Exercising those muscles (1/9/19)

Exercising those muscles...


Directing television is a curly one.  There are many things to celebrate in the doing of it. And many tiger traps too… but I’m not gonna talk about those today.  My core delight comes from realising the Thing, the Image or Event, usually planted in my head by a script and dragged out (like a kid through a hedge backwards) and made to happen... of course, it never actually does ‘happen’.  There is a foolish pleasure in the sleight of hand. My joy in the work comes from taking ownership of the script and so engaging the audience in the whole, that they have no choice but to believe the Thing is true and inevitably happened... which of course it it isn’t and hasn’t... not really.


The process is an arcane and superstition woven cloth, with hard nosed cash-pragmatics being the warp allowing the weft to curl and dance and mystify.  The warp defines the length of the piece, the weft creates the dream.  Tension and bias create an industrial-dream synthesis.  It is a relationship with a chimera, a belief in ghosts. .

So making it, doing the thing, requires balance, knowledge of the tensions that run through the process and using them to pull the whole together.  Like any tool, or piece of machinery, there is a learning.  The ten thousand pots of the potter, or the ten years of practice at any chosen skill, accounting to portrait painting, demands stamina and determination, and the often a bloody-minded return to the place of insult and hurt.  Know you will be ten years older; how lightly you carry that learning and graft will fashion how you do the following decades.  It is where I learnt to recognise that there are no second chances.  The process will repeat itself, and the second, third or fiftieth time around will never be exactly the same as its predecessor. To make hundreds of the same pot is not to create hundreds of exactly the same piece, it is to improve and make the present one the best it can be.  You do not become a machine, you become a potter.  The discovery is the importance of change and purpose.  At the heart of all drama is curiosity and surprise... for the audience. Freshness and curiosity.


Television dramas are machines, rumbling onwards and onwards.  Some are light on the ground, others not so light.  Soap operas are the behemoth tankers freighted with story, eyes on a never reached port of calm and peace.  They are hard to turn and impossible to stop... as long as the bums continue to hit the Draylon.  The panicky call from Frank Zappa reverberates:”That’s right folks, don’t touch that dial!”.  Working I focus upon how to create change, transition and surprise in order to keep my bit of the audience entranced and from exercising their need for difference.  The implacability of the machine, however inspiring and innovative its origins, inevitably creates inertia and risk aversion of industrial proportions.  The hours are long, hard and repetitious, the money is better in other parts of the forest, and inspiration and freshness are hard to find and tough to bring about.  On a day in 1989/90 I saw silhouette of my producer, Michael Ferguson, disappearing around the corner of an endless soviet style BBC corridor.  With my heart in my mouth I belted after him.  My news, when I caught up, was the massive realisation I had to share,  “Michael... this script is really shit.”  He took a beat, a very short beat, “... and your job, Matthew, is to turn shit into gold”.   There are moments when the sea fret clears and the true nature of the rusting tanker reveals itself... this was an early revelation.  I didn’t make gold, I didn’t have a philosopher’s stone... still don’t... yet.  But they did ask me back to keep the search going. 


“Never mind the quality, feel the width”: I have made somewhere between 250 and 300 hours of prime time tv drama, all for a UK audience.  It’s taken close to 30 years, and I have no intention of stopping... yet.  But, at 63 (this all about numbers this piece!) I have been asked back to where I first was a paid director, onto EastEnders, even then it was five or six years old.  Even then it had decided it needed new blood.  I was trained up in the dark arts of multi-cam by a delightful director, William Slater, whose wife Mary, plaited different coloured wools together and stuck them to 2p pieces, so I could work out the cable knots a day of studio shooting should end by liberating.  Bill was younger then than I am now, all I knew was that there were tectonic shifts happening in my career, I didn’t notice anyone else’s.  Naively I didn’t realise, as I am sure he did, that I was being trained up to fill his shoes.  He was mostly sweet about it, but the moments of bitter must have been his sea frets clearing away.  I am now happily paddling about in deep fog.


