5 Ways to Survive a Trexit Winter

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It’s been a tough old year. As we face up to the double jeopardy of Trump and Brexit (Can we be punished twice for the same crime?) it’s hard to know how to comfort each other, to step up and do what’s right when we feel demoralised and silenced. How can we use the winter months to recover?

  1. Zone out the Noise.  Reading my social media feeds, I feel like a horse grazing in a field of rubble, stubbing my nose on shards of opinion, starved of real information or cheer. While it’s important to question untruths, we use a lot of energy consuming and reposting the same news or venting our (understandable) anger. Yes we have to grieve but then we have to get on – with the work. Take time out to recover, take stock, reflect. So we can hear our own voices again.
  2. Trust yourself.  After Brexit I felt I had got something very wrong, safe in my online bubble, sharing my values with my friends, unaware or dismissive that others felt differently. After the result I felt my voice didn’t matter, had no effect. Now I know it does but that I need to do more.
  3. Get Active. Donate, Promote, Engage. It’s relatively easy to sign an online petition, but more rewarding to volunteer time or support. Help Refugees are looking for help right now. We’re all busy but doing something yourself breaks the cycle of helplessness. Positive action is worth a thousand words.  And yet –

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  4. Keep writing. We need voices to articulate what is happening. To challenge the bluster of the far right. To expose simplistic arguments and reach people with stories that move and engage them. To give us comfort and hope, to reaffirm our true values.
  5. Support each other. Organise. Vote. Plan for a future without Trump, connected to Europe and the wider world, where prosperity for all, not fear, is what drives us. Set up an action group  like House of Cards writer @BeauWillimon if you don’t like what’s on offer. Protest in all ways, and don’t forget your greatest weapon- your heart and mind – your words and actions matter.

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Take heart. You’re not alone.  And don’t forget. There’s always chocolate…

 

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WAITING…

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Forgive my silence. You see I’ve been working hard – and waiting – for news, an event, inspiration. How best to use this period? When it’s not quite Christmas but the world is running down and emails lie unanswered ’til New Year?

Here’s a small guide to winter living (with added Kate Bush vitamins…)

  • Rest, Recover, Repair. Like athletes at the end of the season, training doesn’t stop – it just takes another turn.  When your body gets sick on your one weekend off it’s telling you something – STAY ON THE BENCH! Eating right and resting up are an investment in your future well-being. Get well, listen to your body and take care of yourself.images-311
  • Try New Things. Yes, it’s cold outside and you don’t want to miss Strictly/The X Factor/ that online shopping delivery, but as the world of work winds down, you finally have a window in which to have some fun or at least set up some entertaining stuff for the holidays. Treat yourself!images-312
  •  Sleep. Yes we are all sleeping (or wanting to sleep) more now it’s dark and cold. Don’t fight it. This feeling we always have to be alert and at the top of our game, is a myth. Sometimes it’s good to just be quiet for a while and take comfort in family and friends.images-305
  • Don’t Dismiss the Silence. That script that refuses to find a shape on the page just needs a little more time to emerge. Don’t force it. Trust your mind to do the work – or let it play. Like a dog off the leash it will run further without you holding on tight trying to control it.
  • Believe in your capacity not just to survive the winter but to develop new shoots come Spring. Take time to relax and acknowledge what you already have. So don’t wait until Christmas to open your gifts…
  • Enjoy them now…images-316

 

 

Emma x

 

 

 

 

 

Work it like Wimbledon

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The Wimbledon men’s final always makes me cry. I’m sure I’m not the only one.  I am always inspired by the velocity of these athletes, their strength and application and by their powerful will to win. A career in film is a bit like being a tennis pro – years of hitting a ball against a wall for maybe one or two shots at success. So it pays to work like a Wimbledon Champion:

O – LOVE the work you do. Honour each day of training – practice your art whenever you can and relish the chance to write/direct/act on a regular basis. Honing your skills is never wasted and builds consistency – it keeps you match fit.

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15 – FIFTEEN reasons to give up are always knocking on your door. So choose to forget you lost the last game and play each moment fresh as it unfolds. My mum used to say ‘Quitters don’t win, and winners don’t quit.’  She was right, dammit.

30 – THIRTY other people want your job! and that’s just today. But so what? Use the competition to spur yourself on to your own best performance. Respect them, like them, but never forget your own determination to succeed.

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40 – FORTY years is a long time in show business, but Federer is a veteran at 32. Oh to be as gloriously at the top of my game, combining years of experience with such grace and energy! His temperament is superb whether in victory or defeat. Pacing yourself is vital. So is self-belief and knowledge.

