May 26th, 2014

So I kinda got married.

More of a divorce undo in this case. Same groom different decade. Adi and I retied the knot last week in a very low key ceremony (ten minutes from parking the car to driving off. And no they don't have drive through wedding chapels in the UK!) This was just short and to the point with the minimum of fuss.

Marrying the same person twice is not for the faint-hearted I must say. I had the biggest case of nerves beforehand! But it all went off well and represented a lot of personal growth and achievement.

Reconciliation is tough! I am the better person for it all and it feels good to have overcome such tough times … and my reward is once again having my best friend and soul mate by my side.

I'm very grateful!!! :)

Balancing Teaching with Practicing your Craft

May 22nd, 2014

Among many teachers I meet, I have noticed a trend that it has taken me a long time to realise applies equally to me. This trend is summed up by the phrase:

"Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." 

(* There is also an addition to the phrase, most oft heard at teacher trainer schools:
"… and those who can't teach, teach teachers!!!”)

I have always disliked this ugly phrase since first hearing it as a child - after all how could you have teachers who were skilled at what they taught or skilled people who can pass on their skills? - but I’d also noticed that it was often somehow accurate. Capable people chose to teach what they chose not to do.  Teaching is all well and good - for how would anyone learn without teachers? - but should it be at the expense of doing?


I began teaching more than 20 years ago. All too often I have seen my friends and colleagues - most frequently women - opting to teach the skills they have struggled to master for so many years rather than using those skills themselves. And while teaching is a noble profession, and one that not all teachers are good at, what happens to the doers when they constantly strive to pass on their skills to others rather than practice those skills themselves?

Time flies by when you're busy and it's easy to find yourself resenting the very people you are supposed to be inspiring: your students! 

I met a woman a while ago who had for a long time been teaching creative writing yet she was feeling unfulfilled - and something else, another feeling she couldn't identify. Having been in this position myself of teaching and not doing many times in the past, the name of this particular feeling was easy for me to name:  jealousy!!


This seemed to hit her as a revelation! At first, she dismissed it. Jealousy is an ugly emotion and none of us likes to think about ourselves in such an ungenerous way. So I gave her permission to feel jealous, just to entertain and explore the feeling for a few minutes. She gradually began discussing recent events and placing them in the context of her own dissatisfaction at teaching what she had started to believe she could only teach and no do. A big admission for anyone!

The longer she spoke, the clearer the reason became in her mind. She had been teaching so long she began to doubt her own abilities. Like the long time editor, who took a job to pay the bills, she had spent so long honing other people's work she had lost the habit of producing those words herself.  She spoke about the joy and pride she felt in her students but also the envy of their youth and the opportunities to succeed where she never would. As we talked more, she eventually admitted she resented teaching others to do the things she wasn't taking the time to do herself. She was even feeling envious of the energy and enthusiasm of her students. Very quickly she had started to devise a plan to rectify this state of affairs by practicing what she preaches!

I felt great for having been able to use my own insight and experience to help her, and in truth I had shared this wisdom with several women over the years, but something in this encounter made me wonder why teaching can be so rewarding to ourselves and yet so destructive to our own ambitions. And how can we teach as well as practice our craft?

She left full of renewed excitement for BOTH her careers, with a promise to keep me posted.  I left with a promise to write about this teacher jealousy phenomenon in due course. Hearing from her recently, her novel is in its second edit and she is feeling happier than she's ever felt since being a student herself. Indeed she went on to say that being a teacher now enables her in her career by constantly supplying her with new students who are passionate to learn the skills she has to offer. All from one word: jealousy!

How can I beat the "Them as can, do. Them as can’t, teach" conundrum?

Having been in the position to advise several people in similar situations since, I have now identified several tips to help protect teachers from the "Them as can, do. Them as can't teach" conundrum.

I hope they are useful to you!

