Monthly Archives: January 2004

An Email From Lionel

Not so long ago, in a country not so far away, one Lionel Birnie did write to me after the screening evening for The Car. This was back in October and Lionel had stayed on for more beers after we left the bar. I’d phoned Lionel after we left to see if he could see Laura’s lost bag anywhere there. We never heard from him again until an email arrived some time after…

LIONEL: Sadly I didn’t make it back to Soho House to see about Laura’s bag as I got arrested for being drunk and disorderly and spent a few hours at Holborn nick (!)

A bitter-sweet irony, being accosted by a jobsworth copper after watching my film about… a jobsworth copper!

ME: Of course, the question we really want answered is what exactly were you doing when the police picked you up?

LIONEL: Having walked Sandy to the tube station I’d got split up from Simon and Sue, who I’d planned to travel to Euston with.

I had no credit on my pay-as-you-go mobile so I went into a pay phone near Tottenham Court Road tube and stuck 50p in the slot to try to ring Simon. But the 50p got stuck in the slot and wouldn’t budge. It wouldn’t go in, so I could make a call, nor come out.

The next phone box I tried the receiver was smashed, so I crossed the road. The third I tried had no receiver at all. The fourth stole another 50p, as it lodged there, infuriatingly.

By now I realised that it’s the scam by scumbags that they tamper with the slot so your money gets stuck, then they come along with a piece of wire and pull all the cash out.

The final phone I tried stole another 50p – making 1.50 in total – and I lost my rag, hurled the receiver against the window and kicked the phone.

Then a busy little copper and his WPC sidekick nabbed me. From there I talked myself into arrest – I swore, refused to give my name, called him ‘Sonny Jim’ and her ‘My love’, which didn’t help.

The copper said if that phone is broken I’m going to arrest you for being drunk and disorderly. I said: ‘Of course it’s fucking broken. It stole my money you twat.’

I tried to argue that he couldn’t nick me for being D&D on the basis of a broken phone – it was either vandalism or D&D not some pathetic hybrid of the two.

When I called him the ‘smallest-minded man in the whole history of Britain’ he read me my rights. After the last line ‘… do you understand?’ I replied ‘Er, I’m not sure, can you run it by me again?’

In the van, on the way to Holborn cop shop, I tapped on the bars and said: ‘I think I recognise you? Did you two do the legs on the opening credits of The Bill? Yes, I thought it was you.’

I stopped being sarky at the station where the desk sergeant made it pretty clear that he thought the entire thing was a waste of time.

I was locked up for a couple of hours and let go as soon as it was impossible for me to get the last train. All I got was a formal warning and a ‘don’t do it again’ talk.


Started looking at local properties on the web last Thursday. Signed up with a buyer’s agent on Friday and we spent two afternoons visiting houses in Ann Arbor that match our price range–everything from the standard to the distinctly odd. Revisted one of the ones we liked best for a second look yesterday and made an offer on it today. It’s so fast, it’s surreal.

Four steps forward…

Hey, we can get a mortgage! So we’re going to get a house. In Ann Arbor. That’s fantastic. That’s one big step forward, I’m thinking. Also extremely pleasing is the fact that I now have enough cool movies for a ninety-minute Cinema Slam–the short film program I’m running at the Michigan Theatre on February 3rd.

American Short Film, the 15 minute comedy I’ve been working on, needs to be finished by Monday to be included. I’ve got one more sound tape to transfer, sound rushes to sync up, audio to mix, titles to prepare and a little grading to do, but it’s going to get done. Oh, yes–it will be done. And that’s three steps forward.

Step four was the meeting with Jim, our new accountant today. I can see the whole Ascalon Films thing working having spoken to him. It was all very positive.

Now, of course, you’re all reading this wondering if there could possibly perhaps be a fly in the ointment, a spanner in the works, or even perchance a step back. Four steps forward and one step back? Well, yes. Yes there is. The shipping company have emailed me. They can’t find my paintings. Four pieces of art plus one large framed photograph which they were supposed to crate up and ship from St Albans, UK, to Ann Arbor, US. They’ve lost them.

Yes, the only irreplaceable objects in the whole consignment from England and the incompetent morons at Dolphin Movers aka Aero Frieght have lost them. I should have guessed they were a bunch of complete tools when the guy turned up to collect them without the blankets they had promised they were going to wrap them on the way to be crated. I highly recommend NOT using these people for your shipping needs.

Now I have to file an insurance claim but England is closed after 5pm because everyone only works an eight hour day there, including an hour for lunch (paid), so it will have to wait. Bastards. I’m not amused. I expect you can tell.

Room 101

Saturday was a fantastic day. Perfect in every way. Laura and I are now husband and wife. Laura’s sister sang At Last and sang it beautifully. My sister read Rilke and the words came alive. Our friends and relatives were there, many having travelled thousands of miles to be with us. We drove a Pontiac Grand Prix for the weekend and we stayed in Room 101 at the Bell Tower Hotel. What can I say? I am very very happy.

Here’s the Rilke reading:

The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of their solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.

An artistic interpretation

Twenty Four

That’s nice, isn’t it? They’ve delivered 24 cartons. The nice shipping people had an inventory of 27 items but they put all the cases of LP’s into one carton and the paintings into… Hold on! Where are the paintings? Yes, they have managed to lose the only things which can’t be replaced. I’d packed one of Jelena’s oil paintings separately so I have that but the others are gone daddy gone.

