Diverse Film & TV = Diverse Societies?

Things have to change, because the arts should never be the preserve of any one group, because BAME young people have every much of a right to an artistic education as anyone else, because BAME people have just as fascinating and engaging stories as anyone else to tell, because the whole diversity of Britain should be represented on our screens and because the barriers to BAME access to the arts mean valuable British talent goes to waste. – Chris Bryant

I’ve been fighting for a long time to contribute to a world that is more understanding of each other no matter what history they have. In high school my dad took my sisters and I to our first protest, it was around the time the war on Afghanistan began. I remember standing in the middle of town in my Eid clothes going ‘what on earth are we doing here?’ and feeling really embarrassed to be at a protest dressed like that. I think I was around 15? It didn’t take me long to go from that to a total all out activist. Flash forward to my university years and my fight to make those whose voices couldn’t be heard heard was in full force.

By the time I finished university at 21 I was still political, still an activist but more aware than ever that being a politician wasn’t my path (much to my dad’s disappointment). I came to realise that the things that opened my eyes, the reasons I could relate to people so easily, came through stories. I’d known I was a storyteller for a long time but it took a lot of courage and soul searching to come to the realisation that I was going to take on the challenge to be one of hopefully many people that would start to create content for film and TV that would show how diverse Scotland (and the UK) is and not rely on stereotype or what was expected.

For a long time I censored myself. I didn’t write Asian characters. I was afraid to. I didn’t know how to write them in a way that would be acceptable to ‘western’ audiences and not go against what was true/what I knew to be true. Then I lost my grandfather and I began to realise that if I didn’t write what I knew, if I didn’t write our stories, if I didn’t write the experiences that led to me being who I am, where I am and what I am, then nobody would. Everyone would just believe that every Asian girl is a victim of a forced marriage or has to be disowned or avoid an honour killing in order to live how she wants to live. I got angry, at myself as well as those that commissioned the same stories over and over again. I wrote the most honest and personal film I could ever write. It was my therapy but it was also the best way for me to stop censoring myself. I wrote a character that was feeling what I was feeling, that was going through what I was going through. In so many ways Amara Rahim from Meet Me By The Water is me. She mirrors my journey into film, she mirrors my choice to do something for myself, my want and need to be defined purely by myself and not my family, my marital status, my religion or my ethnicity.

I wrote Meet Me By The Water, I began to write Safar, a female asian road trip film, I began to find story after story of well known events/times in history where the story was told with a purely white cast/characters. So much of history was hidden from the world that involved people of colour. Not just that but the stories/films/tv that were being commissioned with BAME characters in them were, for the most part, inauthentic. They ignored the details and that in itself is insulting. I recently watched a film about an honour killing that had family members speaking different dialects of Urdu/Punjabi. I actually almost burst out laughing out of frustration in the cinema. I mean the British born daughter spoken better Punjabi than her supposedly traditional Pakistani father. That’s just one example but this idea that Asian women are only ever on-screen to be victims of something is so dated and insulting to the modern Asian (Muslim) woman.

I have yet to see a single British or Scottish Film or TV show where I watch it and feel that there’s been some thought or research put into the characters. That they aren’t just token ethnic characters to tick those diversity boxes. Please stop thinking that you can just tick a box, you need substance and layers and truth to your stories and characters or it’s just pointless.

The BFI recently introduced a three tick system which is supposed to have helped increase diversity both behind the camera and on-screen. I completely believe that increasing diversity behind the camera, specifically writers, directors and producers of diverse backgrounds, automatically leads to an increase in diversity on-screen. I live in Scotland. I choose to live in Scotland and not move to London like many people over the years have told me to do. However, I’m also very aware that most likely 90% of stuff commissioned in the past 10 years has no diversity. In fact it feels like the situation is getting worse. I don’t know the reason for this. I can hazard a guess at many things but regardless of the reasons it does concern me that nobody seems to be picking up on this in our public bodies that are responsible for the film and television output in Scotland. There’s a real reluctance on all levels to invest in something ‘different’ to what they know is tried and tested.

