Stay the Same

#32 Sarah Hill Sings a Song
9 September 2012, 10:08 pm
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project

Sarah Hill sent me this last week. It’s an old folk song she recorded especially with the folk musician Phil Tyler.  She told me it made her think of me standing on Knoydart’s shore everyday.  I met Sarah when I first came to Knoydart seven years ago and we became good friends over my first winter .

In the same week Jim Manthorpe another good friend who has just left Knoydart posted this video as a way of saying goodbye to the place.

It made me think I should write a short update of how things have been since leaving and returning. Since June 21st I have been to Edinburgh, Dorset and London visiting family and friends and do some teaching work to fund me through the edit. Both Sarah’s song and Jim’s video captured how I felt returning to home to Knoydart.

As well as a renewed passion for the place and I’ve gained a profound sense of how much I have changed over the course of this project. Despite spending most of the last year fantasising about being back in the city, twelve months of quietness and relative solitude made London suprisingly hard and it was a relief to come home to the birds and the mountains and the constant sound of the sea. (Even if it isn’t quite the same without people like Sarah, Jim, Claire and Oren living here any more.) I have a sense of being more able to  accept of what life offers, rather than chasing unfulfilled dreams or trying to escape difficulties, more  greatful of the small pleasures and appreciative of the need to put down roots. I am also markedly much better at being on time!

So on to the edit and looking at the film I have with a fresh pair of eyes. The plan is a rough cut by Christmas at the latest.

I’m still musing on ideas of place and time so keep responding and I will post updates as when people send things.


My piece in the Times Education Supplement
16 July 2012, 9:47 pm
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project

Originally printed at

Give children space, don’t ask too many questions and their creative instincts will bloom, says film-maker Sam Firth

It is 9.39am on a bright and breezy day in June and the 10 minutes I will spend standing on a wooden platform, alone, in front of Loch Nevis are almost over.

My only companion is my Sony HVR-Z1 camera, fixed on a tripod a couple of feet in front of me. I have stood silently in the same place on this remote stretch of the west coast of Scotland for 10 minutes at precisely the same time each day for the past year. But today is different: after recording 61 hours of footage, I will have finished filming for my short film Stay the Same.

Since I started this project on 22 June last year, I have been bitten by midges, faced snow, hail and gale force winds and have repeatedly asked myself the same question: “Why am I doing this?” Plenty of people have told me they think I am bonkers. The locals have genuinely worried that it would drive me mad.

I have spent much of the year thinking the same, while exploring ideas of time, nature and mortality. I still do not have all the answers, although I have a very strong sense of the film I want to make; a piece that shows the passage of time through changes in weather, light, tides and seasons while capturing a short moment from each day of my life throughout the year.

The final film will be 20 minutes long at most and will attempt to express our profound desire to hang on to every moment. At the same time I hope it will convey the sadness we feel at the certain knowledge that nothing can hold back the clock.

I was inspired to make the film after a year in which I was confronted with my own mortality. I was diagnosed with a chronic (but thankfully curable) illness; then I was rushed to hospital with a haemorrhage after a routine surgical procedure. At the same time I hit my mid-thirties and felt, for the first time, that I was that little bit older than I wanted to be.

I moved from London to Knoydart, on Loch Nevis, six years ago. It is one of the most remote places in Britain and I came here partly to give myself the chance to make work. It is a place of extremes and I want to capture the relationship I have with the natural environment in this film.

Making the film has had a huge impact on my personal life as I have not been able to leave home for more than a day, but the project is far more about how it affects others. Hopefully the film will be shown at festivals around the world and I will almost certainly take it into schools as part of other work that I do.

Stay the Same is the third short film I have directed. In 2001, when I was doing my MA, I was asked to help out with a children’s film project and enjoyed it so much that I set up my own company. I now visit different schools and community groups and take children and young people through the entire film-making process. The children come up with the ideas for their film, decide on themes and locations, write the scripts, storyboard, use the camera, record sound, compose music, edit and then organise the premiere for their own short film in a process spanning about six weeks.

I love working on these projects. I learn more about the creative process each time and the importance of playing. Working with images means children do not get bogged down with having to write their ideas out.

It is great seeing children quickly gain confidence in their own creative thinking when they are given the right encouragement and space. I am always surprised and inspired by the strength of children’s ideas and how much ownership they have of their film.

I believe that everyone can be creative – that creativity is a not so much a talent as a frame of mind that can be achieved. It is about being completely open to free association and generating new ideas, allowing them to pop into your consciousness. It is very close to the state of mind of children when they play.

