Monthly Archives: October 2008

Pitch Up 2008

Thanks for all the good wishes for my session at Channel 4 this evening, it went really, really well.

The event itself is run annually by Stellar Network and is called Pitch Up (or Pitch Up 2008 as it was).  People essentially submit their pitches to Stellar then the top 20 are chosen to be pitched to industry execs who have experience in all the various fields, from drama to factual to entertainment and all the cross-breeds in between.  Usually you have to pay for your pitching space if you are selected, but I managed to win myself a spot in a mini-competition, which was pretty much the only way I was going to get there.  Being the kind of cash-strapped, early-career filmmaker that I am, the train fare to London was enough to dent my pockets, so paying for the priviledge of being there would have probably been beyond my means.

At the Channel 4 building on Horseferry Road we all arrived and mingled in their little sub-street amphitheatre space (very media-stylee), some people chatting others standing around feeling like a bit of a tit.  No prizes for guessing my catagory.

Then we were all ushered into a screening room at the back of the atrium-thing and sat down to begin the round of pitches.

It was really interested to sit through as so many people didn’t obey the rules of a 30-60 second pitch and still more seemed like they hadn’t really prepared anything or thought about what they were going to say.  We all know I’m not big on planning, but even I had worked out how much I could shoe-horn in to 30 seconds of pitch, which was essentially this:

“For 25 years I lived with a degenerative lung condition called Cystic Fibrosis, which meant I was never able to do all the things I wanted to do.  11 months after a double-lung transplant, I now want to see what I’ve been missing.  How Hard Can It Be? is a documentary following a 26-year-old transplant recipient trying to see how hard it is to play a variety of sports to a competetive or even professional level.”

The feedback I got was really positive.  One of the panel thought it was a great idea, but suggested I think about involving more stories from the transplant community, mentoring them through the transplant process and then accompanying them on their challenge of a lifetime.  I guess it makes it a little more Ben Fogel and less “all about me” – plus, the more transplant stories there are involved, the more emotive the show will be.

Eventually, when all 20 pitchers had done and got their feedback, we were sent out for a resess and informed that prizes would be given out to the best pitch and two runners up.

I counted at least three pitches that were better than mine and that got more positive feedback, but to my surprise when we went back in, I got one of the runner-up goodie bags.  Considering that one of the criteria for their judgement was whether or not they would feel confident taking the idea and pitching it to the network, I was quietly pretty impressed.

I took a moment after the session ended to talk to the member of the panel who gave me feedback.  It’s all very well being given a goodie bag and all, but I wanted to know if they thought it was genuinely a viable idea, or if they just had to pick a few “winners” to give out bags to.  I wanted to know if it’s worth me pursuing futher.

To my surprise (having prepared myself for a straight “No”), she told me that she thought it was worth sticking with – if I made the changes that she’d suggested and wrote up a six-episode outline, she thinks it’s worth going for.


What is, is.

As you’ll doubtless know from my blog earlier in the week, I’ve been struggling to come to terms with T’s death and my thoughts and attitudes rising from it.  It’s been hard and I’m really grateful to everyone who took the time to comment and leave me words of advice and wisdom and I completely respect those of you who were angered or upset by my post.

It’s funny how sometimes things come along at just the right time to set your mind straight.  On Saturday morning, as I was preparing myself for a first step towards following the path I’ve wanted to stroll down for years, I checked in on the blog of friend and fimmaker Chris Jones, director of the soon-to-be-Oscar nominated (if his campaign pulls it off) Gone Fishing, where I read this post.

I’ve always admired Bruce Lee, but strangely not really for his films.  I’ve never really been a huge fan of martial arts movies, although anyone can see the amazing talent that he had.  What’s always impressed me more is his philosophy on life.  The Tao of Jeet-Kune-Do is the book Lee wrote about his own form of martial art, his own Karate-style form of combat he developed over a number of years.  But more than that it’s a tome about life and how to approach it.

Reading about his words of wisdom to Marlyn really struck a chord with me.  “What is, is,” sums up the way I’ve generally always tried to look at life, but something which I had begun to lose sight of in the maelstrom of life that’s whipped up around me in the last week or so.