Much of this post has come out of a search for funding for my most recent project. I made a move into directing last year with Magda. I was lucky enough to get on to the Scottish Film Talent Network’s New Talent Shorts scheme and develop a short based on my first feature, Meet Me By The Water. Unfortunately the short wasn’t commissioned as is the way with all development schemes you can only commission a small number of what is developed, but by the end of the development process it’s at a good stage where it feels like it’s ready to be made. I’ve been looking around to see where we can go to for funding for the film because unfortunately I don’t have £10k sitting around waiting to be used. How do you get a film made that hasn’t been made before, that tells a new story, that requires funders to look outside of what they know and not see it as ‘just another Asian story’ and actually just as a story of a girl who just happens to be Asian? Does support exist where they truly believe in diverse stories that look at all the layers and not just stereotypes? Does anyone? Do they all just want to stick to tried and tested stereotypes and continue to put forward an outdated view of BAME people, when they choose to include BAME people that is?

There’s a reason this is all so important and it relates back to my opening paragraph. I believe that the world we live in is increasingly full of fear. People are afraid to talk to each other. People are afraid to ask questions, to look outside of what they know and try and understand other worlds, people and ways of doing things. To be accepting of other belief systems. I believe that film and television and stories in all forms are a subtle and easy way to do this. Do people even know that Scotland is as diverse as it is? I’ve been outside of Scotland and had people completely shocked when I speak because they didn’t expect a Scottish accent. It’s a crazy concept to them, an Asian Muslim hijab wearing girl speaking in a Glaswegian accent. I’m not the only one. We exist. It’s a shame that the Film & TV world in Scotland seem to think we don’t.

Absence

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

— W.S Merwin, Separation

The plan was that my next blog post would be about something else. I’d planned on writing about the GMAC Summer School on which I was an AD Mentor and the feeling of being immersed in creativity and film every day. I’d planned on writing about characters on television shows after marathoning Felicity and falling in love with all the characters while hating them at times. I’d planned a lot of things but sometimes things happen that derail your plans. I’ll hopefully still write about these things, and hopefully it’ll be soon, but right now I need to write about something else.

As a child I was always aware of the fact that I had all of my family. I had all my uncles and aunts, all of my cousins and most importantly I had all of my grandparents. We would often talk about grandparents, I can’t remember any specific conversations just that we had them, when I was in school and mosque. When someone told me they didn’t have all four grandparents I would know that I did and I felt a little special for that fact. I never thought about the day I wouldn’t have them all. You don’t. Not at that age. You don’t realise that as special as you feel and as lucky as you think you are, the other side of that is that you need to deal with immense sadness and grief, and that these times come without warning.

Then as I got older I was mostly untouched by death. I didn’t have to think about it. As a teenager I went through depression, as a lot of people do. I went through a sort of ‘goth’ phase, although I never full on looked goth, but my wardrobe consisted of a lot of black and my choice of music was a mix of Nightwish, Marilyn Manson, Linkin Park, Korn, HIM, Poe, Metallica, and various other artists that are closer to the rock side of the spectrum than anything else. I was a teenager. I was depressed. Death to me was this strange and beautiful thing, at times it seemed like it could be a good escape. Was I suicidal? Not fully, not in the way I’ve felt after I came out of my teens and felt what it is really like to not want to be alive. But as a teenager I guess death was a bit of a romanticised thing.

My uncle died when I was around 15 (I think). It hit me but it didn’t really hit me. I guess it hit me in the way that I saw my mum and my dad crying so I cried. I knew he was gone but he was in Pakistan and we were in Scotland and I didn’t feel the full impact of it.

When my aunt died it really hit home what death was. It really hit home the grief you feel. The way you have to go through life not seeing that person every day. The way you have to try to exist with this emptiness in your world now. The emptiness isn’t just a part of your world but you see it in the world of others.

After that I experienced other losses. A friend in Canada, again overseas. A cousin Pakistan, again overseas.

Then my grandfather (my dad’s dad) who was a massive part of my life from the moment I was born. He and my gran lived with us until I was a teenager and then they moved out. But even then I was round as much as I could be, I would take them to appointments, I would pop by to check on them, I would banter with them, I could laugh with them in the same way I could be firm with them. We had a unique relationship. He went on holiday and never came back. He died abroad but that hit me, that really hit me. It still hits me day in and day out. I still feel his absence. I can be driving somewhere and I’ll pass by somewhere and remember a conversation we had on the way back from somewhere, I’ll remember a story he told me, I’ll remember a moment from my childhood. It still hits me like a freight train every single time. I’ve spoken about this before and no doubt will again in the future. His death inspired me to write Meet Me By The Water, in a way it’s a letter to him.

