So – we made a film (read my previous post to find out more)… and it’s a long story. And if I try and go into full detail – this blog post is going to be longer than what it already is…
Here’s some FAQ’s first – before I get to the meat of the story (and a few ranty things I want to get off my chest)…
I thought films were expensive! How did you guys afford to shoot a film?
Yes – films are horrendously expensive to make. But we’re not producers – so worrying-about-the-money is not our job. Producers are the people who source the investors and money to finance films. Nick and I are the creative creatures. We wrote the film together and Nick directed and edited it. But the money-stuff was handled by our producers. And – besides – it was a short film (24 minutes).
So – how do you get producers to produce your film?
In our case (in which we’re very fortunate)… it was the producers and the funder (a large, local TV network) who approached Nick – and not vice versa. Which is just as well – because both Nick and I are utterly useless at selling or promoting our ideas and work.
The TV network people were on the hunt for new directors… and the producers suggested Nick. Both the TV network peeps and the producers know Nick for his cinematography, editing and post production work – and they were curious to see what he was capable of as a director.
So the network allocated a small budget – almost like a test of sorts… like; “We all love Nick’s editing – but let’s see if he has what it takes to direct”…
So they’re kinda testing you guys out?
Yes. They were giving Nick an opportunity to show what he’s capable of – in the broader context of filmmaking. If they like our short film – they (and others) will commission and fund Nick to direct full-length features. So – as you can imagine – it was – and is – a really important opportunity.
And because it’s an opportunity – we viewed it as a personal investment. There was no money in the budget to pay ourselves any kind of salary… and Nick turned down (paying) work in order to make this short film. So – financially – we’re very tight at the moment… but wouldn’t have it any other way.
I think that if you want to get ahead – or move towards crazy-big goals and dreams – there’s always some kind of risk involved.
So then what?
Well – for our part – we needed to first conceptualise a story and write a script! Our amazing and incredible producers – in the meantime – got to work with the planning, hiring, booking and the gazillions of other things producers do.
Have you ever written a screenplay before?
A resounding no!
But – as most of you already know – everything that I do is self-taught (Nick as well)… so I decided to just teach myself how to write a screenplay. And I needed to do it quickly – because we were on a tight deadline. We only had a weeny window of opportunity where we could devote our time and energy to the film – before Nick had to start accepting paying work again.
So – I read 2 “how-to” books on screenplay writing, did a whole load of online research… reading articles, watching interviews and – of course – reading famous screenplays – and then (since I couldn’t afford Final Cut Pro – I downloaded some cheap screenplay-writing software) – and began writing.
What was the story about?
The first concept we had was about a small, dodgy town with a bazillion secrets. We liked the idea of a dark comedy… kinda like Fargo crossed with Little Miss Sunshine and Snatch. But I quickly began to realise that all my colourful characters and 16 plot twists were NOT going to work as a SHORT film.
There was much stressing.
Nick kept reminding me of our tiny window of opportunity… and I kept insisting that I couldn’t create under such pressure. There was much squabbling about how to shorten the script (to give you an idea – I had written a 64 page script which needed to be condensed in to 22 pages – and every time Nick deleted another line of my carefully constructed dialogue, I’d get furious!).
It all culminated in me throwing my toys at 3am one morning… and I said to Nick that the script was clearly not working and we had to start from scratch… and he said: “We have no TIME to start from scratch!”… and I said: “If you had to make a film about anything – what would you make it about? What would you SAY?”… and he said: “I don’t know”… and I said: “Well, I’m too tired to think anymore. I’m going to bed”.
And I went to bed.
And when I woke up in the morning – Nick had written a beautiful story… about (drumroll!)… ARTISTS.
It was loosely based on a single character: Jaco Pastorius (if you are a bass player – you will know Jaco Pastorius).
We wanted our character – our Artist – to represent many, many artists… from painters to poets to musicians to actors (and everything in-between). We wanted our single character to tell a collective story… of everyone from Vincent van Gogh to Amy Winehouse.
How would you tell a collective story through a single character?