I realise now that a) T was a loving and caring person who would’t have held a grudge against me even if she’d known how I was feeling and b) there is little I can do to repair whatever damage I perceive to have been done, so there is little point in letting it get me down.  In fact, Marlyn has helped me even more in an email she sent me:

When I was very young a woman told me that “one is dead when one is forgotten”.  To this day anyone I’ve known who has died is still very much alive in my mind.  The idea brings me peace and comfort because I can visit any one of them when ever I wish. And you can do the same with your friend.  Don’t beat yourself up for thoughts unspoken, grudges held.  It’s what IS.  Let them go.  You only stop yourself if you don’t.”

I don’t think I could have worded anything more succinctly and I sincerely hope that the renewe perspective I’ve been given can stay with me as I move, in Chris’ words, onwards an upwards.

The first step

Today marked the start of something more than exciting for me.  Last week, Live Life Then Give Life invested in a new media production package of professional equipment with which to document all the activities we’re involved in, as well a creating short films and videos to play at events and talks being given by any of the trustees or advocates.

Today one of our advocates, the irrepressable Nelly Shah, orgnised one of the 108 World’s Biggest Walks that took place at the same exact time (12noon GMT) in 18 countries over 5 continents.  Emily and I headed down (well, she came up) to Stanmore in Middlesex (just off J4 of the M1) to join her and her family on their 5km walk around Stanmore and Edgeware to raise awareness of organ donation and the chronic shortage of donors, particularly in the black and Asian communities.  Nelly, who’s originally from Kenya, has now been waiting for five-and-a-half years simply because of the dificulty of matching her tissue type with such a small pool of donors.

I took our equipment down and shot my first professional documentary pieces, as well as several interviews, which will go into an awareness-raising, high-impact video package for a talk Emily’s giving next weekend to an audience of over 2000 people from the Tamil community.

It was unbelievably exciting and I’m so amazingly pleased to have been given the opportunity to do this by the guys at Live Life Then Give Life who have placed an enormous amount of trust in me to deliver high-quality product to help the charity achieve its objects.

Of course, that’s only half the task, I now have to assemble the footage into usable pieces – one for the website to promote the walk and one, longer, piece for the talk DVD, which will also include an interview with two parents who have recently lost their 15-month-old son for want of a liver and small bowel.

It has to be said that I do feel a certain amount of pressure to deliver now, as it was me who spent a lot of time and energy researching the equipment and talking to the other trustees about the benefits and pluses of investing in the camera and sound package.  But, to be honest, I’m actually quite enjoying the pressure as it’s been a while since I actually had any pressure on me to achieve anything at all, so it’s nice to have a target.


Things are picking up pretty fast now, as I move further and further towards the world of work.  Today I went down to Bletchley train station to do a location scout for the short film I’m shooting in just 2 weeks’ time.  It’s unbelievably exciting to be actually preparing to do something for real that I’ve been imagining myself doing all through my time on the list and before, when I was too ill to consider actually getting on and doing it.

Now, more than ever, I’m aware that filmmaking is 100% what I want to do and to earn money doing it is my ultimate goal.  The next few weeks are going to be a kind of make-or-break time for me when I will discover whether I am actually capable enough to pull it off, or if I’m going to have to revue my plans and options and consider a change of direction.

The scout was really exciting as it really drove home the fact that is is definitely happening now.  It’ll be a real challenge and it’s already pushing me creatively more than I’ve been pushed before, but I’m absolutely loving it and thriving on the freedom to make decisions based on what I want to achieve, rather than aiming for the results someone else is going for.

I can’t wait to get shooting and turn out a really top-notch little film.  Here’s hoping it can meet my expectations and provide a launching pad into the career I’ve wanted to follow since I was in my teens.

Reflections on stupidity

I couldn’t sleep tonight, so I got myself up to check my emails, which have been neglected in the flurry of activity that included a double-shift at the Theatre today, and received a piece of news I’ve been dreading for a while.

