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…

 

Seeing out the Old Year

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Why do we need New Year’s Eve? Or rather why do we have to party so hard that New Year’s Day is short, miasmic, a hungover non event?

It can feel overlong, that carefully organised party with too much booze that has to run til midnight. Not to play Scrooge but couldn’t we all just go to bed as usual and wake up refreshed and genuinely ready to welcome a New Year in?

Because before that we have to usher the Old Year out. We are celebrating our survival of the darkness.  In these moments we say goodbye to all that ails us, the deaths and illnesses, loneliness and departures. We forgive those that trespassed and our own petty and larger sins. We look for comfort in food and drink and each other, in one long night of the soul. For who knows how and who we will be next year and who will still survive and who be gone?

Celebrate being alive and loved and at home on a cold night.

Eat a little, drink a little and love a lot.  For tomorrow, we cleanse.

HAPPY 2015 – May you and your loved ones be healthy and hearty, and may the good things you want find you easily and keep you company throughout the year.

 

Emma x

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

 

 

 

 

 

Walk Away from the Wi-Fi

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I can give it up any time I choose.

The Wi-Fi that is.  I just need to check this one email – OK, I confess, I am an internet junkie – but going offline for just a few hours a day has brought me to my senses. The search for free wi-fi can’t compete with a life that’s wi-fi free.

Four days at my sister’s in the Irish countryside was going to be a welcome internet detox.  I needed to decompress. Too many emails, social media updates and text messages were part of the problem.

Here’s what I discovered.

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To Disconnect is to Reconnect.

You cannot be fully present with the company you’re in if you’re online doing something else.  We all know this and yet like the smoker in the room we are tolerated as we drag on our devices.  We all pick up our phones the moment our dinner partner nips to the loo, in case we’ve missed something in the twenty minutes since we both sat down to eat.  Yet the company of family and friends is a real pleasure a thousand times more involving than its Facebook facsimile. Be in the room.

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Be Creative not Reactive

I have to be in my own head in order to write, I have to be present to myself and open to ideas that come from inside. I cannot do that if I am constantly taking in (useless) information off a screen. Ten out of eleven emails are not from real people  but junk, a flotsam and jetsam of PR, petitions and the dreaded Reply Alls.  After three days in the country with no e-spam clogging up my brain, I woke with a head full of ideas for my new script, eager to write them down. Of course I did that on my phone…

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Go Outside

Go for a walk somewhere green.  It relaxes you, creates mental space, and visual inspiration.  Borrow a dog if you can.  The act of walking is a form of meditation and I often work out story problems when away from my desk. Being outside takes you away from your workspace and creates room to think – but only if you turn off your phone …

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Walk Away from the Phone!

I was sleeping much better when I wasn’t online til midnight or checking my phone as soon as I woke up.  I started turning my phone off or leaving it in another room to avoid checking it.  When I did check, I hadn’t missed anything, and could deal with my small batch of emails more quickly.  I wasn’t constantly being interrupted by that inbox buzz that you answer only to find a lone email mosquito in wait.  The smartphone is a tool, not a tagging device so walk away while you still can.

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Enjoy Real Life

Drinking prosecco with my sister, playing pool with my nephew and niece, cuddling a dog or tickling a kitten are real and lovely pleasures.  Don’t downgrade your real life in favour of a virtual one.  Now I’m back in London, I still wake up and check my phone – back on the electronic hamster wheel – but I’ve resolved to jump off it more and explore my (real) world.

It’s great to feel ‘connected’ but we need to look at what that word really means – to reach out and touch.  Doesn’t that sound better than ‘going online’?

 

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BOYHOOD – Growing Up in Real Time

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Boyhood  is that most modern of movies. As self-actualisation in the Western world fast becomes our primary goal, Director Richard Linklater offers up a more innocent take on growing up. It’s real and wonderfully refreshing.