  • It's All in your Title.
    Do you introduce yourself as a teacher when meeting people in your profession? Or do you identify as an artist/writer/filmmaker who also teaches? Choosing the latter can be a very simple key to maintaining your sense of ownership of your craft. It can be as simple as keeping a second set of business cards or maintaining a website to advertise and remind yourself of your skills as a professional.
  • Network within your skill area.
    It's easy when you're teaching at an academic institution or vocational college to mix with only other teachers. It's likely that many of those people you call colleagues teach a different skill or craft. After a while practicing in your own area, whether it be art or writing for example, can even start to seem a little silly. It's vital then to maintain links to professionals working in your field. Maintaining those links is also very useful for your students hoping to break into your industry of course, but let's not think about them right now. Concentrate on you and keeping your contacts in tact. If you've let those contacts go over the years, don't fret, Linked In is a great way to reconnect, as is Twitter. And don't need to remind you not introduce yourself as a teacher! If someone asks you how you support yourself with your craft, simply say something along the lines of "Well I also teach, which helps keep the wolf away from the door." Mostly you'll get an expression of envy from the struggling artists rather than any negative comment you're expecting. Pretty much everyone has a second job these days that supports their passion-but-doesn't-pay-well career!
  • Craft is Discipline.
    This may be one of the sayings you teach your students but it is so easy to forget to apply it to yourself! Time is always one of the biggest constraints. If you're spending six hours a day teaching, then practicing your craft may be the last thing you want to do at the end of the day, but do make the time. It's all a matter of habit and you'll quickly find you're getting back into the swing of it. If you can't manage a day a week, then a day a month, or taking a regular weekend for honing your skills and creativity.  You can sometimes even count a certain amount of planning and practice of your craft into your working hours. So what if what your students are learning coincides with your own areas of research? This can often make you a more enthusiastic teacher and will help your students to relate to you and inspire their skills to new standards. One of the biggest sources of self doubt amongst students is when they fear that someone as knowledgeable and talented as their teacher can't actually find the time or summon the interest to practice the craft they're sharing. Remember if your students see or hear from you about your work in progress they will be inspired. And that in turn will inspire you!
  • Have a plan.
    It's easy to have a career development plan for your teaching career and completely forget to have one for your craft. How do you intend to develop your skills over the next year, two years, five years? Make a plan and keep it up to date. If you're noticing it's a month since you last did any painting/programming or composing, then you may already be on that slippery slope. Act now!

The main key is in recognising the problem. If you’re happy just teaching, then great.

Speaking from my own experience however, this problem of doing -vs- teaching has affected and shaped my whole career, even spanning several different careers as I reinvented myself over the years. Every time I would inevitably end up teaching the skills I’d spent so many years mastering.

Eventually I decided that the thing I would give up doing was teaching. I still do it occasionally, but now I prefer to teach as a guest lecturer or on a part time basis. Teaching online and writing text books has also proved a good way to exercise my teaching muscles without my skills getting lost in the process. If that’s not possible for you, then think seriously about creating balance between your art and the teaching of it.

“Recognise jealousy as soon as it rears its ugly head - it’s a wake-up call telling you it's time to walk your talk.”

If you’ve noticed your own green-eyed monster straying towards your students it is TIME TO WAKE UP. Ban that bitterness before it takes a grip. No more putting it off. It's time to start writing that great novel today or working on that big project today.

Eventually you can find the life you had dedicated to your craft somehow became devoted to teaching and then has suddenly passed you by and you're not even teaching that craft very well anymore.

Don't let it happen to you. Remember the eagerness and passion of your younger self who went into your field and honour that person by taking back your creativity now.

Time to take back control. 

For you! And for the sake of your craft!! 


On the Set of “Behind the Book”

May 21st, 2014

Behind the Book

Behind the Book

This last weekend I had the great fortune to be invited onto the set of a short film for my great friend and fellow screenwriter and Bournemouth University alumnus Romana Turina. She is making an important film about how the media narrates history which ties in with her doctoral research on the same subject.

I was there in an unspecified capacity, helping out where I could, being a runner, rehearsing lines with actors, helping feed the cast and crew and generally doing anything I could to be useful. It was a wonderful experience. The actors were excellent and the crew, who were students from York University's excellent Theatre, Film and Television department, were very professional and worked together with a smoothness that I've get to experience on professional film sets. Overall it was an inspiration and I was grateful for the opportunity to be involved.

From everything I saw, I have great confidence that the project will do well and I shall watch with loving interest as it moves through post-production. Filming it was an experience I shall value for a long time.

So what did I learn?

