*This article was first published in Script Magazine in August 2017
Picture this. It’s a barbecue party, the first warm sunny day of the year. Eyes closed, you’re engrossed in a laid-back conversation as you recline in a deck chair. Suddenly, a guy calls out your name. Surprised, you turn around to look at him. You’ve met him before – once. Was that last year or the year before? He calls you out from a few yards away. “Can you look after my kid? I need to go,” he says. No details, how long for, or why…
You look at his kid, he’s about three. He looks like a handful. You also look at his friends who know and see the kid regularly. It would make more sense to ask them so why is he…?
SNAP! Of course, we’re the only two women there!
It’s taken a good 30 seconds for me to figure this out, but he’s already a little annoyed. “Can you come now?” I look at my friend. She doesn’t want to do this at all, but already, her face twitches, ingrained guilt rapidly welling up inside her even though she has never met the guy.
I feel the same way, but I’m resisting the urge to help. I know why this is happening and the overwhelming feeling is that I’m having none of it.
“Why?” I ask him. Utterly baffled, he looks at me and frowns. “I need to go.” His brain clearly screaming, “what is she waiting for?” But I stand my ground. “Can’t you ask one of your friends? I barely know your child.” My friend, now wracked with guilt, mutters, “I’ll go.” I lay a firm hand on hers.
The standoff pays off. He has gone back into the house with his kid. He hasn’t asked his male friends for help.
My friend shakes her head, “I don’t like other people’s children.” I chuckle, “Nor do I.”
WHAT IS BIAS?
Women love children. They also love cooking and cleaning. Even if they don’t love doing those things, they’re better at them and expected to help and be polite. That’s the obvious bias being explored here. This is not a scene from a movie, however, but something that happened to me a few months back. That incident made me think about the way we explore bias in movies and how to go about it.
SHOW DON’T TELL
In real life, it’s impossible to put yourself in someone else’ shoes. In movies, however, it becomes a possibility, a prerequisite even. We’re exploring the “what if I was…?” We’re made to ‘feel’ and empathize for the characters.
There is a scene in the excellent TV series Sense8 (Netflix) where muscle-bound hunk Lito (Miguel Angel Silvestre) cradles his stomach, in acute pain. “What’s going on?” he says, “I feel like I’m dying!” In case you’re unfamiliar with the Sense 8, in the show, several strangers find themselves inexplicably linked to each other. In this case, Lito links to Sun (Bae Doona) as she experiences crippling period pain. I loved that scene. I remember looking at Lito and thinking, “I know, right?”
As writers, we’re often advised to add bias inorganically. For example, when writing female characters, we’re often told, “Imagine if your female protagonist was a man.” And so, we often model them on male archetypes which is a dishonest shortcut.
IS THERE SUCH A THING A MALE OR FEMALE ARCHETYPE?
A few years ago, scientists wanted to figure out if they could tell men and women apart simply by looking at their brains. They studied thousands of deceased people’s brains and they concluded that they could roughly guess about 5 out of 100 brains, the rest of the studied brains could have belonged to either gender.
I recently did a psychological test where the results came at 58% female and 42% male. It reflected a lot of what I feel within myself.
It’s just not that simple.
Instead of imagining a character, say, as a different gender, It would therefore make more sense to explore the pitfalls your character might be going through daily and build from there. Your protagonist probably isn’t that much different from you. He or she just treads a different path.
Script EXTRA: Writing Female Characters and Archetypes
SURPRISE YOUR AUDIENCE
Instead of adding bias inorganically, how about making it a determining factor in your story? A male boss constantly jokes about a woman’s navigation skills even though she’s a human GPS. She proves this by rescuing her male colleagues when she and her team are stranded in the middle of an Amazonian forest. A woman might forget every single anniversary whereas her husband would not miss one for the world, and he starts to resent her for it. In this office, the worst gossip isn’t a woman, but a straight man and he gets away with it because he’s considered inquisitive instead.
How about your protagonist is the brand-new CEO of a company only she is young, black and her team is made up of middle-aged white men set in their ways, but she is the only person qualified to rescue their company? In Hidden Figures, the Black female mathematician is the one who saves the day when the white male protagonists fall short. It’s also a true story.
USE BIAS TO YOUR CHARACTER’S ADVANTAGE
Sure, your Indiana Jones-type female protagonist isn’t taken seriously because she’s blonde. How about she uses that bias to cunningly defeat a clueless antagonist?
How about making light of bias? When a male protagonist, a typical Casanova type [think James Bond] knowingly tells a female protagonist, “You clearly couldn’t resist me last night.” Her reply, “Well, it had been a while. Could have been anybody, really.”
There are so many ways to flip the concept on its head.
