Archive for February, 2011

Something about number 8, a cake and a handshake that never happened

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

An open letter to Elliot Grove after two days at Raindance's Lo to No budget filmmaking course:

I'm back in the executive lounge in my hotel drinking free rosé and eating free canapés. Trust me this is not my world. I am so lucky. I ask myself how I can afford this? How am I so far from home? I am crying and hiding my tears - badly - from the businessmen around me.

Why am I here? Why am I crying? Where did my mood change from hard-nosed business numbers this weekend, talking in strangely real terms about improbable - but no longer impossible - dreams in the film industry? Again, not my world.

And then we got to number eight. Number eight in the list of things we needed to make a movie was to be the finalé and you teased us with it - building tension, creating suspense, making us wonder and guess, at what number eight would turn out to be. Martin - an actor, producer and filmmaker - said number 8 would be 'steel balls to see a film through to the end'. Well, as a woman, that's me out I thought. So when you got to number 8 in the programme you would not believe how much I hoped it would not be steel balls. Instead ... you said 'something'. Literally something.

Just that word meant a lot to me.

Last night I was exhausted after the class and a long chat session in the pub after with my classmates. I went back to my hotel room and my husband reminded me on the phone that because I sounded exhausted, this was the point at which I must be sure to take care of me. Do something for myself. Even a few hundred miles apart, he is still taking care of me. He is a good man, my soul mate!

So I went for a swim. In the basement of the hotel is a salt swimming pool. The lighting in there is incredible. I thought about filming there, what it would look like through the viewfinder with the greens and purples chasing around the ceiling. I had the whole place all to myself - no one else was there at all. What a luxury! I swam around the pool like a frollicking dolphin and when I got tired of swimming I just floated. It was warm and quite heavenly. I went back over everything from the class day one. I was quite honestly amazed myself at how much I had learned - and retained - in one amazing day. What an incredible thing it was, not only to be in London at this hotel, but to be at Raindance and to be learning so much, not just from you, but from all my classmates who are happy to share so much, so freely. Some incredible people. One year ago I could not in my wildest dreams have imagined being here and doing ANY of this or meeting any of these wonderful people. As I said, I have come a long way.

I went into the steam room. And sat smiling to myself in this thick, hot mist. And right there I swear this committed atheist found religion. I realised I believed in something that had brought me there, somehow. It was ok to believe that. And I decided that the word something would be enough for this purpose. As a miniscule human being I couldn't begin to define or name a thing as unimaginable as a superior being so 'something' was a perfect word. Something beyond me.

And so today, right when you started to talk about number 8 and I caught your drift and realised your meaning for the eighth thing we would need to make a movie I wrote down the word 'something'. And right at that moment you spoke that very same word 'something'. Just as I wrote the word. A tiny bit incredible. Now I don't believe in coincidence. I don't believe in luck either. So weird.

But, you know, as cool as that was, it's not what changed my mood. That didn't make these tears or make me rush back in a cab to start writing.

It has more to do with what you said about giving.

And that has more to do with lunch, when I had the pleasure of running into Victoria, a promising young filmmaker, who was on our course. We sat down together and we talked about dreams and filmmaking for an hour. It started raining outside. Just then an elderly homeless guy came in and went through to the bathroom. He then came out sat down and drank a coffee left in the cup left by the last people. Seeing - and perhaps smelling - this, the people at the next table got up quickly leaving their coffees half-drunk, which he picked up and poured into his cup. When I saw that I offered him my yellow lemon cake which I was not going to eat and Victoria didn't want either. He took it and thanked me. Victoria said that I'd done something good. Hmmm. That was pretty nice of me, wasn't it?

And no I'm not writing this because I gave away my cake and because you said about us giving something everyday and not wanting to be thanked for it.

I'm writing this because when he'd finished eating the cake he came over to me and thanked me again. Only this time he held out his hand to shake mine.

To be honest I don't particularly like shaking hands with anyone - it's a weird funny habit anyway, and with so many colds and flu and noroviruses going around to be honest these days I try to avoid it. But this guy's hand was in my face and I literally - for the first time in my life I think - refused to shake a hand that was proferred to me. I did perceive him as dirty and the thought of shaking his grubby hand literally made my skin crawl. I must have washed my hands five times over the course of the afternoon just from thinking about it.

My tears are not because of giving. You see I saw the pain in this man's face because I did not accept his hand. He saw that I perceived him as dirty. And I saw that he saw that.

My tears are tears of shame. I think I might see his outstretched hand and the betrayal in his eyes for a long time.

He quickly scurried away back into the toilets. I left quickly before he came out.

And later sitting there waiting for the class to start again I got to thinking about why we do things and yet do not want to be thanked? Why is it easier to toss a coin at someone without meeting their eyes? Are we paying not to see into their eyes perhaps?

Sometimes we need to be thanked.
Sometimes we need to hear it.
Sometimes we need to see it.
Sometimes - like for me and that man today - it comes through a simple touch.

However it comes, sometimes, we have to turn and face it.

For that is the price we pay for having the thing we give away - or the 'luck' or 'good fortune' - or the 'something' - which gave it to us in the first place. His hand was all that man had to give to me.

And by not taking his hand - his thanks - it's possible I did more damage to him than if I'd looked the other way when I first saw him drink the cold coffee. Or if I'd got up and left like the people at the other table did. Or if I hadn't have given him that stupid yellow cake in the first place. Let's face it, on reflection, he was probably going to eat it as soon as I got up to leave anyway!! So who gained from my generous gesture? There was only loss. That is what I saw in his eyes. And that is what I know as I sit in my warm, swanky hotel tonight.

We know so little of how our worlds intersect. How one person's words or deeds or kindness affects the life journey of another. From listening to you these last two days I learned that - for me at least - maybe movies are one way to show a little of this. To give each other a glimpse. After all, we all love story.

Even when that story is one of shame.

Now right now - as much as I would like to - I cannot go out into the night and find that homeless man tonight to apologise and shake his hand.

But I can thank you Elliot - despite you perhaps not wanting those thanks - because you cannot know how much this weekend has touched my life. Or how much it has made me think or exactly what I have learned. We always teach more than our curriculum.

You are a true teacher.

Thank you.

To anyone reading this I can whole-heartedly recommend Elliott Grove and Raindance and the Low to No Budget Filmmaking Course. You will learn so much more than you will expect!

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