Thursday, 20 July 2017

ASHES TO ASHES

On the 13th July it was the anniversary of my mum passing 25 years ago. That's almost half my life since, which astonishes me. In all that time my mums ashes have stayed with me, and all at the same address. But this was, in a sense, unfair on my brother and my aunt. My brother especially felt he had nowhere to go to pay his respects on occasion.

So the time had come to scatter her ashes, and on Sunday we did just that, in the waters of Loch Lomond.


Why there? Well, my childhood was a tumultuous one it could be said, but the time we lived on the shores of Loch Lomond, in the mid 60s, was the first time that all the family lived together, and they were happy and fun times. Because of this, it was a special place to my mum, including the nearby village of Luss, and so we decided these were the places we would take her back to. Almost full circle in a way. Our plan was that half her ashes would go into the water at the caravan park where we had lived, near Inveruglas, and the other half in the waters at Luss, though within a short space of time she would be everywhere.


My step father managed the caravan site for Halleys of Milngavie, but now it has changed almost beyond recognition since we left 50 years ago. But down on the shore were the concrete remains of the original jetty, where I used to play with my Action Man in his diving suit. My brother and I stepped over the gap of water and onto the jetty, where he read a favourite poem of my mums, by Leo Marks, as I scattered her ashes into the water.

The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
Is yours

The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours

A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause

For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours

I found this moment, as the ashes fell into the still waters, very difficult. I thought I would be fine, but it was so hard. All I could muster to say was that she had been my best friend.

We then repeated this moment in the village of Luss, which didn't have the same effect on me, most probably because I have no memories from there. The caravan site was where I have my earliest memories, and where my mum bought me my first bicycle.


I've changed in looks a lot since those early days, but what's remarkable is that my mum did not really change in all her years. In every photograph and image I have of her, it was her smile that was a constant and how I always remember her.


Back when I lived on Loch Lomond, a grand old paddle steamer called the Maid of the Loch used to plough up and down the deep waters.


Now there is one more lady on those waters.

I miss you.


Thursday, 13 July 2017

ACROBATS

I went to the cinema this week to see the new Spiderman film. I was pleasantly surprised how entertaining it was, and the acrobatics, though CGi, were convincing.

But, I've recently seen even more impressive acrobatics, right here in my own garden, and way more entertaining!

I was peaking out through the window of my garden shed yesterday when I spotted the resident field mouse precariously hanging upside down on the bird peanut feeder. He was determined, despite nearly falling off on occasion. But it's best you watch him and judge for yourself the entertainment value.

CLICK ON PICTURE TO SEE VIDEO
https://youtu.be/Skr4_sfVf0I

Then to my surprise, another mouse, a third the size and grey, clearly a baby mouse, appeared. They say best to try new things when you're young. Well, watch as this little guy does just that. He decides to have a go at climbing a long thin slippery metal pole to try and gain access to the birds sunflower feeder. Despite several attempts he was unsuccessful. To give you an idea of his size, the pole is about the width of a sunflower seed!

CLICK ON PICTURE TO SEE VIDEO
https://youtu.be/zZFwaax5Sco

Eat your heart out Spiderman!

 

Friday, 7 July 2017

BEACHCOMBING

On a sunny but windy day, Pauline and I went in search of driftwood on the beach and dunes of Aberlady Bay. Many's a time that Pauline has returned from our own nearby beaches, with tiny treasures of polished glass and pebbles, or shells, and re-purposed them into bits of art for her garden.

I've visited and blogged about Aberlady Bay many times, so as a wee change this week, to accompany my photos, is a poem by Angela Wybrow.
 

As the tide retreats, it leaves behind
Once hidden treasures, for folk to find.
Left revealed, is a long strip of shiny, wet sand,
Where treasures, now at their journey's end, will land


By the sea, small pieces of glass have been ground,
Leaving their once sharp edges, smooth and round.
There are a few fallen feathers from visiting gulls.
Smooth egg-shaped pebbles, both shiny and dull.


Shells of all shapes, such as cones, conches and scallops,
Are washed ashore by the powerful sea, as it gallops.
There are lions paws, kings crowns, tulips, angel wings
Slipper shells, jewel boxes, moon snails and other things


Sugar kelp, Bladderwrack and Dead Man's Fingers,
Are some of the seaweeds which, on the shore, linger
The sight of numerous pieces of discarded litter
Leaves behind a taste, in my mouth, that is bitter.