BIAS ISN’T ALL ABOUT GENDER
As I have briefly hinted, this goes way beyond gender bias. It also covers poor versus rich. Old versus young, able versus disabled, the themes of race, and all the many themes in-between.
I love the TV show Black-ish. It tells the story of a Black middle-class family who find themselves living a life in a mainly white middle-class area. The show does a stellar job portraying the prejudices they face while delving into the underlying theme of poor versus rich. While the portrayal is painfully accurate, it does imply – no doubt unwittingly – that prejudices are also immutable. No matter how many times the white characters interact with the family, their prejudices do not change, worse, they seem to crystallize.
IS BIAS IMMUTABLE?
My granddad was born in 1900. He was an old foggy who went through two World Wars and was very much set in his ways. Despite not being a far-right activist, his views on race were appalling to the modern mind, to say the least. At the ripe old age of 95, he left his home and went to a care home. Low and behold, his carer was a sprightly black French man from Martinique. They struck up an unlikely friendship. His eyes would light up whenever he saw him. “They’re exactly like us, you know,” he would say.
If a 95-year-old stuck-up dude can change his mind, I doubt characters in a made-up story can’t.
Script EXTRA: Tips for Elevating Tension, Characters and Conflict
ELEVATE YOUR WRITING TO GO BEYOND BIAS
My best friend passed away three years ago. She was as black as I am white, as curvy as I am skinny. We weren’t even from the same country, but she was that special someone who shared the same brand of crazy I did. She was my soulmate.
As she laid in a hospice, dying, I spent the whole night holding her hand. That’s how much I loved that woman, and I miss her every day. Bias never entered nor influenced our friendship or bond.
Whenever I watch shows that imply that our friendship was impossible, it feels like someone tramples all over my heart. It’s like we never existed.
Thankfully, more movies are starting to explore those relationships. The excellent The Incredible Jessica James (Netflix) is one of them.
There are many complex pathways leading to a human life. It is an intricate canvas that uses many palettes, all of them as exciting as they are surprising.
They weave in, out, and beyond bias – and they all deserve to be told.
*This article was first published in Script magazine in June 2017
Poet Rainer Maria Rilke was offered psychoanalysis, he declined and said: ‘Don’t take away my devils, because my angels may flee too.’ I recently found this quote on a friend’s Facebook page. It received many likes, but I wasn’t impressed. The ubiquitous notion that every artist has to suffer for their art might appear romantic, but it is also destructive. As I’m writing this, it is Mental Health week and a good time as any to explore that notion.
The ‘tortured artist’ is both a stock and real-life character. You will find him or her in movies like Whiplash or Birdman. Real-life examples past and present also abound from Van Gogh to Beethoven, many artists have suffered a spectrum of mental health issues ranging from depression to bipolar disorders and psychosis.
What about screenwriters?
Screenwriting is – to put it mildly – ‘difficult.’ On paper, it looks easy. A screenplay is basically a template for a movie; it contains descriptions and dialogues. In practice, however, many screenwriters write dozens or more film or TV scripts before they even get a remote chance to option or sell one. Before, during and beyond that time, they will have to face countless rejections. Imagine a job where every single email you sent was criticized, every spreadsheet analysed, every Word document ripped to shreds – and for the first few years, it will be for little or no pay. And yet, now that I have painted this rosy picture, some of us still wish to go ahead, but between rejection and the perceived notion that it will be hard, where does that leave us emotionally?
Script EXTRA: 7 Lessons in Outlining, First Draft and Fear
Fear of failure
There are countless resources online on screenwriting. Many of us have taken courses, classes, read tons of screenplays to perfect the craft. It can be a lonely affair, however. Even though screenwriters are largely very supportive across social media platforms, ultimately, it’s between you and the blank page. It doesn’t help that some screenwriters, albeit well meaning, often relate their screenwriting exploits on social media. ‘I wrote 20 pages today,’ claims one while you have spent the whole day procrastinating. Maybe that day you would have also received a PASS on another screenplay and your heart will sink. Can I do this?
And what if that day becomes your every day? Last year, I was writing a ROM COM. After a few failed personal deadlines, I had started to dread that blank page. I would write, but it was becoming increasingly painful and I felt like a failure. Slowly but surely, a quiet depression was setting in.
To top it all off, and probably as a symptom of my anxious mental state, my Crohn’s Disease had flared up, and it was getting worst. One day, as I was staring at the computer screen with the sunken feeling that my writing was abysmal while my cramping stomach was draining the life out of me, a thought came to me: should this be so painful? What am I doing myself? How am I supposed to write a hilarious, light-hearted ROM COM when I am in the throes of mental hell? I stopped – then I laughed. That was the first laugh I had had for a while. It just felt ridiculous.
Script EXTRA: Pursuing a Writing Career When You Feel Lost
Am I in an abusive relationship?