This boy is no internet-hooked, selfie taker.  His is a childhood of bikes and hiking, a lo-tech slice of real life.  A wide-eyed, silent observer of the world and his family, Mason is so quiet that it comes as a shock when he starts to articulate his own thoughts. When he does speak it is mainly to express his own uncertainty. This is no hip or cynical commentator, rather a boy lost in wonder at the beauty and sadness of the world.

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Much has been made of the innovative twelve year shooting period that follows the same young actor, Ellar Coltrane, from age six to eighteen as he grows up. Yet there are other points of difference that mark out this subtle, involving indie drama. Linklater is king of the anti-drama. There are no big events – no murders, no rapes and only a little violence. There are no good guys and no bad guys and – some would argue – not much story either.  The film moves us with a series of small but important moments in a family’s life. In the absence of the conventional dramatic climax in a scene, I found myself crying at unexpected moments, during a transitional scene, moved by reminders of my own family.

It is the most relatable of films – in that it takes the standard clichés of the coming of age movie – the ball game, the first love, the graduation, and presents them as fresh and uncontrived.  Many scenes were based on improvisation and the closeness of the on-screen family (headed up by the impressive Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) means they rub along in an utterly convincing and authentic way.

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This is a world you want to be part of. Linklater’s liberal value system eschews the obvious and embraces contradiction – the educated alcoholic, the decent army guy, the ‘flaky musician’ Dad who seeks out security. This is a loving portrait of America, land of the individual yet also home of the gun and the bible, and he embraces it all with a breadth of vision that takes your breath away.

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The scope of Boyhood’s epic time frame recalls older, Hollywood movies like Giant that tell the history of America through one extended clan. Yet Linklater’s natural, real time ‘fly on the wall’ approach also shares its DNA with the ground-breaking British documentary series Seven Up! which revisited the same children every seven years as they grew up and through adulthood.

Time in a movie is a construct. The idea that a movie unfolds over a two hour period and offers up a few moments in time is pure illusion. ‘Boyhood’ challenges this construct and offers up an alternative vision. It also makes you realise how phoney most on-screen attempts at ageing are. The shock and pleasure of seeing people age for real on camera contrasts with Hollywoods’ obsession with our actors (especially women) looking forever young. We all grow up – and we all age – and while countless films have celebrated the joys of coming of age, it is rare to see so many generations reflected in one story with such a light touch.

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There is great joy in ‘Boyhood’ and I was reminded many times of my own family while watching it. There is a sense of community we get when we watch a film that reflects our own experience. We should celebrate that.

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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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Make your own Cheerleader

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Everyone needs a cheerleader!

I’m sure many guys would agree with me though I don’t mean the all American cute’n’bendy girl kind.  I mean a friend who is always in your corner cheering you on in whatever mad enterprise you choose to take on next. They may be your partner, work colleague or friend.  I am lucky enough to have several close friends and a family who are tireless supporters of me and my hare-brained schemes.

So how do you find – and keep – your own personal cheerleader?

1)   Take chances. Fortune favours the brave. Risk taking creates its own energy and brings you unexpected allies and supporters.

2)   Admit you’re scared. Asking for moral support – as well as practical help – is the sign of a strong not a weak character.

3)   Offer help to others. Sounds obvious but supporting others is its own reward and builds friendships built on mutuality and shared interests.

4)   Join mentoring schemes and networking/support groups or create your own. Like attracts like and joining forces once a month to share successes and problems is immensely satisfying and fun.

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5)   Ask for advice and opinions. Read each other’s scripts and application forms. Involve others in your ideas, they can usually make them better!

6)   Be generous with your time. However busy you are, take a moment to listen and reply to a request for help. The favour will be repaid a hundred times.

7)   See friends not rivals. Create a community of artists just like you – they are absolutely your best support in a competitive world.

The best cheerleaders are smart, supportive, kind and often very unselfish. They’re also a little bit magic.