Pieces of driftwood, many with interesting shapes,
From the endlessly shifting sea, make their escape.
If, along a sandy beach, you take a relaxing wander,
There are many treasures on which you can ponder.


Folk can while away many an hour of pleasure,
Sifting amongst all the newly arrived treasure.
An hour or two spent exploring a sandy cove,
Can potentially reveal a whole treasure trove.



Friday, 30 June 2017

GIFTED

Sometimes a movie comes along just at the right moment. I wasn't having a great week to be honest, and reluctantly dragged myself off to the cinema for a bit of escapism with my friend John. We had arranged it the week before, otherwise I probably would not have bothered.

As I said, sometimes a movie comes along at just the right moment, to lift your spirits and make the world seem alright, and it did just that.

The film in question is called Gifted, directed by Marc Preston Webb.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tI01wBXGHUs

(Click on the picture above to watch the trailer)

The story centers around a spirited six year old child prodigy, Mary, played by an excellent young actress called McKenna Grace. Her mother, a mathematics genius, has passed recently, and she is now looked after by her uncle Frank, played by Chris Evans, in Florida. His plans for Mary are for her to have a normal life, not to be sucked into the abnormal life of a mathematics genius. But his mother, played by Lindsay Duncan, has other plans. She herself is a mathematics genius, and threatens to separate Frank and Mary so the child can "realise her potential".

I hadn't expected much to be honest. Judging from the trailer it looked like a fairly humdrum, paint by numbers story, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Very well written, and a story arc that fooled me most of the way. There were moments when it could have easily followed a "seen it a hundred times" scenario, but instead surprised me with original takes. It has to be said that the girl takes centre stage quite brilliantly. In real life she was nine when it was filmed, and I was comparing her talent on screen to some of the nine year-olds in the academy I teach at, which helped me appreciate just how good she was. Such an early start in her career, it will be interesting to see how far she goes.

Which brings me rather neatly to another gifted actress, that of Eva Marie Saint. Who, I bet some of you are asking. She was the female lead opposite Cary Grant in one of my favourite films, North by Northwest, by Alfred Hitchcock. It was made in 1959, and despite the dodgy cardboard sets it stands the test of time in story telling on film.

Eva Marie Saint, one could safely say, has had a long career . . . and counting. Born in 1924, she was 35 by the time she made North by Northwest, playing the 25 year-old character Eve Kendall. Remarkably, now age 93, she is still making movies and TV series. That's quite a career.

I wonder of McKenna Grace will still be making movies in 80 years time!


Thursday, 22 June 2017

MACBETH, MACBETH, BEWARE MACDUFF

My young film students have been at it again, and have produced their best work to date, in an abridged adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth. And when I say abridged, well, that's an understatement. They took what is almost a three hour play and turned it into a visual spectacle of just 16 minutes.

A year ago they had spent a number of months rehearsing a stage version, but when they came to me a few months later, hardly any of them really understood the story. At first I was a little dismayed, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as they were not bound by any preconceptions.

You can watch the finished version by clicking on the picture below.

https://vimeo.com/219845892

Shakespeare wrote Macbeth in 1606, just one year after the gunpowder plot to blow up parliament. James the 6th of Scotland was on the throne, as James the 1st of England, son of Mary Queen of Scots, and distant cousin of the recently deceased Elizabeth. Appropriately we filmed in a castle where Mary Queen of Scots had once been imprisoned.



In the Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes attempted to kill the leading politicians, and the king, because of his lack of support for the Catholic cause. He and his conspirators were tortured and then executed for their treason. Macbeth was written as a cautionary tale, warning any others that an awful fate would overtake any such future attempts.

Macbeth is partly based on fact. He was a real 11th century Scottish king, but this historical Macbeth reigned capably in Scotland from 1040 to 1057. He did indeed succeed Duncan, his cousin, whom he defeated in battle. But Macbeth was succeeded by his own stepson Lulach, but only for seven months.  Duncan's son Malcolm, then became King of Scotland in 1058. The Stuart kings claimed descent from Banquo, but Banquo is a mythical figure.