With my mental and physical health deteriorating, it was time to reassess this relationship the way I would any other: is screenwriting good for me? Should I stick with it? Time to ask the hard questions.
Do I like screenwriting? Yes. In fact, most days, I love it.
Is screenwriting making you happy? Well, clearly not always… In fact, it sometimes makes me ill.
Can I change this?
It was time to get real. I mean, seriously, in the grand scheme of things is screenwriting THAT important? When I’m on my death bed the nurses might wonder: ‘Where are your friends and relatives?’
’Well, they gave up on me, but you know, I wrote so many screenplays!’
Take controlNo one and nothing is worth you getting sick over. It all starts and ends with you. If you’re not well, you’re no use to anyone. It’s important to remember that when you are feeling unworthy and you are beating yourself up over oftentimes unrealistic deadlines. Also, remember those screenwriters who boast about smashing their daily deadlines? Well, think of it like Instagram: no one ever looks that good in real life. Everyone has bad days. That’s just a universal truth. So, have a walk, chat to a good friend, travel and mostly, LOVE more. If there’s anything I’ve taken from the close friends and relatives who have passed on is to treasure those relationships while you can. As a bonus, you will get to learn from those interactions and become a better and healthier writer in the process.
There’s no progress without failure
As part of my recovery, I went to see a Psychologist and she used a technique called ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’ (CBT). It’s a very pragmatic way to deal with your daily issues. Within three months, I was back to my old self. I was even a little stronger, more grateful. One cannot learn without failing first and one of the things that I had to learn is to accept that failure was part of the process. I read an article on screenwriting recently which stated that amateurs feared failure whereas pros craved it. I would replace ‘craved’ (a little too masochistic) by ‘tamed’ as our greatest challenge is to learn how to demystify, tame our fear of failure and – fail again.
When it rears its ugly head: beat it!
Because you will feel down again. The same way the weather always changes, so do our emotions. Sometimes, we may have a long dry happy spell and then it will be waterworks. It’s OK, it’s normal and we are not alone in this. Increasingly, successful writers such as JK Rowling come out of the woodwork and list their failures while expressing how soul crushing they were at the time. It also tells us that they were OK – eventually.
Script EXTRA: 6 Things I Learned When I Found My Screenwriting Community
Change your perspective
Try and remember why you love doing this. Write a list of things that you have achieved, and pat yourself on the back. Be in a competition with yourself and no one else. Start a gratefulness journal. Form friendships with supportive, like-minded screenwriters. Try and find people who will lift you up (ahem, the Story Broads!), and pay it forward.
Writer Chuck Sambunico once called writing: ‘voluntary masochism.’ I would say, ‘Let’s stop the hyperboles and start enjoying the writing process instead.’
Life is just too damn short.
Additional resources: Interesting Ted Talk from comedian Kevin Breel on depression.
*This blog was originally published in Script Magazine
Stand-up comedy is a skill I do not possess. You may wonder why, as a screenwriter, I worry about stand-up comedy skills. I am perfectly happy plotting, scheming, outlining, writing one-pagers etc. in the comfort of my home in the hope that the material I write will eventually find its rightful (and fully paid) place (commissioned by some famous producer, obviously).
Pitching, however, was always more of an afterthought. After weeks (months!) of plotting, scheming, writing, I – quite obviously – should be able to tell my story in the most entertaining way. Only, this could not be further from the truth as I soon found out.
Script EXTRA: Tips for Writing the First Draft
To pitch my completed screenplay, I needed to summarize my story in one concise sentence. Now, I had done that before writing the screenplay but truth is, it wasn’t nearly as convincing as I had hoped it to be. Nevertheless, I went along with it. After two days of bedroom rehearsals and live pitches to devoted friends and family members, I began to pitch my screenplay to professionals. As it turns out, far from rehearsed and polished, my pitch was long-winded and complicated. The Executives really had to strain to keep track of my convoluted pitch. Needless to say, I didn’t win them over, but they were kind enough to give me tips.
To summarize their notes, all the Executives wanted was a simple story they could relate to. What are the characters going through and why should they care? Start with a hook, get to the crux of the story and finish with a bang. All the skills a stand-up comic possesses.
And so, I started over. People got interested in the story. However, something became very clear; my pitch no longer fit my story. Worse, my pitch had become better than my screenplay! And so, I rewrote my screenplay in line with my new pitch. And guess what? Professionals who read the script liked it even more than before!
It was a complicated feat, however, as it is much easier to build a house on strong foundations than try to sort out the foundations once the house is fully built. As many of you know, the butterfly effect is real, a single change can shake the whole foundation. Or, in this case, a single sentence can collapse it.
