Sunday 26 January 2014

Conversation with a Ghost

Suddenly, floating into my head, came the lyrics 'where have you been have you been to the races' and 'is your sister in braces' -- and I felt the urge to listen to the song again. 

Only problem was - I had no idea what the track was or who sang it (sung it? someone please teach me English), just a memory of that part of a song, about going to the races and the sister in braces. I wasn't even sure if I had the lyrics right. 

So I googled it. 

And there it was. The song 'Conversation with a Ghost' by Ellis Paul. 

But I thought the only song I knew of his was 'The World Ain't Slowing Down', but I KNEW this song! I vaguely vaguely recognized the title 'Conversation with a Ghost' -- was it the Ellis Paul version I knew, or a cover version? 

I'm not sure, but I think I knew it as an Ellis Paul version but maybe as an acoustic version I got from napster or some place back in the day. I have no idea. 

But I do know I haven't heard this song in years, maybe ten years. 

Yet the lyrics flowed into my mind today. It was so familiar, as if it's a song I listen to all the time. 

Except that it's not. I didn't remember that I remembered this song. If you'd said to me yesterday, 'do you know the song 'Conversation with a Ghost' by Ellis Paul? I'd probably have said no. Or maybe there would be some vague vague vague recollection. 

And now I've listened to the song five times in a row. I'm not really sure what it's about, or what it means to me - but it's right there in my mind, and all because it came swimming back to me for a hello after so many years at sea.  

I don't know much about Ellis Paul. I don't know what kind of career he has, or even if he's making a living from it (people like me potentially discovering him on Napster probably didn't help). But his music reached me somehow, through the silence of a Sunday afternoon, by flowing into my mind a decade after I last heard it. There's something magic about that - and it's a credit to Ellis for creating such a great track. 

Care to share?

Saturday 18 January 2014

Social Media Basics

1. You have to be authentic. Be yourself. Everybody is being marketed at all the time, but now with so many choices, people look for what's real.

2. You have to be specific. Nobody wants to hire someone who can do everything, they want someone who can do one thing really well.

And you need to be able to prove it. Everyone speaks a good game, but how is your track record? 

3. Blog. Give away your expertise. How do people know to trust you? When you give everything away. Your unique insight makes you appealing.

4. Don't register a 'Facebook Page', we were duped! We thought it was a way to build an audience, but it's not. If you have 1000 'fans' on your Facebook page, only around 30 of them will see your posts. If a social media guru is telling you to get a Facebook Page, they're not a guru at all.

Facebook gave us the Pages function for free but then took away everything they're good for. Now you have to pay to reach your own 'fans' through promoted posts. 

5. Don't be automated. If I'm getting the same tweets or emails as other people, I know you're not giving me any of your personal time. So why should I give you mine?

6. It's too easy to be against a new platform. Most people waste years berating Google+, Instagram and Vine, and then... they join them.

7. Don't read too much into the numbers. Someone may not have many Twitter followers, but maybe the 50 people who do follow them are industry insiders. Likewise, they could have 30,000 Instagram followers, but none of them are paying attention. The numbers rarely mean what you think they mean. 

8. Nobody is listening on Twitter. You can have a million followers, but they probably won't care about your latest project. People are reluctant to click through. And it's virtually impossible to know what your followers want.

9. Quit while you're behind. If no-one is interested in your project or product, quit badgering them. Make a better product. Get better at your art. 

10. Don't waste your time trying to go viral. If you can't make something that connects with 10 people, how will you connect with 10 million?

Greatness spreads. If your content isn't being shared, it isn't good enough. Period.

Care to share?

Wednesday 8 January 2014


Have you seen the latest Richard Curtis movie, 'About Time'? It's beautiful. It got slagged off in the press a fair bit. I remember skimming through some bad reviews and also a piece in The Guardian or somewhere where some feminist was annoyed that Rachel McAdams was in another time-travel movie where she didn't get to time travel, or something like that.

It's a wonderful movie. Richard Curtis movies usually are. Especially when his movies are about the human heart. I can understand why he's tried other stuff, it's that syndrome all great artists have; where they want to be seen for something other than what they are. But what Richard Curtis is, is a master of showing us how we love each other. He reminds us how important it is. You think we'd know that right? But watching 'About Time' I was reminded of how much I love my family, and of how much I haven't taken risks with the opposite sex in about a million years because I've been focusing on work and a whole bunch of other excuses too much.

And that seems a personal thing to share but then, if we're not sharing something personal then what are we sharing? What's the point?

