Friday, 30 June 2017


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.

(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


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.

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


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


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.

Friday, 2 June 2017


There's a great route from my house, along the sea coast, to the town of North Berwick, which I haven't cycled for as long as I can remember, but at Pauline's suggestion I rectified that last Sunday.

I'm not an early riser by any means, and Pauline's suggestion to get away early doors on a Sunday morning was met with some resistance. But her reasoning was sound, to get along the busy, narrow and winding coast road before the hoards venture out for their Sunday drive, post breakfast. But it had slipped our minds that this particular day was also the Edinburgh Marathon, when just over 30,000 runners would take the exact same route that we planned to cycle!

We were pushing off from the house around 9am, joining the promenade just a few metres from our front door, when immediately we saw all the traffic cones and tapes cordoning off sections of the beach-side walkway, for the imminent arrival of said runners. We deduced they would start their route at 10am from the city centre, so we had a good head start on them, and with a stiff tail wind would easily stay ahead of the pack. We took advantage of the taped off route as we left the city, which was a little precarious as police motorcycles were already patrolling the route, and were zooming toward us in the opposite direction, but didn't seem to mind what we were doing.

At points our chosen route was well away from the runners path, especially passing Musselburgh, taking the semi-circular dirt track around the lagoons nature area, rejoining the main road, and more cones and an increasing number of officials in hi-viz jackets, on the outskirts of Prestonpans. This was clearly some sort of staging post, and judging by the set up and mile markers, this was the finish line for those running the half marathon.

Leaving the outskirts of the small town, still hugging the coast east, it suddenly dawned on us that the twisting, narrow road, that is normally a little hair raising with fast moving morons in cars, was entirely empty. We had the whole road to ourselves. At this point we vowed to take note of the marathon date for future years, and make this run an annual event for ourselves, to take advantage of the car-free roads.

Two thirds of the way to North Berwick we left the marathon route behind, entering the quaint little village of Aberlady, past the nature reserve that we have both often visited, and then turned inland away from the coast. Then almost immediately turning east again, along narrow quiet back roads, the verges and walls covered in wild flowers, among them Red Valerian.

The distinctive shape of Berwick Law was in the distance, marking our own finish line.

The small conical hill is actually a volcanic plug, blown there through the skies around 360 million years ago. Since 1709 a set of whale jawbones has sat atop the rock, replaced several times, the last being in situ since 1933. In 2005, after they had mostly rotted away, they were removed permanently. As they were such an iconic element, a fibreglass replica was made and installed in 2008.

No cycle trip is ever truly complete until a quantity of coffee and cake has been consumed, and on this occasion we pulled in to a trendy looking place called Steam Punk, on the outskirts of North Berwick.

After a quick stop off on the coast near the Seabird Centre, to view the largest gannet colony in the world on Bass Rock, with some 150,000 birds, we headed for the train station.

Our journey had been just 22 miles, four short of a marathon. With a strong wind now blowing from the west we had opted to catch a train home. Thankfully we boarded at North Berwick, as just two stops later the remnants of those 30,000 runners also need a ride home.