Friday, 25 March 2016


It's Easter, and yet again it's on a different date. But that date formula was decided almost 1700 years ago, at the Council of Nicea.

They took March 21st as being the Vernal Equinox, and decided that Easter Sunday would be the first Sunday, after the first full moon after the equinox. It is, of course, of religious significance. It is thought that Jesus was crucified around the time of the Jewish Passover, which is on the first full moon after the equinox. So, that's how we have decided the date of Easter ever since the year 325.

The name Easter actually comes from ancient Egypt, named after the goddess of fertility, Astarta (I'm sensing an egg connection here!), and that became Ostara in old English, after she was adopted as an Anglo-Saxon goddess. Quite how we then linked it with you know who being nailed up and then resurrected beats me (get it, beats, as in eggs? Oh, never mind). 

A holiday for most, which makes where I live, right by the sea, a lot busier. Though I have time off teaching film at the academy, I am deep in the throes of editing during every available minute, as the deadline for submission of the kids films looms. So time is precious.

No time for egg rolling here.

Egg eating though fits in. My friend John celebrated his 60th birthday yesterday, and so we met up for Eggs Benedict. This is my favourite breakfast treat, at my favourite restaurant in Edinburgh, Browns.

Eggs Benedict got its name way back in 1894 at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City. Lemuel Benedict, a Wall Street broker, nursing a brutal hangover, went for breakfast at the Waldorf. He ordered hot buttered toast, crisp bacon, two poached eggs and a "hooker" of hollandaise sauce.

Thanks Lemuel. Yum.

Hollandaise sauce, though literally meaning "from Holland", actually started off named after a small town in Normandy, and was called Sauce Isigny. The area was known for its butter (today Normandy is known as the cream capital of France). It became known as Hollandaise during World War I, when butter production stopped in France and was imported "from Holland".

Then there's the eggs. Back in the 1500s two names were fought over for that humble little oval item. One was "eye," the other "egg". Egg won of course, which is derived from the old Norse. Imagine ordering two poached eyes!

So Mr Benedict actual ordered Sauce Isginy, not Hollandaise Sauce, as it would not get that name for another 30 years. However, he was the first to put the sauce, pork, toast and eggs all together.

But which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Friday, 18 March 2016


It seems like I have been working on the six films for the young students of the academy where I teach film, forever. But the end is in sight at last.

At first glance it would seem that they have taken 6 months to shoot the films, however, when you break it down, that is not so. The first couple of months, for under an hour per week, so a total of just eight hours, they came up with an idea, wrote a script, cast it and planned a shoot.

The first stage, or act, over, they began filming at the start of November, took a break from it all in December, then resumed in January, wrapping mid March. In terms of time for this act it adds up to just 11 hours. Some were shooting a three page script, which I would expect to film in a 10 hour day, but others were working on a seven page script, which under normal circumstances would take well into three, ten-hour days.

But they did it in just 11 hours.

I'm pretty proud of them I must say.

The third act is of course the editing, which has been ongoing, and that has come down to just me, most days, of every week, so far amounting to 138 hours! But using the same formula, that is just two days per film. So far.

I'm almost there though. Three films are finished, apart from some small tweaks. The entry date for the film festival is close, but all should be well.

Like all successful film projects, there is a sequel.

Over the past two weeks I have been offered two new projects. One is creating workshops for the Edinburgh Festival Theatre Trust, which I am very excited about. The other is running courses for school teachers, in how to bring film further into the classroom. Quite different, and again, I'm very excited about that too.

Ten years ago I sold up my deli and coffee shop to chase a new career in film making. Back then I could never have known what it would lead to, that one day I would be making films. not for broadcast, but helping young minds learn the expertise of how to bring their stories to life on the big screen.

It's been a lot of fun so far, and hugely rewarding, and I'm looking forward to the sequel opening weekend.

Thursday, 10 March 2016


Born in Orkney, Amy Moar was a remarkable and talented musician, and I recall with fondness the series of events that would lead me to the moment that I first heard her sing, a moment in time that I and many others, will never forget.

Occasionally an opportunity comes along that you instinctively know you cannot say no to. Something that may well have a profound influence on a great many people and will be remembered for a long time to come.