Script EXTRA: Debate and Tips for Outlining a Screenplay
And so, with my next screenplay, I started by writing a pitch. More accurately, I banged my head against the wall until I wrote a zinger of a pitch. It was painstaking, I am not going to lie. I then wrote the outline. Something that I checked against my pitch. I have now completed the first draft, the pitch was in my head throughout, constantly steering me in the direction that I had set for my story. It became my trusted compass as I traversed the billowy seas of creative writing.
Working on the pitch prior to writing the screenplay had given me a sense of purpose I had never experienced before.
As a result, I have a more professional and focused story that I am ready to pitch!
I exercise for 35 minutes every morning and regularity is the key here. If you're not going to do it regularly, don't bother. First of all, exercise helps clear your mind and secondly, it keeps ailments such as back/shoulder pain at bay. Choose something that is manageable to you although I would recommend to aim for at least 30 minutes. I use Tracy Anderson's (Gwynnie's trainer, left) exercises videos. They're good for working those core muscles.
Bonus: you'll like what you see in the mirror!
When I worked in an office, lunchtime was the highlight of my day so it came as a surprise to me when I realised that mealtimes had suddenly become an inconvenience! I used to run downstairs and prepare something stodgy/heavy to quiet down that pesky rumbling sound in my stomach (do you mind? I'm busy writing the next blockbuster!). Few months in and I was virtually listless so now I make sure that I prepare nutritious meals. If it's trash, it's out!
Bonus: you'll have more energy and you'll feel a lot happier too.
No matter how lazy you feel/bad the weather is, make sure you go outside at least once a day. Besides getting your daily dose of Vitamin D, it'll just feel great to be outdoors.
Bonus: you can sunbathe anytime now, yeah!
And I'll allow networking as networking is not only vital if you're freelancing, but you'll also make great friends in the process. So yes, socialise, meet friends, go out until the sun comes up.
Bonus: unlike your friends in permanent employment, you get to sleep it off the next day!
Which bring us to sleep and yes, you'll need to sleep regularly and well (particularly if you've done a lot of the above). I tend to maintain normal working hours. I don't go to bed too late and I don't tend to wake up past 8.00 am.
Bonus: well, sleep just feels great.
A friend sent me a text the other day: "you've got to watch Orange is the New Black.. It is beautifully written, fantastically acted and utterly compelling" - now we both read our fair shares of screenplays, but I had never seen her gush about a story in this way before so I decided to give it a go.
Orange is the New Black is based on the true story of Piper Kerman (Piper Chapman in the TV series) who had agreed to carry a suitcase of drug money for a lesbian lover 10 years earlier. Now, 10 years later, the criminal justice system has caught up with her and she is having to serve 15 months in prison and explain to her fiance about her lesbian past and one-off drug money deal.
So far so good, a prison drama not like one unseen before, but this one is different. Inside the prison, this is a "woman only" world that does not have any parallel in the outside world. You may shrug and observe that women regularly get together and socialise etc. But this is not what I mean.
We live in a patriarchal society. Again you may shrug and talk about equality, female advancement etc, but what you are merely observing is a bunch of women adapting to a man's world.
To be honest, I have no idea what a matriarchy looks like and it is becoming more and more obvious to me that I, along with everybody else have been so brainwashed that it has left me completely lacking in self awareness. All I know is that "female only" qualities are generally not respected in the business world or otherwise. In a typically male dominated "competitive environment", show any weakness and you're out. And we're painfully aware of it and as such, most women are living in the closet.
Women are at the bottom of the food chain.
People often observe that women can be bitchy with each another and they see in this as a sign of our competitiveness. This is not quite accurate. As I said, we're at the bottom of the food chain and in order to make a reasonable living, we're having to compete with other women. Our looks, intelligence etc will make a difference. This is not our world, but we're having to live in it and follow its rules. We're in survival mode.
People often wonder why gay men get along with women so well. They assume that it must be their "feminine" side. It could not be further from the truth. The real reason gay men get along with women so well is because they're perceived as "feminine men" and as such they're also relegated to the bottom of the food chain so they just know. Trust me, all the gay men I know think like other men - through and through.
So what's the difference here?
As I watched OITNB, It occurred to me that I had experienced a "female world" once before. It might sound odd, but it was in Agadir, Morocco and I started to draw comparisons between the two.
A female friend and I went on a week long trip to Agadir a few years back. As we were strolling down the fisherman's market, we chatted to Laila (not her real name). She wore casual clothes and she was with her sister who wore the traditional headscarf. As we would later find out, Laila was a local prostitute and this was the reason why she would disappear every evening past bedtime. Anyway, we spent two hours chatting and she invited us to have tea at her grandmother's house.
We took a local cab to a neighbourhood well away from the tourist hot spots. It could have been incredibly dangerous, but as it turned out, it wasn't.