Now my students turn their attention to devising a new film for entry into film festivals next year. The vast experience they gained from making this recent film will stand them in good stead, in all aspects of filmmaking, from story structure to production values.

Younger students also embarked on abridged versions of Shakespeare plays in the past few months, namely A Midsummer Nights Dream and Romeo & Juliet.

400 years after the death of Shakespeare, and here are children of today enjoying his stories, and creating spectacular films using the same structure he wrote all those centuries ago.
At the end of the process, and after watching the finished film, many of the students saw parallels with current political times, especially when you consider that on a basic level Macbeth was written to warn that excessive ambition will have terrible consequences.

Maybe we should send the link to some of the worlds current leaders.


Friday, 16 June 2017

SETTING THE COURSE THROUGH LIFE

My working life in the creative industries started in 1981 when I went to work at Hall Advertising in Edinburgh, then part of Saatchi & Saatchi. It was a great time, and so much foolery was had that it never really felt like work. An early influence to me back then was the Creative Director Jim Downie. Though Jim was head of all things creative for the largest and most successful agency in Scotland at the time, he felt like one of the lads, and always encouraged those below to progress. I left Halls in the mid 80s but would never forget Jim.

Fast forward 32 years to now. Recently, in a conversation with my neighbour Frank, who has lived next door for a number of years, it transpired that he knew Jim Downie. Though Jim had never been far from my thoughts of the past, I had not seen him or spoken to him in all the 32 years. But this chat with Frank set me on a quest to meet up with Jim and reminisce.

Then, by absolute coincidence, just one week ago, as I walked home, I spotted a small film crew in the lane leading to my house. Obviously I've seen a film crew before and decided to leave them alone rather than go and nose. It would turn out that the film crew's director was none other than Jim Downie!

Yesterday we met for coffee at Cafe Rouge in Edinburgh. The passage of the years had played its part on both of us, but we recognised each other despite the changes. When I look at the photographs below comparing both of us from the 80s to now though, I think you'd find it hard to believe we are the same people.



Despite the passage of time, our passion for filmmaking was shared. He's since sent me various links to some of the TV commercials he's made recently. Cinematic sequences with Jim's trademark attention to detail. We talked a while of times past, and how things took a particular path, how opportunities came and went. It was at this point that I told him of a young student under my wing called Stanley, who was successful in landing a part in a major new Ridley Scott film, recently returning from filming alongside some very recognisable stars.

I don't think it matters if your mentor is famous or not, but their influence on your path can literally be life changing. Though I have forged my journey myself, and it has been hard at times but well supported by those around me, I would never have reached where I am now without having first met Jim Downie. I wonder if all of us can point to someone from our past that opened our eyes and set us on a particular course.

Reading this you will most likely not have heard of Jim Downie, but you will have heard of the director and cast pictured below. I wonder if in 32 years time Stanley, pictured on the right, will meet up with Ridley Scott and recall the time they first met on set as Stanley started his journey.


Now that's a meeting I'd like to have coffee over.


Friday, 9 June 2017

POLITICAL COMEDY MATERIAL

Politics is boring. But thankfully it is now the 9th of June, and all the hot air is over. It would seem though that the current PM did not get the huge majority she wanted. Though she remains as PM it is of a hung parliament and is attempting to form a government jointly with the 10 Irish politicians of the DUP.

Yes politics is boring, but you have to vote. It is a privilege, and I never waste my right. Though I'm not going to state here who I voted for, I'm not a fan of the Conservatives, but I'm also not a fan of the Scottish Nationalist Party, and I was not disappointed to learn they had lost a third of their seats.

Interesting times ahead, but for me personally I rarely see any effect in my life, and I'm fairly sure this will be no different. Tomorrow I will continue my work with my young students.

My students love making films, and they are definitely improving in their acting skills in front of camera, but there can be no doubt that for me, I prefer to be behind the camera. This week though, I had to pluck up the courage to get on the other side of the lens to have a new set of professional head shots done, by a good friend of mine, professional photographer Dave Stewart, of Studio 2.


Just now my students are in the throes of understanding parody, and have spent the last few weeks making one-minute shorts on any subject they choose. One of the best so far, as they are only half way through the 16 shorts they are making, was one on the infamous "wall" proposed by President Donald Trump.

Politics may well be boring, but it provides great comedy material, even at its worst.