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DEUCE – Is like starting again, another chance to get it right. I love the purity of this concept. Every point is fresh, unique, can play out in a totally different way. Yet you’re always just two points away from joy or disaster.

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ADVANTAGE – Is what you must act on – now is your chance to show them what you’re made of. You have visualised this moment a hundred times and now it’s here. All you have to do is – not f**ck it up…

GAME, SET AND CHAMPIONSHIP – Shoot for nothing less – because if you win – and reach your creative goal – then all that training, self-belief and fight pay off and you’re Golden.

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Crossing the Border – My Arizona Film Scout

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Where to begin?  After two amazing weeks of travelling Arizona as research for my feature film, ‘Anchor Baby’, I’m home.  What did I discover about the world of my story?

Accompanied by my friend Doris,  we flew into Phoenix, then drove down to Tucson, then south to Nogales on the border, in search of the reality behind the events I had written in my feature length drama.

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Every day in Arizona, I fell in love with the landscape. Everyone had said it but I just wasn’t prepared. It’s beautiful.

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I must have taken a thousand photos.  None of them will make it into my movie but all are sketches for the world I want to describe.

I did a photo shoot in the mountains around Phoenix with a ten year old Mexican girl.  In my story the girl crosses the desert to find her Mum and so we took some shots to suggest that journey.

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It was just me, a camera, the girl and her Mom and my friend Mary, a local teacher who had helped me set it up. But this girl became Elena, the girl in my story.

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 My script is about undocumented migrants on the US/Mexican border and many of the people I interviewed could not go on the record.  Immigration is a hot topic in the States right now – but beneath the political posturing and TV sound bites showing polarised factions, the reality is hugely complex and moving.

All the people I met spoke from personal experience of living on the border and all expressed feelings I could relate to, from the recently deported migrant to the rancher whose land they had crossed – supposedly enemies but both bound by the same reality – that a once more relaxed border is now a war zone, controlled by the cartels and policed with difficulty.

Jim, whose ranch is on  the Mexican border, has thousands of migrants smuggled across his land every year, alongside numerous drug runs.

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Slippers left behind by crossing migrants

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The soles are lined with carpet to avoid leaving tracks

What united the Arizonians I spoke to was a feeling they were misunderstood by the rest of the country and abandoned by central government.  As one local immigration judge put it to an East Coast liberal , who questioned ‘Operation Streamline’, the new fast track legal process for detention and deportation – ‘Where are you from? If you don’t have a border, you don’t have a problem.’  The sheer scale of the problem and the dominance of the cartels in drug and people smuggling make for tough decision making, torn loyalties and fear along the border.

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The most inspiring place we visited was the soup kitchen run by the charity Kino Border Initiative  for recent deportees on the Mexican side of border town Nogales, a common crossing point.

KINO Soup Kitchen at Nogales

People are often deported from the States in the middle of the night with no money and far from their original homes in Mexico or Central America.  KINO gives them a hot meal, clothing, a phone call to their relatives, basic medical care, and someone to talk to.  This tiny makeshift building is full of positive energy and served almost 50,000 migrants last year.

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KINO and a few other humanitarian groups along the border provide some of the only aid available to migrants.  Although admirably non-partisan, they were clearly disappointed by the huge increase in deportations under the Obama administration.

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The most moving encounter I had was with a recently deported Mexican woman.

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Fourteen years ago, she had crossed the desert to come to America. It had taken her a week, carrying her three year old.   She had worked in the US for fourteen years and raised three children there. One day she was stopped while riding her bicycle, her papers were checked, she was found to be undocumented and deported. Her three children are with a friend in Arizona  while she is trapped on the Mexican side with no way back.  Her only option now is to return to Mexico and then try and bring her US raised children back to the impoverished town she came from.

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There are no easy answers but nothing about this deportation seemed right.

It has been a privilege to meet the people of Arizona whose stories I am trying to tell. I only hope I can do them justice as I move forward into the script, writing and rewriting my story to reflect the responsibility and affection I feel towards everyone I have met along the way.

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Thank you to everyone we met on this trip. You took us into your homes and showed us great generosity.  We will let you know how the movie develops!

To help migrants by supporting the work of the Kino Border Initiative click here .

You can read more about my trip and my US indy feature ‘Anchor Baby’ in the forthcoming March issue of Digital Filmmaker Magazine.

Additional photography by Doris Zajer and Jack Dalleywater, many thanks.

