Stay the Same

Some reflections
24 March 2014, 5:44 pm
Filed under: ALL, Diary entries

I have been meaning to write for a while and reflect on the whole experience of finishing and showing this Stay the Same. I really enjoyed updating this blog and keeping a diary during the filming, but chose not to do this during the edit because listening to ones instincts becomes much harder if there is more than one voice giving feedback at a time. It has been strange not to share so much here for such a long time.

It has been an incredible six months travelling with the film, watching it in different venues, hearing different people’s responses and gradually gaining a little distance from it.  The criticisms I had during production have become a distant memory and of little relevance anymore; the questions now being what is next? and where do I go from here?

Finishing the film was a massive relief and at first I wanted to get it out as quickly as possible; but there are lots of festivals that require your film to be a premiere, or at least not available online and showing films in film festivals still seems to be important within the industry in terms of getting the right people to see your work. But it has done me no harm to go slowly and let the film find it’s place and audience.

That said, showing the film publicly the first few times was nerve-wracking. I was effectively asking people to sit and watch me stand for fifteen minutes without saying anything and had no idea what people would make of it. I didn’t want to explain the film too much before people saw it and certainly couldn’t stand up and say “it’s OK it gets a bit quicker” half way through as I would have like to. My fear was that people would walk away feeling nothing and maybe this has been true for some people – they have just been too polite to tell me.
But it has been incredible and surprising to find that at almost every screening at least one stranger has approached me, or even contacted me afterwards by email to tell me how moved they’ve been by the film. It seems I have made a film that a small handful of people are effected deeply by, which is wonderful and I am very grateful for those who have told me. It has made it all worth while. It seems almost taboo these days (at least within the world of film) to say you are not aiming for mass appeal, but rather to touch a few people deeply. But if I am honest this was always my aim, Tt make a film like a poem that occasionally touches people the way poems occasionally do.

There doesn’t seem to be a particular kind of person who is moved by the film and most find it hard to articulate what is that has moved them, sometimes it is a sense of connection to my journey, others a moment of reflection on their own lives. There seems to be an equal amount of people who simply come away puzzled, who have approached the film more intellectually and are not sure what the message is that they are meant to have ‘got’. I have also had more than one declaration of love which I certainly didn’t expect after all those cold early  mornings outside with no make up on! Whichever way I am eternally grateful to everyone who has shared a response.

My own response has changed over time. Watching the film with an audience has been really interesting, sometimes wonderful and other days unbearable. Some screenings it feels like I am tuned in to the audience – sensing the moment where people decide to go with it, others I feel claustrophobic I can’t stand to be in the cinema with myself on the screen and I am glad I am now coming to a time where I don’t have to be at all the screenings! That said a highlight was watching the fim from the stage at the BFI Southbank when I could see see my dad’s reaction to watching the film for the first time.
It is, for the most part, the film I set out to make and I am very very pleased with it and thankful to all of those who helped me particularly Fraya. I am continually gaining insight as to why I made it and what it was I was trying to express. I am often asked to speak about this, but I too find it hard to articulate without resorting to cliché. It is my own small attempt to express something about the experience of existing, to add my contribution to the many voices that have done so in the past and will do so in the future.  If I could sum this up in a few sentences, then I would not have needed to make the film. What I am reminded of each time I watch it is that everything passes; sometimes this is painfully sad and sometimes this is for the best.

Whatever my emotional response, the film has now placed me in an interesting position. In my original pitch to the film council I said the film had cross-platform potential and might get exhibited in art galleries, but I’m not sure I actually believed this. There are lots of artists who move into filmmaking, but art is a closed world not usually open to those who haven’t been to art school. I haven’t really even been to film school (I did an MA in Screenwriting at Leeds Met a time when the writing department was quite separate from the filmmaking bit) and have had no practice based training. Now the film is in an exhibition at the RSA, which I think in art world terms is quite good.

Am I an artist or a filmmaker? Does it matter? Is it even within my power to decide how I am defined. Having been to festivals for art-films and festivals film-films for there are definitely two different approaches and breeds of people and I am not sure I feel entirely comfortable being either one. I want each film I make to be part of a wider practice building on ongoing themes and ideas, equally I want to make films part of the wider world of the cinema,  OK these might not be mainstream, but equally are not purposefully obscure. There are not many models of this out there (I am inspired by Agnes Varda, Doris Lessing, Margaret Tait) and certainly there is a sense of both my background and my current location making me isolated whatever I position myself as.  It is also true, however that wherever I am based and whatever my background was I would probably be doing my own thing; sometimes this is painful and sometimes it is for the best.

