Posted in Creative, TV

OMG! 800 Words

O.M.G.

The BBC seem to have a habit these days of putting the best sites on in the middle of the day and then ditching them for low viewing figures!

They did it last year with The Coroner. If have loved to be on that myself, shooting around Dorset & Devon. Fab!

Then, they had Shakespeare &Hathaway. Lovely detective series about a private investigator and his new sidekick.

And now I find a retiree friend of mine asks me if “800 Words” is really like life is in New Zealand?

‘What’s “800 words”?’ I ask.

It’s a new (-ish… It’s been going for 2 series already!!) TV series from South Pacific Pictures co-produced with Australia’s Channel 7 Production company.

Now I’m already sold…SPP were responsible for a TV series I adored when I lived there, “Outrageous Fortune” (Incidentally starring among others Anthony Starr who went to the States and was in “Banshee”).

800 Words” is a fish-out-of-water story about an Aussie journalist (he writes a regular column for a Sydney paper and anally sticks to exactly 800 words per column like some unquestioned OCD affliction… hence the title) seeks a new life in small-town New Zealand after the sudden death of his wife.

Not only do his children not like the idea much; he then has to deal with cultural differences between Australia & New Zealand, and the contrast of big city Sydney and small town ‘Weld’ – fictional, mind you.

Retiree friend asks if this made up town is typical of small-town NZ.

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Little Manly beach, Whangaparoa peninsula. Not in 800Words, but passed every morning on my bus journey to work. Typical NZ?

I say, it’s typical of small-town ANYWHERE.  Transplant this story to a Londoner moving to West Wales, or a New Yorker moving to Iowa, and there will still be cultural and lifestyle differences these storylines could fit in to.

But watching 800 words brings back memories of living in NZ which is the other reason it appeals to me.  I don’t know if I was happier there than anywhere else, but this nostalgia, this ‘hiraeth’ seems a little stronger; but then that’s the appeal to me, not to a general wider audience.

Watch it if you’re interested in New Zealand – the accents, attitudes, Maori integration into everyday culture, and the locations and the landscapes are typical. Watch it if you’re intrested in fish-out-of-water stories. Watch it.
The beach used as the surfing beach –  is world famous – in New Zealand.  It’s Piha, on the West coast, over the Waitakere ranges from Auckland.  It’s in the guide books and tourist information.  What isn’t though, as far as I know, found by accident on one trip over is a cafe en route called ‘Elevation’.  It looks pretty regular from the front.  And the food is ok – what you’d expect from a roadside cafe, if not a little better. After you enter, however, and choose a table at the back, preferably outside on the deck, which protrudes out from the side of the mountain range so it feels like you’re sitting on Tarzan’s tree-house; the view of Auckland city is spectacular.

But that’s besides the point.  Why are these gems of television being hidden away at 2-3pm when most of us are working or else otherwise tied up with the demands of the day?  My erratic schedule allowed me to watch some of Shakespeare&Hathaway on days where I was going to pick the children up from school; in which case, it saw me leaving 10 mintues before the end and having to catch the conclusion on BBC iPlayer later on.  Or never.

By the time Shakespeare&Hathaway had finished I wasn’t even aware that 800 words had taken the slot until someone else told me about it and this week it’s become our must-binge-watch programme of the evenings after the children are in bed.

Now I know the way we (in general, as a worldwide industrialised-nations viewership) watch TV is changing.  We watch mostly on-demand, when we want to.  The BBC appear to be catching up….programmes tagged as ‘BBCThree’ productions don’t actually exist on the ‘real world of TV’ since BBCThree moved exclusively ‘online’ (i.e. BBCThree is basically a section of BBCiPlayer).  Recently, BBCWales seems to be putting an awful lot of weight on how well ‘Keeping Faith’ went down with online audiences, given that it was only broadcast within the confines of the BBCWales region in English (and S4C in Welsh), so the only way viewers who couldn’t pck up BBCWales (numbers of whom must be dwindling these days as more and more set-top boxes and smart-TVs give everyone the myriad of freeview channels available wherever you are regardless of regionality).

But still, I wouldn’t have known to go looking for “800 Words” on BBC iPlayer had someone not told me about it.

So, now I’m telling you. Watch it!

 

 

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Posted in Life, TV, writing

Answers on a postcard…

I was watching the breakfast news yesterday.  This doesn’t happen often. normally I am making breakfasts for 2 cats, a dog, 3 children (yes, usually in that order.  The cats are louder…) and, of course, putting the all important, freshly ground, coffee perculator on. (By the time I actually get around to drinking some though it’s almost all gone because DH has already sat down and had two cups while scanning his phone.)