Get in touch here or find me at @emlin32 and info@emmalindley.net   Happy Travels, and may the story you’re looking for find you.

The Deal with Development

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Almost a year to the day since I began writing my feature script, I have found a great producer who likes the project and has agreed to help me develop it further.

And my recce trip to Arizona is happening in the New Year – the reward for a year spent writing and rewriting the script.

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This is of course not the end but the beginning of the next phase  – getting the story ready to film.  There’s still a long way to go.  But I am excited!

I started the year wishing for a development deal for my script.  I realise now I already made a development deal back in January 2013 – with myself to write this story.

Only you can write your script. But it’s hard to do it alone and get it right.  I owe a huge debt to all the creative and talented friends who have read my story and taken the time to give me feedback and ideas to get it to this point.  Thank you!

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To all of you out there writing – and rewriting – your scripts – hang in there, ask for help when you need it – and well done!

Here’s to a successful and fulfilling 2014 for all of us… I look forward to hearing your stories and updating you with mine.

Best of luck!

Emma 

True Stories

Live storytelling is an art.  It’s also terrifying – until you try it…!

The email from my friend Stephanie read ‘Fancy a weekend in Norfolk?’  I was tempted.

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Someone had dropped out of a Spark storytelling evening and her friend needed someone who could tell a short tale.  I had told a story once before – to seven people in a pub – so thought I could handle it.  I cautiously said yes.  Huge excitement from Stephanie and thanks from Jonothan, the organiser.  ‘What’s the format?’ I asked.  Sixty people at a sit-down dinner in a huge barn, with a platform to perform on.  ‘Don’t worry, you’ll have a mike.  ‘Bloody hell’, I thought.  And then – ‘I can’t back out now.’

I had thought I’d wing it, just tell an anecdote, but I was one of seven performers at this rather formal sounding event.  I’d better prepare something more structured.  But should I write it in full and then memorise it?  Or make speaker’s notes to prompt me if I got stuck?  I have lectured before but that was on a topic I knew about.  This felt different.  I had to be Entertaining. And I didn’t have long to prepare.

Ironically, the theme was ‘Time.’   I could think of moments about measuring time – a New Year’s Eve party, the fact my mother always bought me watches for my birthday which I never wore – but none of these tales had an ending or a big event– so to my mind they were not stories, just memories. I  started to lay down the rules for a good yarn.  It was harder than it looked.   I decided to tell a story about growing up in a hippie house-share.  But the night before the event I still hadn’t written anything down…

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It was dark and drizzly as my friend greeted me at the station in Norfolk.  We drove through the strikingly flat landscape, the big sky full of lowering clouds.

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The venue was ‘Back to the Garden’, a warm, open-bricked space, an organic restaurant in a converted barn – big but not cavernous.

Gigi checks out the venue

Gigi checks out the venue

The lighting was going to be low – another plus!  We were going to have radio mikes set up by a professional sound guy– which meant no awkward feedback as I mishandled the microphone.  It was starting to feel less like un-funny stand-up.  I even had a vision of myself as Amanda Palmer, giving a Ted talk into my headset, striding around stage spreading the word (A girl can dream).

Back in the car and another speaker, the lovely Gigi from San Francisco, was pulling out her story notes to re-read. I asked Stephanie if she was reading her piece – she’d written it in full and memorised it.  I pulled out my phone and started making quick notes – they were meant to be bullet points but somehow they rambled into phrases and images – not anything I could read out loud but a sketching out of the story shape.  I’d better get it right I thought.  These girls were good.

Gigi and the gig

Gigi and the gig

Changed and back at the venue, our host Jonothan  welcomed the audience as they drifted in.  I eyed the crowd –  they seemed relaxed, couples dining and a couple of groups.  We met the other storytellers around our table who were all charming.  I was starting to enjoy myself.

ElsingHallStories 110-1We went through the running order which was designed around breaks in a three course meal.  Stephanie was opening.  Followed by Starters.  Then Simon, and his dog Stanley were up.  Then me.  I was following a dog.  A beautiful blond labrador – you can’t top that.  I took a swig of wine.

Stephanie was brilliant.  Dark and dramatic though her story was – the death of a close relative in a car crash – she told it expertly, hooking the audience in with the first line, and connecting emotionally with them at all the right moments.  It was a moving tale and made a real impact. We were off.

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Stephanie

Simon’s tale was equally moving. How he had saved and been saved by a wounded Labrador, Stanley, while travelling in Africa. He spoke with sensitivity and grace while his dog Stanley won hearts by wandering around oblivious to the story being told around her.