In the meantime I will be working on two new feature projects and am planning to set up a new especially dedicated webspace for blogging and publishing which I will link to here when it is up online.

Please do share your comments and thoughts on the film either here on this website or on the facebook page. And thank you again to everyone who has read the blog and been so supportive of me during the process of making this short film.


A good response so far!
28 August 2013, 4:27 pm
Filed under: ALL, Diary entries

With the film finished and now being transferred onto DVD and tape it is now a case of waiting and seeing what the response will be, which is slightly nerve wracking. I have already sent it off to a number of film festivals and so far the reaction has been good. The film has already been programmed in five UK film festivals and one international festival. I can’t announce all of them yet, but I am going to set up a screenings page on this site which I will continually update.

It seems like it has taken an incredibly long time and amount hard of work for its fourteen minutes, but I think it has been worth it at the very least in terms of what I have learnt from the whole experience. It also does seem as though the work I have put in is there on the screen.

Since this website has always been about peoples responses I shall start to collecting them and including them here for people to read. Once you have seen the film please do email me, or feel free to post something here.

So far Lizzie Francke of the BFI who has been incredibly supportive throughout has said “it is a very effecting piece with an accumulative power that that creeps up on the viewer.”

Clio Barnard who directed The Arbour and The Selfish Giant and is mentoring me on my latest project said “It’s very beautiful,  moving too…. I love it. Out of simplicity comes great complexity. The title is perfect because everything changes .. and stays the same.”

“I really wasn’t sure what to expect and I have to say it was excellent.” Jim Manthorpe, ex-Knoydart resident.

If you would like to see the film please check the screenings page (a link is on the left) where details of screenings will be updated.

Nearly there!
13 April 2013, 2:42 pm
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Things are starting to get exciting in the world of Stay the Same. The film is now at final cut stages  (running at about 14 minutes with credits) and Fraya Thomsen is now working hard on the score which is already sounding great. (Fraya did the score for The Worm Inside with Gillian Fleetwod and the music for Mallaig in It’s Own Way and is now at the NFTS).  As we are recording the score with live musicians it’s going to be another few weeks at least before it is ready to put to the film.

By then post production on this film will have  taken nearly as long as the year  shoot! I am not entirely sure where all this time has gone, but editing the film has been much more work than shooting it. Watching the footage and editing clips from all the days was incredibly time consuming, but so was making the film work. In the end I had to think of it as a visual peice of music with a very strict rythym that had to be adhered to. Films and most other works of creativity have rules and I guess it makes sense that this film is ruled by timing. Moving home, my health and other  bigger projects have also sometimes got in the way of the process, but it is been fantastic to be able to take my time and get it as right as I can and I think I am pleased with the final film (even if it feels quite short given the amount of time I have spent on in). So with the sun has been shining on here on the West Coast of Scotland for many weeks now the end of the tunnel definitely feels  in sight.

Below is a snapshot of the editing process and the strict rythym of the film, which meant that like it or not, the length of most clips was already dictated regardless of whether I liked the shot or not.

An Incredible Year
21 June 2012, 8:24 am
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This morning I will step on my platform one last time. The end of this project brings a mixture of feelings. I am excited about leaving, but strangely nervous too. There is also a degree of sadness. A years routine is coming to an end.

I began to look back over this year over a month ago, but it was far from finished.  In one of my first blog posts I wrote “ that every year of my life has brought change and unexpected events, but I can’t begin to guess what these might be this year”. I certainly couldn’t have guessed that I would be spending the penultimate day of this project, a film about our relationship with mortality,  attending a funeral surrounded by the community I have spent this year with.

This project so far has been an incredible journey. A journey that has taken place without moving.It has been characterised by many different things. There have been two unexpected deaths in my community, but also four births to be celebrated Maja, Reuben, Morgan and wee Victor. My own life has also had its ups and downs, which will no doubt be reflected in the film. It is a self-portrait of my year.

There have been storms and insomnia and it has felt like a particularly long winter. I  have felt trapped by this film, my choices, my life, my desire for control, for a story that makes sense of it all, trapped by my body and its failings, trapped by temporality itself.

But there has also been a long glorious spring too. Things returned to how they had been. Eventually I stopped feeling trapped and started to appreciate the cyclical nature of time

It is now apparent to me how I have run from difficulty in the past, kept moving to avoid facing things. I have used fantasy as an escape. Imagining other lives I could be leading, other choices I could have made. This year has taught me the importance of valuing what is there in front of you, the life that you have.

Modern life teaches us to keep moving, chase our dreams, find the solutions, keep up with change, continually adapt but I have found that if you stand still for long enough sometimes the things you are searching for most in the world come to find you. Comfort and happiness can be found in routine, in the cycle of seasons, in the slow putting down of roots. Everything passes with time, time mends and time cements.