Yesterday my other grandpa died (my mum’s dad) and it partly came out of the blue. For a man who lived as long as he did and saw as much as he did, he was still on the go. He’d never suffered any major health issues, he could still travel pretty well and he was getting on with things. It all happened pretty fast, not as sudden as my aunt or my grandfather because we had time knowing that this could happen, but he deteriorated over several days. I’m not too sure how to deal with it to be honest and I don’t think it’s really going to hit me properly until I go back to Pakistan one day and feel his absence. Much of my sadness comes from a place where it’s sadness for my mum. She moved here when she got married and from that time 30 years ago to now she’s maybe seen her parents once every five years, possibly a little more than that. Much of my sadness is for her.

Part of me felt a little guilty that I didn’t have as many memories with him, but that’s what happens when you come from an immigrant family. Very rarely do all your family live in the same country as you. In fact that could probably be true for every single person in the world today. We’re so widespread that we aren’t always in the same place as our loved ones.

I do remember some things. My dad’s side of the family has always been very fiery. Hot blooded. I’m like that. I take after my dad and I’ve always felt more at home with his side of the family. My mum’s side of the family have always been very calm. It’s like fire and water. My grandparents on my mum’s side always gave me a sense of calm, that’s the best way I can describe it. No raised voices, no anger, just a complete sense of calm and love. Whatever patience I have comes from that side.

One of my most vivid memories of my grandpa is when we visited Pakistan when I was around 8 or 9. I don’t remember much from that time but I do remember walking to the shop my grandpa had with him. My older sister might have been with me, I think she was but I can’t fully remember. My mum is a tailor so I asked my grandpa who taught her how to sew. He replied saying that my gran did. So I asked him who taught my gran to sew. He replied that her mum did. So then I asked him who taught her to sew and he just laughed. If I’d kept on asking questions then he would have just answered one after another after another. Although we didn’t get much time with him because of the distance I know that he loved it when he did have time with us.

It’s funny that everyone that’s gone in my life when I think of them the thing I remember first is a smile or a laugh. Every memory I have involves a laugh of some sort. I remember how they sound when they laugh, all of them. It’s not a bad memory to have, at all, I guess it makes me miss them so much more but I love that I can remember that about them.

So yesterday was tough. When my grandfather died I had some support that I don’t have now, and that upset me a little bit yesterday, it made me angry but mostly it just hurt, but when something like this happens then everything hurts. But then I stopped and I saw that actually I have a lot of people in my life that will pick up the phone and call me to see if I’m okay, that will offer me an escape from it all, that will wait patiently for me to get back into the zone to get on with the things that you can’t really put on hold for long.

My life has been about contemplation a lot in the past couple of years. I’ve been looking at the things that make me who I am. The people who came before me to ensure that I could be here. My origins story. I’ve been figuring out my purpose in the world and I realise that I’ve known all along, I just needed time to realise it. I know that I’m a storyteller, I know that my purpose is to take all that I see, all that hear, all that I experience, all that came before me and will one day happen and express it in such a way that those reading/watching/listening will feel that through this the story belongs to them as well.

Before I could start living again I needed to write and figure out my thoughts. You’re untouched by things for so long – death, love, grief, ambition, passion, a calling, so many other things – that when they finally come into your life you just don’t know how to cope with them. In time you learn. In time you let yourself cry or laugh or smile or just do nothing for a while until you’re ready to start doing something.

Death is a thing in my life now. I know one day I’ll lose both my Grandmother and my Grandma, I know that day will come. I don’t know how I’ll react to it. I can’t really predict it. I can’t prepare for it, nobody can. Absence is the hardest thing in the world to deal with, be it through death or distance or a gradual end to a relationship. The battle is allowing that absence to be present in what you do and realising the beauty of what that creates. The battle is fighting against that absence and living despite it.

To everyone that’s reached out, Thank You. To everyone that’s had to experience something like this, I hope you find your own way of dealing with it, and that you do deal with it in some way. For those afraid of the day when it’ll happen, you survive, you get upset and you cry and you get angry, but over time a sense of calm falls upon you and with a sort of grace you deal with it.

The Art Of Detachment

Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you.
– Ali ibn abi Talib

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. It’s been a while since I’ve felt like I have something coherent to say. This has been the case for any reasons. Partly my wrists have been playing up. I have repetitive strain injury that comes back every so often. Not the best thing for a writer! but I just give myself a break from writing when that happens. I can usually work through it when I need to but it’s best to allow the rest because your health should come before anything. Secondly, I’ve been working a lot and had a lot of other stuff on. My mum has gone to Pakistan for a month to visit the grandparents so things are a little bit busier at home because of that. And finally, I’ve been working through some attachment/detachment issues. Hence the title of the blog.

