Fortune titles are doing. Fate & Fortune should really be my priority because I wrote, produced and directed it, so it’s mine all mine. Plus it’s all shot on 35mm and has a fantastic cast and it looks first class. And lab costs are cheaper (because there’s no blow up).

I wonder if anyone will understand what the four slightly surreal stories in those 15 minutes are all about though?

Celluloid Dreams

The story so far… Last week our hero phoned the neg cutters and asked to speak to Andy. Andy, he was told by the strongly accented holiday relief staff, had ‘left ze comperny’. There was great wailing and gnashing of teeth. Our hero phoned again the next day and Andy’s boss confirmed that he had indeed left but the negative appeared to have been cut. They did indeed have the Grail! Now, if I could just supply an EDL for them to check it against…


Hang on, haven’t we gone down this road before? No, well that was Fate & Fortune and we’re talking about Last Train. ‘But,’ says I, in my best Anthony Burgess teetering on mayhem drogishness, ‘But I didst surely giveth at the office? Mayhap my goodly bossguy could peruse his establishment once more before giving of the non-extantish vernacular? The EDL is on a yellow diskette, my sweets, and you had better be finding of it or I may well be bursting of one of the crimson vessels pounding the toms in my temple. And then it surely WILL get messy!’

Nope. No joy. Andy has gone and with him, apparently, the yellow diskette and the tape. Absolute disparu, my dears. Like mother’s minks. No EDL. So maybe I ‘could just run another one off?’ HAHAHAHAHA. Yes. Manic cackling and back to the editor who doesn’t have access to an edit suite to ‘just run another one off’ for another week…

Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

Of course, I refuse to be beaten by what appear to be ridiculously stacked odds, so today I’ve been on the phone again. First I call the sound guy to see how we’re looking to do the promised final mix in beautiful digital Dolby surround on Sunday. That’s P R O M I S E D in big effing capitals and it had better happen or else… Well, I don’t know ‘or else…’ but it won’t be pretty. And it’s looking good. Yes, Fate & Fortune should be finally mixed on Sunday, starting 10am. He’ll call me back to confirm. I’m not holding my breath, of course, but hey, this is as good as it gets. Okay, apart from actually doing the creative stuff that’s the whole point of the exercise, postproduction-wise this is as good as it gets.

I phone the editor, Simon. His mobile is on an answermachine so I leave a message. I hate that. Anyone who knows me will tell you I have a deep deep mistrust of mobiles connected to answermachines. I think this is partly down to my friend Paul who actually deletes his answerphone messages with shining eyes and a manic glee before even hearing them. It may also be down to the number of people whose phones I deal with most of whom simply lose the message under the pile of stuff on their desk and lists of other things they have to do. In fact, I used to do it all the time which is one reason I got rid of my mobile several years back. The other reason was I figured that I didn’t want to be called about work stuff on my days off.

Whatever. Message left. Simon will hopefully call back and Alex will too and I can sort out new EDL’s on diskette plus a tape copy of each film off the Avid to take to the neg cutters so that they can check the almost finished product. Everything will be hunky dory and I shall go on to bigger and better things. That’s once I’ve had a �10k loan stuck on my mortgage and got prints made. Still, in anticipation of these miracles coming to pass, I phone the Guild of Directors and ask for an application form — something I should have done years ago because there will be people there with various specialist knowledge that I need. Distribution for example. And, more importantly, some agency contacts.

Now I can breath.

Things To Do Instead Of Writing

Do a long in-depth tarot reading. Spend plenty of time meditating on the meanings of each card in turn whilst listening to a Medwyn Goodall CD of Celtic music and burning something called ‘Feng-Shui Fire’ in the oil burner. Spin the tarot out for around an hour and a half with other activities (see below) between each card.

Find pine needles still in the carpet from Christmas and pick them out. Follow this up by hoovering every room in the house. And the blinds. And under the bed. Then the book shelves too. Log on and check emails. Leave PC online to keep coming back for emails. Remember to put out the candle in the oil burner once the fumes start making your eyes water and there’s just a thin layer of moisture left in the bowl.

Sort out those many many piles of post, paperwork and magazines that have kept getting shunted to one side and are now all around the kitchen, on the living room table, on the bedroom windowsill and in the hall where you keep tripping over them. This can be made into an activity for the whole day by taking one piece of paper at a time and binning it, then having a cup of tea or something similar.

Eat cake and watch Star Trek Voyager. Reply to an email. Visit a couple of websites. Try to avoid the internet and the Motley Fool discussion boards because that would suck you in but you go there anyway. Discipline yourself not to indulge the posting compulsion.