    • Caring for one another is caring for the production - I was really impressed how well everyone cared for one another. The crew took care of the actors - everything from helping them keep up with what was being asked of them, keeping them hydrated on what were several unseasonably warm May days, to just about everyone thanking them for their performances. There was a wonderful atmosphere of respect and it was quickly catching, so I found myself doing it too. In fact it's not a bad habit for life and work in general. We should all be thanking one another more - and I shall!
    • Dive in and do your best to help. - Before the shoot, I must admit I was a little confused about what my role was, if any. I asked several folks and they didn't seem to know either, so it was just a matter of going along and doing what I could. On set it wasn't long before I was seeing ways to help out and pretty soon I was being asked to do tasks too. I enjoyed being helpful and it was a really pleasant change to everyday life. I am used to giving the orders so being in a different position was both educational and good for the soul.
    • Working with a female director - I've heard a lot of people say they've never worked with a female director and didn't even know any. I have received so many warnings from the well-meaning: 'don't be too strident' and 'modulate how you speak' etc etc, all suggesting that somehow just being female and a director will get up everyone's noses. Finding this balance has perhaps been one of my biggest fears about expanding my cast and crew and working with strangers. Luckily working with Romana was inspiration. I watched her get what she wanted in a strong determine way and yet she managed to make everyone feel good. Everyone wanted to please her! I am not sure her model is something that I will be easily able to emulate but watching her in action has given me something to strive for and a yardstick up to. It was very worthwhile experience!!

If you want to know more about Behind the Book it has a Facebook page.

Onset of Behind the Book

Onset of Behind the Book

Now I'm home I can't wait for my own crew to have some available time to start putting everything I've learned into practice!!

THANK YOU to Romana Turina and her wonderful cast and crew for a very special experience.

Filmmaking Family

April 29th, 2014

I've been struggling to motivate my crew for months. It's been bone-gnashingly hard. Working with teens is difficult on its own but working with family gives it an added grind factor. At times the returns have diminished down to zero. I've even wondered whether they were working for me or the other way round.
Learning Filmmaking Together
As ever working with your own kids has added implications that don't apply with other people. If I tell them to do something it is mom telling them to do it, not their director. If they're noisy onset they hear the echoes of being told off as children, rather than immediately understanding that we need quiet in the studio. It's hard. I thought about putting this post on Sit up a Tree, the personal development blog, but really I have no solutions to offer other than to say that working with your kids means superhuman levels of patience. With the best will in the world and the best kids in the world it's always going to need the parent to be the bigger person. On other people's sets they are great, composed, obedient, helpful but on mine I have needed to get to screaming pitch just to get attention. There's been more than a few tears and at least one firing. And prompt reinstatement too. Because we are family and because sometimes it's easy to forget that you're dealing with young people who haven't fully figured out the world and who don't necessarily see the realities of time and money in the same way you do. Yet. And that's the key. As the parent or older relative you need to stick to your guns in what you expect from them, whilst having patience as they learn and stumble and lose their way.

In many respects it is no different to when I was teaching young people at college … it's just that teaching your own kids is like teaching the most rebellious students and the most challenging learners. Simply because they're your own kids. For any other teacher they'd be a dream!

At the end of the day of course we will all grow as people. And we will either make films together or we won't. In the meantime I am happy to be practicing filmmaking skills and I am happy that they're learning the nuts and bolts of working life. As ever, it is a privilege. I love working with young people and these are no different because they're my family. It's just a tougher job for me because they're my family!!

In terms of filmmaking, we are making painstakingly slow progress, but it is progress nonetheless. Skills take time and effort and dedication. The most important things I bring to the table are a clear set of goals and a lifetime of experience at getting projects off the ground.

The flip side of that is, of course, that goals can be blinkers and a lifetime of experience can result in less innovation. So working with young people is a perfect balance because they bring energy and ideas and the pioneering spirit to try out solutions in directions my experience might, rightly or wrongly, warn me not not to go.

Working across the generations enables the perfect fusion of wisdom and courage that comes from the compassionate and respectful blending of youth and wisdom that brings about truly new ideas and innovative solutions.

The most important thing about working with your family is recognising and respecting what everyone brings to the table!

New Photo Blog!

