Learning the steps…

ImageToday’s photograph is a panorama of part of the wall around the wreck of my ‘garden’ taken at 10am on a white cool day.

A couple of months ago I was asked by a friends son to ‘teach me everything you know about film making’. That is quite a task. He has already made a few short films which are very interesting and have a unique ‘voice’ of their own. So our online discussion (he lives nearly 200 miles away) has been about films he has seen and that has encouraged me to watch some that I hadn’t considered watching, such as Hugo, which I thoroughly enjoyed as at the heart of it is the story of Georges Melies. Having watched that I can see how it would encourage anyone to want to make films, Melies’ films were magical, he created films which not just filmed what was around but created a world of wonder (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTEODB_s87M).

So where do we start in any art form. There are of course the technical considerations, when I was starting to make films in the early 70’s video was very basic, so it was all film based. I began using Super and Standard 8, I preferred Super 8 as I used long single shots and I liked the film ratio, Standard 8 (which was half a 16mm film) was too square for what I was looking for and you could only shoot a total of around 2 minutes before the film had to be turned round. When I moved to 16mm the costs of stock were much higher, something that the digital filming now has almost removed from the equation. But the most important aspect of learning about film-making for me as with all the other art forms I have been involved in was watching films and reading about how film-makers created their work. I saw everything I could and a friend and I ran the college film society, I don’t know how many actually liked our choices, but we showed all sorts of films and were able to watch them over and over again (this is before VHS or DVD!).

It is no different in any other art form, if you want to paint then go and see paintings look how the artist has used their materials, the brush strokes, the development from drawings, sketches and so on. Then learn how to handle brushes, palette knives, paint, canvas. In my writing I use the reading I have done for years and years and go back to passages to see how the writer has worked an idea up.

One of the classic pieces to study in film is the Odessa Steps sequence from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potempkin, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ps-v-kZzfec). It’s influence can still be seen after almost 90 years, if you want to learn about editing this is the piece to watch and analyse, it still has a remarkable power, which is due to Eisenstein’s artistry. It is also good for writers to study. Just look at the variety of points of view in one short scene, the changes of feel from exultation to tragedy, the use of ‘minor’ characters to enhance the effect.

In her blog today Shannon (a writing student at Kansas) writes about the importance of learning the basics of writing a sentence and how some of the other students complained that this was too simple (http://shannonathompson.com/2013/03/19/relax-read-how-to-write-a-sentence/). I was pleased to see how she felt that this was like learning how a painter needs to use a brush or as I have noted in the above how a film-maker needs to learn the basics of editing. These are the building bricks of what we do, of course we want to subvert them to develop them, but before we can do that we need to know what we are subverting.


Today there is a photograph in two versions, no great thoughts! The first is the original as taken, just processed to be smaller in size. As I was doing this I was intrigued by the shapes on the tree root, I put it through the black and white filter, taking all tone away and liked the effect, making a shape like some ancient dead animal rather than the rather sexual overtones of the original. It was taken at the car park in Tunstall next to The Wheatsheaf at 10.15am on a bright mild sunny day.





Today’s photograph is at the end of Newfield Street on a chilly but bright day at 11am, using the panorama function the other way around.

Where do our memories come from

What selects what we remember?

For many of us writing we use bits of our own lives in what we write, adapting people, events, places. We can change the outcomes so that we ‘get the girl’ or ‘win the race’, our characters can do the things we don’t or daren’t. Barry wrote about using your own experience or not in his blog yesterday (http://barrylillie.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/method-writing/) and I have in the past. I think when I write stories/novels there is far less of me than in the very personal writing I do as poetry. The character Vincent I am writing about is a million miles away from me, perhaps at times a wish fulfilment – handsome, tall, owns a beautiful Leica, everyone loves him! Though I am making him manipulated by sinister forces with little control of his life outside his photography.