Find more pine needles and vacuum the television, the PC and various bookshelves. Sort out old Christmas cards and see if there’s anyone who you really should have got in touch with this year. Wonder who has signed themselves ‘Julie’ out of the five Julies you know, especially as it’s the funniest card out of the lot and she’s put ‘It’s been ages!’. Make a pile of these essential things to look at later and place to one side on the sofa.

Start a load of laundary. Also do some cooking and washing up. Find extra things to wash up like incense bottles, salt cellars and a wok which really doesn’t need washing but who cares? Put the wok in the oven because the cupboard is full. Forget about this when cooking later. Wonder where the smell of baking plastic is coming from after the oven has been warming up for 15 minutes. Double double check the oil burner then assume it’s probably drying clothes toasting on a radiator. Suddenly remember the wok and remove it wearing oven gloves.

Eat tagliatelli carbonara. Find a few more pine needles. Sit around in the big chair and admire how clean and tidy everything looks. Spot a load of receipts from recent trip to the States and resolve to ‘deal with them later’. Reward yourself with a beer for having created such a lovely place to live and watch Dark Angel before finally giving in to the temptation to post something on the net.

(Okay, actually, I did do some writing today, but that’s another story for another day.)

No, Really

So I phone up the neg cutters today to find out if Last Train is ready to go to the printers yet and what do they want to do about titles, cut them in now or wait for a 35mm interneg. The conversation reminds me of that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where they come across a French castle in England which actually has got the Grail…

Receptionist: ‘Ello, Trrue Cut.

My keen ears immediately detect that this is not the usual receptionist, in fact this person has a definite accent so I find myself having to repeat things.

Me: Hi. Can I speak to Andy, please?

Receptionist: Ah’m efraid ‘e no longer werks ‘ere.

I do a double take and try to absorb this because well who if anyone is cutting my negative now? Maybe this new person just doesn’t know who he is? Maybe it’s already done? But Fate & Fortune isn’t even started. Maybe it’s all going pear shaped — again. Uh oh… I remember to breathe…

Me: “Oh… Well, is Peter there?

Receptionist: Piterr iss out of the office at ther momont.

Me: Can I leave a message?

She does the ubiqitous new receptionist thing of getting my name wrong at least once (she wasn’t even close), apologises when I repeat it back correctly and then says okay, she’ll pass that on.


Yes, I know, not the poor receptionist’s fault but taking the mickey out of her accent gives me the laugh I need to carry on and ask myself, ‘So where does this leave my films?’ I guess we’ll find out later today or later in the week or next week. Or when? Who the eff knows.

Not to be put off, I procrastinate by tarting up the Last Train budget spreadsheet in Excel with gray shading and blue subtotals and working out exactly how much all this would have cost me if I’d had to pay full price. It comes out to just over �22,200 for an eight minute film. In hard cash, I’ll have actually spent �8.5k. Despite that really being an obscene amount of money, somehow I find the comparison heartening so I get back on the phone.

I call the nice people at the labs. Yes, no problems, just ask the neg cutters to deliver to our city office once it’s done and we’ll take it from there. It won’t be done this week now but if you deliver this week, we should be able to start on it next week.

Good. I ask them about graphics and they say it depends whether they’re shot on 16mm or 35mm. I suspect 35mm. That means they get cut into the negative once there’s a 35mm neg. As I suspected. I also suspect it’s going to cost me something extra (as Han Solo once said) but it won’t be “ten thousand all in advance” (“Ten thousand? We could almost buy our own ship for that!” “Yeah but who’s going to fly it kid? You?” Ahem…)

Finally I call the graphics people. The person I need to talk to is on holiday, so that kinda completes everything I can do this week. Time to procrastinate some more. Or maybe time to start sketching out some feature ideas. Hmmm, any guesses which is more likely?

Where Do You See Yourself?

I was going to write something about how I spent a day (once) trying to swat a really annoying fly when I was really up to my armpits in alligators. But the thing you always forget when you’re up to your armpits in alligators is that you’re supposed to be draining the frigging swamp. So let’s drain the swamp, the swamp that is ‘what the hell is this all for and is this my life?’

This past week some pretty amazing and lovely and righteous things have happened. People coming out of the woodwork like you wouldn’t believe, or maybe you would. Maybe you live in the woodwork and I’m being unduly harsh on you. Well don’t take it so personal.