The crews I now work are often younger than my children, which is a joy for me.  And, maybe a security for them... However it swings out, I am in the extraordinary position of having another go.  I am back inside the belly of Albert Square, and it is (still) great fun.  And my expectations and experience and resilience are completely different.  There came a point in ‘91 when I knew I had to leave.  My career was defined by what I left behind me... maybe it still is.  Now the simple pleasure of being asked to come back, brings the expectation of working with people I have already come to like, of directing actors who challenge me, playing characters I am getting to move forwards, in spaces the whole country knows.  There is a muscle memory that twitches and asks,”what next?”, but, by and large, I am here in this place, doing this work that I value and recognise.  The clay running through my fingers is familiar, and I know how to bring out the forms I want.  Occasionally bubbles and lumpy bits add grist and deflections.  Sometimes it will all collapse and I have to start again.  And again my dad’s first rude joke comes back: the old bull and the young bull stand on a hillside looking down at a herd of cows, “Let’s run down and fuck one” says the young bull shifting from hoof to hoof.  The old bull chews a bit of grass, “Let’s walk down and fuck ‘em all”.  It’s taken me a long time to appreciate the gag.  But its a good gag, because it feels true.


There is never an age when muscles that are exercised don’t increase in volume and strength.  It’s all relative, but it’s also necessary to exercise as many muscles as you can lay your hands upon.  


1 September 2019

PhotoBlog: ‘Beginning’ Diane Arbus at The Hayward Gallery

At the Diane Arbus Exhibition, ‘Beginning’, at the Hayward Gallery (https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/hayward-gallery-art/diane-arbus-beginning) till May 6, they encourage you to find your own path through. Inevitably I found myself facing the ten photos I knew so well, the boy holding a toy grenade and 9 iconic others. The journey is a revelation. I ‘got’ the simple engaged street photos, or the movie moments shot off a local screen, or performers in moments of not performing, I ‘got’ her ability to see a picture and take it. Her finding a frame before the camera was lifted, and how that frame has persisted time and fashion. In each picture there is a stillness, a breath is lightly held, the subject recognises the process, and she engages with the subject. The hesitation is still there, frame after held frame, pulling me in. It is a wonderful exhibition.

There is a space created in front of a movie camera where an actor works. It is an agreement about truth in that time and that space - the agreement is held there. In photographing a stranger In ‘the street’ a similar contract is created. An understanding develops between me and the stranger, we both know why we are there. We don’t necessarily share the same reason, but, for me, it is where the interest lies. 1+1 equalling more than 2. There is tension between my intention and theirs, mine to see and theirs to be seen.

I bought a Fuji X100T about 2 years ago. It has one beautiful lens, a 23mm (it is equivalent of a 35mm). I take it most places with me, and I try to take an interesting picture every day. Encountering a new place I see it with the clear and simple 3x2 fuji frame. This camera has forced me to understand commitment, for a shot to work I need to be inside the situation looking out, not outside looking in. The difficulty is usually in overcoming shyness, the gaining permission thing. The anxiety that, in asking, I’ll loose the shot. Experience shows me if I do loose it, it wasn’t mine to take, and, when it is agreed, it’s always different and often better than I had hoped for.

This little unassuming camera, does not intimidate… me or the subject. It has been a liberation. Looking at Diane Arbus’s pictures I can see this camera has taught me how to recognise the flashes of imagination turned into frames that have a shared truthfulness and curiosity, as fresh now as they were 60 years ago.

photo diane arbus gp2.jpg
Source: favorites://

Profiting together

So, in Aleppo, before the civil war, there was fourteen kilometres of covered souk.  There was a street of spice merchants, a street of carpet sellers, a street of silversmiths, and on and on, providing everything. They were presumably happy to be rubbing shoulders with their competitors.  Which seems bizarre to me.  This market structure was ancient and the stall holders were all pretty ancient too... they had been doing this for a long time.  They must have thought they were in the best place for business.  One spice merchant only provided a very small part of the overall demand for spices in Aleppo, the street as a whole catered for all of the local (?) demand.  As a co-op it worked;  each merchant able to cater for a certain number of clients.  Each person received just the attention they wanted, they could haggle each week with the same person to buy something they needed.