Firstly, the quote I came across today and it just struck me as very right. I’ve been aware of the fact that my personality is such that I become attached very easily. I often stop myself becoming attached because I’m so afraid of what detachment would do. I guess you could say I have an addictive personality. This is one of the big reasons I’ve always stayed away from things like trying out smoking (and many other things), it’s the fear of liking something that I know could become a downfall. So, in a way, I’ve always been very self-aware of the things that can destroy me. But the one thing I don’t watch for is getting attached to people, and I think this has become my downfall of late.

When I befriend someone, let someone into my life in any way, I don’t do it by halves. If you open up to me then I’ll open up to you. Walls come down. Layers disappear and I develop a trust that I pray will never be broken. For this reason I take to death badly. When my aunt passed away years ago I managed to keep myself together for my cousins but then not long after a cousin passed away and we weren’t close but I was distraught. I couldn’t stop crying and partly I didn’t know why I was crying so much. All I could feel was this inherent sadness for everyone, not just for myself, but for my aunt and uncle who lost a son, my grandparents that lost a grandson and the rest of the family for losing a family member. Then when my grandpa passed away I kept myself busy and I lived in this fantasy that he was still on holiday. The honest truth is that I still keep that in my head because I’m not ready to detach myself from my grandpa, I fear that devastation that will bring. I’ve had moments where I’ve started crying and not been able to stop because I miss him, but those moments pass and then I go back to this pretence that I’ll see him again.

I do become attached. I’m the girl who will hear you sneeze on the phone and post you tissues. I’m the girl who will hear that you’ve been sick and put together a care package. I’m the girl who will go all over the city looking for Sea Monkeys for your birthday because I know you want to study marine biology. I’m the girl who will see something and buy it without thinking because I just know that you need it. It’s just a part of me. Most of the time the reaction to this is good. I see a smile and this makes me happy. I see eyes crinkle and teeth and sometimes there’s a laugh. Most of the time. But I don’t apologise for doing any of this. In fact I think if more people did things like that then we’d live in a much better world because we live in an insular world where it’s so easy to forget the people around you.

What I’ve been dealing with recently is linked to forcing a necessary detachment because an attachment was killing me. It was becoming destructive. It was at that level where I would put everything on hold, I would make it so everyone else was second, including myself, and the smallest thing would set me off. I felt like I was doing the wrong thing all the time because it would just lead to misunderstanding and miscommunication for many reasons. I guess at the heart of it I felt unappreciated and unwanted and just useless. Where once this would make me feel less alone, now it was making me feel more alone than ever. I was expecting too much, maybe because I was willing to give that much myself? I don’t know, but you can never expect anything from anyone but yourself. So I’m going through a process of detachment and that’s why the blog entries have been lacking.

The ability to detach is not a bad thing. For a long time I thought it was. I thought it was not caring. Not going to the ends of the earth for someone. It’s in my nature to go above and beyond, but what I wasn’t realising was that when things got bad for me I was expecting that of others and they weren’t made up in the same way as me. It wasn’t in their nature to do that, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. People are all different. That’s the point at which I knew that I needed to actually go through this process of detachment, that this had to happen for the good of me, that I had to put myself first. Detachment is not getting hurt if you don’t get the reaction you were expecting. It’s still doing all the thing that make you who you are but being happy with the action alone, not relying on the reaction to fulfil whatever empty space you have inside.

It can be difficult to put yourself first. I partly blame the industry I’m in, the world of telling stories, because in stories we read/watch about people doing crazy things for each other. So it’s only natural that when you grow up absorbing those stories that you think that life could be that way. It can be, sometimes, but it isn’t always, and that’s where you need to learn to take care of yourself first. Once you start to do that then you can start taking care of other people and not expect them to take care of you as well. If they choose to do so then that’s a bonus, but you should come first.

So how can I relate this to writing and film and being creative in general. You need to learn to detach from your work if you want to collaborate with people. I guess the plus side for me is that I’m a collaborator and what I thrive on is knowing that I’m working with people who are as committed as I am to a project. Then a project becomes our project and not my project. That’s where I’m not attached to the specific story itself but to this partnership/team creating it.

But you should learn to be detached from what you write so that you don’t compromise what is best for the story just because you love a specific scene or moment or character. I’ve not done anything to my feature script in months because I was so close to it that I knew I needed to be away from it for months so I could come to it as much a stranger as possible when I next wanted to look at how to make it better. I finally feel like I’m at the point where I can pick it up with a fresh pair of eyes. In the same way I have many projects that began years ago that I just knew weren’t ready to be written or be out in the world in any way until they had had time to silently grow in the back of my mind. I had to emotionally detach from them, and in some ways mentally detach from them. Your projects are always in your mind working themselves out on a subconscious level, you just don’t realise it until that click happens and you realise it’s time to write it all down.

