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It’s only Television

15 June 2010

Before I returned to England a couple of weeks ago I made a trip to meet with someone whom I hoped would be an interesting character for a film I wanted to make. I didn’t mention anything about him in my blog because I wasn’t sure. When can we ever be sure for sure?

A few hours before I was due to leave I took a rental car into the Syrian countryside and went to meet him, and managed to film a little taster-piece for the BBC. I hadn’t got around to telling them that my previous film with Nizam had fallen through, I was worried that they may see me as being rather unreliable over these last few unproductive years.

How the years pass. It seems such a long ago since I finished the Japan film; and everything since then… it all feels like a series of failures.

Failed projects in South Africa that the BBC didn’t want, films the BBC did want in Dubai that I didn’t want to do but still gave (virtually unfunded) the best part of a year to trying to make work followed by a year and a half finding, and eventually failing to make, a film in Norway and Syria with Nizam.

I remember NHK my Japanese co-broadcaster offering me 100k for an idea I’d written about Damascus. But the BBC said they wanted Dubai. In my niceness I tried to persuade NHK to put their money to a more worthy cause – a far more popular film set in Dubai for (and backed by) the BBC.

And so I went to Dubai and over two trips lasting a few months found myself dying inside. Lost and without direction, the evenings became nothing more than a series of blurred bar scenes, I wanted to lose all my sensibilities and completely withdraw from that plastic nightmare hell hole.

So I found myself migrating from Dubai to Damascus to meet with Nizam; which began yet another mistaken adventure. But by this time the BBC had begun to show some interest in Libya, and, as Nizam was half-Libyan, his story would fit the bill. In the end they commissioned a story half set in Syria and Libya. But a year and a half had passed since I’d tried to persuade the Japanese away from Damascus towards Dubai and now here I was again trying to persuade them (NHK) away from Dubai and back to Syria with a little bit of Libya thrown in too.

Two years after their original 100k offer we meet at the prestigious Yamagata Film festival where my Japan film picks up two awards. I sense awkwardness in the NHK Commissioning Editor, something had changed and I wasn’t sure what, and in true (non-confrontational) Japanese spirit nothing is said. He takes my Nizam trailer and promises to submit it, 6 months later he finally submits it but by now rumours emerge that he is being moved to a new department and my project with Nizam is falling through. Could it be that I spent too much time fund-raising and not enough time filming?

And so it was, in the final hours of my time in Syria that I found myself making an impromptu trip into the Syrian countryside to find a new character. The BBC like him but they can only offer a small budget to make it and suggest NHK to co-fund it.

But it is now 2 and a half years on since their offer of 100k for a film in Damascus – money I couldn’t accept because the BBC wanted a film in Dubai – and things have changed, my man at NHK has moved departments and it seems the money is no longer there.

The motto of the story is never refuse money from TV!! Lie and cheat and tell them whatever it is they want to hear but never never ever refuse their offer of money, because, in TV, as with life, you never know what tomorrow will bring.

I can’t wait

14 April 2010

So here I am back in London in my local Weatherspoons soaking up their joyous beer festival and having a beautiful pint of real ale. It was about a week ago that I’d raced here whilst being filmed by Phil (a film-graduate friend) who has been helping me edit a ‘series trailer’ which would introduce people to all my films in one go.

We had the crazy idea of using me as the link that makes the films relevant to today’s world, so what better than the filmmaker relaxing having a pint. But then, just like now, as soon as my lips hit the beer glass I am finished for the day and all I want to do is relax, chat, and enjoy the drunks around me.

But today I am not being lazy, I am celebrating my ‘new’ film being commissioned by the BBC, though I still need to get more funding from other sources before they (BBC) will actually cough up their contribution.

As a result I’m hitting everyone in every direction. Today I have taken a small step by successfully completing ‘The Media Fund’ development application (worth 50k) form. The hard work wasn’t down to me though, it was thankfully the responsibility of my producer friend Fiona who is an expert in such matters. It has taken months to find all the required information, Fiona masterly made the application even designing a cute ‘Tenfoot Films’ logo in the process. Now the development application is in, we move onto making the production application. This is a big job in itself; forget filmmaking, I am now a full-time fund-raiser.

And, as well as fund-raising and form-filling I still had to get the ‘series trailer’ completed for my German sales agents who are pitching my new film (and my back catalogue) in Cannes this week at MIPCOM one of the biggest TV sales events of the year.

Plus I am also waiting to hear from the NHK, the Japanese broadcasters, they may be buying in on the new film; and if so I need to know when… All I want now is for another ‘funder’ to come on board and offer us a semi-serious wadge and hey-presto the BBC money will be released and before you can blink I will be out of here – lost to the Middle East again… I can’t wait.

Return to Yamagata

09 October 2009

My return to Japan is an anxious semi-excited occasion since I heard I was in competition at the Yamagata Documentary Festival. It was great to arrive here in luxury; I think the only way to do Japan is to make sure someone else is paying. I slipped through the curtain from my premium economy seat to the cocktail bar in upper class, the Japanese girl serving said “I recognise you”. “You made that film about Naoki! It was great but very negative on Japan.”

I wondered if this was how Naoki’s home-town was going to receive the film at the weekend, we have 2 big screenings – a 650 seater and a 1200 one. The only Japanese film in the competition (and filmed entirely in Yamagata), ‘Japan: A Story of Love and Hate’ is getting massive media attention, my friend Mr Matsui gave me last night’s local paper featuring an article on my film, and yesterday I was interview on NHK World TV about my time in Japan and the film.

It’s all a long way from the struggle of making it and my own love hate relationship with this distant difficult island. ‘No matter how long you look into the eyes of the Japanese you will never know what they are thinking’, a great quote that stays with me as I stare hard into the eyes of a nation I thought I’d come to really understand whilst making my film here. But the truth is that I don’t feel I really know this place at all, after a couple of days here again I’m thinking I only scratched surface.

I can’t wait to look into the eyes of 1200 Japanese as they watch my film in Yamagata. Shock outrage or calm considered thought. I wonder, will I know what the Japanese are really thinking?

We played to 600 people yesterday which was nerve racking for me and for Naoki. Yamagata is Naoki’s home-town, they asked how he felt having exposed himself so naked in the film he said ‘relieved’, I suggested more people do it in Japan as a joke but they didn’t get it, though I was surprised that they enjoyed the humour in the film especially the Viagra section. I am almost enjoying being back in Japan… Has my hate turned to love? Not quite. Today is the big screening in the 1200 seat cinema. It’s so great to see Yoshie enjoying the limelight almost more then Naoki.

Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival 2009
October 8 – 15