I have learned that it is really important not to ask anyone making creative work to justify what they are doing too quickly. If you question an idea before it is fully formulated it blocks the creative process. Children in particular quickly lose confidence in their ideas and start choosing more conventional, less original options just because they are easier to explain.

Brilliant ideas often seem crazy. But if you write them off too quickly you will never know which of the two they were.

I tend to bypass getting children to explain and just get them to make stuff. Of course we do research, we discuss ideas and themes, and watch related work as this all helps to give their ideas depth. But often you do not know what something is about, or what it means, until it is finished.

I learned this the hard way when my film came under attack last February. I had created a website and blog for my film project and started to collect responses to the ideas behind the film and the process I was going through. I wanted to know if other people were taking photos or filming the same thing every day and why they were doing it. Suddenly, the national press got wind of it, and my far-from-completed project was scrutinised as to whether it had any artistic merit.

I hope my film is moving and says something more profound than can be articulated in words. It is more experimental in its nature than any of my other films, so I do not yet know how well it will work. I am just grateful that the British Film Institute and Creative Scotland have trusted me enough to give me the space to find out. We should give the same space to the creative instincts of our children.

Sam Firth is hoping to finish Stay the Same by the end of this year. Her blog on the project is at, where you can also find links to her other work, including the award-winning film I.D. Her last film project with children, Mallaig in its Own Way, was made with Mallaig Primary School through the First Light Movies pilot award scheme


Noctuaries by Oliva Humphries
15 July 2012, 2:00 pm
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project

Olivia Humphries is another female British short filmmaker making personal films dealing with death and the passage of time. Here is her short film Noctuaries which is quite wonderful and won the Grierson Award and a video diary piece she has made especially for Stay the Same . ..

A History of the Sky
9 July 2012, 1:00 pm
Filed under: ALL, Related films, Responses to the project

A years timelapse study of they sky. Each pixel is a day.

Thank you Alasdair.

#30 Harry Wootliff
8 July 2012, 12:27 am
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project

I travelled up to Knoydart to visit Sam for the first time since she moved there. This quote from one of my favorite writers Joyce Carol Oates, articulates better than I can, what I feel Sam’s project is about: a desire to “make life more coherent, to set something in order, to single out meanings from the great confusion of the time, or of our lives…because we are convinced that meaning exists and we want to fix it in place ”

“We write for the same reason we dream- because we cannot not dream, because it is in the nature of the human imagination to dream. Those of us who “write,” who consciously arrange and re-arrange reality for the purpose of exploring its hidden meanings, are more serious dreamers, perhaps we are addicted to dreaming, but never because we fear or despise reality.

As Flannery O’Connor said writing is not an escape from reality, ‘it is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.’ She insists that the writer is a person who has hope in the world; people without hope do not write.

We write in order to give a more coherent, abbreviated form to the world, which is often confusing and terrifying and stupid as it unfolds about us. How to manage this blizzard of days, of moments, of years? The world has no meaning; I am sadly resigned to this fact.

But the world has meanings, many individual and alarming and graspable meanings, and the adventure of being human consists in seeking out these meanings. We want to figure out as much of life as we can. We are not very different from scientists, our notorious enemies, who want also to figure things out, to make life more coherent, to set something in order to single out meanings from the great confusion of the time, or of our lives: we write because we are convinced that meaning exists and we want to fix it in place.”

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#31 Tommy McManmon
19 June 2012, 12:25 pm
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project

I leave everything to the last minute, and this response to your blog is certainly no exception, being written on a jolting coach of funeral-goers on the day before your project ends. I sometimes wonder if my tardiness is because I’ve never quite recovered from the freedom given to me as an adult to live my life as I please, which to me means I can kick back and relax in the lead-up to a deadline. The ensuing rush to complete work usually results in good, if not spectacular, work – but the accompanying stress easily outweighs any benefit from the supposed “chill time” beforehand.

So, here we are. Me constantly finding excuses to not complete projects I know will benefit me in the long run, and you finishing one which has taken up so much of your time and emotional energy for the past year. I’m envious of your ability to complete something, to produce art that comes from within. I had initial doubts about the call for responses, though, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, there was the nature of your film, which seems so intensely personal. I’m uncomfortable with expressions of personal matters in such a public forum, and I wondered at first if the call for responses might be an ego-boosting request for friends, family and strangers to affirm your project, your ideas, and your life choices. But it’s been nothing like that: people have genuinely thought about the issues you obliquely raise, and in every case they are producing something that comes from their heart. The responses are creative, personal, and all deal with how we cope with one of the few unstoppable (yet self-constructed) forces of nature: time.