When we arrived at her grandmother's house, a host of women welcomed us for tea and cakes. It was like we were stepping into a different world. As women, we had received instant membership into this hidden world and it was a raucous, lively and incredibly frank one.
In Morocco as in OITNB, men are excluded. In Morocco, it is for religious/traditional reasons. In OITNB, it is because, to put it simply: "they can't be bothered".
As the kitchen head (also a female prisoner) decides to let Piper starve, Piper decides to talk the prison guard who retorts "poor little baby". Being a prison guard is no vocational work and I am assuming that it is also poorly paid, so it seemed logical that they would not work very hard for it. Never mind what really goes on in there.
In both cases, men are on the outside looking out.
"This ain't my business"
Where they part is that unlike OITNB, the Moroccan female network is a fully functional one where cooperation, inventiveness, humour and kindness truly thrive.
In OITNB, the women are having to compete for food, power etc. These are incredibly damaged women. As the kitchen head muses, "if you show the slight bit of weakness, you won't make it".
Back in Morocco, it wasn't long before we started to chat about our jobs, food, children, sex. Yes, sex and the rather graphic kind as it turned out. To see Laila's 80 year grandmother chat about the bloody bed sheet she had to produce the day after her wedding night (a bloody sheet is testament that the bride was a virgin), was quite an eye opener.
In Morocco, marriage is a transaction and by showing the bloody sheet, you show that the groom got his money (or camels!)'s worth.
And the grandmother went on to explain that the bloody sheet from her wedding night was still in her cupboard although I must admit, I was rather glad she didn't produce it!
We often comment on the way men treat women in some Muslim countries. We never know how the women really feel about the men there and it is not very pretty. Basically, women don't talk about men. To them, they're just lustful neanderthals. Laila's grandmother was her husband's second wife ( he had two wives). He spent two weeks with her and two weeks with the other wife. I could tell that she would have been even happier with more free time.
Later, Laila took us to the souk where a friend, Samira (not her real name); a headscarf wearing entrepreneur, owned a small henna tattoo business. It was past closing time and as she was drawing a beautiful and intricate flower on my arm, she kept talking about meeting a husband. I told her that I was surprised to hear that as she did not like men. She shrugged and said that she wanted children and that it was a necessary evil.
Later, when I mentioned that my Mum had passed away the previous year, the women asked me if my Dad had remarried. I said that he hadn't and they looked at me in utter amazement "oh that can't be". And I said "why not?". "They can't live without "it" (sex). I kept trying to explain that he just needed time, but it fell on deaf ears. As far as they were concerned, men were just a retarded breed and nothing that I could do or say could shake that belief.
So I said to Samira; "you're a virgin" . She smiled wryly; "officially, yes. But I've done other stuff". She went on to explain that she had had oral and anal sex, but as far as the bloody bed sheet is concerned "wink, wink", she's "safe".
It occurred to me that I had never discussed anal sex with my friends before. The fact that the first time I did was with a headscarf wearing woman and within half an hour of knowing her, the irony wasn't lost on me.
What goes on in the women's world, remains in the women's world. Whatever happens there, stays there so you can talk freely, do what you want - it is safe to be whoever you want to be.
It is a good job that women in Morocco are separated from men in all areas of their lives, weddings, rearing children, social occasions etc.; for 90% of the time, they're free to do whatever they want to do.
It was surprising to see the headscarf wearing entrepreneur being close friends with the prostitute. Never in the Western world would these two women meet, let alone be friends. That would jeopardise their status. But there, in a supportive/judgement-free zone, women have your back no matter what.
In some ways, they were freer than I was.
As I was watching OITNB in continued awe and musing at the inventive way women would "lay down the law"; The kitchen head serves Piper a "used tampon" sandwich . It occurred to me that the writers had done to do an enormous amount of work on the characters - clearly, no man would have written this!
It also made me question the way I deal with female characters in my screenplays. I was reviewing in my head my latest completed screenplay and I couldn't help but feel that the male characters were that little bit more complex. Actually, I often praise myself for writing such compelling male characters that you can't really tell that it was written by a woman. I remember beaming with pride when a male actor friend of mine commented on how it looked like it had been written by a man. Now it feels more like a terrible case of low self-esteem.
Writers are supposed to reflect on the human experience, but how can we when we are transcribing it as a bird flying with just the one wing?
John Truby, a well know screenwriting teacher (John Truby) once commented that the person who would write a screenplay solely based upon feminine values would be onto a money spinner as this had never been done before.
It sounds true although part of me doesn't want it to turn into a bird flying with just the "other" wing. I guess, there is so much for us to discover and learn that it doesn't matter if that drop into the ocean turns into a river. I, for one am rather excited as to what we're going to find.