April 18th, 2014

Exciting news - Adrian and I have started a new photography blog.

It's already turning into a lot of fun!

I get to write the background story to my photos, which is a new thing for me. It also means I have to think a little more about the why and the how of going about taking a photograph. If my Flickr views and feedback are anything to go by, this attention to detail is already paying off in my photos. I would advise all photographers to taking the blog approach to their images as it really forces you to up your game considerably. On Flickr especially, fellow users love the background detail to your photos, and of course, everyone is looking for tips and tricks that they can apply in their own work.

Here's one I took a couple of nights ago:

I am also going to be producing some Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop tutorials on the blog, and I hope to include DSLR Video how-tos as well. All in all, as well as enjoying the photography and writing, I am having fun testing out lots of new kit, including camera filters, portable hard drives and new post processing software. All fun stuff to play with and evaluate!!

So, if you're into photography or DSLR Video, watch THIS SPACE for more updates.

In other great news, one of Adrian's photographs of the Aurora Borealis spectacle that hit the UK in February, was bought by Sailing Today magazine. It was a really great shot. Well done, Adrian! Take a look here:

Adrian's landscapes and seascapes are brilliant. He's really challenging me to improve my work. Having someone to compete with (in a friendly way, of course!) can be a great way to help raise your own game - and I think it's working!!

In the last month I haven't just been taking photos in the outdoors. I've also done a fair bit of studio work. This one was taken last weekend in my studio:

The shot is of my wonderful actress daughter Amy and her friend Bobby who obligingly modelled for this and many other shots. Great sports, both of them!

Here's another studio photo, this time taken in Welshot's studio setup in Chester.

It was taken at a photoshoot with Welshot and the Autonomy dance group, a fantastic group of young people who were only too happy to pose for our cameras!

OK I am back to writing my big script!!

Guerilla Filmmakers Masterclass … here I come!!

March 13th, 2014

DSCF0939This weekend is the wonderful Guerilla Film Makers Masterclass 2014 and I am so very excited.

Now it's not the first time I've been to the masterclass. It's not even the second. In fact I try to go every year. There is a metric tonne of information about filmmaking to be had and it's true by now I know some of it by heart, but that doesn't mean hearing it again isn't useful. In fact if I'm to meet my goal of getting my first feature made in 2014, then I really need this info hammered in big style this year. Of course Chris Jones can do that. He is just so inspiring. And he has all the tales to tell, of both the triumphant and the cautionary varieties.

Guerilla Filmmaker's Handbook

Guerilla Filmmaker's Handbook

This year I am taking my trusty assistant with me so it's guaranteed to be both fun and creative. I am positive we will come away with a truckload of creative ideas to get busy on in the coming weeks.

If you're at the masterclass, make sure to say hi!

Happy New Year! Now get up and write!

January 7th, 2014

Happy new year to you all!

Natural Posture

Mindful posture - good for writers and all who sit for too long!

I've been out of action a while after a spinal injury. I'm on the mend now and finally back to work. I'm not allowed to sit for long periods following surgery and this has been a major blow to my writing.

It's been so frustrating not only being unable to sit, but also having to stay on the move for half the day and lying down trying to give my spine a complete rest for the other half. It's been tough to figure out whether writing fits into the mobile half or the resting half. Many people suggested a standing desk and I did try to write upright, really I did, but I find after a minute or so my posture would slip and I'd be resting on one hip or the other. Keeping good posture at a standing desk is not easy and needs building up gradually over time. I quickly realised that post-surgery was probably not the best time to build up duration in these muscles.

I tried writing lying on my back, but as it turned out this was just as short-lived an activity as writing standing up. And that's the thing about recovering from spine problems, you're going to be frustrated and uncomfortable and what you're just going to have to accept is that you can't do the things you want to do for some time. Accepting not writing as my path back to writing was a hard pill to swallow.

An ounce of prevention…

If you're writing (or editing film or processing pictures or making music or working in any job where you're sitting in a chair for any length of time) prevention is much better than the cure! The moral of the tale, if there is one, is to mind your spine. Get up regularly, move around, stretch, do some squats, walk around your desk.

If you're working from home you have more opportunity to do other activities, not less. Go put a load of laundry on, make the beds, put a stew in the slow cooker, run the vacuum cleaner round. These are all activities that can get our bodies out of those stuck positions we get into when our minds are occupied with work.