First – we researched. We created a “Starry Night” bible of sorts. Here’s some pics:
We started searching for ALL artists (throughout the years) who created beautiful work and then died before their time… usually self-destructing either via substance abuse… or suicide.
Needless to say… our research yielded ominous results. The infamous “27 Club” is the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Then – we read the words of those artists… their quotes… their thoughts… in some cases (ie: Kurt Cobain & Virginia Woolf) their suicide notes. And we built a script and a story using THEIR words, their quotes, their thoughts…
Once the screenplay was finished (and off to the line producer and the actors)… I moved on to my next task.
I began to make art.
Lots and lots of art.
In a way – it’s such a strange process to share with you guys… because I found myself completely overwhelmed with this sudden, urgent need to CREATE. Not just to create some small illustrations as I usually do – but to dive head first in to realms that I never thought was my “thing”… or my “strength”…
Suddenly – I was creating large-scale works… (I’ve completed 4 thus-far)… using materials I have never used before (oils, oil pastels, carving knives, wax and other stuff too numerous to mention).
Suddenly – I had all these poems flowing out of me… which turned in to songs… which turned into large-scale works of art…
Here’s an example. I wrote these two poems:
Then… a few nights after I had written these poems, Nick and I composed a tune (he’s a fabulous bass guitarist & guitarist) – and the poem because a song (which is used in the opening scene of the film).
Interestingly (nobody is more surprised about this than me)… the couple-hundred extras we had hired as our “rock concert audience” – picked up a line from my poem-song — and it became their CHANT — which then was used throughout the film by other characters (an entirely organic process that neither Nick nor I foresaw when we put the song together)…
Here’s the lyrics of the opening song (it’s a much more condensed version of the poem above – yet with the same theme)…
Shortly afterwards – I made my 2nd large scale painting (on the back of an old door)… again – using the words from one of the poems. Not only was it the first time I had done a painting in this size and scale – it was also the first time I’ve done a painting using only my hands and fingers (instead of brushes). The painting is used in an important scene of our film where our Artist character has a bit of a meltdown…
Here’s a pic:
It was the most unbelievably organic creative process!
Nothing was forced. Nothing was planned. Art, lyrics, paintings, songs and poetry just kinda… flowed… out of our fingers and mouths.
If I was inclined to spiritualise experiences (which I’m generally not inclined to do) – I’d say that the process of making this film was one of the most organic, spiritual experiences I’ve had in a very long time. It almost felt as though – in a way – we were channelling these artists and their stories while we worked.
It felt as though we were paying homage… in a really important way.
It felt as though we were giving voice to something important… something so much bigger than ourselves. It felt that it was no longer “Nick and Heather’s film”… but it now belonged to a much larger group of creators and artists – both living and dead.
In between all of this, I built props and designed costumes… in every way – trying to incorporate those whose story we were trying to tell. We made temporary tattoos for our Artist character – all of them referencing other artists; Jean-Michel Basquiat’s crown. An Amy Winehouse tattoo. A tatty cardigan (like those Kurt Cobain liked to wear)… artwork on the bass guitar referencing Jimi Hendrix and Edvard Munch. A single, tatty fingerless glove for Michael Jackson. Sunflowers in the dressing room for Vincent van Gogh. A quote about stars from Virginia Woolf… an early blues song from one of the first members of the “27 club”…
Layers… and layers… of creative storytelling…
Which – again – (and I don’t know why I feel the need to stress this) – happened organically. Mostly at the last minute. Mostly without any planning.
More than ever – I’m beginning to realise how much of an organic – feeling – artist I am.
It sounds kinda “woo”… but I’m not sure how I can properly articulate it without it sounding all woo and weird.
When I sit down in front of a piano – and put my hands on those keys… I just – I dunno – PLAY. I can’t read sheet music. I don’t use charts and chords. I just play. Whatever comes out the hand – comes out the hand. Whatever comes out the mouth (when I sing) – comes out the mouth.
The best way to describe it is to say that I… FEEL music – more than I see, read or think about music.