One thing that happened was I had a chat with one of the people I work for and he gave me that question, “Where do you see yourself in three years’ time? Or even five years’ time?” I’ve told people about him saying this and they are all like “What?” and “How do you answer that?” but I’ll tell you a thing. Once upon a time I went to a meeting of a Junior Chamber of Commerce — this was about ten years ago and there was this girl I wanted to go out with, yeah yeah, lame, but I went — and they asked that same question: “Where do you see yourself in three years time?” And you know what? I had an answer! It totally floored them because they were all clueless geeks and they had no answers to anything.

My answer back then was, I was going to be running a new television station that I was going to set up with a studio complex including continuous radio broadcasting and TV programmes every night and drama and documentaries and sports coverage and music and whatever. I’d have a staff of full-time committed people and the best training the industry could provide and we’d put 20 local people a year through a first-class training scheme at pretty much zero cost so they could make programmes and go on to get jobs. Wow. The unbelievable thing is that three years later I was doing it and it was all there. People just couldn’t believe their buggy eyes.

So how does that relate to now? What in the name of all that’s holy am I going to be doing in three years time this time? Directing a feature film. I have to just remind myself of that occasionally and I’d better believe it, buddy boy, “because otherwise you’re sitting on a big fat debt which was incurred with only one repayment option — success”. Or small chunks of servicing forever and ever amen.

And that means writing a feature length script because no one is going to hand over the option to their precious first novel to me with no major track record, are they? Well, one person might. Maybe. And another might be writing a script that they’ll let me have first dibs on and, of course, I’ll ask. But otherwise, writing a feature length script is what’s needed or the swamp stays full and I get eaten by the alligators, and never mind the flies buzzing around on the internet and what have you.

Okay. So, ever done this before? Once. And it’s no picnic. The thing about writing is there is no secret and no mystery. You know what the secret of great writing is? You write. That’s it. Just write. Do it or it doesn’t get done. Okay, so you edit afterwards and all that. But first and foremost is to just write and write and write some more.

Well, I’m verbose so I figure yep, I’ll write. What I need is a subject I feel passionately enough about to sustain my interest for five to seven years, though, because that’s what we’re talking about for a feature film. Phew. Okay, so I’m thinking. If anyone sees me pulling the soapbox out on a regular basis for certain things, those are the trigger issues I need to be aware of to focus on.

Now the other things that have happened this week are more those out of the woodwork reappearances by people.

Like here’s one: I was walking through the Underground yesterday evening and someone called out, “Hey Keith!” and I looked up and it was Shauna from salsa classes three years ago and she was beautiful and tall and blonde with these wonderful blue eyes and great smile and she remembered my name. She remembered my name. Wow. So we talked for a bit and now she does jive and why don’t I go along? It’s on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And who knows? Maybe I will. But she remembered my name. Have you any idea how good that feels?

And then today I’m walking through the BBC studios in London and I look up and there’s Jon Tuck walking towards me and I haven’t seen him in like how long? A year? Something like that. Jon was one of those people we trained with those studios that I set up and he always wanted to be a TV cameraman but he was driving a forklift for some stupid warehouse and doing roofing and often doing other things that he just shouldn’t have been but who would give him a break coming from there with no experience? Well I would.

Jon is one of the nicest calmest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. Just his presence can relax a whole crew and I remember he used to describe himself as ‘the housewife’s choice’ and, yes, he was. A really lovely guy. Plus, he had a natural aptitude for camerawork. He used to wander into basketball when we covered that and pick up the camera and manage to track the action in sharp focused close-up for nearly two hours, making it look easy (and still managing to have a beer at the same time) all with this good-natured quiet smile.

So what’s he doing now? I knew last time I saw him he’d been pushing a crane around on a studio floor but was he doing any camera operating? Yes! He’s doing camerawork on the current series of Later With Jools Holland which is like THE live music programme on the BBC. In fact, it’s the best studio programme to work on there is, as far as I’m concerned. And I am so pleased for him, and proud of him too, even though his talent has got bugger all to do with me, that first break helped him get there. And well, what can you say?


Now I have to find all my old soapboxes and see which ones evoke a fiery pit of passion and somehow link that into a people focused thing that becomes drama. Well, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it, wouldn’t they? Yes. I just need to keep another online friend’s observation somewhere in mind too, though. She pointed out that formulas have a place in creative writing. Up ’til then I’d been afraid of them so everything I wrote ended up surreal. Now I know I need to get dirty in human drama and human emotion.

Three years time? I want to be playing in the mud at the bottom of the swamp and making people come to life out of the clay.

Small dreams, y’know.