Amongst Mere Mortals

Today is the day that I come clean to you all. I just can’t pretend that I’m normal anymore.

I have a superpower.

I may not be able to fly and I don’t have laser-vision, but I have an absolutely uncanny ability that is rivalled by no one. My great power is the ability to procrastinate. I can put ANYTHING off. I mean it. I’m so good at procrastination that if I were pregnant (just go with it for a minute) I’d probably wind up carrying that baby for eight trimesters before getting around to the birth.

I’m sharing the secret of my incredible procrastination abilities with you all because right now I should be writing my book and today I’ve managed maybe 200 words. This is an absolutely terrible output for a day away from the usual retail grind (ooh, I really must make some more coffee). I’ve vacuumed the flat, hung out washing, paced around a little, had lunch, checked Facebook and Twitter a half-dozen times each, researched film festivals with a short script category and it’s barely even 2 o’clock. Not to mention the number of times that I’ve tweaked this blog to make it look nicer (at least I think that’s what I’ve done). This sounds like I’ve been productive, and maybe I have (a little), but these are not the tasks that I should have been achieving. I should have been writing. I should have a couple thousand new and exciting words by now. The deadline that I’ve set myself for a first draft of my book is February 4th, 2015. I want to have a book that I can revise and tweak by the time I hit the Big Three-Zero. Days like today are not really helping to achieve that. Must try harder if I’m going to be a big-time-writer-man.

The upside of this day of wasted time is that I’m setting out to complete other, smaller tasks. Those festivals I mentioned are for a short script that I wrote a little while ago (and am quietly proud of too) that I’d like to see the light of day at some point. I’m refreshing Facebook and Twitter for updates on the Filmonik filmmaking event that is going on in Manchester becauseI wanted to check on my friends that are taking part and see what they’re up to. That lunch I ate was damn tasty leftover soup that I could not bear to waste (okay, this is maybe less relevant). I think that my point is that although I’m putting something off, I am achieving other things.

Maybe I am being productive really, just not on the task I set out to accomplish. Is that good enough? Is the time really wasted? Can I still be Procrastination Man or have I jeopardised my superhero status by justifying my time?

Wait, do I even want to be Procrastination Man? I suppose that it isn’t really the superhero I dreamed of being, but I’ll take it until I’m able to fly or shoot laser beams.

The Bursting Bubble

For one night in July 2014, I was a bona fide filmmaker. Almost 200 people filed into The Plaza Theatre in Stockport and watched a feature length movie that I co-wrote and produced. People laughed at the jokes (I was worried I’d be the only one) and applauded when the credits rolled. The experience was surreal and incredible… and just a little upsetting. Why did it upset me? Because I knew that the next day would see me returning to my day job, with most people oblivious to what had happened that night. The night that I had felt like a bit of a celebrity.

People do a lot of different things with their lives. Some have careers that they work day in and day out to further and better themselves. Others work day jobs and hold onto the hope that their true passion can turn into their dream job. I am one of the latter. On my days off from my retail job (I’m sure you’ll understand if I don’t go into the details of where) I tap away at my computer, adding words to my first novel (12,200 words and counting). The dream is that I can finish the novel, publish it, make a bunch of money and then continue writing without the requirements of a day job. Effectively, I want the life that Nathan Fillion’s character has in the TV show ‘Castle’ (only without a police officer love interest as Lou would not approve). This dream is rather heavily affected by several factors:
A) finishing the book (12,200 words is not very much)
B) the book being any good (it’s important to be honest with yourself, right?)
C) whether I can get the book published (see points A and B)
D) the book selling millions of copies and getting a film deal (see point C)

Some would refer to this as a long shot. And that’s why it is still a dream. Until I can make it a reality (see point A).

That’s why that night affected me so. I felt like a big shot and it felt good. And that’s exactly why the next day’s comedown seemed so much more extreme. But although the filmmaker bubble burst not long after it was inflated, it gave me a hunger for success that I am desperate to satiate.

Now I just need to focus and write the damn book (and make it good, and get it published, and sell millions of copies…).

Americans, The 2nd Amendment and Me

I remember the first time I fired a gun. I was standing in a booth at a store called Panhandle Gunslingers in Amarillo, Texas. In my right hand was the cold steel of a .32 semi-automatic pistol.

This wasn’t just any handgun. It has the coolest story of any gun that I’ve ever known. The gun is owned by my grandfather and before that it was owned by his step-father. His step-father ran a bar and a guy once ran up a bar tab that he couldn’t pay off. The solution that they came to was that the bar patron would handover his .32 in exchange for clearing the tab. After that, the weapon was handed down to my grandfather. But I suppose if you didn’t know that story, that it would be just any ordinary handgun.

Using a weapon in a controlled environment like that is incredibly common in the US. There were several gun ranges in Amarillo when I lived there and I expect most cities (especially in a state like Texas) are just the same. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the experience. Laughing and joking about hitting targets with my dad and grandfather, it felt like any ordinary pastime, like throwing a ball or fishing at a lake. Of course there was one significant difference; the deadly weapon in my hand.

Standing there in my booth, ear defenders in place, I had a realisation that absolutely terrified me. With a slight turn of my shoulders and a very gentle squeeze of the trigger, I could have killed someone instantly. I had, in that moment, absolute control over life and death. Now that sounds exaggerated and overblown (I have been known to use hyperbole from time to time) but I really mean it. At that exact moment, I had that power. I was legally using a weapon that was designed with the sole purpose of taking lives.

People regularly rationalise the usage of firearms. The National Rifle Association loves reminding people that guns don’t kill people, but people do. But there is a very simple point that I think everyone needs to consider; guns were designed as a way to kill things and that is how people choose to use them. If you take away guns, can people still kill each other? Of course they can. Is it significantly harder to kill a lot of people quickly? It certainly is.