The same (I’m now coming to realise) is true of all my creative endeavours. Whatever comes out the hand… comes out the hand. I don’t pre-plan. I don’t sketch. I don’t use reference images or photos while I draw. I don’t draw what’s in front of me. I draw what’s INSIDE of me. And I play what’s INSIDE of me. And I write what’s INSIDE of me. And it sounds a bit mad – and maybe it is.
I am a Feeler. I FEEL things. I feel music. I feel art. I feel stories. I feel beauty. I feel people.
And maybe that’s why I relate sooooooooooooooo well to the stories of all these artists, musicians, poets, performers and writers that we have researched for our film.
Because – those of us who are Feelers (and many artists are)… can be super-sensitive Creative Creatures. And I don’t exaggerate when I say “super sensitive”.
And while our “feeling” can be a beautiful gift – that can help us express and communicate and reach into deep places and tell stories and touch hearts in meaningful ways… (ie: think of all the music and art that deeply moved you over the course of your life…)
Feeling can ALSO be a curse. Because (regretfully)… we can’t just turn those powerful feelings OFF.
The brutality of humanity can haunt us for weeks. A single photo of a victim of a war – can cause us endless sleepless nights and much ruminating because we can’t get that damned image OUT of our heads! I once saw a single photo of 3 dead children tied to a tree (happened in Cambodia in those dreadful Pol Pot years)… and – for the brief seconds that my eyes took in that image… it felt as though all the energy in my body was sucked out.
Gone. Just like that.
I could not stop thinking about those kids. Wondering about them. Who were they? How they must have suffered… the fear they must have felt… the horrors they must have endured. I ruminated and ruminated and ruminated… and sunk into a terrible sad place – and stayed there for days.
And that’s just ONE photo.
I’m not one of the “strong ones”.
If I had been personally present in a Nazi concentration camp – I’m pretty convinced I’d be one of the first to go. Not because I’m physically incapable… but because – I think being surrounded by that level of horror – would just be the death of me. My will to live would have given up long before my body did.
Many of us are deeply affected by the state of the world and the brutality we see… but… we can’t turn off the FEELINGS!
And as we researched our film – we came across countless quotes like this:
“There’s good in all of us. I think I simply love too much. So much, that it makes me feel too fucking sad” (Kurt Cobain)
“I’m past hopes. Past illusions. Past high thoughts and lofty conceptions. I am alone. My contempt for the folly and baseness of mankind, my hatred of atrocious cruelty have never been so intense. And I say hourly to Death: ‘When you will. Why does he delay?'” – (French classical composer, Berlioz)
“I can’t fight any longer” (Virginia Woolf)
“It’s excruciating” (Philip Seymour Hoffman)
And I think… (especially after researching this film and realising how MANY artists and feelers burn out and die before their time)… I think it’s a tragedy – and (being an idealist)… I also think it’s fixable!
The Elements that keep me sane:
As a Feeling, Sensitive Creative Creature – I have been deeply blessed to have a very strong, affirmative base of support and understanding. I had a mother who always got me… and encouraged me to be who I was. I now have a very supportive husband, children and friends – who love me for ME.
I feel loved, understood and accepted within my little community.
(The impact this has on my emotional and mental well-being can’t be over-emphasized!)
I have also learned – for the sake of self-preservation – to distance myself from stories, images, relationships and news feeds that devastate me… and drain me… and depress me. I believe that I’m able to serve the world better if I focus on beautiful things, uplifting things and creative solutions… and leave the campaigning, the marching, the physical rescuing …. to the types of folk who are able to distance themselves – emotionally – from the pain and horror they witness and deal with on a daily basis.
Deep respect – by the way – to those types of people. The world needs their passion and strength. But I am not that type of person.
Exposure to too much of the world’s pain, sadness and brutality will (and does) wipe me out…. rendering me useless in the larger scheme of things. And if I’ve learned anything over the past couple of years – it’s this: “I can’t give from an empty well!”…
So… those two things have – in a sense – really helped me.