I guess I just had to write this post to get all of this out and to share what’s been on my mind recently. More importantly I had to make sure I was writing again because all of these feelings have stopped me writing. I’ve used that time to catch up on other things, mainly reading scripts and treatments for other people and giving feedback on them, but I miss writing. I hate having the stories in my head but being so sad that I can’t make the effort to write them down.

This weekend I’ve spent time with my sisters, cousins and some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. They always remind me that I do matter, that I do count and that if something is making me feel terrible then it’s fine to step away from that. It’s a bit of a battle because I tend to make lifelong commitments, but that’s where I’m learning the art of detachment and hoping that that will help me in every aspect of life.

Other than that I’ve turned a year older which always makes me sit and think about what I’ve achieved and what people I have in my life and all of those other bigger questions. I was in Birmingham for First Light selection day which will hopefully lead to a 4 day residential course about Funding and Distribution. I’ve been to Women in Film and Television meetings and I’ve had some interesting conversations relating to Meet Me By The Water (feature film) which have me happy and excited.

So a bit of a personal post this week, rather than film or writing related, but that’s never a bad thing. Everything counts. Maybe the words inside this post will help someone else? I hope they do.

As always, I welcome thoughts and comments and anything really. Oh! And I do read over treatments and scripts so get in touch if you need such things, you can get me on contact@raisahahmed.com

Friendship & A Look Back At 2012

It’s the last blog post of the year so I thought I’d do a quick look back at some of the things over the past year and also talk a little about something inspired by today.

Recently I’ve spoken a lot about conversation and dialogue and this idea of people connecting. Much of this comes from my own personal need to connect with people. I’m not afraid to say that out loud. I enjoy real human connection. That feeling when you meet someone and not only do you get them but they get you. At that moment all you feel is this weird sort of emotion that’s part belonging, part contentment, part excitement and part just feeling like the world can be okay sometimes. Maybe you’ve had that feeling? Maybe you’ve not? Maybe it’s a different feeling for everyone? I don’t know.

The truth is that if I hadn’t felt all of that then I wouldn’t be the writer I am today. Experiencing such a connection has been so important, experiencing every sort of connection with so many different people has been important. Not only that but the end of connection is just as much a lesson than the beginning of it. Suddenly realising that someone that was once a friend is no longer in your life can be difficult to deal with, but at the same time you have to realise that people leave your life for a reason. Maybe it’s so someone else can come along? Maybe it’s just that you’re very different people? Many reasons exist.

2012 has been a bit of a crazy year and it’s not until I sat down and really thought about it that I realised that so much has happened. It feels like ten years and not one. I started this year as still part of the Screenwriting Residencies run by The Playwrights Studio Scotland. I was mid-way through writing Meet Me By The Water, my very first feature script, and it’s now at a decent enough stage to be going out to people.

I wrote and directed a short film called Laces. It was an experiment with a crew of four people and a child who wasn’t actually an actor. We spent £50 on making it, but we did it and I got a chance to experiment with directing. It helped me realise that I do want to direct when I find the right project.

For the third year in a row I attended the Edinburgh Film Festival. This year I got to be a part of it with a rehearsed reading of a three scenes from Meet Me By The Water in an event called ‘The Nine’.

Ifty and I began collaboration on Passing Shadows at the start of the year, it’s now at the stage where we should be filming in the first half of 2013. We’re also working with Azy so it’s three of us Glasgow Second Light graduates working together on our first project together.

Lissy and I began work on Unspoken Water. This is an ongoing project and hopefully one I’ll get more time to work on in the next couple of months.

I began work on my second feature project ‘The Order of the Moon’, an urban fantasy which is taking me back to my writing roots.

I began work on a third feature project, ‘Michael’, for Mark. The best part of this is that he knows nothing about the story. Haha. I like to keep him in suspense at times. I am really excited about this one because of the format I’ve decided to use.

My involvement with Women in Film and Television has increased this year. I love working with them, and I’ve made some good friends through them.

For the past six months I’ve been trying to gain courage to work on a theatre play and I finally have the confidence to do that thanks to my recent spoken word poetry discoveries. I’m going to really focus on getting this figured out over the next couple of weeks.