In the moment that I held a gun for the first time, terrible possibilities flashed through my mind and I dismissed them. That’s because I’m a relatively normal, well adjusted individual. Just imagine putting that same power and those same possibilities through the mind of a person with an emotional history, aggressive tendencies or psychological issues…

Most people in the US may be legally entitled to own a gun. Should they own one? People would argue that it doesn’t matter because gun ownership is a constitutional right that left-wing liberals cannot take away. If you take away everyone’s guns, then only criminals will have them. Maybe, but it also means that kids cannot raid their home arsenal and shoot up their school because they’ve been bullied. Or a guy with undiagnosed psychological issues who has been rejected by girls cannot walk into a store and walk out with handguns on the same day, before going on a killing spree. Would there still be gun crime? Of course. There is gun crime in the UK and gun ownership is illegal for everyday citizens. Would you have the same mass murders that continually plague the news…?

The saddest thing is that we’ll probably never know.

A Big Question

Last year, some friends and I made a movie. Just a modest little 90-minute long feature comedy. The film is called Shooting on the Rim and we’re premiering it next month (friends on Facebook and Twitter are probably bored of me mentioning it). I want to talk about it because I need to address a question that I recently asked myself: is the film really as good as I think it is?

It’s a big question, but I think it’s a question that needs to be asked. It’s a question that the rest of the team who put in so much time to this film deserve to know the answer to before we reveal it to the world.

A couple of nights ago, I watched the film again in its entirety. I’ve done this a few times but is the last time I’ll watch it before our World Premiere. With me were Tom and Paul (co-writers), Louise (my girlfriend) and Gabi (Paul’s girlfriend and part of the film’s production crew). We sat down with open minds, open notepads and for the next 90 minutes we allowed the story to play out in front of us.

I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow of the pros and cons of our movie because I don’t want to ruin the surprises for those who will see it in the future. Also, I’d like everyone to believe there are no cons to the film.

What I can tell you is that the people in the movie are incredible. The crew that made the movie are exceptional. I love the movie and I fully believe that it lives up to the hype that I have assigned to it.

Is it going to be a huge success? I certainly hope so. Do I think it deserves to be? Absolutely. Now I know you think that is easy for me to say, but it really isn’t. I have to be sure that the film that I (along with many others) poured my heart and soul into gives people the same laughs that I get each time I watch it over. I think it will. I’m looking forward to seeing the reactions of those that don’t know the film like I do.

I hope everyone that can will come to see the film on July 17th. I want a big crowd of cheering fans on their feet as the credits roll.

I want to make it abundantly clear that this is NOT a vanity thing. I don’t want to stand there and choke on my own smug satisfaction. I want the people that made this film (myself, but mostly everyone else) to feel validated. To know that their effort was something special.

I think that those cheering fans will be aiming their adulation right at them, not at me, and that is what is most important.

Check out the links below for more details about the film and the World Premiere.

Shooting on the Rim on Facebook

Shooting on the Rim Trailer

Tickets for the World Premiere

Not Much of a Motorhead

Something that I’d never truly considered important has recently become a real focus of mine. A skill that everyone should have but many never bother with. The ability to drive.

When I lived in the United States, it was normal for people to be practising for their licence at the age of 15. Some people will say that this is evidence of a love affair between Americans and gas-guzzling motor vehicles, but for most people the truth is far more mundane. America is a big place. Some cities don’t even have places to buy food, so you have to drive to a nearby city to go to a supermarket. I lived for a little while in Willow Springs, Missouri and…

Wait… You’ve never heard of Willow Springs, Missouri? It’s okay. I’ll give you a minute to look it up.

Up to speed? Good.

So, Willow Springs had no supermarket when I was there. That meant that for something as boring as a weekly shopping trip, we had to travel. The nearest Wal-Mart (yes, I know that they’re not the nicest company, but still…) was in West Plains, Missouri. That’s twenty miles away. To go to the supermarket we either endured a half hour drive, or we had to walk twenty miles there and twenty miles back with the shopping in hand. That’s a long way to travel for groceries. And thus, we drove.

Missouri isn’t alone in having empty distances that people need to traverse. People get into the habit of driving everywhere, often because it starts out that they need to.

So I moved to England when I was 14 years old. I hadn’t started learning to drive in the US and I wound up in a city that has great public transportation links. Driving really isn’t a necessity if you live in Manchester. When I hit 17, however, the seed of driving was planted. My parents informed me that they were going to change their old car (a G-reg Vauxhall Nova if you must know) for a newer model and that the old car could be mine if I passed my driving test. I sent off for my provisional licence and received it back a few weeks later. Alas, before I was able to book my lessons, a cruel twist of fate occurred. The Nova was involved in a traffic collision. The parents were fine but the car did not make it. And so the Nova made it’s way to the scrapyard and my ideas of cruising along with the windows down listening to Dr Dre went with it.

Fast forward 10 years and I had a provisional licence which had expired without ever being used. I had a long chat with my girlfriend, Louise, about learning to drive. She has driven for a few years and travels regularly with her job. She was honest and told me that it would be hard but ultimately it would be fulfilling and that it would be very useful to have it within my skill set. The idea that I can drive around when she wants to have a glass of wine or two was a factor as well, although she claims to have been joking about that.

So here I am with sixteen hours of driving lessons under my belt and a Theory Test booked for three weeks from now. Soon I may actually have that skill that I should have gained over a decade ago. All it took was the realisation that it is a skill that will be as useful as I want it to be. That, and the gentle prodding from Louise.

If I pass my tests I’d like to get an old car. Maybe even an old Nova. And you can bet your ass that I’ll be cruising around, listening to Dr Dre and pretending that I’m 17 again. That is before I climb out of the car and my knees and back remind me of my actual age.