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Scrolling through Facebook this morning, as you do, I was greeted by an image reminding me it was Zoran‘s birthday today. This made me think back over the various DoP’s I’ve known, worked with and/or studied under and I thought now would be a good time to locate and collate all those “crew” photos from ages past.
We have the birthday boy himself – Zoran with credits ranging from Raindance Film Festival trailers through to features such as “Love is Thicker than Water”, Deadly Virtues, Dangerous Parking and more
behind the scenes / unofficial crew shot from Dating Dilemmas – a satirical look at love in the naughties
There are a number of other films I’ve worked on in the last 2 years however I’m struggling to find crew shots for them currently – which I think highlights the need to make sure that they happen, and that they’re kept archived somewhere useful like this post 🙂
It’s (almost) November 2020, and the UK is heading back into a series of local lockdowns or “Tier 3”. COVID is rife and the much anticipated second wave is starting to take hold.
This is my personal story on how COVID has impacted me to date, and how I’ve coped with lockdown and the associated isolation.
When all of this started, I was single, 48 years old and living one of my childhood dreams; preparing to sail around the world on a yacht.
You join me in Gibraltar with a bunch of guys who I’d met only a couple of weeks earlier and hardly knew. We were training for the RYA Yachtmaster ticket, improving our skills and building miles.
I had been travelling in one guise or another since October the year before. October, my mother and I had gone to Zante for 2 weeks as a chance to get away and spend some quality time together. My mum lives in the Isle of Man, so I don’t see her nowhere near as often as I’d like.
December we went to Lanzarote for 3 weeks, again to spend some time together and get away from the cold and wet British weather.
Yes, you may have noticed i seem to have spent most of my time scuba diving and no, at 74 my mother doesn’t scuba dive … in fact she doesn’t even swim! But we did still spend at least half of each day together!
Towards the end of February we are starting to hear reports of COVID and by March it was evident things were going to get worse.
Through local contacts, I had heard that Spain was about to close her borders and I decided it was time to head home, I could always come back later this year to finish the course.
I arrived home on March 15th. Oddly this would have been my Dad’s birthday. It was also the day we said goodbye to him in 2013 following a brief battle with lung cancer.
March 17th, a group of about 20 of us got together for a last supper, I went home, closed my door and pretty much didn’t emerge again until September.
During the next 6 months of self imposed solitary confinement, the UK saw more than 918,000 cases of COVID and experienced more than 45,000 deaths. We were told to stay home if we could, save lives, save the NHS.
Having spent the previous 2 months on an 11 meter (37 foot) yacht co-existing with 4 other blokes, coming home to my 2 bed terrace in Watford felt like a palace! Friends had been cat sitting for me while I was away, but it was evident I had been missed and for the next few weeks and months Vesta barely left my side. Eventually she realised I wasn’t going anywhere and started getting back into her old routines though.
Initially the solitude really didn’t bother me. I was really enjoying the space, my own company and not tripping over everyone on the tiny 3 metre wide boat. I was also mentally prepared for the solitude as I had known I would experience this as I sailed for weeks at a time between countries, with no one to talk to but the birds and the fishes…
I had a long bucket list of things to do while I was away, dozens of books to read, finally learn to play the guitar, write that killer screenplay which I would sell on my return to civilisation – or shoot myself being a budding director and cinematographer.
I sat down and started working on my now 8 year old Mac Pro. It may have been old, but it was still the only Pro computer Apple sold and it was still one of the most powerful ⎌in their product range. The only problem was, it was slow. It couldn’t cope with rendering even some of the most basic 4K film projects, and to be honest I had become quite disillusioned with Apple and OS X over the last couple of years anyway. I decided that as I was going to be stuck here for the next few months, and as the purchase of my boat had fallen through thanks to COVID, I had some spare cash and it was tie to buy a new computer. So, I bit the bullet and decided it was time to build myself a new PC.
My old day job, before I sold the company in June, was running an ISP (or Internet Services provider). I built and ran Linux based servers all day, every day, so the building of a PC wasn’t scary. Switching to Windows on the other hand, and OS I really hadn’t looked at since the days of Windows XP – well that was something else!
I ran a few tests, just to make sure, and soon became convinced that actually OSX was old hat and what a refreshing change Windows 10 was … Microsoft had finally done something right!
I placed the order for the components and £3,500 and a week later they arrived, and were soon assembled into a shiny new PC.
I needed to test out this beast, and ran a few benchmarks …. yes, this was an awesome bit of kit, so much faster than my old Mac.
It was at this stage, I remembered an old computer game which I had been a backer of years earlier, but had to stop playing the Mac because the Mac just couldn’t keep up. No, not Crisis, this was Elite: Dangerous … so I dug out the download, installed it, found my VR headset and resurrected my old account.
That, was my first big mistake. I got so hooked on the game that I played for 2 months straight. 12 hours a day at least! I took my ancient and barely developed account and turned it into a multiple Elite level beast. I increased my credit balance from 100,000 credits to 30 Billion credits in the space of those 2 months and bought a fleet carrier … which got me even more hooked! I then started a 2nd character, and a 3rd! I was playing for hours in bed on my old Xbox, before getting up playing some more on the PC first as one character, then as the other. All I did for 2 months solid was play this game!
I met a bunch of interesting players online, and even got one of my old friends to install Elite and start playing, much to his wife’s chagrin as apparently the DIY jobs around the house weren’t going to do themselves!