None of it is based upon scarcity, and a community supports itself.  

It's a balanced exchange to do with subsistence, not profit.  Balanced things are vulnerable.

It all falls apart when Tescos opens up outside the souk, buying in vast bulk at low low prices & undercutting the individual traders.  Or the president starts to drop barrel bombs on it.

In another part of Aleppo was a whole area dedicated to the making of spare parts for the very large number of pre 1948 American cars.  The city was full of these leviathan vehicles, stranded like glittering whales, after independence.  There was no trade agreement with the US.  All the parts were made in small open workshops in one area of the town.  There was also a particular sideline, the manufacture of jewelled wheel hubs and multi coloured lighting, mainly for massive kahki painted Buicks which were the taxis. Matt low key colour on the outside, totally mad light-show inside. Again all the 'rival' businesses were next to each other.

In the middle of Nairobi next to Kibera slum, is the noisiest place I have ever been.  Lots and lots (hundreds maybe) of open air workshops beating aluminium into cooking pots. Businesses choosing to be next door to the same business. 

Capitalism is based upon scarcity.  If there is too little of something to go round it appeals to the individual who can afford to pay for it, they remain an individual, and the profit increase creates more money for fewer people.

Aleppo and Kibera were not interested in individuals profiting.  Survival and subsistence were mutual supports.  When we can stop creating shortage to produce profit, then we stand the possibility of surviving.

 

Source: https://matthew-evans-438h.squarespace.com/sharer?src=bm&v=2&u=https%3A%2F%2Fmatthewevans.pictures%2Fblog%2F&t=the%20baffle%20-%20150117%20%E2%80%94%20matthewevans.pictures&cid=5730bad1b654f9062918a786&mid=57293a0037013b99f8c6e3f8&sel=

Baffle 150117

Reinvention.  The prospect of reinventing myself is… knackering.  Why would I want to do that?  Because, it feels like I have become invisible… ‘feels like’ is important, hang onto it.  It feels like all the people who used to employ me have all gone on a long sabbatical taking my contact details with them.  They have retired, moved on, found they had to reinvent themselves too.  I am not sure if I was ever a young Turk, but I had a good go at it.  There doesn’t appear to have been an interregnum between that and transparency.  (On that: the best reason to get Amazon Prime on trial is to watch all of Transparent in one hit & straight after…cancel your trial – it is totally wonderful… the rest of APrime isn’t half so good… yet).  Like I had thought there would be a hiatus, a brief moment between acne and grey hair… that didn’t happen either.  A stream drying up doesn’t happen as you watch it, but all of a sudden: dust devils where there where mayflies.  It is difficult not to sound bitter, and I’m not… really;  baffled not bitter.  Baffled and beginning to understand the power & importance of the baffle.  Not knowing WTF is going on:  I do get it about Brexit, Trump and globalisation – it’s all about Certainty… more later.  This particular WTF is how… why… did the work stop coming? First off,  I asked it to.  I was in need of a break.  A rest.  A new breathe.  I wanted my work to change me.  Not some posse of young heartless producers, they didn’t decide not to employ me… how could they?  They never saw me, I am invisible to them.  Victim of ageism?  Probably.  My cranky left knee certainly is.  But… here’s the tricky bit.  No work becomes space, a gap to use, wiggle room plus.

So, what have I done with my gap? 

Built a kiln...

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...  and a website.

