Writing with Actors




July 28th, 2014


I like working with actors when I write. It’s such a powerful experience. Actors love a script because they glean from it nuances that I, the writer, didn’t intuit or even intend. It’s like when you fall in love with someone and they start to notice little things about you that you didn’t even know were there yourself. It feels very validating. For the writing process it can be invaluable. Working with actors can enrich a script even right at the early stages of writing.

You might work with an actor on a completed script in order to deepen a character or to make the dialog flow better. Working with an actor on a script that has stalled can breathe fresh life into it with the added bonus of breathing fresh enthusiasm into you the writer. You can even start off a script project from scratch armed with just an idea, a tape recorder, notepad and an actor.

createI was lucky enough to meet Mike Leigh at the London Screenwriter’s Festival a couple of years ago. As a writer and director, he works with actors and lets them find the performance before the script is written. This really appealed to me as a way to work, so for me working with actors is nearly always part of what I do. And it makes good sense. Actors are going to be performing the script, so why not let them get in on it as early as possible? The actor will interpret the script eventually, why not let the writing be an interpretation of the actor too?

Fundamentally what is required is a willingness to play along. A spirit of playfulness is vital. Likewise it helps if you can check the egos at the door, at least for long enough to get the ideas flowing. There is a wonderful synthesis that can happen when a writer and an actor work together. Here are a few guidelines that are best acknowledged from the start:

  • Check your egos
    This is vitally important. Make the creative space a safe place. All ideas are good. No one is right and no one is wrong. If you work well with the actor you may find that a little creative friction can be a good thing and your differences can work to push the ideas, but monitor this carefully as it can easily go too far and destroy what you've set out to build. Remember your goal is to create an environment where you the writer can get ideas. Personally I prefer to approach it from a more open position and try not to defend or reject ideas too strongly. Not all writer/actor combinations are going to work well but that doesn't mean you can't get a lot out of the session.
  • Structuring the Session
    Take some time to set up an atmosphere of playfulness and creativity. You can do this with some improv exercises (more on this soon!) and be sure to set out clear rules for acceptable behaviour during the session, especially if working with multiple actors/writers. As the writer, this is your show but you have to play a genial host and be accommodating of your guests. You can choose to set an an agenda for the session or you may just like to keep the agenda in the back of your head just in case things don’t go to plan organically on their own. Set a time limit for how long the session will last. Actors and writers alike can get carried away when a session is working out well, but remember everyone has finite energy. Breaks, refreshment and time limits are important. No one wants to end up feeling too drained for their bus ride home, and it won’t help good feeling in the long run.
  • Respect your Roles
    Everyone thinks they can write, just like everyone thinks they can act, so from the off there’s likely going to be an element of thinking we can do the other person’s job. It’s important then that you both recognise the skills and the training that each of you has. Actors are skilled at intuiting character and subtext and using their knowledge of behaviour and emotion to build their performance from that. Writers are masters of crafting their knowledge of style and story with their own experiences and research into a complete and satisfying whole. It’s important for both of you to recognise these strengths and do the part that you do best. The writer’s job is still to write the script. Likewise for the actor it is a chance to get a deeper insight into the character to strengthen and enhance their end performance. But as the writer you are running the show. If you can check your ego and see yourself more as a facilitator then you will find that the session runs better and you will get more benefit from it. Don’t preempt the results of the session beforehand. Try to let it be what it is. Trust me you will get more out of it than you realise. Remember that writers are actors to some degree as we play out what we write in our heads before it goes on the page. It’s not uncommon for actors to feel a little insecure about the idea of writing and this can lead to them being more forceful than perhaps they need to be. Remember they are there because you want their input so it is in your interest to have them be as relaxed and secure as possible. Help the actor to do what they do best. They are used to being directed and they are used to improvising so you have the best of both worlds and it will work if you let it. Be a gracious host and it’ll work better for everyone.
  • Stay fluid
    Icreatet’s vital not to get too attached to a particular scene, storyline or plot device. The idea here is to try out possibilities for size. Let your writer’s mind feed off the skill and experience of the actor. Let the actor feed off the boundaries set by the skill and experience of the writer. Writers afraid to ‘kill their babies’ as the popular phrase goes, whereas actors will often want to hold on to what they see are precious moments and opportunities. Writing this way is about exploring. Don’t be afraid to let the actor run with things as it will deepen the character you’re writing. Remember you get the final say on what ends up in the final script.
  • Meet the moment
    If you’ve ever jammed in a band, you’ll know how sweet it is to find yourself in that moment where you’ve found a groove that’s borne out of the gestalt of the players and the essence of the moment. The vital thing to remember is that it is AWAYS temporary. A creative jam session between writer and actor works in exactly the same way. That sweet groove you’ve discovered will disappear as fast as it materialised. So enjoy it while it’s happening, try not to think about it too much, and above all createrespect the ephemeral nature of it. Nothing will kill it faster than trying to hold onto it. Have faith in the moment that you will be able to preserve and recreate the best elements of the improvisation session later. What’s important will stick. Don’t try to force it. Respect the moment.
  • Record your session
    Set a recorder well in advance of getting down to business. That way you can forget that it’s there and you won’t feel self conscious. Once there’s a recorder running very often you can relax and stop stressing about remembering everything that’s been said. And guess what? Yep you’ll start naturally remembering what’s been said. That said check your recorder is still running. I rarely end up listening to these recordings, but you can bet your boots that if you do want to recover a particularly important part of your session that can never be recreated, yep, it’s two minutes after the tape ran out.
  • Webcam vs Video
    Using webcams can be great for recording an entire room during a creative session. It’s easier to forget that it’s there and there tends to be less performance to camera which can lead to an actor getting too attached to a particular scene or storyline because of the performance opportunities that it offers.
  • After the session
    Icreatef the session was successful then you’ll most likely go away from it feeling good. Now you can sit straight down to write and pour it all out onto the page. Or you can sit on it for a few days to let it gel a little before starting to write. Personally I prefer to do the latter. It can be tempting to go with the heady excitement generated by the session, but I generally find that the writing works better if I let the session settle into my memory a little longer and my writer’s head clicks back into place better. Write too soon and I find that I’m trying too hard to stick to the story elements that came out of the session. Plus you will be more stressed about getting everything down just as it was in the session. Stress inevitably creates poorer writing. Trust yourself that the important stuff will stick in your memory and make it into the finished script.
  • Respect the session
    Long after the session you will undoubtedly remember it, whether or not the discoveries you made there made it into the final script, whether or not there even was a final script. It’s important to respect the session and remember that, for the actor, it was a performance for which you may have been the only audience. That’s a sacred thing and a valuable memory. Treasure it!

Happy writing!!



Lurve…



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?

Learning

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!!

Envy

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?

 

 

 



12345...10...>>
%d bloggers like this: