Saturday, 26 June 2010

The Director Prepares

I'm not long back from the big smoke, aka, London, having attended a workshop for TV and film directors.

I always travel by train whenever I have to go down. It takes around four and a quarter hours, which considering the distance is not really that long. It's relaxing too. I pass the time reading the newspapers, a good book, listening to music or watching a DVD on my laptop. I once calculated that to travel by plane it would actually take me slightly longer door to door, and no doubt I would be far less relaxed.

I arrived late afternoon on the Thursday, meeting up with my friends, John and Linsey, who live in a nice area half an hour out from the city centre in Chiswick. John is an executive with Paramount Pictures and we've been good friends for the last ten years. Just a couple of years ago he moved from Sydney to London with Paramount and now whenever I'm down that way he very kindly puts me up.

On Friday Linsey and I went along to Tate Britain to see the temporary exhibition Rude Britania. In order to get to the gallery showing the exhibition we walked through the Turner galleries. This was the first time I had really taken a close look at Turner and I was pleasantly surprised. The way he had captured the light from a particular point, casting light onto an area of the painting, really caught my eye. The Rude Briatania exhibit was a lot of fun, with comic art from the 1600's to the present day. Everything from Gillray and Hogarth through to Viz and Spitting Image. One of the sections exhibits was chosen by comedian Harry Hill. All well worth a visit. In the evening we met John after his work and went for a meal at the Oxo Tower on the south bank of the Thames. Great setting and view across the Thames, but maybe just a little on the pricey side.

On Saturday and Sunday I attended the workshop at London Film School near Covent Garden, called The Director Prepares. The guest director running the course was Harvey Frost. Originally from England, he had emigrated to Canada many years ago and now lives in Pacific Palasades, very near to Santa Monica, LA. Over his career he has written and directed many made-for-TV movies. At one point he directed a series called Avonlea, which can be described loosely as a Canadian Little House On The Prairie. We watched one episode and to be honest I wasn't overly impressed. Not my sort of thing at all. That was untill he told us that the budget in 1995 was roughly $2 million an episode! I almost fell off my seat. We have feature films made in the UK that don't get those sorts of budgets! The only TV series I had heard of that he had directed was 90210, but he had been out there, in Hollywood, making a good living. Times have changed however. It's difficult to get work as a director out there now, he told us, even with his long career and track record. Gone are the days of constant work, big budgets and seventy of a crew. He feels fortunate these days if he gets one a year to direct. Overall, the workshop was very enjoyable, and boosted my confidence no end, as I realised just how much I already know. But I always learn something new that adds just a little edge to my skills for the next time.

I spoke to a number of other directors on the workshop, people doing the job in London itself. All of them seperately told me that it was not possible to make a living as a director in the UK. This is something I've suspected myself for quite some time, and one reason why I am currently diversifying. From September onwards I will at last have a small, but nearby, office to work from every day, using my producer skills to organise more efficient use of my time into exisitng and new areas of business.

To kick start the process I now have a new showreel, which you can find by clicking on this link (remember to switch on your sound first):


Maybe soon I will be running a workshop and people will travel from the big smoke to Auld Reekie to participate.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Loch Leven circuit

Just a short distance from Edinburgh lies Loch Leven, near the small town of Kinross in Fife. In recent years a cycle path has been created around the loch, though currently it falls short of a full circuit, starting at Kinross on the western shore and stopping at the RSPB reserve of Vane Farm on the southern shore. There is however an inviting coffee shop both at the start and the end, and I looked forward to the reward of a cappuccino at Vane Farm.

Pauline and I met up with her dad Mike, having first travelled by train to Lochgelly, to cycle the route around the loch. After meeting up, in all, we would cycle 15 miles to the end of the cycle path. The first section goes past Rachel House, an 18th century mansion house, which is a hospice owned by CHAS, the childrens charity. Not long after this a view opens up across the loch to a castle on a small island.

It was here in 1567, literally to the day, that Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for a year. This was the saddest time for Mary, as it was while being held here that she was forced to abdicate in favour of her son James VI. Mary had been crowned Queen when less than 1 year-old, and by age 45 she would face the executioner for her involvement in three plots to assassinate Elizabeth I.

At the start of the cycle we were rewarded with good weather, though on the return leg there was a cold head-wind. The route around the loch is very easy and fast and we completed it in less than 2 hours, stopping near the end, on the lochside, for lunch. Most of the time the path follows the shore line and numerous birds, from crested grebes to mute swans, were spotted all the way along. By early afternoon we had reached the end of the path and with skies threatening to rain, we turned onto the back-roads that would take us to the rail station for the train home.

Despite the allure of the promised coffee shop, it was not to be, and I returned to Lochgelly feeling somewhat teased having not had my caffeine fix.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Forth & Clyde Canal

In AD 142 the Romans started work on a wall that would run for 39 miles across Scotland, from the Clyde River in the west to the Forth in the east. It would take 12 years to complete, which is still faster than getting the trams finished in Edinburgh!

The Antonine Wall, named after the Roman emperor Antonius Pius, was the northernmost frontier boundary of the Roman occupation of Britain. Today it is quite difficult to find, with only small sections surviving, overgrown and collapsed.

Almost 1800 years later, following roughly the same route, having taken 22 years to complete, the Forth & Clyde Canal, connecting the western seaboard of Scotland to the eastern seaboard, was opened.

