Friday, 28 October 2016


2016 is the anniversary of Shakespeare's death, He was born 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, and subsequently died there in 1616 on April 23rd.

At the academy where I teach film to young students, they had been working on abridged versions of three of the bard's plays, but for a variety of issues they missed their deadline in June to put on the performances. So we are now tackling film versions.

What never fails to amaze me is the difficulty they have in understanding the vast differences between film and stage. Most of the students seem to think that it is just a case of setting up a camera on a tripod and filming what they have come up with. But that's not a film. That's footage of a stage performance.

My friend Andrew describes it well; "a stage performance is to an audience firmly rooted in their seats, in one location. But creating a film liberates us from this constraint". So now we can place the camera anywhere, in the same space, or even in a vastly different space.

We are planning to film in March next year, albeit the 400th anniversary will have passed. The logistics will be challenging too, as they always are with young students. But there is an opportunity to have some of them attempt their first outside location shoot, as up to now we have filmed solely in the school where the academy takes place. Apart from the obvious production challenges this presents, there is also the factor of weather.

So to make life a little easier, we are going to set the films in modern times, allowing them to wrap up warm in modern day clothes. It also allows us to bring a number of scenes into modern times as well, which should prove to be a lot of fun.

The youngest students are making A Midsummer Nights Dream, though a wildly adapted version to suit their age group. The group between 9 and 12 will tackle Romeo & Juliet, referencing the modern day 1996 version, starring Leonardo Di'Caprio. Already the girl who plays Juliet is stressing out, asking me on a weekly basis if she will have to kiss anyone!

Finally the teenagers, in line with their desire to create films dark and miserable, will make MacBeth.
 For this film I have chosen an exterior location of 17th century, Lady Stairs Close, in the centre of Edinburgh city, for them to set the exterior scenes.

A good number of years Andrew performed a version of MacBeth around the streets of Edinburgh, and used the Close as one of the locations, which has influenced me for this production, as has the 2015 version starring Michael Fassbender.

We'll have fun with it too in adapting it to modern times. Just one example, is changing the elaborate 16th century banquet to a round of fish and chips.

Hopefully I'll be able to enthuse them enough that they "get" the concept of making a film of Shakespeare, which is going to require them to dramatically change their current stage ideas.

"Fair is foul and fouls is fair", which probably will sum up the Scottish weather on the day!

Friday, 21 October 2016


Occasionally my filming work takes me far afield, and other times it can end up literally on my door step.

In 2006 in a community hall in Toronto, Canada, a group of enthusiasts created a "flashmob" dance routine to the music of Michael Jackson's Thriller, mainly as a fundraiser for charity. A flashmob is when a group of people, having choreographed a synchronised dance to music, appear suddenly at a large venue, say a railway station, or city square. Gradually the numbers grow in front of a surprised general public, until a large ensemble are dancing furiously. At the end they quietly disperse, and it was as if it never happened.

Encouraged by the popularity of this particular dance to this particular music, the original group decided to go for a world record attempt, to simultaneously perform the routine in as many different countries around the world as they could. They called the event Thrill The World. They achieved success in 2008, with 13 countries and 1500 people taking part. It is now an annual event with over 120 countries participating and approaching 10,000 people.

My Saturday film students have all been learning the dance routine over the past few weeks, and we are half way through shooting. In the edit all three age groups will be edited together to create one seamless piece, with all the students in homemade zombie costumes. But it has to have an opening and a closing section aside from the dancing, essentially the beginning and end of what the students know as beginning, middle and end of every movie ever made.

I knew I wanted a spooky looking sequence, and at first I was searching for a derelict mansion or the likes. Gradually I came round to searching for a castle, when it dawned on me that just a short distance from my house, is the ruin of Craigmillar Castle, an appropriate spooky-looking structure surrounded by woods, most of which were in their vibrant autumn colours.

The medieval castle is best known for its association with Mary Queen of Scots. She had fallen ill after giving birth to her son, the future James VI, and in late November 1566 she arrived at the castle to convalesce for a month. But it was while she was there that an evil pact was made, with or without her knowledge, to dispose of her husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.

It was fitting that almost exactly 450 years to the day, I found myself skirting its well preserved ramparts, looking for that evil-looking shot. Here's a still taken from the film:

On 29 October we will screen the finished Thriller video. Who knows, we may well appear somewhere with our own flashmob sometime soon.