So that’s nice. Oh, and they arrived at 1.15pm.

Still most of my stuff is here now. We’re almost set for Saturday. Saturday! We’re getting married! Yay! It’s all really exciting. There’s some friends coming over from the UK which I’m delighted about, plus two of my cousins and my sister and her family. It’s going to be so great.

I have other stuff coming together such as my UofM application. And then there’s films to be found for Cinema Slam on February 3rd. Did I mention that I’m organizing that–the showcase of short films at the Michigan Theatre? So far I have about 30 minutes worth of material for a 90 minute programme but I’ve written to a few other film makers so it will all come together.

One cool development is that I wrote to the Rik Swartzwelder who made The Least Of These last year to say how much I enjoyed his film when I saw it at Filmstock in Luton. This week I wrote to ask if we could screen it here in Ann Arbor and he wrote back yesterday to say, yes, he remembered me and he’d be honored. Yay again! We’re going to have such a excellent show.

i dunno

Today the pound was trading at $1.82. This tells me something. It tells me that no matter what the pundits in the USA might think of George and his chances of being elected, the international money markets aren’t buying it. And with a federal deficit of a trillion dollars, who can say.

I won’t be voting in this year’s presidential election, of course. That’s because I’m not a citizen. I pay taxes because I’m a resident. As a US resident, I’m liable for income tax no matter where in the world I earn money, whether it’s the USA, or the UK or some offshore trust in the Cayman Islands. Uncle Sam demands his cut.

Still, I’m getting all the services, so I don’t feel I have much to grumble about. And taxes here are much lower than in the UK. Way lower, in fact. Currently. Until everyone has to start paying for war in Iraq. Ahem. Anyway, it’s not a big deal for me but it strikes me as ironic that Americans fought a War of Independence on a principle of ‘no taxation without representation’ and yet, well here we are.

For a number of people, taxation without representation is a big issue. For 600,000 American citizens of legal voting age it’s a very big deal indeed. Because even though they are US citizens and pay taxes, they have no vote and never have had. They’re the residents of Washington DC, the federal capital. The District of Columbia residents have no right to representation in Congress.

I can’t help thinking this country has a long way to go on human rights.

Carton Capers

Of course the shipping company waits until today to phone. The week of the wedding. When there’s already a ton of other stuff to do. Of course they want to deliver this week. Tomorrow.

Yes, my belongings have been sat on a New York dockside for two months awaiting customs clearance. Yes, it’s all clear now and, yes, it somehow magically appeared in Chicago. But the shipping company couldn’t tell us that before, could they? Like when it was all actually en route from NY to Illinois. Several days ago. Ho, no. Ho ho ho. No.

Yes, it would have been far too easy to give someone a bit of advance warning. Instead it’s a 24-hour deal by the shippers. Tomorrow. Yes, that’s the most convenient time. For them. Well, we’ve sorted out a storage space for my 27 cartons from England and we’ll wait for them to call when they get there. Tomorrow. At noon.

What are the odds they’ll be anywhere even near that time?

Three Years From Then

So someone reads through those posts on The Attic and they post a comment which finds me this evening through the miracle of the internet. And I go back and glance at the post they were commenting on. Then I look at the some of the posts near that one. And I discover that three years ago I promised myself I’d be directing a feature film in 2004.

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.

So, what have I done in the meantime? What’s got me any closer to that goal? Well, compadre, quite a bit, I think. I’ve now shot four short films, three on celluloid, and entered them in festivals. Thanks to that process, I’ve learned a whole heap of valuable lessons. Lessons about storytelling, about not cramming too much in, keeping the audience entertained, keeping things simple, and I’m starting to learn how to pace things.

I’ve also learned lessons about casting, about getting not just great actors, but actors who I can work with on my team and also making time for them on the set, working with them first and foremost. And I’ve learned how to shoot. I continue to learn about that, especially through cutting and watching other films critically. This week, for example, we watched Confidence. The editing is beautiful. It’s accomplished and eye-catching at the same time. Some would call it self-conscious but I look at it and see art. And I am entertained.

So, where’s my script? The one I promised to start writing three years ago? I’m getting a better and better idea of what a great feature film script should look like–and by that I mean a script that I would enjoy making and could commit five years of my energy to complete. So where’s the feature film? Do you know, compadre, I don’t know. The time has been eaten up with a combination of running on a treadmill at the BBC while learning all the lessons above and more. I’ve joined Ann Arbor Screenwriters Group. We’ll see.

More importantly, there’s a wedding coming up this weekend. That’s the most exciting thing in my life right now. Outside the snow has turned Ann Arbor magically white. It’s beautiful. Life is beautiful. Being with Laura is beautiful. I feel more creative and inspired just sitting here working in the same room with her, sharing ideas every so often. Three years ago? That was then. This is now.

Backfill Completed

Finally completed adding entries to The Attic today. For those of you who haven’t checked it out, it’s the link at the bottom of the archives on the right and it contains older writings. Among those is the diary (or saga) of the making of The Car mixed up with other thoughts on films and filmmaking, all of which you can find by clicking on the “Film making” link under categories.