'About Time' begins with an instrumental version of 'The Luckiest' by Ben Folds, one of my all time favourite songs. And it ends on the proper song. Strange for me because 'The Luckiest' has a big personal history for me. I once did a video-footage compilation for a girl, with 'The Luckiest' playing over the top. It was a video of all our time together; the clips of us laughing and being silly and me thinking I was, y'know 'The Luckiest'.

Turns out I was dillusional. In a cloud. She was not deserving of this song at all. But because of that and a few other things along the way, I stopped being a guy who tried. Stopped putting myself into positions where, come the end of the day, 'The Luckiest' might be a fitting song for where we were at. I just closed off, focused on the other stuff.

But what else is there? You can achieve everything you want to achieve with your career, or earning money, but where does that leave you? Your money doesn't give you a hug at the end of a shit week and your career won't make you a tea when you're old.

This film reminded me that my grandparents (the ones that are left), won't be around forever. Neither will my parents or my siblings or me or my friends. The days dash by again and again and every moment is gone gone gone forever.

I'm so often guilting of just WAITING. Ever done that? Wait for things to happen. Wait for the film idea to come. Wait for the girl to text back. Wait for the shit friend to be a good friend. Passively ignoring the good and waiting on the bad. And where does it leave you?

Richard Curtis fascinates me. I tried writing to him once, I got an impersonal response from an assistant. And a friend of mine sent him some short films, they were returned with a letter saying Richard wouldn't watch them. And I saw him give a talk once - he was so removed from the realities of the industry, of the struggle, of all that. It's weird how your interactions with your artistic heroes are so disappointing. But then why do we try so hard to reach them? I had an interview scheduled with Stephen Merchant for this blog. He pushed it back for a year. It got delayed and delayed until, you guessed it, the release of his TV show. He answered it along with all the other press, through his assistant, I never got that personal connection (here's the interview, it's not one of my best).

I'm on a tangent now. I guess my point is: the great artists, their kindness is in their work. Curtis has given us important gifts like 'Four Weddings and a Funeral', 'Notting Hill' and 'Love, Actually'. Why should I want MORE from him? He's given so much. 'About Time' is the best film I've seen in ages. I know you disagree with that choice of 'best film in ages', but who gives a shit? It resonated. That's all that matters.

The things that resonate. The movies. The people. The connections. We are so good at pushing those aside. Why am I generalising? I am so good at pushing those things aside.

'About Time' reminded me to be human. It reminded me to be me. To be awake. To partake. 

"Next door there's an old man,    
Who lived to his nineties and one day,
Passed away, in his sleep.     
And his wife, she stayed for a couple of days,
And passed away.      
I'm sorry, I know that's a strange way to tell you,
That I know we belong."

Care to share?

Sunday 5 January 2014


I love Jenna Elfman. What an amazing actress! She's typically described as energetic, funny and quirky, and while she is all of those things, it's important to not dismiss the fact that this is an extremely hard-working and talented actress (and mother of 2!) at the absolute top of her craft. 

Like many of the characters she has portrayed, Jenna is an breath of fresh air, even when doing an interview by email in the midst of a hectic work schedule. 

Jenna is one of my favourite actors, and to get the chance to ask her questions was a blast. Here goes. 

How's it going? What are you working on? 

It's going great! Just finished filming the movie Big Stone Gap with Ashley Judd, Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Wilson, Jane Krakowski and John Benjamin Hickey.  Now I'm busy filming a new comedy series for NBC called Growing Up Fisher, with J.K. Simmons.

Busy as always! I first got to know you, as I'm sure many did, through the wonderful 'Dharma and Greg', but you were acting for a long time before that. What were some of the most important moments for you in your career in the years leading up to Dharma?  

The TV show I was on right before I got Dharma and Greg, which was an ABC comedy called Townies, which starred Molly Ringwald, Lauren Graham and myself. It only lasted one season, but was my first series regular role and and because of it, I got to be able to have Dharma and Greg created for me.

You've zig-zagged between TV and film over the years -- when you were starting out, movies were the cool place to be, now, arguably, it's TV. How have things changed for you personally? 

The shift in the entertainment industry and media platforms for entertainment over the last 10-15 years has been mega and it's still calibrating and finding itself.  So, for me as an actress, I've had to also be creative to keep relevant and on top of all the possibilities and adjustments in my own industry.

I love your podcast. That's a form that has really taken off in recent years. What do you get from podcasting that you don't get from your other work? 