Launching this website and blog is a massive step this year, thank you Kim for all your help with that. It’s the first step at putting my thoughts as a writer out in the world. Hopefully it’s been a good step. I know I’ve had some feedback and comments that have made me smile and made me feel like I’m impacting people in a positive way. Let’s hope next year brings more of that. I know I say this often, but don’t be afraid to comment or email me. The people I’ve met through this blog, thank you for taking an interest and for interacting with me.

I’ve made a lot of new contacts and I feel like I’m so much more further forward in ways I wasn’t at the end of last year. Hopefully this will mean that 2013 is going to be an epic year, but only time will tell if that will be the case. I am very excited about making another film next year, it’s the one thing I regret about this year, not having made a film that we could have entered into festivals. However, all the writing I’ve done this year does make up for that.

Friendship

Friends have always been very important to me. So much so that I have had my parents comment on how I spend so much time with my friends, that I’m always out seeing them etc… But I have reason to do that. My friends are just as much my family, if not more, than blood relations.

My family – parents, sisters, cousins etc… who deal with me being me, the strange one in the family that always has to do something different to everyone else.

The OMC, you know who you all are, have always supported me in what I do. I miss you all terribly, especially because we don’t all get to talk as much as we once did. You’ve all supported me in your own way and for that I am forever thankful.

Sue, my Sue-Shine. She disappeared to Hong Kong for a while this year and I missed her terribly. Sue is the sort of person that I can call up and say ‘Let’s go do whatever random activity today’ and she’ll just say ‘okay!’ and then away we go with our randomness. I’m glad she’s back in the same city as me, hopefully next year will bring lots of good things your way my Sue-Shine!

Vilte who helped me through so much this year. Trained me in pitching. Filmed footage for my rehearsed reading. Gave me cold hard truth when I needed it. You are the most beautiful person in so many ways. Your editor lifestyle may mean I don’t see you as often as I wish I could but when I do I love my Vilte time. Nothing but happiness for you lovely. Nothing but happiness!

Katie, who I really didn’t see enough of this year. Katie is like someone out of story. To me she’s magical in so many ways. She’s got this sort of almost Tolkien like Elf beauty to her and she is one of my favourite storytellers. We’ve known each other since our University years and I’m constantly in awe of how beautiful and intelligent her writing is. I’m so excited for the world to see her words when she’s ready to show them to the world. I hope for more coffee and writing for us in 2013.

Lots of other friends I could mention. Like the lovely Shabana, the bad influence in my life but in all the best ways! I’m just as much her bad influence. More cinema trips and lunch dates in 2013 please! And Sairah, who is finally living the adventurous life that she’s always needed.

Friends at work keep me going. I have a part-time job that is not at all film related but it pays the bills. The people I work with are the reason I’ve been in that job almost eight years. Corrina is one of my best friends, we have this dream of opening up a cafe and I really want to it to happen. Dawn (who is Corrina’s sister) has the same no-nonsense attitude I do at times and she’s been a real rock this year through so many ups and downs in my life. I thank you both immensely! Healthy eating, good coffee and a little bit of cake will hopefully make this year a good one. And for Dawn and I the Matchbox 20 concert and our little London holiday in April!

All my lovely Second Light friends. Daniel, Ifty, Azy, Kaysi, Yen and so many others. People that I can work with creatively and also just meet for a coffee and sit and talk to. (And we all know how much I love conversation.)

The friends I’ve made at Women in Film and Television, through whom I feel like I’m doing something to make an impact in helping more women become confident enough to be more active within groups like WFTV.

Lastly we come to someone who I have about a million names for. I saw this quote once and I instantly thought of him:

“You’re the strangest person I ever met, she said & I said you too & we decided we’d know each other a long time.” – Brian Andreas

Those that read my blog regularly have read the name Mark more than once. We met through Second Light and we had a pretty instant connection. First we were just polite to each other and then the politeness stopped and we just became ourselves.

Very few times in life you meet people who you get, and even fewer times in life you meet people who get you. Then on the rare occasion this thing happens where you get them and they get you and when that does happen you kind of know in your heart that this person is going to be a massive part of your life in some way. Mark and I connected over films. I remember making a comment about a scene in Moulin Rouge once and he just turned round to me and said ‘Sometimes I think you’re like the female version of me’ and I laughed but I thought it too. Then we connected over life and personal experiences and talking and then laughing. During Second Light we were pretty much always together to a ridiculous extent. If someone couldn’t find me they would ask Mark and if they couldn’t find Mark then they would ask me. We were always coming up with new projects together. Our conversations just inspired creativeness for me. But more than that, for the first time in my life I felt like this person got me so much that I could be myself in a way that I’d been afraid of for so long, it gave me confidence that I’m now using in everyday life and with other people. So I thank you for that Mark. (Uh-oh, what have you done?!)