In another blog I read by Shannon (http://shannonathompson.com/2013/03/15/to-my-mother/) she talks about her mother who dies when she was very young and another friend has recently lost her father. It is very moving and brought many memories back, especially of my mother always reading and my father writing music. The memory of grief is very hard to remove, overlaying the memories of happiness, but I have found that writing the poetry can force the happy memories forward. In Telegraph Hill I told about spreading my mothers’ ashes in a place she loved, a sad memory, but it reminded me of the very happy holiday memories and the safety I felt as a child knowing that my mother was waiting for me/us after the adventures of play, with a warm caravan and wonderful breakfast.

Grief is a part of life. It comes as an unwelcome shock to us but it is going to happen. I can see it as a theme in much of what I write. We cannot select what we remember, I recently read William Boyd’s Waiting For Sunrise, a disappointing book and I felt he could have done with a few sessions at Renegade Writers to improve it. In it his rather dislikeable character goes to a psychologist in Vienna in 1913, he has a destructive memory, he tells that and through hypnosis the psychologist changes the outcome of the memory, so he doesn’t feel guilt and his sexual problem is solved. If only it were so easy! So in some ways we as writers can change the outcomes of our actions, but not in reality just as a fiction, there are so many outcomes I would love to change in my 59 years the book would be encyclopaedic in length!

Huge events in our lives can be wiped out in our memories because we don’t want to suffer them again. Also I often feel memories can be warped by the fact we have photographs of something or are told a story. I look at old family pictures, I am in there standing with my grandfather or grandmother, they died before I was 5 I have no memory of them except when my mother told my grandfather off for putting a handkerchief round my moth when playing cowboys because of the germs, but the events in the photographs, they are there in black and white, but not in my memory. Of course I can adapt those and make a story around them, so is that the real memory?

Today’s photograph is to celebrate Red Nose Day taken at midday listening to the new David Bowie album, which is rather good and takes me back 42 years!


Show not tell!


Today’s photograph is looking over towards the countryside from the park at about 10.30am on a blustery bright cool day.

My lovely friend Jackie in Brighton sent me the first three chapters from a book a friend of hers is writing, who wants opinions and critique. I was happy to do it as equally I am happy when someone who doesn’t know me has done that for my writing. I hope I gave her some useful insights.

One of the things I kept writing on the manuscript was ‘show not tell’, which is a criticism I keep getting at Renegades Writers whenever I read. It is one of the hardest skills to master. After all we are telling a story to a person whose only knowledge of our thought process is through the words we are writing, and we are desperate that they get the point, or the plot, or the character. And yet the joy of reading is in the unfolding of a story and our interpretation.

Writers pre the 1920’s would often tell you what they thought and what you should think, guiding you through their plot and making sure you thought the same thing. It is a very tempting thing to do, a sort of Greek chorus, but not very satisfying for the reader.

A short description of a character is one of the greatest faults. ‘He had black hair and a thin face’ fine it tells us just that, but we all know we could do much more to entice the reader to create the person that we see in our mind. Perhaps we don’t think about the reader enough, I know I don’t, which is why I will never get rich from all this! Maybe it comes from my fine art training which was just about interpreting what was inside you and if the viewer liked it great if they didn’t it didn’t matter. The longer I go on creating the more I am trying to change that, not giving in to the lowest common denominator to make cash – sex, violence, pornography (sounds a bit like some of my stuff!) – but making sure the reader is as captivated by the writing as I am in my mind when I am creating it.

In yesterday’s blog, the interview with Eve Hanninen she made the point about making poetry not too obvious, allowing the reader to interpret, to find out. I think in a novel it is also about what the reader needs to know and sometimes you do need to tell. If you are setting a story in say Paris in 1956 then it is probably best to tell that, as you could go round the houses before the reader realised where and when they were. I remember reading an interview by Truffaut with Alfred Hitchcock and he said that he would use the most obvious image to set where something happened so as not to get in the way of the plot, i.e. if in Paris a few frames of the Eiffel Tower sets the place, even if the rest of the film is shot in a studio.