Last weekend Pauline and I took a train, first to Glasgow, then onto the canal’s starting point at Bowling. It was a glorious day and ahead lay 31 miles of canal towpath that would take us to the Falkirk Wheel. This is where the Union Canal, which goes a further 60 miles into Edinburgh, meets the Forth & Clyde Canal. From there we would catch a train home, missing out the final 4-mile stretch of the Forth & Clyde.

The first eight miles or so take you through Dalmuir, Kelvin and onto Maryhill. At Dalmuir there is Britain’s only drop lock. This clever construction enables boats to pass underneath a busy main road, before popping out of the other end and being raised back to the original height to continue their journey.

Just a mile further on, in Clydebank, we came across the world’s only “sail-thru” fish and chip shop. A large old boat, now land-locked, where passing barges and yachts can get their fish supper from the comfort of their wheelhouse!

At Maryhill locks, a series of five, you must cross over and pick your way through housing in order to continue by bicycle alongside the northern edge of the canal. There are no signposts, or even a marked route on the map, to guide you, but luckily I had my trusty guide Pauline with me. It’s a great pity that they haven’t linked up this part, as you could quite easily not notice and continue on a several mile detour into Glasgow city centre.

The canal continues on, lazily winding its way through the central belt countryside, past isolated farms and idyllic little cottages set among rolling hills. At times the towpath becomes busier with people out walking, or swans on the water taking their cygnets out for their first foray into the big, bad world.

Kirkintilloch, just past halfway, is the last town easily accessible from the canal and we stopped for lunch and a quick brew-up. 6 miles on is Auchenstarry, where for the first time the canal widens to about four times its width. Now a marina for seafaring types to weigh anchor, it was once the loading point for coal from Kilsyth. Nine easy but hot miles later, our journey’s end, the Falkirk Wheel, hoves into view.

Back in 1963, after 173 years of service, the canal was closed. Unused it became semi-derelict. It had ceased to be the main method to transport goods and rather than construct a crossing for the newly built motorway, it was decided to close the canal. Over the years it became even more chopped up, with several sections becoming filled in and even built over. As part of the Millennium celebrations in 2000, National Lottery funds were used to regenerate both canals and connect them back together, the largest canal restoration ever in Britain.

However, as well as constructing new sections of actual canal, eleven locks had been lost in the interim period. These once connected the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal, at the point where the Falkirk Wheel now sits. Engineers had to figure out a way to reconnect them, separated by 90 feet in height, within a far more limited space than in its heyday, due to the construction of housing and roads over the decades.

Modeled on the shape of Celtic axes, the Falkirk Wheel’s design is breathtaking when you see it for the first time. Powerful enough to raise and lower the equivalent weight of 100 hundred elephants, yet using the power of only eight light bulbs, it is a feat of engineering to be admired and the only structure of its kind in the world. On the day we were there only boats were using the lift. I suppose 100 passing elephants is not a regular event. Opened in 2002, it successfully lifts boats up and down in less than five minutes. Negotiating the old lock system took most of the day!

Close by, high above the main centre, I discovered the remains of the Antonine Wall, lost and forgotten in an overgrown forest, still with it’s deep ditch defences on the northern side. Not only did the engineers design and build a clever solution to the problem they faced but they also managed to preserve the remains of the 2000-year-old wall by tunneling underneath it.

Emperor Pius would be most pleased.

Thursday, 3 June 2010


Let's make it absolutely clear from the outset: this is war!

In October of last year I engaged an architect to create a set of drawings for an extension to my house. Now, we're not talking about anything outlandish or extrovert that Tracey Emin would enter for a Turner Prize! No, this was a simple, four walls and a roof.

Now don't start thinking I'm going all broody and making space for babies. The only pitter patter of tiny feet you're likely to hear in my house is either a small yappy-type dog or a seagull walking across the flat roof. This was simply a need for more space. As one gets older one needs more space to collect even more "stuff" that you simply must have. Apart from that, I work full time from home and I'm at the stage where I need an office to go to, rather than my laptop on my knee in front of the telly watching Cash In The Attic or Neighbours. Which reminds me, I'll need to write this quickly as the next episode is on soon, and I must know the latest about Paul Robinson!

By late February I had received a refusal from the council, and arranged a meeting with the planning officer that had made the decision. Between myself and my architect, Dave, we had redesigned the extension, and the planning officer, quote, "really liked the new design" and recommended reapplying.

So we did.

Then two weeks ago a decision was reached . . . refused!

Turns out the planning officer we had met with had moved on, and his replacement didn't agree with him, so we were back to square one. So we have another meeting, and another redesign, and again the new planning officer "really likes the new design". So she agrees to discuss it "in principal" with her team before we reapply. Their decision?

Refused! Unanimously!

You'd think I was proposing to knock down a hundred year-old stone built building, and erect a 4-storey Miami-style block of flats, painted bright white, that won't match anything in the conservation area, and block out light to existing flats that have stood nearby for almost 200 years! I mean, that would obviously get refused, wouldn't it?

Well, actually, no! Just five years ago the council approved exactly that! Just like the Great wall Of China, you can see it from space!

Given that my proposal is to build something with locally sourced, environmentally friendly, and at times recycled, materials, built to match the existing styles, circa early 1800's, I cannot understand the opposition.

So now it's time to bring in the big guns. An independent planning expert who hasn't lost an appeal in 22 years! And the council shiver with fear at the very mention of her name!

So it's gloves off! No more Mr nice guy!