Journeyman director

Waiting as a productive and active approach to creativity.


In an August garden - the seedheads of May flowerings lean and shake their contents beneath late summer show.  The purpose of nectar and pollen gatherers is repeated and unstoppable work.  The weather will stay warm and mild, but days are already significantly shorter than a month ago.  There is less daylight to work with.  Rippening fruit and falling yellow birch leaves, it never stops changing, there is never a moment identical to its predecessor.  Not just in a garden, in every aspect of living there is change.  Repetition makes it most obvious.  

Being addicted to individuality, to newness and to being 'unique', is the tiger trap I willingly dig and blithely tumble into.  To be a fully rounded, interesting and creative director I have to know that I am unique, different from any other.  I have to believe that when I get hired, it is my ability to see and portray a story my way, that keeps me employed and re-employed.  In the background my quarter of a century of 'previous' is a weight to be ignored, and piece of baggage to be left in the apartment.  I trade on longevity only as a contrast to reveal how I am still light on my feet, inventive and technically savvy.

But when it comes to actually directing, actually deciding the content and choreography of a sequence, I rely totally on my gut.  I rely upon a confidence that I know how to do the work, and within that confidence lies the opportunity for innovation.  I have done this enough to allow the unexpected and new to happen and thrive within my 'garden'.  

And waiting ?  Most trades and crafts have their apprenticeship benchmarks, and most seem to be 10,000 hours or repetitions.  Potters are supposed to make 10,000 pots before they can call themselves a potter.  Making or surviving for ten thousand of anything requires tenacity.  The ten thousand will reflect peaks and troughs of achievement and misery, and there will also be, implicit in the score, a recognition of change and its ever present possibility.  And recognising the importance of turning up.  Simply the act of going to work, or being present, and waiting.  Waiting for your hands to learn the strength and suppleness, learning how to think through a lens not about it, learning how to trust your judgement that what you have is the thing you want.

When operating a movie camera waiting creates balance and narrative tension.  Hurrying the frame to make the shot, anticipating the arrival in the frame of a new element or character, prevents the action from engaging your attention.  The audience become aware of a chivvying voice pushing and tugging at them, the space for them to wonder and to investigate is diminished.  If the choreography works, and the camera is in 'the right place' then all the operator has to do is to wait for the shot to fall into the frame. Or, the frame becomes capable of its own inquisitiveness, wondering what will happen next, but not knowing.  If there is suddenly the empty space behind a character's head, the frying pan comes as no shock.  But the final frame of Carrie's headstone carries no indication of what is about to happen. (No spoilers here, even thirty years on) Watching that moment from the back row of the Brixton Ritzy was a great lesson.  It was as though the cinema had flown into an airpocket, the whole audience rose into the air as one.

Waiting is not passive either.  Waiting is very active.  In Chinese wu wei 吳衛 (woo way) is the practice of 'doing' nothing.  It is about creating a place where change can happen and be recognised.  In some ways it fits the idea of the muse striking.  The waiting creates the space for change.  The waiting has created the possibility, the attention of waiting, the wide eyed focus.  It is a very personal practice, a meditation.  

Musical practice does it.  Scales practiced every day, pieces played over and over, searching for the structure and form within the music.  T'ai Qi, for me, has the similar possibility, and revelation within it.  Repeated practice of a form reveals and continues to reveal new meaning and relevance.  And sometimes is bone numbingly dull and uneventful.

To have repetition in multiple places makes it easier to see the connections within the everyday.  For me t'ai qi to pottery, the deeper understanding of a bowl or a movement through repeating their expression, has made both practices more engaging.  And both of them have influenced how I feel about directing, and how I direct.  This is what I chose to do with my career, this job was also meant to be the culmination of my expression of myself.  It was my art for the world to see.  And a lot of the time I found myself extremely lonely and unhappy, and making stuff I thought banal and dull.  I kept turning up. I am a determined person, but it wasn't all healthy. The spur of responsibility and mortgages, and the possibility of looking a pillock, held me to it, and sometimes only keeping it together out of an inability to recognise what was intolerable, and by distracting myself with infidelity and the bonkers scrambling for the next job.  There were many opportunities wasted, and too much pain inflicted on people I should have cared for better.

Now ? Well now I discover that I truly enjoy directing.  I have always enjoyed making anything, and learning anything, but the making of Casualty or Holby or Lewis, or anything else, I take a huge pleasure in.  Older, I get more tired, and can find myself dazed with the sheer physical requirements, but I get great pleasure from practicing my craft; and that I didn't get before.  The making of thousands of pots, and the repetition of t'ai qi, maybe just the repetition of days, have helped release a joy in my work.  I am lucky, it was a gamble, but turning up has been my way along.