Thanks, glad you like it! Doing our podcast is really liberating for me.  It is just my husband, Bodhi Elfman, and I sitting down and chatting about our marriage, marriage politics and funny stories from our 22 years together, unscripted and unedited.  Not careful, not conservative— just us. R-rated comedy chatter. Nothing withheld.

You can find Jenna and Bodhi's podcast on iTunes by clicking HERE

Going back to 'Dharma and Greg'; there were a lot of great sitcoms at the time, it was the days of 'Friends', 'Frasier' and so many more. I don't know what it was like in the US, but here in the UK; it had a much smaller audience, but the fans were loyal, it had a real cult following -- what is it about the show that connected with people in a way that I think is often different to those other shows? 

I think our show was truly based on joy.  Dharma was a unique character, Greg's voice was more the one of the "sensible" audience watching— and Dharma inspired people and gave them relief and let them laugh and imagine.  I think most women characters on TV at that time had been worried about love, their careers, their friends.  Dharma was not neurotic or worried.  She was genuinely happy and it was well-written, and I think it was just a burst of light into the television landscape.

I think what a lot of people love about you and your work is your great energy, your personality. I can imagine when it's late at night, you've got a headache and you're out for groceries, people want you to be the Jenna Elfman they see on TV. Do you ever find that difficult, or are you always bursting with energy?  

Well, I AM energetic, however I AM human and a working mother of 2 young, energetic boys and I'm married to Bodhi, which, if you've listened to the podcasts, well you can imagine what that's like!  (And SO GLAD I'm married to him, don't get me wrong.)  But ya, I get tired, cranky and frustrated just like anybody else.  But MOST of the time, I'm pleased with the great gifts I am fortunate to have in my life and I am grateful for all of it everyday.  Unless I'm tired and cranky.

Your career has gone through a great deal of changes - as is the same for any actor -  how do you maintain a sense of control throughout it all? 

Who said I had any sense of control?! (Bursting out laughing!) I maintain my sense of humor and that gives me tolerance for all the other craziness around me. And my husband helps me a lot, too. He's my best friend and comrade-in-chaos!

'Accidentally on Purpose' was a really fun show - it was great to see you take the lead in a sitcom format again. Like so many great shows, it didn't make it past the first season. Do you think that was just the case of networks being networks, or is there something about the show that didn't quite work?

Well, that's always hard to say- there are so many factors that go into making a show, let alone one that goes on to become a hit and many of those factors are beyond any one person's immediate control.... But I hear lots of people are enjoying it on Netflix, so that makes me happy!!

A few questions about how you go about your craft --- How are you with auditions? And how often do you have to do them compared with just getting offered a role based on your work? 

I hate auditions.  I RARELY have actually gotten hired from an audition (for films.)  All the films I got were not from auditions, but some other meeting, chance luck, offer, etc.  I used to like auditions early in my career, because I actually GOT JOBS by doing auditions.  But now that I have a career, I haven't gotten a single job from an audition.  They are a real buzz kill for me.  Argh. Need to solve that one! LOL

How do you maintain your craft? Although I of course think you are fabulous already, I always find that the top actors continue to learn and improve their craft-- I'm interested in how! 

Well, I am a people-watcher! I just always have been.  That to me, staying present in life, aware of human behavior, not removing yourself from people, but instead staying involved in the world around you, paying attention, watching how people look, carry themselves, react, dress, hide, pretend, dodge, etc. is the best acting lessons ever.  We are, as actors, playing people,  after all.

Is there anything you have not yet achieved with your career that you hope to in the coming years? 

I just want to continue to try new kinds of comedy and roles and tones that I have not explored yet.  I just want to keep expanding, in whatever , various, interesting ways that manifests itself, I'm IN!

Care to share?

Saturday 4 January 2014

Alexandria in the Front Row

I think Alexandria's comment on my article '2014 - Don't Rush' has reminded me of what it is to be a Kid In The Front Row.

She's 16 and has a level of passion and self-awareness that most can only dream of. And even from the way she responds to a blog post, you can see that she's a talented writer.

Alex, and keep making movies. The world needs people like you.

"I'm 16 and I love movies and moviemaking and screenwriting. I guess since I'm on your blog, you get that. I've only wrote three scripts and made two shorts. Yes, they're absolute shit.

I need to learn perseverance through the years - through college, through young adulthood (and trying to make the repeated decision of taking a day job or finding a film-related meal ticket), through marriage, through life. I feel this need to rush, to make it soon, others are flying past me, while I'm out here trying to enjoy life and write too. It's difficult, yes. But is it worth it?