This project has been instrumental to my growth as a filmmaker. I have worked on this and new projects as well as working with a the children in Mallaig and learning a great deal from them. I have gained confidence in who I am,  what I do and what it is I want to communicate. I have  learnt that I don’t necessarily need to give everything away.

In a year in which I have turned my life into a film I have thought a lot about our relationship with stories. We are fascinated with real stories and celebrate those who expose themselves most. There is a sense in which I too have exposed myself, but by doing so I hope to show the beauty in the every day.

Ultimately I want the film to say more with images and emotions than I can express here with words. I hope it will pose questions rather make statements, exploring the journey we are all on.

Life is both fragile and robust, at times it is unbearably painful at others joyous and beautiful, it has an urgency but it is also mundane, and it is temporary. This is all we have and we don’t have it for very long.  Living it to the full doesn’t necessarily mean chasing adventure and following dreams. It can mean standing still and appreciating what is there in front of you. Cherishing the moments you have.

I want to use this post to thank everyone who has supported me over this year. I hope I can produce a film that lives up to your expectations.


What happens next?
19 June 2012, 10:34 am
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Only two days to go and I have pulled out a very dusty suitcase from under my bed ready to catch the 11am boat on Thursday after filming. I really am looking forward to a few weeks of visiting friends, film festivals and doing some teaching in London. I am also starting to prepare for the next stage of this project – editing the film.

This will be an intense process requiring a different kind of reflection so I have decided not to share it on this site and will stop blogging when filming finishes on Thursday June 21st.

The first thing I will do will be to watch the whole year back in its entirety to try and see the film I have. There is nearly sixty hours of footage so this will take at least two weeks of  non stop viewing. Once I have a sense of the whole film I will start picking out individual moments I want to highlight and structure the rest of the film around. When I have a rough cut I will start working with a composer on an original score to be recorded for the film.

I will post updates on press and screenings for the film once it is finished on the Tiny Spark Productions website and the films facebook page. The film is intended for the large screen and am hoping it will be exhibited in this way before it reaches the internet.

In the meantime I definitely want to keep collecting and posting your responses to the project here on this site as I know there are more to come and I have been really moved by the ones I have had so far. Even the negative ones have been interesting. It seems, this project has captured peoples imaginations in some way.

For Isla and Victors one and two
14 June 2012, 12:28 pm
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As this project comes towards its final days there has been a tragedy here in my small community that is almost beyond words. Early on Sunday morning June 10th, Victor, partner of Isla who is a dear friend of mine and neighbour, and father of six week old baby Victor, the youngest child in Knoydart, died in a boat accident.
Time seems to have slowed since then. Even the boats that go past my window seem to travel more slowly.
I probably saw Victor during my morning filming sessions more than anyone else. Isla lived next door up until a few weeks ago and Victor would often leave early in the morning or take his dog for a walk and say hello as I filmed. There is even footage of me laughing at him as one morning while I was filming I watched Victor come out of the house, get in to his car, start driving, then get out again while the car was still moving to grab his dog.  I couldn’t help laugh out loud at his shennanigans. He often threatened to jet ski past behind while I was filming and now I wish he had. Maybe there will still be a trace of him and the events of this last week in my film.
It is only when something like this happens you discover how deeply you care about people. I think it is probably fair to say that most of us here in are heart-broken for Isla and her family. The sense of love here for them is overwhelming. Sadly it is not enough to hold back the tides, turn back the clocks, and take them to a moment before this all happened. For nothing will ever be quite the same again.

Two weeks to go!
7 June 2012, 11:20 am
Filed under: ALL, Diary entries

And now I just want everything to stay the same . . . .


On Standing Still
1 June 2012, 10:31 am
Filed under: ALL, Diary entries, Responses to the project

Twenty days to go.

There has been some more press interest in the project recently. Interestingly the focus this time has been more on the idea of me standing still which I quite like. It’s very true that the process of making this film has involved standing still in many different ways. Every day I stand in my spot for ten minutes trying to be aware of my surroundings and not drift off into thinking about worries and to do lists. I have had stand still by staying in the same place and not travelling for a year (which is very different to my former life). The film is also visually an attempt to stand still within time allowing it to flow around me.

I spoke with someone from the BBC yesterday who asked whether other people could gain something from the idea of standing still. Instead of the rather garbled answer I gave I should have just said yes. None of us stop and stand still often enough especially outside. Even here in Knoydart it is is easy to get caught up in a false sense of urgency. Before you know it weeks have gone by.