Time to come out of the closet then...
"Female partnership" - Taylor Schilling (as Piper Chapman) and the real Piper Kerman
Where did it all go wrong?
The 'Lance Armstrong doping scandal' has barely made it out of the news that another incredibly shocking story has rocked the sporting world, yet again; Oscar Pistorius has just shot his girlfriend dead, not once but four times!
What could have propelled two incredibly successful, worldwide revered superstar athletes to fall from grace in such a horrific way?
Picture: Lance Armstrong - AP photo/Laurent Rebours
At the time when the Armstrong debacle first unraveled a few commentators had asked the question: was Armstrong a psychopath?
Psychologists were quick to reply that we first had to distinguish between showing psychopathic tendencies and being a full-on psychopath. As it turns out, showing psychopathic tendencies such as mental toughness, fearlessness and ruthlessness could work in your favour in a competitive environment. And it was even suggested that quite a few successful athletes would most probably show some of those attributes.
However, when does it turn from extreme focus to dangerous behaviour? Both Armstrong and Pistorius have shown a propensity for angry outbursts. Lance Armstrong famously (and allegedly) accosted one of his ex teammates in a bar before a court case promising to 'f***ing tear him apart'. Granted, Lance used a team of lawyers to execute his sentencing, but his intent was clear.
When the Olympiads first started, competitors had to hold a full time job as there was no money to be made back then. Nowadays this is a very different world, a world where sponsors are willing to spend Millions on the right 'cash horse' and the media glorifies the winning athletes as near Gods.
And this is the thing, in no other arena can you be sure that you are the very best human being on earth apart from sports, that is. One could argue that so and so is the best actor/director/businessman, but in reality there is no definite proof. In sports, however it is a fact: you are the fastest/strongest human being on the planet. And the world is watching.
It is near impossible for me to excuse Armstrong or Pistorius's behaviours, but a part of me wonders whether such public adoration could damage individuals with a propensity for psychological disorders such as blind anger.
'God-like belief in yourself?' Pistorius's tatoo (right) quotes the bible.
'Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.’
Picture: Reuters/ Mark Rossi
Before the 2012 Paralympics, the media had hyped up Oscar Pistorius's performance to the point that it was his and everyone's belief that there could be no other winner. That belief came crashing down when Pistorius lost the 200m gold to Alan Oliveira. Pistorius was furious. He famously blamed Oliveira's legs and that it had been an 'unfair game'. It was that outburst that first alerted me to Pistorius's volatile predisposition and it was that very outburst which came to mind when I first heard of his girlfriend's tragic death.
No one wants to believe that their sporting Gods are worse than perfect. No one believed Armstrong's teammates. They were publicly vilified, even declared 'unpatriotic' by the media for daring to raise doubts over his credibility.
In 2009 Pistorius was arrested and spent the night at a police station after a 19-year-old woman accused him of assault. No charges were brought due to lack of evidence, but clearly there had been a precedent.
It is sad to think that everyone was eager to dismiss his outbursts as merely the eccentric side of a passionate individual instead of someone in desperate need of professional help.
And there is also the celebrity side of those athletes. There were the interviews, the high-profile sponsorship, the fame. Everything they touched turned to gold and everyone associated with them was guaranteed to bask in that glory. Let's face it, who had heard of Reeva Steenkamp before she became involved with Pistorius? Prior to this, she had graced the cover of FHM once, but it was becoming Pistorius's other half which propelled her to stardom in her native South Africa. Now one could wonder at what cost?
A fame-hungry starlet and a superstar athlete with an inflated ego: recipe for murder?
Picture: Getty Images
It is now sadly too late for Pistorius and Steenkamp, but it is worth wondering where it all went wrong. As far as I am concerned, the jury is out as to whether Armstrong or Pistorius are truly remorseful, narcissist egoists or real psychopaths. Armstrong's apology seemed fake and worse, followed by a 'well, everyone was doing it' begged the question: 'did he truly meant it?'. And I couldn't help, but wonder whether Pistorius felt more sorry for himself than Steenkamp as he wept in court or maybe he truly did.
I guess we might never know. Perhaps the only lesson here is for us is to acknowledge that superstar athletes are not Gods but mere mortals.
Just like the rest of us.
Picture: BBC news
I need a business card or so I've been told. I'm just getting used to networking and building my own website so I thought that I was already doing rather well, but yes, I suppose I should be doing something about that too. As luck would have it, I have been doing a fair amount of networking lately.
And so, I started to take a closer look at what was "out there". I included a picture of some of those in this article. I have blacked out their names "FBI style" (or rather "paint" style) to preserve their privacy. I laid out about ten in front of me and the first thing that struck me was that the larger writing on their cards was their name, not their profession. I thought that was odd as a name does not say much about anything.