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I may not win the World Cup but I have the best cheerleaders a girl could wish for. Thank you. x

 

 

 

In Praise of Migrants


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I want to write about our freedom to work in other countries. As UKIP and the Front National are voted into the European Parliament, this basic human right is again threatened.  I have just come back from Cannes Film Festival which celebrates international cinema and welcomes filmmakers from around the world.  No one suggested that Jane Campion, Sophia Coppola or Leila Hatami should ‘go back where they came from’.

I have certainly learned the most in my life from working abroad.

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Shooting in Poland

I studied directing in England but was given the chance to make a film at the renowned Polish Film School thanks to a European MEDIA grant.  Suddenly I was able to work with filmmakers from all over Europe. For the first time I saw my own films in a wider context and realised there were other ways to tell a story. Learning your trade in another country is a life-enriching experience I wish all people could try.

My greatest love has been America. I dreamed of studying there but couldn’t afford the school fees, and as a young filmmaker, couldn’t get sponsored for a work permit. After many years of visiting as a tourist, of writing and pitching ideas for US television and sitting in on screenwriting classes, I finally got sponsored by a TV company for an employment visa.  I was there, working in both the UK and US, refining skills learned in both countries, comparing the differences, following in the footsteps of writers and directors who have taken the foreign as inspiration and used their outsider’s eye to see a little differently.

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Directing ‘In Search of Food’ in the US

We desperately need this broader perspective if we are to move forward as a country.  This year, as I crossed the US border into Mexico to see the moving effects of a mass deportation policy on migrant families, I was reminded of how rich and privileged I am to have a British passport and enough money to travel freely. Why do we deny the same right to people who can’t rely on privilege but just want to earn a living and contribute?

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Deported migrants in Mexico

As thousands of migrants die in deserts, overheated trucks, under the wheels of trains or at the hands of people traffickers or border guards, we don’t make the connection between this huge economic migration and our own privileged ability to travel the globe for vacation or employment.  I am tired of politicians blaming migrants for the recession and angry with an electorate that votes for the far right by way of complaining about house prices.

Now we have a government that believes we should study only English writers. I teach at an international film school that welcomes young actors, writers and director from all over the world to England so that they – and we – can learn from working with each other.

Closing our borders to people who want to contribute to our society is like locking ourselves into an air-tight room and then wondering why we can’t breathe.  If we walk away from Europe and close our borders, we create an island fortress that holds us captive as surely as it keeps our neighbours out.

 

 

Locke and Calvary – The rise of the literate screenplay

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When is a film not a film?  When it’s a play on words.  I’ve just seen a beautifully written film – and yet it could have been a play – as it revels in language in a way we usually identify with radio or theatre.  Locke is an intense, poetic and visual movie that relies on words for its main impact.

In Locke, written and directed by Steven Knight , our anti-hero (played by Tom Hardy) is trapped behind the wheel of a car for 90 minutes.  The drama occurs not through action but through a series of dialogues – not even face to face but on the phone. The only physical action he takes is driving.

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Tom Hardy is the draw here but it was not his face – expressive though that is – that stayed with me. It was his voice, his thoughts that moved me – that and the gap between what he said while his face betrayed how he really felt.

When Locke does take action and make decisions he does it through language. Words are the prime dramatic currency of Locke and the story is none the poorer for it.  The writing has a dense yet lyrical quality – not for nothing did Tom Hardy listen to Richard Burton reciting Under Milkwood to prepare for this (the likeness is uncanny).  The visual metaphors are not on screen but are created in the dialogue.

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Locke also observes the three unities of place, time and action, so it really could be a play.  In the end does it matter?

With the multi-platform, multi-media way in which we consume creative content, are these boundaries forever blurred?  While the studios chase global success with tent pole spectaculars using as few words as possible, the real audience is viewing online in the revolution that has allowed high-end intelligent drama series and movies to go viral – to go global. It is a mistake to assume audiences don’t enjoy language – wit, irony, deep emotions, the pleasures of thought and moral complication.  For Netflix and co, prestige drama series are now the premium content that people will pay for.  As the writer’s dominance in television and online drama drives the quality of scripts skywards, is there also a resurgence of the writer – and dare we say it of drama vs genre movies –  in low to mid-budget feature films?