Remind yourself to move!

The Jawbone Up

The Jawbone Up - bracelet pedometer that connects to your smart phone and monitors your exercise and sleep as well as being a great way to remind you to move when working and writing

The Jawbone Up is a good way to get you out of your seat. You can set the bracelet to vibrate every 15 minutes. You can even plug it into your iPhone or Android to track the number of steps, the depth and length of your sleep and the intensity of your workouts.

Maintaining good posture while you work is important, as is having a good supportive seat. But, the main thing is to move regularly.


Happy Writing! And Happy Moving!!

Some things I found that helped:

Book - Treat your own Back

Book - Treat your own Back

Treat Your Own Back

Physiotherapy cushion - posture wedge

Physiotherapy cushion - posture wedge which helps to take pressure off your spine when sitting at a desk

PhysioRoom Seating/Seat Wedge Posture Spine Cushion

Physiotherapy cushion - lumbar roll

Physiotherapy cushion - lumbar roll which can help to prevent slouching in your chair by supporting the curve in the lower back.

The Original McKenzie Lumbar Roll - D-Shaped (Packaging Varies)

Ginger, Curcumin and Boswellia

Ginger, Curcumin and Boswellia - I found this very useful for joint inflammation and pain relief along with Omega 3 Fish oil capsules

FSC Ginger Curcumin & Boswellia 120 Tablets


How Characters Meet

July 18th, 2013

In story, people meet easily.

Stories are based on characters meeting one another, being inspired by one another, taking on a mentor, finding a love, making a friend. That is story.

Characters meet one another with ease all the time. How often do we see characters who are lonely or sick or have little confidence suddenly meet someone and the adventure begins. Ten minutes in and they are sharing their innermost secrets and bearing their souls. It's all so easy and it gives the impression that all any of us need is a call to adventure with the right compadres and we're away, the heroes of our own journeys.

In real life making a friend, meeting someone, or really talking to someone, is a rare thing. Maybe that reflects more about me, the writer, than it does others. I am quite an outgoing person but on my journey, in my experience, meeting people is rare. Talking to people is commonplace sure enough.  But connecting with people is rare and unusual.

If you don't agree, think about how often people talk about the weather, count coins into  another's hands, hold doors open, say thank you.  That's meeting someone in the most basic sense. But in those situations are we really talking?  Are we really embracing that individual or the experiencing of meeting them?  Are we really connecting with a person on a deep level?  Are we even acknowledging that they are a person rather than a shadow on the wall or a part of the furniture of the outside world? Are they just a representation? A figment of reality perhaps?

And just how many people do you dismiss, fail to meet or disregard? Dustin Hoffman spoke very honestly about his role in Tootsie  and said that if he met himself (dressed as the character) at a party that he "would never talk to that character." Of course we all make similar judgements and we all value our time and our attention. When did you last dismiss someone?  Were you meeting them as a person? Did you even recognise their individuality? Did it even occur to you to find out they are as a person?  And why not?

What it takes to embrace a person is something deeper. Maybe I can acknowledge the sovereignty of you, your individuality and the uniqueness of interaction with you. Maybe you are acknowledging me in that same moment. But unless we interact on the level of sharing our interaction - the meta conversation - of making it clear that we both realise we have both met a person, lets see what other ways we can interact, have we really met a person?

Unless that happens have I really met a person? Has a person really met me?

Meeting on Film

Stories are often about great individuals who meet people each and every day easily, but should all stories be about those great people? Can most of us relate to them? Can they really teach us or inspire us?

I believe stories for the screen need to have an element of greater truth in this regard. They should reflect the struggles that most of us have. People for whom meeting people, let alone connecting with them on any deep level, is a big challenge.

Characters aren't real people of course. Mostly people display the parts of themselves that fit - that mask of sameness that is required by society. On the tube train we keep our heads down and our headphones in. Yet in front of our colleagues and our friends we pretend that we meet people easily, that we are open and non-judgemental.  We meet people mostly through introductions and then we take a long time to get to know one another. If we only have 90 minutes for a movie there isn't a lot of time to build a realistic friendship.  We learn how to interact from what we see on the screen and it's not representative of real life.  And it is in this area of realistic human interactions that I feel the media does most damage to individuals.