An old friend of mine from the CF community lost her fight after a huge battle tonight.  She’d been in intensive care under sedation for a while and tonight she could no longer keep up the battle.

For reasons I found hard to fathom and now even harder to accept, her death has hit me so much harder than I ever thought it would.

Earlier this year, she gave birth to a son she’s wanted all of her life – a life which even ignoring CF has been tempestuous to say the least.  When she announced she was pregnant, I was really, really angry.  Discounting the numerous and serious risks posed to any mother with CF bearing a child, I felt it was a supremely selfish action to fulfill her own ideals without considering whether or not it was in the best interests of a child who could be left without a mother.

Hearing of her death tonight, all I’ve been able to think about is that I’ve not spoken to her in over a year, such was the strength of my feeling.

But you know what?  Who am I to judge?  Who am I to say whether someone should do the things they want to do, whether it’s irresponsible, inadvisable or selfish?  It’s not my place to suggest any of those things and it’s even more upsetting that I’ve let it cause such a rift.

I never even expressed my feelings to her – I never told her my opinions.  Why?  I honestly don’t know.  I guess I didn’t want to seem judgemental or to upset her, but surely I should have taken that as a warning sign that my “opinions” were unjustified and, frankly, just plain wrong.

“Life is for living” is the motto of another good friend of mine and we should all be living the life we want to live.  If I’ve learned one thing from my struggles over the last few years, it’s that the cliché of precious life encouraging a “live for the day” attitude is absolutely true.

I can’t explain the depth of regret I feel for not reaching out to T since the birth of her son, for not dropping the grudge or whatever you wish to call it.  For not making the effort to see if she needed my support, or even simply sending my congratulations.

Parenthood for PWCF is a very emotive subject and I’m all too aware that this post may well upset a few people.  But it’s something I feel a desperate need to explain, as it’s made me realise how wrong I have been and how incorrect it is of me to stand in judgement of the way other people live their lives.  I’ve always prided myself on being open, honest and – ironically – non-judgmental, but T’s death has shown me how I gloss over the cracks I don’t wish to see.

In a way, I feel I deserve the ire that’s bound to come my way – it would be, I suppose, a form of catharsis, helping me cement the knowledge that I should have kept a closer check on myself and remind me for the future that nothing is worth losing a friendship over and certainly not something that’s based on “opinions” or “feelings”.

Tor, I wish I could have said all of this to you.  I wish I could have sat down with you, laughed and giggled again, met E and L and told you how sorry I was that I let this get in the way.  I wish I could take back the last 18 months and keep in touch, share your joy in motherhood and see your smiling face again.

All I hope now is that, somewhere, you can read this and hear my prayers and find it in yourself to offer me forgiveness.  When I come up there to join you, the first round’s on me.

No, b*llocks to that – they’re all on me.

Breath easy, angel, smile down on us all.

Cohens and Dons

Up at 6am this morning to get K to her Uni train for her long day – 9am lecture start and solid work through until 4 – pretty epic, really.  Still, if one will choose the hardest working course outside of Law and Medicine, what do you expect?  What I expect is, of course, huge backlash from every single student who reads this blog telling me that they’re course is just as hard-working as any other.  I won’t believe them, though.  Especially the Media students…

Back home I managed to get through quite a bit of stuff, looking into a couple of new business opportunities which may help me in setting up the company I most want to run as well as getting through some Live Life stuff which has been sitting on my desk for a while.

Around 10ish I gave in and took myself off to bed for an hour as I couldn’t keep my eyes open, then got myself up to head in to the flicks to catch Burn After Reading, the new Cohen brothers film.

I must confess I’m not exactly a Cohen brothers fan.  Blood Simple and Miller’s Crossing apart, I tend to find their films a little too quirky and impenetrable for my tastes, however much I want to like them desperately.  No Country For Old Men is a case in point, where the majority of the movie had me gripped and was really well put together, but the last act just left me cold.  It wasn’t even as if I could pinpoint what they were trying to do and addmire it, as I frequently can and do with films I don’t like but see the merit in.  I was just baffled.