- Unconditional love & support from those closest to me (my Tribe)
- Learning to protect myself from toxic situations and people that drain the life out of me.
But… what of those who don’t have what I have?
What of all the feelers and artists… and thinkers, dreamers, creators and different people… who don’t have the support I have? Who don’t have the unconditional love and acceptance that I have?
What of those who are suffering in silence? Constantly pretending to be someone they’re not? Wearing masks, jumping through hoops, people pleasing, withering under all the weighty expectations placed upon their lives by other people?
What of those who feel continually misunderstood, judged, ridiculed? Who are slowly beginning to believe… and absorb… the bullshit-lie that there’s something ‘wrong’ with them – because they’re just not the SAME as everyone else?
What of those who don’t have the loving support structure that I have? What of those living in environments where family, friends, teachers and peers are constantly telling them to change… to pull themselves together… to fit-in, obey-the-rules and be “normal”….?
What happens to those feelers / dreamers / creative creatures??
Because (speaking from experience)… you can diminish, hide and people-please for a season… but eventually, all those ridiculous masks and lies begin to eat away at something much deeper….
My heart BREAKS for every person who HIDES their true selves in order to please others.
My heart breaks for every sensitive soul who has turned to external sources (drugs, alcohol, food, etc… etc…) in an attempt to numb or anesthetize their inner pain.
Making this film was a gamechanger…
I might be – in many ways – very inconsistent in the work I do. One minute blogging, un-jobbing, downsizing, unschooling, travelling… then writing illustrated books about HAT’ness… next minute, songs & poetry… then cartoons, followed by paintings, murals, screenplays, films (and endless other creative experiments, projects and initiatives).
But there are a number of ways in that I am extremely consistent – and it has to do with my core values.
I have a few core values which I’m consistently passionate about.
Which are these:
- I am passionate about Human Diversity. I love it, I respect it, I treasure it – and because of this genuine love of “different” people, cultures, colours, beliefs, behaviours – I do NOT want (or expect) other people to be more like ME… but deeply, deeply desire that people be who THEY are meant to be (and NOT who society or other-people expect them to be!)
- I believe – strongly – that we all have different talents, gifts, strengths and weaknesses… and I see such beauty in this diversity. I strongly oppose any kind of system, organisation or mentality that attempts to box people… mould people… shape people… into ANY kind of same’ness or cookie-cutter moulds. I have a deep – almost primal kick-back reaction – to systems of control and comformity. I can’t stand the idea of anything that attempts to limit, conform or box the beauty and potential of the human spirit. I feel VERY strongly about this kind of thing.
And – as somebody who has walked this walk… as somebody who hid, diminished, tried so HARD to be someone I’m not… tried so HARD to “fit in”… and “be normal”… writing my book – and now, making this film has – more than ever – reminded me of my focus and purpose:
I want to help, encourage, challenge, inspire and awaken….
…. using art, storytelling, music, poems, creative workshops, writing, films (and every other kind of creative vehicle imaginable) as a CONDUIT…
… to show people – of ALL ages, sizes, colours and cultures… (but especially the different-ones… the feelers, the dreamers, the creative-creatures…..)
… that they are valuable, worthy and acceptable – exactly as they are. That they don’t HAVE to be-like-everyone-else… they don’t HAVE to fit-in… they don’t HAVE to be “normal”… they don’t HAVE to subscribe to the lifestyle and the values that Society presents as the “Only-Right-Way-to-Live”… or “The-Only-Right-Way-to-Be”…
I want to challenge, inspire and encourage them to be SEEN for who they TRULY are.
To remove all fake masks they’ve been wearing in order to please other people… to take that shit off, to step out from the shadows – and to SHINE!
“Don’t shrink to please others! Be bold and be free! Just be the best YOU… and I’ll be the best me” – (Hat)
And so now… after writing such a long, intense post… I shall pour myself a nice cup of coffee, put on a lighthearted podcast… and draw some colourful, pretty, uplifting things! 🙂
Love & Hat-hugs to all… XX