If someone came up to you in the street and started talking to you about a recent death in their family, would you take that opportunity to really meet that person, or would you excuse yourself with the reasoning that grief had rendered them temporarily unable to behave as society expects by keeping themselves to themselves. Yet how often do characters in stories take the time, make the connection, give of themselves, get involved? Let's be clear here, I'm NOT saying characters shouldn't do that - my belief we should all be interacting that way as real people! -  I'm saying that in order to make stories more real we have to show the extraordinariness of the situation.

Stories must at the very least demonstrate how hard it is for most people to meet people, especially if our eponymous hero has any kind of arc. If he's brilliantly charismatic from the start then maybe that's a bit different.  If we're watching James Bond then it doesn't matter too much. For stories that purport to be realistic, gritty, dramatic, romantic or tear-jerking, then a certain level of angst at man's inhumanity to man is to be expected. And maybe relating to the common man's loneliness is a touch stonethat should require more than the standard shot of a lonely individual walking down the street.

It takes more than that lonely character just talking to one particular individual to get over their loneliness, their isolation. To meet each other on a "I realise I'm alive and I realise you're alive, let's interact" level. HOW is their conversation any more than exchanging the weather?

Subtext comes into it a lot here, as does performance. Dialogue takes many edit passes to get that depth in terms of building both connection and discord.  How can we learn to invoke those nuances that make the difference?

We can learn a lot by observation, listening to conversations in the street, by watching people. Notice how ill at ease they are. Is it real or is it a mask? Notice the people that don't interact or who are dismissed by others.  Do you think they were really interacting? Did they even realise they were talking to another person?

We can learn a lot by paying attention to ourselves. Did you notice your last interaction? What did you say? Did you feel like you met someone or were you just passing by?

When did you last have a conversation with someone about life and death? Did you share your existential fears? Must people or characters always be facing some trauma, illness or death in order to discuss these things? Aren't we always facing life and death? Isn't the potential for trauma always just around the corner for us all?  Why wait to have that conversation? We put our characters through it all the time and yet we never do it ourselves. We think we're being realistic when that conversation is based upon imagination. It's not. Put yourself in the situation. Try it! Then you can write not only from authority but with a whole host valuable information and experience to share.

My daughters decided to buy and give away balloons on the street recently. Not for any reason, just to be nice. To make people happy. It must have taken some guts to go up to strangers. I'm not sure I could do it. Would they be rejected? Would people understand or would they throw the balloons in their faces? But the people were delighted and I'm so proud of my daughters for both coming up with the idea and for actually doing it.  It was a pleasure to hear them tell the tales. They met some great people and really seemed to have connected with them. People were surprised, I imagine, to have someone notice them. Some of them even asked why they had been chosen.

Maybe you could try something like this? How does talking to people make you feel? What are the emotions? The bodily sensations? How did they react? What did they say?

Does this change how you think about your characters meeting?  Let me know.

Is the Crisis of Confidence Part of the Creative Process?

July 15th, 2013

It happened to me today. A project I’ve been working on for a long time no longer made sense. Suddenly my mind was deluged with questions. Am I spending too much time on it? Is it likely to see any return that equates to the investment of my time? And, er, what on earth were my reasons for doing this in the first place?

All my reasoning and motivation were gone. It’s like hitting the wall in a marathon. Nothing makes sense to you and everything that has driven you this far has abruptly and mysteriously abandoned you. Sound familiar?

These crisis of confidence moments are uncomfortable. We may even end up searching the web for the answer to our sudden crisis. (Maybe that’s how you ended up here. Thank you Google!) Anything to help us feel a little better and get us out of this feeling and back to the task at hand.

But stop! These feelings are here for a reason. At least let’s give them some time to settle before dismissing them.

A recent article in Scientific American says that negative emotions are key to our well-being.

I think negative emotions are key to our success!