Burn After Reading is more my kind of thing.  It’s got the Cohen quirks, but at a much more restrained level and features a fantastic cast doing some of their best work in a long time.  Not just George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand, either – J K Simmons knocks his ever-so-brief role out of the park and hits all the right comic notes and the rest of the cast are equally impeccable.

The plot is cleverly convoluted without getting beyond the audience.  The confusions and mix-ups that make a good thriller are in place, as is the almost trademark high-violence of the Cohens, albeit somewhat restrained from some of the rest of their pieces.  Pitt really lets himself go and looks like he’s having a wail of a time, but then I’ve been a fan of his for years, since the days before he was BRAD PITT or Mr. Jolie.

With the up-coming Changling, I think both Mr and Mrs Pitt are coming back to show that they have the talent to raise themselves above the kind of tabloid-fodder which has caused or reflected many a career misstep.  I’m always excited to see either of them work and when they come up with a cracker – as in the case of Fight Club, Se7en or Legends of the Fall for Pitt, Gia or Girl, Interrupted for Jolie – it always really pleases me.

If you’re a Cohen fan, there’s much to admire and it’s definitely a “Cohen” film, but if they’re not your cup of tea, don’t necessarily let that put you off – this is a far more “mainstream”-feeling movie with a more accessible structure, plot and storyline than much of what has come before.

Back home after the flick I caught up with a friend who I’ve not seen properly for far too long, which is always nice, although we could only squeeze in a quick hour before I had to grab K from the train, change hurriedly and pick Dad up for a trip to see MK Dons courtesy of Clydesdale Bank.

It was the first time I’d been to Stadium:MK and I have to say I was mightily impressed.  It’s a lovely stadium and the pitch was immaculate.  The game was pretty good, too – entertaining and interesting to watch the way the Dons play under Di Matteo, although with the final score resting at 2-1 to Stockport after an own goal in the last minute, it could have been a better result.

It was interesting to reflect on the power of team support, though.  As a Saints (Southampton) fan, whenever I go to a game, I get incredibly involved and tend to scream and shout with the rest of them.  If we lose, I’m always in a bad mood for most of the rest of the day.  On the other hand, watching the Dons, who I follow and support as a local team, I wasn’t overly bothered by the result.  It was a strrange feeling of under-whelmedness, I guess, which I found intriguing.  Maybe if I watch more games (which, incidentally, I’d love to do) I would have more of an investment in the club and their results, but as it was last night was just a really fun, if slightly chilly, night out.

I can’t believe my body sometimes.  Or maybe my brain.  One or the other, it doesn’t really matter because I’m just as cross with both of them for waking me up at 5am this morning.

Mondays are supposed to be my “lie ins”, with K not starting Uni ’til 11am meaning we don’t have to be up until 8.30am, as opposed to the usual 6am.  But this morning something inside me decided it wanted to be up and about at 5.  Five o’clock in the bloody morning!

Still, it meant I managed to be at least a little productive today, although I’ve managed to have one of those days where I look back over what I’ve done and realised all the things I wanted to get done and haven’t, which is mildly frustrating.

Still, I managed to fit in all of my necessary admin stuff and bill payments (although I’ve still got a mini-pile of post to go through) and get through a veritable mountain of ironing.  I can’t stand ironing, it’s the worst chore in the world, by far, and I’m also absolutely rubbish at it.  Actually, it might be the fact that I’m rubbish at it that makes me dislike it so much because it seems like so much work for so little effect.

Once I’d got all my housey bits done, I took myself off to the flicks to catch City of Ember which is not as bad a film as I thought it was going to be, although it’s a bit slow in the build-up and with a few bizarre plot strands which don’t entirely make sense.

Then it was off to Costco for our monthly stock-up on essentials and bits and pieces which we go through at such a rate as to make it cheaper to buy in bulk.  That said, I think we’d buy a lot more from there if we had more space for storage.  It’s a weird dilemma walking around the warehouse working out whether a) it’s cheaper to get it in bulk, b) you’ve got enough cash-flow to cover the up-front costs of something you might not buy for another 2 weeks and c) you’ve got enough space at home in the kitchen/in the cupboard/under the bed to find a home for it all once you get back.