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Simon

I was listening but nervous, aware I was up next. Then suddenly I felt the blessed calm descend as I converted all that adrenalin into performance mode.  This was it.

I bounced up to the sound man and in seconds my mike was on.

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Me

I stepped onto the tiny stage and my inner Amanda Palmer took over.  I made a joke about following a dog.  I went for laughs  – my story was not as dramatic as the others but it had good characters so I sketched them out, feeling the audience response to each revelation.  I tried to join the dots – to connect the moments to weave a narrative, to move the audience on to the next beat and to explain how I felt without slowing things down.  I was writing it as I went along.  And yet it was not imagining from scratch because this story, like all of the stories that night, was true.  It was my childhood write large.  It was my story and no one else’s and so I knew it and could tell it.

The story climax was dark, a down beat – so I had built in a new grace note, of how my mother met my stepfather, her fate decided by the toss of a coin. What had I learned from living in this house with all these characters? That it had made me who I am today – a writer and director who creates extended families based on the one I lived with all those years ago.  And so I ended. And raced off the stage and people seemed to like it and it was done.

The rest of the stories flew by.  Jonothan’s story hung on a vision of an archer by a Norman Church, an image so compelling it  led him to move to Norfolk.

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Jonothan

Nigel showed how even an old car speedometer had a tale to tell, while Glynn shared the stories of folk he’d helped trace their family line.

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Glynn

Gigi told witty tales of the great San Francisco earthquake and how it brought people together.

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Gigi

Although we hadn’t rehearsed the connections  as the evening played out they became clear.  I realised that everyone in that audience had a fantastic story they could tell.  That storytelling is structure.  It’s timing and taking the audience with you.  It’s knowing your context – who’s come before you – and who’s coming on next. It’s knowing your place in time.

If you can tell a story, you can write your own script, real or imaginary, in life and art, and long may that continue. Many of the storytellers had changed their lives as a result of that one moment they’d described.  I read recently that we tell stories to make sense  – of our world, our own lives, the lives of others.  I’d like to think that’s true. We can’t change our past, but we can re-imagine it, writing it as we go so that it makes sense to us and making connections with other people to find common stories we can share.

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To find out more about about Spark storytelling events in London and beyond contact  Spark London or follow them on twitter at @SparkLDN

To read real-life tales from Stephanie Young visit her blog.

Gigi Hanna can be found at londonstorycircle

As always, you can talk to me in the comments below or find me at http://www.emmalindley.net or @emlin32 on twitter.

All is Lost – The Mysterious Hero

I’ve just cut the first ten pages of my script, the ones that set up my main character.  It feels like I’ve just cut her head off.  First you set up the character, their world and their problem or goal… Or do you?

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All we know about Robert Redford in the brilliant movie All is Lost is that he is Our Man. He has no past. At least not one we are party to.  No reason to be castaway at sea, risking everything to stay alive. Why should we care if we don’t know who he is and what he stands for? But we do know. His actions tell us who he is, that and his reaction to what happens to him. The purest kind of storytelling plays out in forward motion, or as actors say, in the moment.  Not in the remembered past, or the imagined future but right here, right now.

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My favourite moment in ‘All is Lost’ is when Redford finds a card in with a navigating set still in its gift box. He flips the card over and we believe we’re going to find out who gave him the gift, his wife perhaps or a lost loved one and with it the reason he is out there alone.  For a moment he considers – and then decides not to open the card.  As we create our own meaning from that small gesture, we are with him in his universe in a way no amount of spelled out backstory or clever set up could ever make us feel.

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When establishing characters, we follow and teach what works in so many movies because it orients us and makes us feel safe.  That is not to say the writer must not rigorously research and get to know their characters, you have to live with them, to know what they want and fear, whom they love and how they speak, move and behave. But in the end you have to let them go again.  They should be unknowable for you and the audience the first time we see them on film.

One of my favourite movie openings of all time is Travis lost in the desert in Paris, Texas.

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We spend hours following his journey with very little idea of what he’s doing and why until the very end when he reveals the event that drove him into the wilderness.

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We love a wounded hero but do we always need to know who did the damage?

In Shane you never know why he is so reluctant to draw his gun. You just know it must have been a terrible thing.

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To start with a character fresh and unknown and plunge them into a world they don’t know and against elements they have no control over mirrors our deepest fears and dreams.  We have no handbook or script telling us how to live our lives or how we got here.  Nor do they.  And so together we work it out.

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Who are your favourite characters and how do they first appear? Leave a message below or contact me @emlin32 on twitter.