So yes, maybe we should all try to take ten minutes out each day or even once a week wherever we are to stop and notice our surroundings and remember what it is to be alive.

Certainly today as I filmed I felt sad that this year is nearly over and shall miss my morning visits to the loch shore.

Here is the often quoted poem Leisure by WH Davies which my mum sent me not long after I started the project which feels appropriate to share now.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

One month to go!
21 May 2012, 12:33 pm
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Today I have been filming at exactly the same time, in exactly the same place every day for 11 months. I now only have 31 days left to go.

I can’t quite believe that filming is coming to an end this soon. The closer I get to finishing filming the more I have been questioning both the film and why I have put myself through this. It is such an odd thing to have done and has had a profound impact on me. I can’t help think of all the films I could have made why this one? I guess this is the nature of the creativity. You are not completely, if at all, in control over it.

As well as being about time and our relatioship to the seasons this project is also an expression of a tension between a desire for certainty and the need to let things flow.  It is  about trying to control life and time somehow. The process of making this film has controlled my life in a way that no other job, film, relationship or event in my life ever has. T In some ways this has been incredibly liberating. It is sometimes hard not knowing what you are going to be doing next and where the money will come from. There isn’t an artist or filmmaker I know who doesn’t have fantasies about having a proper 9 to 5 job and the stability it would bring. This film has at least given me the 9 every day if not the 5.

Ever since I moved to Knoydart  six years ago I have questioned my decision to come here. I absolutely love it here but I have always struggled with missing the things I left behind friends, family, cinemas, art galleries, the film industry and the anonomity that comes with living in a city.  Sometimes the struggle between these two places and the two sets of the people in them that I love has been almost unbearable.

When I first decided to make this film I thought maybe as a by product it would help me decide where I wanted to be. But it is obvious now that if you impose any kind of rule on yourself for long enough of course you are going to want to break it. Right now I can’t wait to go and see my friends and family in London, to sit on a train and look out of the window and to see new places. But now the weather is good and it is beautiful here it has occured to me that not leaving the Highlands for so long might  have made my bond with the place even stronger.

What I have learnt is that the pursuit of control is an entirely human, but not entirely healthy impulse. You can’t force life either to move forward or to stand still.  All you can do is accept that time keeps going, that we keep getting older and, yes, closer to our deaths.  But this might not be such a bad thing because it is all about the gentle accumulation of moments that you pick up along the way.

Here is a year in the life of my wooden platform . . . .

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In search of a happy ending
2 May 2012, 2:39 pm
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My self imposed prison has turned into a bit of a paradise recently. The weather has been glorious, incredible sunsets, blue skies, cuckoos and a weekend of kayaking. Strangely even with the good weather and the opportunity to travel again imminent I still feel the same anxiety that has underpinned this whole year.

I have been trying to work out why this is and I think it is related to an ongoing struggle with the gap between fiction and reality. A gap particularly present because I am making a film about my life.

We all create stories out of our lives as a way of making sense of things. Stories that are constantly changing. I am clearly a bit obsessed with this, how and why we do it and how we distinguish between what is fiction and what is true. I used to think this was because I wanted to be a filmmaker, but now I think its the other way around. The obsession came first. I had created a whole world of imaginary friends by the age three, probably in response to quite a lot of uncertaintity at the time.

There used to be a time when people believed that the world had a natural order. When things became unbalanced a series of events would be triggered that eventually brought it all in to balance again – order would be restored. You just needed to trust that things would right themselves eventually. But we don’t believe this any more. Life feels random and chaotic, full of uncertainties. Moments of resolution are much harder to find.

I have spent the whole of this year trying to second guess this films narrative which will be defined by the emotional journey you see me go through over the year. Partly because I am a filmmaker and this is what you do, but this has also been about trying to work out what happens next in  life. This urge to jump ahead without allowing things to take their natural course is almost always how I fuck things up.  I know this, but I keep doing it.

Up until very recently I had managed to convince myself that when filming ends my life will suddenly change. I will walk out of the last shot of the film towards the loch and an ever lasting happiness out there waiting for me. When the reality is that all that needs to change is my routine. Of course other stuff will, but the beautifully neat resolution to this year and the film that I want is as unlikely as all of the countless other wonderful happy endings I have written in to my life that haven’t happened yet. Which makes me wonder whether I might have even started making this film in the hope that it would somehow bring about resolution. Fictionalising life in the hope it will behave more like fiction.

This year has been definied for me by continually having to accept limitations I have imposed on my own life. I have even weirldy come to appreciate the freedom my rules have given me. Maybe at last I will aceept that you can’t force a resolution.

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