It’s time to let these emotions linger awhile. Sit in that discomfort. It’s an important part of the creative process. For example:

  • The crisis of confidence helps you to re-examine what you’ve got.
    What does your project actually consist of? Is it a bunch of incoherent ideas (which your negative critic might tell you) or is there something more to it?  This is the time to evaluate. It lets you ask if this project is really right for you. You can look critically at the potential of the project and whether the return is worth your time and investment.You don’t need to act on your answers just yet, just let yourself explore the possibilities of passing on this project and moving on to something new. How would that make you feel?Explore and let yourself feel it.
  • It's a perspective outside of yourself
    When you’re in this state you effectively have your worst critic giving you feedback. Use it!If you only think positive thoughts about your project, there’s a higher chance that your positivity is clouding your judgement.  Being negative for a little while allows us to improve, work harder and realign. You don’t have to beat yourself up, just let your inner critic rag on you for a little while, write down anything useful, then tell it to go away again, thank you!Then get to work!
  • It’s a release of negative emotions.
    Negative feelings, especially ones we are repressing or trying to hide from, have a habit of building up. Once they hit a critical mass they come out, whether we like it or not. As long as you’re not throwing things or yelling at your kids, catharsis is good.Let yourself feel bad. Feel the hurt. It’s safe to allow the release. If you need to yell at the sea, punch a cushion or sob into a whole box of Kleenex, let it out!
  • Positive Self-Talk
    Now that you’ve got those negative emotions out of your system, your inner critic has had his say and is safely relegated to the attic, it’s time to employ some lurve. Self love. No not that kind. I mean positive talk, a chance for your flagging ego to practice the art of positive nurture and compassion. Be kind to yourself!Do something nice for yourself. Take yourself on a date. Buy yourself a treat. Talk to yourself as you might talk to a child or someone you loved. Visualise hugging and supporting the younger version of yourself. Would you tell them it’s ok not to be perfect? Would you say that they’re doing their best? Say what would you say to them to make them feel better and more confident again.Give yourself that gift!
  • Talk to collaborators
    Your crisis of confidence is a chance to find out how your co-workers and collaborators feel about the project. Sharing your doubts as well as your nurturing process shows them you are human, which is never a bad thing.It gives them the chance to relate to you and share any doubts of their own - chances are you’re not the only person feeling it. You find out the level of their commitment and dispel any concerns.The crisis of confidence, if honestly approached, creates a natural opportunity for everyone to re-invest and get excited again.

So next time you’re finding yourself doubting, when the entire reason for your enterprise has suddenly turned into a question mark, don’t fret. Let yourself go through the process. Feel those feelings. Let yourself examine it. Don’t be afraid to let yourself see where you end up.

Your project will be all the stronger for it.


Your thoughts?




Rant: High Concept Microbudget Feature Writing

July 8th, 2013

Booze 1I hear it time and time again: it's all about the concept. And that concept is what everyone is chasing.

It seems to me that all anyone wants is high concept. Something new. Yet not too new. In fact, if it could be very, very like a product that already exists, but yet is somehow different in a new and refreshing way, that would be just great. But, and I can't stress this enough, not TOO refreshing or TOO different. So really kind of the same. But different. Better. We don't want the audience to have to think too much and we definitely don't want the film executives to have to think at all. Or take any risks.

Oh and we’re not going to pay you very much. Or even anything.

It's no wonder screenwriters like me are sitting round staring at the keyboard and sweating into our cheap liquor.

It's perhaps why most of my screenwriter friends are still aiming for the big tamale … the impossible shot-in-the-dark of their script getting optioned by someone with a proper budget, with a proper cast, by a proper production company.

Champagne on iceTo my mind I would be better off buying a lottery ticket. I mean the odds are 14,000,000:1, right? That HAS to be a better chance than selling my high concept heartwarming, gangster, animal, rom com script to Hollywood.

It is all too much to consider and too, too depressing. So we sit at our keyboards after doing our day jobs, quietly turning profound messages and interesting characters into what we think are great scripts (even if in the present climate they are totally unmarketable) in the vain hope that one day soon things may change. The market will come out of its slumber, someone somewhere will decide that it’s OK that filmmaking is a risky business and decide to take chances once again. And maybe then the wheels of the industry we love and want to be a part of will begin whirring back into life.  And new movies will start to flow again. Fresh movies, wonderful movies, full of intrigue and adventure and humanity and with really great writing. With titles and taglines that contain none of the following words: “reboot”, “sequel”, “prequel” or “amazing”.

