Putting things down, picking things up, starting again


Over the last few weeks I’ve been making a slow return to working on two projects that I started last year. At the beginning of last year I took a course in documentary film making and I took two courses in play writing. I’ve been interested in the process of documentary filmmaking for quite a while. A lot of my formal training has been in research methods and in the social sciences, and have some frustrations with the way that academic work gets communicated (or doesn’t) to the wider world. At the time this seemed like a good thing to understand a bit better, and a good fit with my existing skill set. I took the play writing course because I was stuck with a novel I was working with and thought it would be helpful to look at it from a different approach. But then I got hooked and decided I had to write a play, obviously. And I did, sort of.

But there were problems. The film school that I enrolled with decided to change the dates of their course without really giving me much notice and I ended up trying to do both things at the same time, and have a full time job too. It worked for a while, but then I went through some crappy nonsense in my private life, and started a new job, and it didn’t really work anymore. Up until the beginning of September I’d not really worked on either project for 12 months and was not feeling great about that as I really wanted to finish something well enough to send it ‘somewhere’. I also have a film maker in my family, my dad, who kept gently reminding me that I should, ‘Work on my film’. And he’s right, I should be working on my film, because I got lucky with a really good story and could do something really interesting with it.

It took me a bit of time to work out what the blocks were on continuing with both projects, but I think I have a list now.

  1. Space – I was living with a friend of mine at the time and didn’t really have a huge amount of space. I’m kind of messy, and didn’t want to leave my mess all over his flat, so I ended up with a kind of squashed psychological space to work in.
  2. Teaching style – on the doc film course at least I felt a little as though I didn’t gel with the tutor. I think she’s great film maker, and loved talking to her about films. But she’s very much from the observational documentary style school. I wanted to work with other artistic things, like animation and set up pieces of film. I think I felt at the time that I wasn’t really able to make ‘my’ film so I did’t make a film at all.
  3. Time and Timing – the timing was bad, I was sad and exhausted. I was still getting used to living in London having moved from Cardiff, which is a much smaller, calmer city and one that I knew very well. I did’t have time to feed my creative self and that meant I couldn’t really put the work in that was needed.
  4. The fraud police – would anything I produced actually be as good as I thought they could be?

Above are some images I finished off yesterday that will part of an animation for the documentary. I’ve been writing new scenes for the play. So what’s happened? What has changed? I can think of two things that have really worked in ‘unblocking’. The first is that I cut out a load of things that I was doing, including socialising with some people that kind of drained me a bit, and carved out that time for doing creative stuff. Small, achievable projects first, at which step by step led me back to the ‘big’ ones. I’ve also come to realise that part of my creative process involves giving projects long ‘down’ periods as this enables me to come back to them with a new perspective. So not working on either project for a year doesn’t feel un-natural with hindsight.

Second, and I think this is the big one. I moved in with the boyfriend. We got a place together that gives me more space, and that helps. But I think the real key here is him. He’s constantly and consistently supportive, and frequently cooks the dinner so I can get on with something else. He’s such a tidy organised person, and yet he tolerates my creative mess everywhere, and he does it all with humour. He’s always happy to listen to my ideas, and talk to me about that, while never once said ‘you should do this’. I think that’s enabled me to regain some creative confidence. I had been told in the past that picking the right partner was really important, and I had been a bit dismissive of that, because at the time I was single and thought I could do it all myself. Turns out that advice was pretty good advice, after all.

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