Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sleepless 'til Seattle - The Talk

Over the past three months Pauline and I have been pulling together film clips and photographs from our 4,000 mile cycle across North America in order to create a talk that we would take on a tour round Scotland.

Friday just gone was opening night.

The key to people attending is of course, publicity. Lots of it. You name it, we did it: local radio and  press, hundreds of posters, thousands of fliers, a giant three-foot wide poster on a disused phone box, Facebook, Twitter, cycle club forums, cycle shops, and lots of other websites such as Gumtree and The List.

I couldn't have done anymore, short of paying thousands for a TV advert. I did try. I approached The One Show, but alas they didn't pick up on it. Yet.

It took over a month to narrow down which theatres we would take the show to. We decided to concentrate mostly on small rural communities. Then it was a matter of finding out availability and trying to create a schedule with approximately two weeks between each show. Booking was next, signing contracts, assessing the technical needs and creating posters.

Of course we also had a script to write. Luckily we knew the story well, the key to any presentation. Using a great programme called Keynote, we  assembled the photographs and the film clips from the feature film, then rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed.

It paid off. The first night sold out with sustained applause and cheering at the end. There then followed a great Q&A. A fantastic start.

Ten more venues to go, which you can find out about by going to the website. Click on the tour picture of us on the right, or here

In the final week of preparation we also created an online shop to sell the now complete DVD of the feature film. Within just six hours of it going live we had sold the first one and sold many more on the night of the show, including a CD of all the music.

Fingers crossed for a successful tour.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Changing course

It's the London marathon tomorrow, and with recent events in Boston still fresh in peoples minds, you can imagine the organisers and creators of the event will be dedicated to ensuring all goes according to plan. The course twists and winds its way through the capital city, and clear markers must be in place to advise the runners of where the course goes so that there is no risk to anyone losing their way, whether they are in a large group or out there by themselves.

When you work on your own, as I do, at times it's difficult, almost impossible, to judge your work objectively to ascertain if it's actually any good, to know if the course you are following is the right one. Sometimes you become so absorbed in a project that you convince yourself it's the right thing to be doing. Of course it can't fail.

I have a great circle of friends, and a number who are very honest with me and who I rely upon to give me truthful responses when I ask their opinion of projects I'm working on. Last year I gathered a number at a local cinema who helped me refine a feature film.

Understandably, as well as the passionate critics, there are many who are also just polite and congratulate you on your achievements. That's nice, and comforting, and a moral booster at times, and just as valuable as the constructive criticism.

It is true to say that I became completely absorbed by the film project and it became difficult to know what decisions to make anymore. To quote the old saying: I couldn't see the wood for the trees. I continued to tweak it here and there. I should have remembered the great director Woody Allen, who once said, you never finish a film you just abandon it.

It has now absorbed a large part of my life, and finances, for almost three years. The latter part of last year was all about entering the film into world-wide film festivals. 12 in all. One by one the rejections came back. This morning one of the festivals I had pinned my hopes on, Seattle, also rejected the film. There remains only one to return now, my home town of Edinburgh.

It would be easy to bury my head in the sand and ignore these results, but these decisions and opinions are important. Having your work judged by people that don't know you at all is not only the hardest critique but the most important.

So it would appear, despite all the hard work and dedication, that my work as a film maker does not make the mark.

The film has recently been turned into a talk, and together with my adventure buddy we begin a tour of 12 venues this coming Friday round Scotland, the first of which is in my home town Portobello. It's looking good and we've created a very entertaining performance. In terms of hard work and dedication I couldn't have done more. But in seven days I'll find out if there's a demand for it and if my peers judge it to be any good, or if it's time to change course.

Friday, 12 April 2013


The Vandals were a Germanic tribe in the 5th century, who settled in Africa and pillaged Rome around 455AD. It is because modern writers characterised the Vandals as barbarians that today we say a person who damages things through ignorance and wilful disregard is known as a vandal.

Over the past three months I have been constructing an entertaining visual presentation for Pauline and I to give a talk on our 4,000-mile cycle across North America. It's quite an undertaking as we're taking our show to ten venues around Scotland over the next four months.

Publicity is, of course, key to the success of this. With this in mind I designed a colourful and fun poster, of which a local printer produced a giant version, three feet wide and five feet deep. It looked fantastic, a real eye-catcher. So we put it up in a prominent position locally.

It lasted less than 24 hours.  The following morning we discovered someone had ripped it to shreds overnight.

A number of years ago the city council planted around 20 new trees in a local park. Less than one week later and all but one had been snapped in half.

Just last week a local community orchard fell victim to a far more cruel side of wanton destruction. Within the orchard were two very productive bee hives. One morning they were found destroyed and all the bees were dead.

There are other forms of vandalism as well of course. Those of a psychological nature. I have friends who campaign for the protection of vulnerable places and environments and are at the receiving end of intolerable cruelty in the form of psychological abuse by those who disagree with their views.

Whatever happened to free speech?!

I feel both ashamed, and angry at the same time, that all of these events have happened within a small radius of where I live. It is a beautiful place, right by the ocean. I take great pleasure listening to the crashing waves as they roll onto the mile-long beach just yards from my front door. It's a shame that there is an ugly side, but that ugly side is, like so many negative things in this world, man-made.

For four months Pauline and I cycled through many, many towns and landscapes, as we ate up the 4,000 miles across America. We met so many amazing people both young and old. Not once did we witness the kind of vandalism written about here. People were proud of where they lived, and looked after it.

Is that so difficult to understand?

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Seven Years In Regret

The weekend just passed marked seven years since I sold my deli and coffee shop. Obviously I would remember but it was a shame no one else did. At times I regret letting it go.

It was a great 15 years in the deli. So many wonderful memories. I had so many great staff, and so much help from close friends. It went from small beginnings to a medium sized business with 9 staff, and I miss it and all the people so much.

I can't honestly say I've replaced it successfully with anything, and I continue to feel a bit lost in direction. I still find it amazing that virtually every week someone from the local community will stop me and chat, recognising and still associating me with the deli. It's sad the subsequent owners made such a mess of things that today it is a shadow of its former self.

The most important friendship in my life started when I had the deli as well, which has endured for almost 20 years. I don't know what I'd do if I ever lost that. It's my pillar.

When I look back over my working life I'm surprised, and a little shocked, at the different career paths I've taken so far: a graphic design company; the Royal Air Force; advertising agency; printers; deli & coffee shop; handyman; film maker, most notably for the Dalai Lama; property landlord; business consultant, and most recently, teacher in film.  I turned self-employed in 1989, and I've made it this far, so hopefully I'll continue to create profitable business, though it is increasingly tough in these times.

Though my main goal just now is, following the great success of the trans-America cycle with Pauline, to return hopefully next year for another long-distance route, the Underground Railroad. I say hopefully because it looks increasingly uncertain as time goes on.

The important thing for the future is no regrets.