And started a photographic project which seems to be growing in exponential directions… fphucknose where… but nowhere I’d expected.  I return to “I don’t know” again & again, & it is not a get out, oh no, it’s the way in. If I get lost?  What’s to loose?  I’m so fucking old I know that I can find a way, even when it’s foggy.  And it’s opposite of Certainty.  My father had a couple of simple phrases… he was an actor who was ordained a C of E priest.  He had a brilliant sense of humour, about most things.  I asked him once, ”what’s the opposite of compassion?”, he didn’t even break stride, “indifference” bounced straight back.  Very cool, that’s why he became a priest.  Ok, clever clogs, “what’s the opposite of faith?” (slam-dunk) “Certainty!!”.  Being this age at this moment, or, being me at this moment, I see scared and insecure folk being blamed for wrecking the NHS with non-emergencies blocking up A&E.  If the normal channels of uncertainty and inquiry, like “what do you think might be the reason for this pain in my arm?”, have dried up… like a dust devilled stream… you take your uncertainty to the certain people – paramedics, hospitals.  I have worked with paramedics, they are truly amazing, if I could be that sure about one single thing in my life… they know stuff.  They save lives… so of course they are the ones people turn to when they don’t know what’s wrong with them.  They used to take uncertainty and fear to all the boarded up, failed community resources… but they failed. 

Who else offers certainty?   Farage May Trump Brexit.  Good list! They all pretend to be certain of the truth, it’s bollocks.  The flip side of certainty is Faith.  Difficult word, Faith, tricky idea, but at core it’s not a thing, it’s a process.  Faith demands questioning everything every moment, and then asking it again.  It is a process of living, based upon investigating everything that comes at you.  It demands engagement, intimacy and commitment.  It demands compassion and kindness and it can create meaning.

The science of knowing is called epistemology (I’m impressed too), it is the studying of how knowing stuff works and why it is works.  About how decisions & choices are made.

 

How are choices made?  They are made in the Gap… a character enters a scene:  they bring with them a set of expectations and wants.  The heart of drama is conflict, so expectations and wants are always thwarted, and the character has to choose what to do next.  This is the Gap, the space that opens up between expectation and reality, between fantasy and truth.  And the Gap is where we all live, all the time, choosing what to do next.  It is a difficult place to live, constantly ‘in the moment’, constantly awake.  Avoidence strategies develop, the ability to live ‘as if’ certain circumstances were true, as if we were rich, beautiful, loveable, acne free, anything but normal, ordinary, always here in this moment.

 

‘Feels like’:  there are all those visceral sensations my body creates in response to any number of stimulae.  The conclusion I am coming to is that my body has a reaction to fear, desire, rage, excitement… etc etc… except that the physical reaction is pretty much the same whatever is going on, a bottomless pit of gaping, yawning oof! somewhere near my belly button.  It’s not that discriminating, as sensations go, and yet I go to enormous lengths to either supress or satisfy this need, granting detailed diagnosis.  For years it was cigarettes, that has gone thank god, but the sensations stick around.  It would be handy if it was a range of perceptive, useful reactions.  It’s not.  It’s a pretty standard, across-the-board single reaction to most stuff that happens.  A kind of ‘flump-flumpety-flump’ feeling, somewhere low down.  So, the lesson is not to invest it with enormous perceptivity or accuracy – it’s just that reaction thing-that-happens when other stuff happens.  Deal with it.  The other way lies addiction:  becoming addicted to suppressing or indulging feelings.  After a point the feelings become the crutch, the reason, the quest.  What can I do that creates ‘that’ feeling? And then the next sensation is ‘feeling’ invisible and worthless if the feelings can’t be conjured up.  And you‘re in… slam dunkeroo… dealing with addiction as tight to your skin as a leapordskin onesie. It seems impossible to share, discuss, put out there.  So, round it goes.  Invisibility sanctions pushing feelings to higher extremes, because you can do anything when no one sees you. Numbness & insubstantialness hold hands.  All for a feeling.

 

Two days running last week I ran into two contemporary directors.  Both men I had shared open plan offices with.  Both men I respect and felt threatened by in the past.  Both of them, independently of each other, told me how invisible they felt they had become.  It’s sad we are all the same predicament, and a MASSIVE relief.  Sharing invisibility.