Friday, 14 October 2016


As you probably know, I'm into film. The theatre has never drawn me very much, except for the big productions such as Les Miserable, Phantom of the Opera etc. But since the early part of this year I have been carrying out some freelance work for The Festival Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland's largest stage and soon to host Miss Saigon.

Good to have the connections and I always get a kick out of going in through the stage door. Because of my work for them I regularly get offered free tickets to current shows, with the compromise that I can't choose the performance or seating.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is running at the theatre at the moment, and who doesn't know the songs. As an aside I didn't know that it was originally a children's book written by none other than Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond. Anyway, in familiar form free tickets were offered to me, albeit on a Friday afternoon. But this was a bit special, as two of the 10-year old girls who are members of the academy I teach at, had landed parts. As the show tours the country they bring in local children from wherever it is being staged, and these two girls were part of twelve chosen.

Very recently one of the films to win a Best Film in its category, Samantha Glamorous, had as its lead a girl called Stella. She has only been with the academy for a year and it was all new to her. Yet here she was, a little over 12 months later, on stage with comedian/actors Jason Manford and Phill Jupitus, together with singer/actress Claire Sweeney and Charlotte Wakefield.

I had to wait a while for the two girls Vaila and Stella to make an appearance, but not only did both girls do incredibly well for their first professional performance, but Stella had landed lines too!

It added a whole different dimension sitting there in the audience. And I had landed great seats, just three rows from the very front and bang in the middle!

At one point the show was stopped, not far from the end, and they brought the safety curtain down for a few minutes. I later found out that Chitty herself had overheated.

It was a packed theatre and I felt very proud of the girls performances. Maybe I had a little influence on their confidence over the past few months, but this experience will have been enormously beneficial for them.

Will they remember me when they're famous?

Friday, 7 October 2016


It's now just past one year exactly since I had to go through neurosurgery for a subdural haematoma, and though some would disagree, I'm back to being normal again. So much so that the past two to three months have seen me coming back up to the level of cycling I was at before.

On Sunday I was at a bit of a loose end, looking out of the window at a sunny day with calm winds. I had planned to do some work indoors but I couldn't waste this opportunity to get out on my bike, but where to go? Out came Google maps and I pondered the various options from my house. I decided on a trip east, to the town of Haddington and back, which is about 35 round trip, with a mixture of off-road cycle track along disused railroad tracks and quiet back roads.

I have cycled most of this route before with Pauline, but today I was on my own. I'm not known for my perfect navigation, and I had left without a map, relying on the cycle signposts being abundant.

Virtually all the way to Haddington, apart from the last few miles, it is all off-road. At times the surface deteriorated into mud, but nothing that stopped the bike moving. My favourite surface is a fine ground quarry dust, and when it's dry it's a great surface to barrel along on. The first part of my route follows the River Esk as it twists its way out of the town of Musselburgh, then onto Whitecraig to join cycle route 196. Within a short distance it becomes the Pencaitland Railway Walk, littered with information boards of a time long since passed, when railways played a bigger role for communities. One even told of how easy it had become, thanks to the railways, for emigrating families to travel to Edinburgh to start their sea journey to Australia.

After about five miles I passed the little village of Ormiston. On it's derelict railway platform the local community had created a "recycled garden". They grew all manner of what you would expect, except that the raised beds, sheds and fences were all made from recycled materials that would otherwise have ended up in landfill.

Each of the many people who had created a small plot, proudly displayed their name on a little sign.

Within just a couple of hours I reached the southern edge of Haddington and the River Tyne. So far I felt as if I had been accompanied by a Robin all the way, such was the unbroken melody of song I had heard. This was the end of Route 196 and the start of route 76 back to Edinburgh. Though it showed a distance of 22 miles I knew that was to the centre and my return journey would fall five miles short of this.

The first four miles was on a paved cycle route of exceptional quality, called the Haddington Longniddry Railway Walk. On this route the information boards were in the style of old railway signals, and they swung up for you to read information about the wildlife and so on, that you could expect to encounter. I thought it was a clever creation, as it not only was a tip-of-the-hat to the past, but it also protected the signs from the elements, thereby making them last longer.

Once at Longniddry it was very straight forward to get home, though back onto main roads, down to the edge of the Firth of Forth and along the coast back to Portobello.

And I never once got lost.