Of course my days never run completely smoothly and I did have to make a minor detour back home to collect my Costco card which I’d handily filtered out of my wallet at some clever clean-up stage a couple of months ago.

From there it was to the Supermarket to get the more regular weekly groceries that are either uneconomical or too perishable to buy monthly in bulk, then round to the station to collect K and back home to start the somewhat lengthy process of packing up all the meat into dinner-size portions to chuck in the freezer until further notice.

After quickly checking emails and sorting out my plans for the week, it’s time to cook and get dinner ready, then to wash up and finally some time to hit the sofa and chill.

The best news of the day came in an email this morning, though, to let me know that I’ve won a place at a prestigious documentary pitching day at Channel 4 next Monday.  20 of us have been selected to appear in front of a panel of industry professionals and pitch our ideas to them for feedback and possible further work.  It’s really, really exciting and could potentially open a lot of doors for me at this stage in my break-out.

More of that and other new projects coming soon, so stay tuned.

Tough week

This week has been really hard going.  I think the early mornings getting K off to uni have really caught up with me and helped me to realise that I’ve been taking on too much at once and that I need to be careful and be more aware of the balance between working hard and doing what I want to be doing and giving myself enough time to rest and recuperate from the exertions I’m putting myself through.

Interestingly, it feels like it’s been a hard week, but actually I’ve rested myself more this week than I have for a long time.  Monday was the first day “off” I’ve had in two weeks – the first day I’ve had nothing in my diary to do and could just veg out on the sofa and not do very much.  It was bliss, but like most times when you’ve been going flat-out for a while as soon as I stopped I started to feel it.

So although I’ve done less this week than the last couple of months, I’ve actually felt worse for it as my body caught on to the fact that I was in slow-down and took the time it needed to re-boot itself and re-set itself to factory settings so I don’t start next week already way behind on my sleep and energy levels.

I remember way back before my transplant writing on here about finding the right balance between doing things and saving some energy and I’m kind of back in that situation again now.  Although I have more energy than I used to have (inexpressibly more), I still only have a finite amount.  I need to remember that although my reseres are higher, empty is still empty whether you’re a 7-stone CF-ridden weakling or an Olympic athlete – there’s no going on when the body’s at the bottom of the red zone.

So here’s to a New Year’s resolution a few months in advance – I will do my best to maintain a healthy balance between work, play and rest; attempt at all times to ensure I have enough in my tank to handle what I have taken on; and not take on things that I know are likely to drop me into an avoidable red zone.

And I’ll try to blog more.

Double shifts and missing leads

Today’s been a bit of an epic day, but quite good, too.  As well as being massively frustrating and trying.  A mix of everything, then, I guess.

It all began at 6am this morning, rolling out of bed to run K down to the train to set her off for her day at uni, followed by a quick (way too quick) nap back at home before wrenching myself from the covers a second time to head down to the station myself and get down to London for a photoshoot for an article being written about Emily and I.  It was actually the quickest and easiest photoshoot I think I’ve ever done, which was nice.  We were in and out in 15 minutes and on our way again.

On the way back home I managed to buy lunch before rushing for the train, which then left 15 minutes late and I realised I’d left the drink I bought in Smiths, meaning I couldn’t eat any of my lunch on the train as I had nothing to take my creon with.  Brilliant.

Getting back to MK fifteen minutes before I was due to start work, I then had to rush home and change before racing across town to the Theatre to work a double shift on the bars for the matinee and evening performances of Carousel.

I arrived on the bars upstairs to discover that all hell had broken loose after the production company belated informed us that Leslie Garrett would not be performing today and they had decided (under considerable pressure from an unimpressed star who was shocked to hear that they’d not been honest with the audience beforehand) that all the customers would get a free cup of coffee and slice of cake for the matinee and a free drink of their choice for the evening performance.