This past year has been a bit of a crazy ride for us both and we’ve had our ups and downs but through it all we’ve still stayed good friends. Through the period when I was writing Meet Me By The Water I knew I could send drafts to him and he’d read them and give me feedback or sit and talk to me about them. It’s tough to find someone you can be creative with and if I have one hope for next year then it’s that we finally start working some more on some of the projects we have on the go.

Mark, in 2013 I want more laughs, I want more phone calls and I want more days spent sitting in coffee shops talking nonsense. I want us to not let adult life and this thing called growing up take the fun out of how we began and I want us to be 107 and still be laughing like idiots over a Monmouth coffee.

I’m sure thoughts will come to me when I’m trying to sleep tonight of things I wanted to say and didn’t say. 2012 has made me a stronger and more confident person. It’s given me so much more belief in my abilities as a writer and a person. I hope it’s done the same for all of you. But all I really want to say is in 2013 keep track of all the good things in life. Write down happy moments, things that inspire you, films you love, songs that connect with you, books that remind you how much you love escaping into fantasy. Don’t let physical distance create emotional distance. Don’t let the people who matter forget that they matter, remind them, tell them, show them. All of this feeds into your work if you’re a creative person. I know it does for me at least.

Follow you dreams and follow your heart. Your intuition, gut feeling, your core, all of that, they never let you down.

And with that, Happy New Year!

Dialogue & The Art of Conversation

Conversation is key in life, for many reasons. In the workplace, networking events, generally meeting new people, you need to be able to have a conversation with people in order to break through that initial strangeness and find out more about them, as well as allow them to find out more about you. It’s all an exchange. You can’t just listen. You can’t just talk. It has to be conversation.

Conversation is key in my creative process. I don’t know if any of you feel as strongly as I do about it. But I can sit and talk about an idea for hours and hours on end, day after day, and not just about that idea but about whatever other tangents come out of that idea. It’s like physical mind maps, except you aren’t drawing any diagrams and you’ll probably forget most of what you said. But the things you remember are really what are more interesting to you.

Some of the best days I’ve had have been sat just talking to someone, one on one, about everything and anything. I am the girl who will walk around a city all day and just talk nonsense with you. I am the girl who will sit down over a coffee and not want to leave that coffee shop because it’s interesting and fun to just have simple, open, honest conversation with someone. The likelihood being that I’ve probably had similar conversations like that with you before. I don’t mind the repetition, in fact I think no repetition exists because often you change in such small ways that your thoughts and view change, even ever so slightly. And I am the girl that keeps her phone on 24/7 because if one of my friends wants to talk then I don’t care if it’s 9pm or 8am or 3am, I’ll answer that phone and I’ll talk to you. I LOVE 3am conversations.

I miss late night conversations. I miss long conversations about everything. I guess that’s the downside. That when life happens and people get busy then those conversations don’t always happen, so that’s all the more reason to make them happen when you can.

Film is interesting, in the sense that dialogue is one of the hardest parts of it to get right at writing stage. You may very often hear people say ‘show, don’t tell’ and I completely agree with that. Show as much as you can without relying on the dialogue to convey the message. However, the dialogue can add layers to your story. Not just in what someone is saying, but the way they say it, the scene in which you choose to have that piece of dialogue, the person saying those words, the person/people in the story that are allowed to hear those words. ALL of that can add so much to your story. You could unfold the reasons for a certain behaviour in one line.

Over the past few years I’ve exposed myself to more films, in a way that I never did before. A massive part of that is because I’m talking about films, I’m immersing myself in films in every way that I can. To write films you need to watch films. Another big part of that is that when I did the Second Light Apprenticeship and I first met Mark, we started doing a DVD trade. He would bring me in a random selection and I would bring him in a random selection and we both watched films that we may not even have thought about picking up before. So do that, find friends you can exchange films with. Even now I actually have a tower of Mark’s DVDs in my room (no I’m not listing them Mark.) and some of Vilte’s and Sue’s and one of Daniel’s.