It is the marriage of great script and great actor that audiences are drawn to.  The skills of the director are at the service of the writing and are the invisible, traditional – and often underrated – ones of interpreting the material, getting great performances, as well as expressing the visual world the characters inhabit.

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Calvary written and directed by Michael McDonagh, is another example of a great, writer-driven film – funny, literate, dark storytelling  powered by great dialogue that celebrates word play and the interrogation of received ideas.  The story and characters may borrow from the Western but the execution is resolutely Irish in its love of language.

Kelly Reilly and Brendan Gleeson in Calvary

As film writers we are often (rightly) discouraged from using dialogue at the expense of the active and visual.  And there are wonderfully cine-literate screenplays that have hardly any dialogue at all.  Yet a cinema that celebrates and explores ideas and self-expression through language surely raises everyone’s game.

How do you use dialogue in your scripts? And which writers do you admire for their use of language?

Leave your comments here or you can find me on twitter @emlin32

 

 

FOUR GO TO CANNES


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Last year I wrote  Diary of a Cannes Virgin to share the experience of going to the most famous film festival in the world for the first time. But I didn’t go alone. I went with three new friends from the WFTV mentoring scheme.  ‘Four go to Cannes…’  It was a real Girl’s Own Adventure story, although we were less Enid Blyton and more a writers’ splinter group, a Gang of Four curious to see how the international system of buying and selling features worked on the inside.  Faced with long queues for badge collections and deciphering the arcane booking system to see films, our first day in Cannes felt less like ‘What dress shall I wear to the premiere?’ and more like hacking into a heavily encrypted national bank.

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It took us a good 24 hours – helped by Elizabeth’s insider knowledge of previous Cannes – to simply work out where everything was. We spotted the red carpet easily enough – the big one at least. The pavilions, the film market, the food stands and the loos took a while longer. But like all good Brits abroad, we splashed out on overpriced hot dogs and vino with cheerful humour and threw ourselves into the long Cannes days – from queueing in the rain for our bus in the morning to all jamming into a taxi together at midnight…

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Three days later, after countless industry panels, rained out screenings, a party and a case of food poisoning from a dodgy salad at the panini van where we took most of our meals, we took refuge in a proper French restaurant outside the enclosure and celebrated our first Cannes visit. Despite the crazy conference centre atmosphere we’d all had a really great time.

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I put this mostly down to our natural support of each other. From sharing beds on the first night in our hotel and giggling into the night, to sharing canapés at drinks dos, to arranging to touch base for lunch and dinner during the festival and compare notes on networking events, we had each other’s backs from day one.  Although Cannes is full of people you either know or think you want to know, it’s important to draw breath – and have a real conversation with someone you really like, who you’re not trying to sell anything to, and who knows your feet are aching and you’ve been on the go since 7, and, most importantly,  have a laugh with.

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Looking out for each other at Cannes created a real bond, and we’ve stayed in touch during the last year, reading each other’s scripts, supporting each other through  the ups and downs of development, and sharing our good and bad writing days.  Our faith in each other has been rewarded times ten.  One year on, it’s fantastic to see how well our Gang of Four has done.

Elizabeth closed a development deal on her feature script this year.  Wanda has enjoyed a stellar series of acting roles and is writing her first UK feature.  Our other friend has a feature length thriller in development.  As for me, I met a great producer during that first trip to Cannes, who is helping me develop the US feature I took there so hopefully a year ago.  As Sinatra would say, ‘It was a very good year.’

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So to Cannes 2014 – Wanda and I will be braving the Croisette once more, with the others there in spirit. This time we have a studio apartment thanks to another friend from last years’ trip. We are determined this year to hit the best parties, the most exciting premieres and sample the delights of proper French food.

That is until we get there – and the panini van beckons.

 

Share your Cannes stories (or plans) below – or you can find me on twitter @emlin32.