Your name and... a tree?
A profession, however...
Then there is the logo. Do I need one? I thought, sure. Perusing through the few that had a logo on them, I could not see a connection between the logo and their chosen profession. I also noticed that I was not looking at the back cover so decided to leave that blank.
I've got my eye on you, (above) -
What does a logo really say about you?
Then there's the grading/colour. Some were plain supported by a thick paper which looked ok although not very inventive. Others wrote in smaller writing which I struggled to read so simple , large writing/logo and thick paper seemed like a good choice...
I was finally ready.
Plain is best?
Navigating through the complicated web that is human behaviour can be tricky. Particularly when the persons involved are "going through some stuff" as they say... I don't quite remember my 20's, but I remember that they were pretty much about the ME issue. Why is this happening to ME? Why is everyone against ME? Can't they take ME into consideration? Looking back, all that time spent navel-gazing made that decade not such a happy one.
As experience shows, we're much happier when we reach out, share with others, see both sides of the story. Over time, our ego takes such a beating that it forces us to re-assess what happiness truly means and it is in the form of an open and positive individual.
I've been flatsharing for a good decade now and I've shared with all sorts or interesting, but also highly disturbed individuals.
One false move...
From the authoritarian landlady who used to call relatives at midnight while screaming at the top of her lungs to the drunk (and randy!) flatmate who used to call my mobile phone/knock on my door at 5am, hoping to get lucky, but overall it has been a happy one - thank goodness.
I love my current home. I share with two others, the flat is spacious and I have my own bathroom. I've lived there for three years and it has been bliss. We have swapped flatmates twice and it has been fine - until now.
We've just had a new flatmate move in. She seemed really nice - on paper, but she is "going through some stuff"... Basically, it is pretty much "tantrum central" when she's around. One day she's fine, the next not so much.
Oops here we go again!
For the first time in three years, I am apparently too loud for her. Basically when I walk, I make the floorboard creek and it is preventing her from sleeping. That and my music. I listen to light music when I'm working on my computer, but we have agreed that she would let me know when she needs to sleep and I would switch my music off. Two days ago, I had to retire to bed at 9.20pm. Yesterday, I heard a loud bang at 9.50pm.
I thought a wardrobe had crashed or something similar. She knocked on the door to ask me to be quiet and I replied "I didn't make that noise. What was that?" She replied upset, but a little sheepish "oh, it was my door. It's just because I couldn't sleep"-- so you slammed the door so loud that the whole house shook to its core?
Yes, she was having a tantrum. So I promised to switch my (light music) off. And so I did, working on my computer in complete silence doing my utmost to move as little as possible tiptoeing once or twice during that time. But I was apparently still too loud. There followed a lot of door slamming and loud telephone conversations to show her annoyance. Came 11.30 pm I was off to bed.
Next morning, doors were slammed loudly and she switched her music on, VERY LOUDLY and guess what was playing? ERASURE - give a little respect to me--- hahaha -- That'll teach YOU!
I woke up laughing.
Thou shalt not breathe!
People who have tantrums are hilarious to me. I don't know what it is is; the crazed look, the behaviour, the irrational thinking.
Gad Elmaleh, a very successful French comedian banked on that very hilarious side of tantrums for his show "Papa est en haut" (Dad's upstairs). There is an incredibly funny sketch where he shows his Dad in a full blown diva tantrum against his children where he makes preposterous threats such as: Dad (fuming)"I'll put you into box"... (a box?)....(bright red) "Yeah, yeah and I'll lock you there" (lock us in a box?).... Until, until... (a pause, then LOUDER)... "You're.... 65!!!!".
My niece who is 5 years of age was having a pretty impressive one the other day. Apparently we (her sister and I) had been mishandling her Disney princesses when we were playing the game she had suggested. Out of nowhere she gathered her princesses and stalked to the other side of the room in a fury. Her hands were shaking and she was getting redder and redder by the minute.... "No one.... NO ONE..." she started to scream... "will touch my princesses... EVER again!!..." Looking even redder, slightly drooling at the mouth..."particularly, particularly"... She shot a bitter, infuriated look at her sister... "MY SISTER!!". She slumped to the floor in hysterics.
Her mother sashayed into the room then calmly said to her:
"And you'll live very lonely ever after"
Give a lil' respect tooo meeee!!!
I had the wonderful opportunity to spend Christmas in Brittany and New Year's eve in the Alps. Living in a city all year round, I can surf the urban jungle that is London with my eyes closed (well, almost). I can walk for miles in the city that I have learned to love and feel totally at home.