It was just such an opportunity that knocked at my door in mid 2003. I was asked if I would be interested in volunteering to produce a film of a visit to Scotland by HH the 14th Dalai Lama in June of 2004.

I had to think a moment. Not!

Yesterday was my birthday, and it was on my birthday in 2000, whilst in India, that I caught my first glimpse of this amazing man. At very close quarters. I will never forget it. I was standing on a narrow road in McLeod Ganj, exiled home of the Tibetan spiritual leader, waiting for his Range Rover to squeeze past the hordes of people. As it did so, very slowly, it came to a halt right beside me, and there, directly in front of me, staring back was His Holiness. He looked directly at me, and smiled. It felt almost as if he recognised me. It was quite a moment.

But nothing prepared me for four years later. I was to have Access-All-Areas security clearance during his visit, and followed him everywhere with three camera crews. There were camera-free times as well, such as at lunch. At one such moment I was sat with the organiser Victor Spence, when who should come and sit at the chair right beside me! I probably sat there with my mouth wide open, staring. I can't really remember.

There were many highlights of the visit, one of which was a public address and Q&A in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. Again, it was a privilege to be so close to him, and even more so to hold his hand during a crew photo at the end.

But the most memorable moment was right at the end. A 12 year old girl called Amy Moar came on to stage to sing for His Holiness, accompanied by a good friend, and now world famous harpist, Phamie Gow.

Amy Moar sang beautifully. Music was the strength in her life. She was entirely blind from birth, and suffered from a growth syndrome called Saldino-Mainzer, where her body would never grow beyond the size of a 4 year old. She had been through a kidney transplant that had saved her life, and her young spine was triple curving. She was a remarkable and resilient girl.

I say was, because it breaks my heart to find out that she died at the age of 24 on February 29th.

In the years after singing that day in 2004, Amy went on to be an accomplished musician, recently completing a BA honours in Music Performance, at the University of Abertay.

At the end of Amy's song, The Why of a Miracle, the Dalai Lama rose to his feet and walked over and up some steps to Amy, where he blessed a Tibetan white scarf and placed it round her neck, giving her a hug. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house, including our film crews. Even writing this, 16 years on, chokes me up.

So I thought it was a fitting tribute to Amy to edit a 5 minute clip of the time she sang for His Holiness in 2004 at age 12, ending with that special moment between the two of them, and share it with you here:

Thursday, 3 March 2016


The week started with the 29th February, the extra day added because this is a leap year. The day after was March 1st, officially marking the start of spring, and a new beginning.

That same day I had a bit of a spring forward and leap into a new beginning myself.

I have, for a number of years now, answered my calling, that of teaching young people how movies are made, and helping them make their own. I realised some time ago that this is what I should have been doing all along, but I guess I had to gain the experience first, both professionally in filmmaking, and voluntarily in youth work.

So I was delighted on the 1st to receive an offer to be film tutor for the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, home to Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet. They call the role, Engagement Artist, and I will meet the rest of the freelance pool on the 17 March.

I am still waiting to hear if Into Film are to bring me on board to deliver film tutoring to teachers in schools and bring filmmaking into the classroom more. If they do it looks like all at once I am going to be busy as I was four years ago, last leap year.

Leap year doesn't actually happen every four years though. It's a rounding up, due to the fact that the Earth's rotation takes 365, and a quarter days to orbit the sun. However, that's not 100% accurate, and actually over compensates. But you'd hardly notice, as it equates to the year cumulatively becoming 3 days longer every 400 years.

But it turns out we did notice. Long ago. The idea of having a leap year was suggested as far back as 45BC, but it would be 1500 years, when the Gregorian calendar came into use, that it was officially recognised. To correct for the over compensation, Pope Gregory VIII's astronomers established the practice of adding a day for every year divisible by 4, except for those that are divisible by 100 but not 400, thus correcting the over compensation. So 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years, but, in keeping with the rule, 2000 was.

Leap years a bummer if you're on an annual salary of course, as you'll work for free that day!

29th February is also the day that traditionally women can get down on one knee and propose to men, supposedly attributed to Queen Margaret of Scotland. If the man refused he had to pay a fine, which was anything from a simple kiss, to 12 pairs of silk gloves.

As the earnings from my new freelance posts are yet to start, I naturally hid myself away on the 29th, for fear of being proposed to over and over again, and having to shell out for all those gloves.