It was now May and my 49th Birthday. We were still heavily in lockdown, and I celebrated the day on my own … well with Vesta. A sad and sobering day, one which would normally be filled with dozens of friends, a BBQ in my garden and more often than not, followed by at least 2 days of clearing up and a recycling bin overflowing with bottles!
June came and went. My mums 74th birthday, we’d usually spend the time together in London, doing a show or two, dining out and always some window shopping. Instead it was spent briefly on Skype before getting back to more Elite.
July and August soon blurred into one. By this time though, my mood had changed. I hadn’t noticed at the time, but May, June and July started to see the depression really set in. I was no longer bothering to do anything around the house, I was ordering take out more and more. Amazon had been delivering my groceries for weeks/months. They were the only place that still had delivery slots and even they weren’t all that easy to get.
By this stage I had put on 20kg through constant snacking and no exercise. All the weight I had lost since August 2019 had been put back on, and some. I couldn’t even get into clothes that were falling off me in January … and realising this just made the depression worse. And what do I do when I’m depressed? I comfort eat! Yes, putting on even more weight.
I decided I needed to do something, and had seen that Raindance were starting a BA(Hons) top up course in film making. 3 years ago, when I had decided I wanted to change the direction my life was going in, I had signed up for a 2 year HND course in film and media studies. I loved the course, met so many amazing people and made a bunch of new friends… we made nearly 50 films in the 2 years, many were experimental, some made it to festivals and a handful were screened at the Vue Cinema in Leicester Square. Life was good!
I graduated with a distinction, and the same year found a buyer for my ailing company. Did a deal and found myself free to explore and experience life. My mid life crisis was well underway!
Now however I was really beginning to feel lonely, prone to frequent outbursts of tears for no real reason and I was finding it harder and harder to sleep.
Due to re-arranged classes and prior travel commitments, it wasn’t possible to pitch to the class before I flew off for Xmas with the family.
To ensure potential Directors get a chance to find out more about my planned short film, I have put together a short piece to camera and a slide deck which hopefully outlines the idea and will be enough for potential Directors to come forward and put their hat in the ring.
So the first year of study has completed on the BTEC Higher National Diploma in Creative Moving Media Production I’m studying with the Raindance Film Trust.
At the end of my first year, I have mixed emotions. By all accounts, it looks as though I’ve completed the year with a Distinction, it has taken the tutors longer than anticipated to mark all the assignments, more than five of them had been completed before the first was returned – which made it difficult to know if all the right boxes were being ticked in respect to the format and layout, writing style and so on. With a few small adjustments and exceptions, it seems that the style was acceptable (thankfully!).
The first year of study has been a mixed bag. I’ve had to learn some humility and to learn that there is more than one way to do things. For the last 20 years I have pretty much been the one everyone came to for the answers and I had to know, or at least seem to know, the answers – often having to invent a solution as we went along putting out fires or coming up with a bit of code to overcome whatever the issues were. No matter what the problem, the buck stopped with me – and if the business was to continue and the customers were to be happy, I could not just say “I don’t know” or “ask someone else”.
Filmmaking is much more of a collaborative affair, there are many ways to deliver the finished project and there is rarely a “wrong” way, everything is much more subjective – so long as you get the take and you have a finished project at the end. There are often times when you think (or say) “we could have done that better” or “if only we had more time / xyz resources / etc” .. However, each experience is a chance to learn and to find a better way of doing the same thing next time (and/or not to repeat the same mistake twice!)
We are working out who has strengths and weaknesses in various areas, and unlike “the real world” where we cut the chaff from the wheat or focus on the strengths, being a learning environment we get to focus much more on the weaknesses too, making them stronger (hopefully).
From my perspective, I feel as though a certain part of the “magic” of film has died, I am now pretty much unable to look at a scene in a TV programme or film without thinking “what was the Director’s instruction to the cast” or “their motivation” … I look at a scene and think “why on earth did they light it like that” … or “I can see the camera reflected in that window ” .. or similar.
Sometimes I despair at what I’m watching, mainly because the film cost $5m to make, grossed $20m and is still a mediocre piece of work (in my humble opinion) .. that does, however, fire me up to think that I could certainly do better.
I confess I was disappointed that my first narrative short film didn’t make the selection grade for screening at RDFF26, however, I take responsibility for that; in not taking along anyone from the cast/crew/family/friends/etc (well apart from Miky) so there was little chance of winning the popular vote. That said, the competition was tough and the quality of the films that were made was incredibly high, and I did find myself voting for other student’s work as well as my own, and I’m sure other students and visitors ended up doing the same.
Only 12 of the 23 short films were selected in the end, I would have liked to think that my film was somewhere in the top 10 however this ended up not being the case. On the plus side, everyone in the room laughed at the right places and seemed to get the joke. There were other films that I thought were just as good (if not better) than mine which were also not selected. This however just fires me up to go out and produce a better film, and I have already started work on a horror genre script, as well as an idea for another comedy.
Juggling a full-time job as well as a full-time course has been taxing at times, however as they often say, if you want something doing quickly then give it to a busy person, and on the whole that has worked. I have been able to adequately segment my time between Fido and HND assignments and only had to request an extension on a couple of tasks due to conflicts with pesky things such as VAT returns and such like.
On the whole, I am looking forward to year 2. The first year covered the theory of film in much more detail than I would have been able to do on my own, giving pointers towards topics for additional research as well as helping me better understand concepts such as mise en scène, chiaroscuro and French new wave. Next year we have more of the same, plus documentary filmmaking and sound design. So lots to look forward to!