(La Baule beach, left and above - © Damien Juge )
We city people see the countryside as "relaxing", but it was a much more humbling experience that awaited me. Winter in Brittany is an ocean's waves crashing into the shore like an orchestra playing an ode to its awesomeness. It is all the might of mother nature facing you head on, the battered winds keeping us dangerously close to the cliff's edge. My head was spinning from the unadulterated breath of oxygen, yet the city
(La cote sauvage © Damien Juge)
girl in me kept wondering whether the cold sea spray could double as a free facial. Old habits die hard. Once home though, with my hair all over the place and mascara smeared around my eyes, what I had achieved was more the "crazy woman" look than a dewy one. I wasn't being beautified, I was detoxing.
Once in the Alps, a different sensation took over. It was high up, there was snow everywhere and it was a crisp, wonderful cold, but one that stripped away any leftover city scum that I might have left behind. I couldn't wait to get going, yet I was a lot slower and not as fit as usual. Turns out that the altitude was getting the best of me. I had to wait for my body to start producing enough red blood cells to cope with it all. By day 2, I was myself again and buzzing.
Serre Chevalier, right, above and below © Damien Juge
I did feel about 10 years older walking with snow racket shoes, but I managed to cross this winter wonderland. As I was carving footsteps into the virgin snow, I could not help but feel that this is truly how human beings were meant to live. There were so many instances when my city mind was on high alerts. Upon seeing the free running water pouring out of the village fountain, I couldn't help but feel that someone should really turn the tap off as this was wasting. And again when the hot spring offered warm running water from another fountain, I couldn't help but feel that someone's bill was going to go sky high. Nothing here is manufactured or produced, this is all courtesy of the earth's core or the mighty surrounding mountains. All that we need is out there in the world, literally.
The green (part-time) warrior in me, kept thinking that we could redirect the hot spring to provide free hot running water for the surrounding houses. However, one trip to the local baths spa where the hot spring was supposedly free flowing and after an hour soaking in the (not so natural anymore) heavily chlorinated swimming waters, it occurred to me that we, human beings when we're not busy manufacturing fake water, we're hard at work trying to sanitize what comes naturally. My skin was ruined from being soaked in chemicals. Crazy world. I am just thankful that we haven't quite managed to destroy it all yet. As far as I am concerned, I will still try to live as organically as possible in 2013; giving the green finger to the system! :)
Re: Written Off / Badd to the Bone
So I wrote a script; Written Off for Dir/producer, Sophie Caramigeas (CARAMIE Productions) . I breathed a satisfied sigh of relief confident in the fact that my work here was done. That's until Sophie suggested: "you can work on the set"... "Urrgh.... Me? But i have no technical skills!". You can be our "continuity person" stated Sophie with utmost confidence. "Continuity person"? . "What is that?". Sophie: "you are there to ensure there is no discrepancy between scenes. You take pictures before every shoot then liaise with the camera operator and director to write notes for the editor."... Wow sounds like something I could actually do! I was immediately sold and excited!
On the set of Written Off, a script comes to life copyright Sinni Manner(left)
And so started one of the most exciting experiences of recent times and I am so grateful to Sophie Carmiegeas and Tony Errico (TIGER DREAMS productions) for the opportunity. We were sometimes cramped, sometimes cold, but always elated and constantly learning. It was so interesting to see how the directors/camera operators, boom person, lights etc worked together. It was a perfectly run, organic breathing machine.
What people fail to realise is that a film does not solely rely on its director or actors. It is truly a sum of its parts and if just one element such as lights fail, it is a disaster.
Camera operator and gaffer, hard at work on Badd to the Bone (right)
Actors are completely reliant on the director/make-up artists/lights operators/boom operators etc. and likewise directors rely on actors to recite their lines at the right angle, with the right tone etc..
"I'm a badd ass" .... Ernesto Tapia Vélez (left) on the set of Badd to the Bone... Great make-up!
As a result, team work is not only paramount, but a complete pleasure. There is no room for misplaced egos or diva tantrums - we're all in this together! Film-making brings the best out of people and if anything, it has comforted me in the idea that filmmaking is not only an interesting avenue forward, but a very decent one.
A delicate balancing act, actor Sam Stevenson (right) on the set of Written Off
It was my first experience collaborating with a producer/director on her idea/concept and subsequently collaborating with a film crew and perhaps not surprisingly, I have become a better writer for it.
On a film set and pre-production, you get immediate feedback. You see how a producer, director, actors react to what you wrote giving you invaluable advice for forthcoming work. Also and as people tend to work with individuals they value or trust, it bodes well for future collaboration.
As a matter of fact, a few projects are already in the pipeline for 2013...
A great thanks to all those who have given me such great opportunities in 2012! :)
A film is nothing without its team of runners, boom operators, gaffers, make-up artists, light operators, cameraman, director and... Continuity person, of course!
(Me on Badd to the Bone (left), second to the right, top corner)