Wednesday matinees are affectionately known in the business as “Grey Days” after the fairly narrow demographic of the audience who were considerably unimpressed with the change in the cast and weren’t afraid to voice their displeasure.  Combined with a terribly worded voucher they had been given from the prod co, they descended on the bars, which had no cake, only to be turned away and sent to the VIP lounge where everything had been laid out.

The problem with being on the bars in a Theatre is that, very frequently, you are the first point of contact for members of the audience, which means that any and all mistakes made by either the Theatre, the production company or anyone else involved with the show inevitably end up being your fault.  They customers latch on to the first person connected with the Theatre and feel free to let loose.  I wouldn’t mind so much if there was something we could actually do about it, or if it was a mistake that we had made, but it very, very rarely is.  Usually it’s the limits of our powers to turn around and apologise and I suppose if the customer wants to vent then we have to take it, but it’s not fun.

Luckily the evening performance went much more cheerily, mostly because the slightly younger audience were much more appreciative of the free booze and programmes they received.  In fact, the vast majority of them didn’t seem overly concerned with the cast change, which meant that for all intents and purposes, they just got a bonus free drink as part of their night out.

The problem with all of the audience being given free drink vouchers, though, is that they then like to use them.  With the house around 85-90% full, you would normally expect to serve 40-50% of those people drinks.  With free drink vouchers, you’re suddenly serving 100% of the audience drinks, plus the extras that they might wish to pay for.  It was hard work. Combined with the fact that they they had earlier in the week cut the interval down from 20 minutes to 15 because the show was running so long (3 hours in total, not including the break), so we had to cram out 40% more drinks in 25% less time than usual.

Suffice it to say that by the end of the night we all felt like we’d be consistently hit over the head with a large hammer very, very hard.  Exhausted and ready for home we were at least kindly acknowledged by the management who allowed us all a drink to take away with us – muchly appreciate by us all.

After three nights and sleeping incredibly poorly, the day did at least serve to put me back on track with decent, deep sleep, so it can’t all be bad.

Writing apace

A couple of weeks agao I started a new writing project with a friend – S of S&S form this blog – launching from an idea written by her other half (erm… S from S&S from this blog…) back in his college days, which is now so long ago we’re all starting to feel a little too old for our liking.

The original script, scribbled out in a school exercise book, has the seeds of a great story in the comedy-horror genre made famous by Shaun of the Dead but plied equally well by recent Brit successes like The Cottage.

We’ve spent the last month or so between the two of us, with input from SB (I suppose the second initial will have to come into it now, since they’re becoming two separate people…) to make sure we weren’t veering too far away from his original intentions, have been hashing out a more detailed and sustainable plot-line and making the characters more rounded to help us create the right level of comedy.

It’s quite a tough project because the premise is pretty ludicrous, but the idea is cracking, which means that it’s really important to get all the “other” elements of the script right so that the audience feels able to buy in to the main idea running through it.  If the comedy is too outlandish, the audience won’t want to go with us, so it’s important that we keep it a close character comedy with just a single, slighty crazy comic element in the middle of the mix.

Today we had our second full-on writing day together.  Both of us had completed short sections of 7-10 pages each and we got our heads together to see how they were working alongside each other and that we were flowing down the same lines according to the plan we’d drawn up.  It’s all looking really good and we spent a bit of time going over the action and dialogue of the sequences we’ve written and seeing if and how it affects the stuff we’re going on to do next.

We’ve come away nicely re-energised for the next stint of writing and have given ourselves another two weeks to get the next pieces written up before we meet again to see how we’re progressing.  If we can keep the pace we’re on at the moment, we should have a completed first draft by the end of November, which would be really, really cool.

Interestingly, just the process of writing with someone else and bouncing ideas around has taught me a huge amount about how to better develop characters and story-arcs, something I think that some of my writing has lacked in the past.  It’s also seemed to click my brain back into “writer’s mode” and set me off thinking about a whole load of other projects I’d like to get cracking on.  I’m not about to try writing two first drafts at the same time, but with ideas fermenting in my head, I think this could be quite a fertile time for my creativity, which is a really nice feeling.