So Dialogue! Some of my favourite films in recent years have a lot of dialogue in them. They don’t rely so much in action within the film but more on using conversation between characters to keep you interested and to drive the story forward. The Richard Linklater Directed ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Before Sunset’ are two of my absolute favourite films and they are a very recent discovery for me. I love this concept of these two strangers just walking and talking and discussing these things that we all think at some point. These films are more of an acquired taste because I have heard people say that they don’t believe that they are realistic. To that I say, have you ever had a conversation with a stranger? Have you ever stood at the bus stop and started talking to the person next to you. The sad thing is that to do that seems like a crazy concept these days, but how else are you supposed to interact with people? We’ve got to not be afraid to say hello or talk about more than the weather.

On the train back up from London on Wednesday I had a couple of businessmen start talking to me about the two boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts I had with me. I bantered with them for a while and it was nice, it made the journey a bit friendlier. It meant I could leave my laptop out while I went to get a cup of tea and know that these strangers would make sure it would be fine.

Another film that I love for its conversational element is Elizabethtown, Directed by the amazing Cameron Crowe. What Elizabethtown does is take the story of this lonely man, Drew, who is having the worst luck in the world – no job, his father just died, his girlfriend broke up with him – the same sort of story I guess you think you’ve seen and heard before in many other films. Then he meets Claire, an air hostess that likes to talk. She initiates the conversation, she makes him talk and she gives him travel advice. She realises his father is dead and she begins to care so much that she keeps reminding him of what exit to take, she gives him her number incase he needs it and then it’s Drew that contacts her. We have this scene where he’s on the phone with three different people and the only one that stays on the line is Claire. Then we have this scene where Drew and Claire sit on the phone for hours talking, until it gets to the point where the sun is about to rise. That scene is my favourite scene in the film because it’s a montage of the night where you get snippets of conversation about so many different things – how loud a child is when he cries, the need to take a solitary road trip, and then we come to a piece of dialogue:

Claire Colburn: Do you ever just think I’m fooling everybody?
Drew Baylor: You have no idea.

That piece of dialogue, to me, is the point where this deep connection is formed between them. It’s such a simple statement, said in the most easy-going conversational way, but it has this strange sort of depth to it that just hits me. That’s what I mean when I say that a piece of dialogue, conversation between characters, can suddenly add layers and do in a couple of seconds what some people may try to achieve through a couple of scenes of action.

I realised, after a bit of distance from it, that Meet Me By The Water is very much influenced by these films, and particularly this idea of two strangers being more than that for a space of time. In Meet Me By The Water it’s not as focused on the two characters as it is in Before Sunrise, it’s more along the lines of Elizabethtown. However, it’s more balanced in terms of individual stories. Both Noah and Amara have lives we see on-screen, whereas Elizabethtown is really Drew’s story. I know I don’t have the dialogue down how I want it. I wrote it how I heard it in my head, but even after a rehearsed reading for a few scenes I knew I wanted a table reading to take place. More than that I want the actors that take on those roles to feel like they can feed into the dialogue, in the way that Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have been able to do in Before Sunrise/Before Sunset.

Don’t ever underestimate what your dialogue can do, and remember that it’s not just about the words but the way in which it’s said, where it’s said, to who it’s said and so much more. Film is visual so combine words with the visuals to really put across what you want to say.

I guess one of the reasons I’ve been thinking so much about dialogue is that I’ve decided to properly focus on a play that I’ve had living in my head for a few months now. Theatre is something I’ve always been a little afraid to approach because I never really went to see much theatre growing up. My parents have never really been into the arts at all, much of that is because of the expense of it all and we’re not a rich family, and part of it is that they do have this Asian mentality of it not really having much of a function? I do remember watching VHS tapes with what was called ‘stage shows’ in Urdu, which were basically a Pakistani type of panto that people would record and we could get them from the Asian film store.

Over the past couple of years I’ve also started to expose myself to more theatre, in the hope that I would have the courage to write a play. I went to see Constellations in London on Monday. It was a 70 minute show, two characters on stage without a break, and it was amazing. I loved the simplicity of the set, the fact that the entire show was told through conversation. That gave me a mental kick and some courage to finally sit down and just get the play written. In some ways theatre is a lot more accessible, and it would mean I could very possibly direct the piece myself as well. Not too sure about the title of it yet but the story is in my head.

Conversation and dialogue. I love it. You want to talk? I’m your girl. If I connect with someone then I’m more than happy to spend all day just sitting and talking and having moments of silence and laughter and more talking. To me that’s worth more than dinner or going to see a show/concert/film etc… Human connection, we all need more of it, especially in the world we live in now. Perhaps showing kindness to a stranger will lead you somewhere because films don’t just come out of imagination, so much of film is inspired by real life.