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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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.

Runaway Bride – Finding the truth behind your story

1528299-a-child-is-walking-all-alone-in-the-desertWhat are you running away from in your script?

We all create diversions to escape ourselves.  How far would you go to avoid the pain you have to inhabit to complete your story?

This is where I am at as I approach the third act of my feature script again. It’s where the shit hits the fan emotionally for the characters – and for you.  Where you work out why you’re writing this thing that’s taking all your waking hours.

The first thirty pages are a sprint, an idyll, the lure that gets you thinking, ‘I know this baby, I can crack this story, I even know how it ends.’

The second act is harder, but the winding roads of plot and character revelation make it bearable, even though it stretches into infinity.

But the last act, the ending, the pay off for you and the audience is where you have to face the truth of what you are writing.  And so we do anything not to go there.  In our own lives as well as in the story.

Many pleasures can distract you from grief.  But if grief drives your screenplay, then it is grief you must enter to find redemption.  A story is a confession, an admission of weakness, a seeking of grace.  The most common narrative structure is the redemption story because we all need and deserve forgiveness.

So in facing our demons and, with them, the truth in our work, we raise ourselves above them and the distractions we employ, to find our own happy ending.

Share your own thoughts here or find me on Twitter @emlin32 . Good luck and may honesty be your best friend as a writer.

IN SEARCH OF ACT 3

chiricahua 6HOW DO YOU WRITE YOUR THIRD ACT?

I have finally reached the end of Act Two, that long hinterland of plot development and adventures high and low.  For all its flaws it’s got me to this place – the beginning of Act Three.

And I have no idea what happens next.  And that’s OK.  Because during Act Two a strange and wonderful thing happened.  My characters started thinking and acting for themselves.  The framework of the treatment became just that, a point from which to leap into the unknown, still following the thread but winding through new paths in the city.   Let’s Get Lost.  And suddenly getting lost in the story doesn’t seem such a bad idea.

As a writer structure is your friend. You need it to lean on, to support you as you try and explore your ideas, to make a shape others will recognise and to help make sense of the emotional chaos of your world.  And structure, with its twist and turns, can be fun.  The spinning of a tale is half the pleasure, a spider’s web, a minor miracle.  Structure lends the journey a familiar form.  It gives comfort to the audience as they absorb difficult truths about themselves and the world they live in.

But not knowing is magical too.  Free writing, like free running, has a grace and honesty as it flies onto the screen.  Characters given free rein can go a little crazy, mess up and live their wildest dreams as they escape the limits of conscious thought and take you somewhere new.

To go in search is not to know the answer.  But to know you’re looking is a start.

Where are you in your writing this week?  What unexpected moments have you uncovered?  Leave a message below or find me @emlin32 on Twitter.

7 Ways to Rise above your Research

achristmascarol-1951-1Factual research for a work of fiction is a two edged sword. What you learn can be fascinating but it can also feel like you’ve dumped a big pile of rubbish all over your story that you now need to wade through and decide what’s useful and what’s trash. So how do you rise above your research and find the truth of your own story?

1. DON’T JUST CUT AND PASTE

It’s tempting when you find a juicy story or piece of information to plonk it straight into your script. Consider first how you want to use it, or why it is attractive to you? Does it fit with the story you are writing? If not bin it.

2. TAKE TIME TO PROCESS

A lot of new information can be overwhelming. It could completely change the direction of your story.  This could be a good thing – or a huge distraction.   Don’t be intimidated.  Wait and see which facts resonate with you and emerge in your writing naturally.

3. CHECK THE TRUTH BEHIND THE FACTS

Special interest groups and their campaigns can be a great resource.  But check your facts are coming from an unbiased source or at least understand the bias at play.

4. LOOK AT BOTH SIDES OF THE ARGUMENT

Don’t just read research that confirms your own world view.  How can you write your antagonist if you don’t know what they believe and why?  You might find something that surprises you and adds credibility to your story.

5. YOU DON’T OWE ANYONE ANYTHING

Your greatest strength as a writer is your independence. Maintain it at all costs and don’t ‘get into bed with’ activists, governments or even people you interview who naturally enough have their own outlook on life.  Stay true to yourself and your story.

6. BUT TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for yourself and your writing.  Be accurate and truthful in your portrayals of events and characters in the world you’ve created, especially if your story is based on real events.

7. FOLLOW YOUR INTEGRITY when you write and trust yourself to find your own truth behind the lines.

What’s the strangest fact you have uncovered and how did it change your story? Leave a comment below or tweet me @emin32 on Twitter. Happy Writing!

Great opportunity to hear first hand from some very talented writers…

Acid Free Pulp

Through iTunes, the Writers Guild of America, East has made available many free podcasts.

Here’s Boardwalk Empire showrunner Terence Winter discussing the merits of premium cable with Denis Leary,co-creator and star of Rescue Me. There’s Tony Award–winning playwright John Guare explaining the challenges and rewards of adapting work from stage to screen. From 90-second clips to hour-long panel discussions,WGAE’s iTunes U site provides entertaining and educational media for any artist, writer or aficionado.

While perusing through their listings, I noticed podcasts discussing such topics as Writing NY: How the Big Apple Inspires and Informs the Movies, Reflections on Adaptation, and many other components of writing. Although, these podcast have more to do with television & film writing, I thought this could be quite interesting. They offer podcasts on mistakes to avoid, marketing yourself, and chat with successful playwrights and screenwriters.

Also while clicking around in iTunes, I came across some other free podcasts…

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