I don't know. In terms of my filmmaking career, if "making it" is the Olympics, I'm still stretching in 6th grade Gym class. But when I watch my favorite movies - "The Hunt", "Prisoners", "Fish Tank" - I'm filled with such an intoxicating, opportune something - I just can't give it up. But I need this fervor when I'm broke and alone, when I meet the man I want to marry, when my 53rd script is shitty and I don't know how to fix it, when I just.can't.get.this.scene.right...I need this passion, this focus, and I need to maintain it now.

I guess, all I'm saying really, is thank you. Thank you for this post, thank you for this blog, and thank you dedicating so much time in being the buoy in the ocean for all the artists who are swimming this choppy, dangerous waters called life and creativity.

Have an amazing 2014.

- Alexandria"

Care to share?

Wednesday 1 January 2014

2014 - Don't Rush

Filmmaking is one long apprenticeship.

We all rush to sound like experts. It's like when you're at a short film screening and some 19 year old tells you how she was inspired by Godard and Tarantino, and how she wanted the camera angles to signify a metaphor about contemporary culture's relationship to technology. But then you see the film and it's terrible.

Not terrible in a 'not for me' sense but in that it's a pile of shit not meant for humans to see.

But we've all been there. In fact we still are there. Just look at most Hollywood movies.

The point is, we're still learning. We think we know it all but there's so much to it.

You need technical expertise.
You need to know what an audience wants.
You need to know how to inspire them.
You need to know marketing.
You need to know how to fix problems.

You need so many things.

Most people quit within a year of starting.
Those that carry on are more dedicated, until they fall in love and make babies.
The few that remain are in it for the long haul.

If you're in it for the long haul I'm writing this for you.

You need self awareness. You need to know that your talent needs nurturing. Artistic maturity doesn't happen right away. Most actors and directors don't do anything until their forties. And those that do it younger began when they were three.

And sure you can be a smartass and name someone who struck gold at age 22 the first time they tried acting, but I bet that person isn't your favourite actor or even close.


This blog was pretty popular for a while, it was clever on my part because I sounded like an expert. Then I stopped blogging because I realised: my work didn't live up to my words. (side note: I also stopped blogging because I was tired of giving opinions. Opinions are so boring, and are now much better due to being mostly condensed to 140 characters).

You can know lots about films but being able to nail it on a project is a completely different thing. And can you connect with an audience? And if you can, can you do it again and again?

My message this year is: don't rush. Don't think you need to "make it" this year. You're just an apprentice, learning the ropes. And this isn't just for newbies, it's for those who have established their careers. We're all learning how to do it better. 

Your life, or your wife, or your impatience; they may think this must be the year to be a runaway success but that's not what being an artist is.

A lot of things in your life need to click in order for everything to come together.

Don't tweet about how unfair the industry is. Read a book instead.

Don't moan about how no-one will buy your scripts. Write a better one.

When you learn about your art (reading, helping out, practising), you get SO MUCH more wisdom. Expertise is when you can stop being flummoxed by stupid things. When you don't stress about a camera breaking because you've had cameras break before and know exactly how to deal with it. It's when your acting is ruined because you're depressed about a break-up and the fact your kid is sick, but you can still put in a performance even though the director's being an egotistical asshole, too. 

You can't do these things without experience. Without the knowledge.

Don't rush ahead. Just stay patient, disciplined, and keep learning. Very few people are actually doing this.

Tweet less, practice more.
Moan less, listen more.
Spend less, buy the right books.

We've been sold this idea of instant success. People think being a writer or director or actor is like being on X Factor, they think it's about being picked. How many times has someone asked you, "has Spielberg called you yet?" This is how people think it works. That you have a bit of talent and then Spielberg picks you.

But it's really about picking yourself, and knowing how valuable you are. You get to the top of any industry by paying attention to detail. By constantly learning.

Go read Chris Hadfield's book about being an astronaut, or Alex Ferguson's book about being Manchester United manager, all the clues of success are right there.

You think Michael Schumacher won a couple of races and then was invited to race for the Scuderia? No. He worked his way up from go karts through formula 3 and onto F1. And the driving was only part of it, he also knew the history of the sport inside out, he knew about the drivers and he knew about the cars. 

You're no different. The friend you drink with down the pub may have convinced you that what you do is silly, but actually your acting or make-up artistry or directing is the big dream of your life.

Don't waste it by missing the book or failing to try out an idea or by not writing the script or taking the meeting.

Don't rush ahead. Read every page. That's how you'll get there quickest. 

Care to share?