I also wondered how one could possibly respond to a project that was still in progress. Very few artists like to reveal an unfinished work, perhaps because interpretations of it could vary wildly. You suffered from this to a certain extent when the press picked up on the story, although I suppose their right-wing howls of protest at another artist wasting tax-payers’ money pander to an opinion an unfortunate amount of people have (even this, though, proved positive in the end, as I think it made many of us consider more carefully the uncomfortable relationship between art and money: I would say the British man in the street is getting a very good deal). Overall, the unexpected benefit of your request for a response to an unfinished work has been the sheer range in replies, both in terms of medium and content.

For a while, I was planning to use my exciting new Veho Muvi camera to record the life in a day of, well, me. My film was going to be a point-of-view record of 24 hours in Knoydart, from getting out of bed, to showering (there had to be a bit of exhibitionism), to driving to work as a ranger, and finishing the day as a postie. But I soon realised that I am not a film-maker, and have no real desire to be one. Any efforts would be painfully amateur next to yours, and what’s more it would take too bloody long to edit to a vaguely acceptable standard.

So I decided to write something. I’m using a posh notebook you gave me as a birthday present over six years ago, which has a slip of paper inserted. This is what it says:

Instructions for Use

1.Carry around with you at all times* and use pencil** to write down;



Things people say









Things you want to tell people




Lists of things





2. Fill up

3. Never show to anyone

4. Put on shelf for few months

5. Take out, read, discover beginnings of stories, articles, and genius inventions

*Should fit in pocket of postie jacket

**Good psychologically because you can rub it out

There’s not much of the above in this notebook, apart from a curious passage on the first page about the nature of beauty, and a plot line for a novel on the second page involving religious amnesia (neither of which I remember writing). I tell you what, though, there’s a theme emerging here, and it’s your drive to encourage others to explore their creativity, and reap the resulting benefits. I wouldn’t be writing in this notebook if it wasn’t for you, and I thank you for that.  It took the combined efforts of your Stay the Same project and that slip of paper to get me to do it, mind you.

So. One year. What can we learn from the passing of a single year of our too-short lives? On the face of it, my twelve months have been unremarkable, but looking closer a lot has happened that has made me change and grow as a person (I cringe when I write that sentence, but it’s staying in). I’ve met some amazing people, some of whom I hope will become life-long friends. I’ve had lots of fun with work, drink, sex and parties (not all at the same time if my admittedly bad memory serves correctly).

I don’t know what the next year is going to bring for you, Sam, or myself. But I do know that the incremental learning experience of life provides lots of learning opportunities for improving our happiness. I wish you well with your film, and look forward to the finished product. Even if it will (presumably) mostly consist of your face. That was a joke.

Keep reminding us about the important things in life. Keep creating.

Tommy 20/06/12

#29 In memory of Nick Darke
10 June 2012, 10:27 am
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project

It was particularly poignant when Henry Darke sent me these polaroids of his father playwright and poet Nick Darke who also died on June 10th in 2005.

They were taken during a holiday Nick went on in Scotland with Henry’s mum Jane.

One of Nick’s favourite books was Desert Solitaire by Edward Abby (Henry made me read it before my Arizona trip), here is a quote: “A man or woman on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.”‘

Henry came on holiday here a few weeks ago and saw clearly the paralells between what has happened in Cornwall and what is happening in the highlands of Scotland. It is possible Nick Darke joked a little too soon.

#28 Henry Darke sings Stay the Same

I have just had a visit from my good friends and felllow filmmakers Henry Darke and Harry Wootliff. Henry is also a musician and a few months ago he wrote this song in response to my film. It seemed apt to record it on the platform where I film myself every morning. Except we did it in the evening and got eaten alive by the midges (this was just the first take).  Henry’s band Only Pictures now perform the song regularly at their live gigs. I love it. Thank you Henry!

#27 Sleep Stills by Pippa Best
4 June 2012, 10:17 am
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project

My friend Pippa Best sent me this short film yesterday in response to the project. I have known Pippa since early childhood when our parents were part of a baby sitting exhange so it is very appropriate her film is about childhood. Pippa and I lost touch for several years then accidentally bumped into each other and discovered we were both working as script editors. I love Pippa’s film which is very different the other time lapse videos of children around and was really quite moved that Stay the Same had anything at all do to with its creation.

Pippa also runs a website called giving support to mothers and exploring the creativity of motherhood in all its forms.

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.

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