Of course Steven Spielberg thinks the whole movie business is about to implode and we’ll all be stuck watching reality TV, with our boredom only occasionally relieved by trotting off to the nearest big city to see a *movie blockbuster*, like the coach trip I went on once to see “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera” on stage. A once in a lifetime sort of thing, perhaps.   (And Steven Spielberg has a yacht. A big one! So I figure he knows something about where the film industry is headed.)

For me and my hopeful, hard-drinking screenwriter compadres, it’s all pretty depressing. Make mine a double!!

More boozeFor me the only glimmer of hope is in independent filmmaking. That is picking up the camera and doing it myself. I have what it takes, except quite probably the talent, but apart from that it all seems sort of doable. I like that.

And with that in mind my scripts are starting to flow again; I can put down the cheap liquor and write to produce, right? Well no, not really. Screenwriting is an already lethal cocktail: concept, marketability, fresh but not too fresh, different but not too different, with really great characters, great male leads and lots of scope for actresses to get their tits out. In indie filmmaking all this still applies, because the movie-going public's taste has been shaped that way, but now we have to add in the vital ingredient of low budget filmmaking into the mix, and suddenly you have a truly terrifying concoction.  Prepare to be feeling the effects of this brew for a long time to come.

To most Joes in the street, low budget simply means no helicopter explosions, no CGI, no big name actors.

To the independent filmmaker low budget means one location, no money for professional actors (so nothing requiring too much emoting), no catering ("well maybe Mum can put on a pan of stew, but no, she's never heard of vegan") and absolutely no budget for makeup, props or hair. “Oh and can you bring your own clothes? Preferably several identical sets. They may get damaged so nothing too good.”

To go to that much effort all on your own credit card limit, auntie’s life savings and the coins you found down the back of the sofa, you need to have a really really good story.  Which is where I came in at the start of this rant, but now rather than selling it to an industry that doesn’t want it, we’re investing our own money and that of our family and friends.

It has to be a story that’s so profound and heart-warming or so horrifyingly scary that it’s going to enthuse every single one of the people you’re going to need to cajole into crowdfunding your project or giving their time and effort for free.

The story is going to have to be so important that you’re going to see it through the long miserable edit stage when all your hard work is in the can and you realise it looks like shit; the even longer harder and more disheartening getting it shown stage where the distributors are going to do their absolute damnedest to get you to give them your movie for free. Zero, zilch, zip, nada.

And the story is going to have to be so ingrained into the very fibre of your soul that you’re going to stick with it right through the stage where your ego demands that you drop this absolute millstone of a movie immediately so you can move on to new projects because this one is really just holding you back from being the truly great filmmaker that you are.

Is your story important enough that when you tell your backers the eventual truth which can’t be avoided, that they still feel like they’ve been part of a worthwhile project?? Because let’s be honest, the sole purpose of making most films is to give *me* a shufty up the ladder a bit, or get *me* some attention as the brilliant screenwriter/director/filmmaker/producer/actor etc that I am. It had absolutely nothing to do with giving anyone a return on the financial investment they made in the film. “Sorry Granny, didn’t I tell you? There’s not actually any money in movies.  Only egos and self interest.”

Does your story have the legs to make it through all that?

I see so many stories that just aren’t going to go the distance.  And the project is going to be doomed from the start.  Just because it’s indie, doesn’t mean it’s enough to just make a movie. It has to be a good movie from the off and that is starting with a really great script, a really valid concept and something worthwhile. It’s worth getting it right!!!

The quality of independent films has to improve and that starts with the script.  And if the guy with the yacht is right, and I happen to think he is, we are running out of time. If the concept of the movie is to survive the coming implosion then the quality of independent films must improve fast. We can’t take our lead from the film industry because, let’s face it, that system is screwed. Independent filmmakers need to show solidarity by refusing to play the distributer’s games and by embracing the new methods of distribution that are available. It’s absolutely vital to do it together as the film community, which I think is a much nicer phrase than film industry.

A community is made up of individuals. And for me that's the fun. I like pootling about and doing it myself. The challenge as always is in stretching me.

Kind of like this guy:

Anyway, rant over. Bottoms up!! :)



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