On the breakfast news (remember…?) they had a section on postcards. Remember them?  Funny old things you’d buy when you went on holiday, and write in your hotel room, usually on the first night before you’d actually done anything to  write home about; then frantically try to find (in your best pidgeon-French-or-Spanish) the nearest ‘Postale’, and try to explain you needed a stamp for this card and ask for the nearest post-box.

And it STILL wouldn’t arrive before you got home.  Even if you were there for 6 months as a foreign student.

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A postcard I have lying around

The breakfast news was, kind of, lamenting the loss of the postcard.  They interviewed a ‘holiday historian’ I think.  Or a ‘seaside resort historian’.  Come on, it was yesterday.  I don’t remember his exact speciality. He was a historian.  His specialisation was relevant in part to postcards.  So he was on the red sofa.  He was the ‘we should save the postcard’ representative I suppose.

Next to him was a travel blogger.  Of which there are many.  Many many many.  This one was young-ish and pretty so she was the poster-child of the ‘we no longer need postcards’ side of the debate.

There was a vox-pop. Of course.  There’s always a vox-pop.  In some regional accent near some regional seaside resort, you know, to make it relevant.  In general, older people still sent postcards.  The slightly younger people who remembered the days pre-internet wished postcards were still as popular; and still send them to older relatives; and the “how did you suvive before the internet” youngsters, well, no…they just instagram or snapchat themselves on a beach to their jealous friends back home.

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“But I tried, didn’t I? God-Damn it at least I did that!” – Postcards used to be given away free at the cinema – free marketing?

I recently had the pleasure of re-organising my study.  It’s the box-room-come-spare-bedroom.  There’s barely room for the single bed in there and the door doesn’t open fully, because the bed is blocking it. But it makes us sound posh, having a spare bedroom.  It’s also where the computer desk is.  You know, with the ancient desktop computer that’s so slow because it’s from the dark ages.  It’s at least 7 years old. That makes it from the dark ages in computer speak.  It’s also where the sort-of filing is kept.  I say sort-of; because it’s not filed, exactly.  I still have to re-arrange a few years worth of paperwork in order to find what I’m looking for.

I have to do a tax-return.  Soon.  Sometime.  When I can stop putting off.  (mental note:  Do the bloody tax-return!). So the other day I got around to digging out the relevant paperwork and invoices and payslips and receipts for the period for which I have to to the tax return.  I got sidetracked while sorting the paperwork.  Of course I did.  Getting sidetracked is kind of one of my things. In fact, I’m doing it right now.

I got sidetracked because I found an old writing case I was given by one of my grandmothers. She gave it to me back in the days when having pen-pals was all teh rage in school.  A friend of mine was an advocate for some pen-pal company she’d found in a magazine, that matched up school children in different countries with children in other countries of their choice around their own age.  It’s lovely, the writing case.  It’s black leather.  The zip is old and almost seizes up from lack of use.  I blew off the dust and opened it and found a lovely selection of writing paper, and…(and we’re finally back on point…) a selection of postcards.  Amongst the writing paper were some pretty floral papers with matching envelopes; some official looking airmail paper and airmail envelopes (for the uninitiated, ‘airmail’ paper was always lighter and thinner, so the end result weighed less and so could be posted for less postage paid); some black writing paper – which I thought was funky and cool at the time of purchase because I would write on it  with gel-pens. And then, the one that really got to me.

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My old writing case.

Some powder blue writing paper with matching envelopes adorned with cartoon kiwis.  I bought it when I lived in New Zealand.  It’s poignant because that’s the last time I really wrote letters and postcards. It wasn’t frivolous to buy letter-writing paper and envelopes then.  When I moved abroad, the internet existed; but it was in it’s infancy.  Facebook was relatively new.  I had about 15 friends on there, and most of them were relatives.  Facebook I wouldn’t have had an interest in except for the fact I had moved abroad.  It was an easy tool for keeping in touch with relative and friends who used it.

My grandparents didn’t.  Grampy had once signed up and bought a laptop but the interest soon fizzled out and it fell into disuse so the internet account was cancelled and the laptop rehomed.

It’s a funny thing, emigrating.  Whatever your reason, whatever your future plans for relocating there forever; for visits home and people visiting you…whatever you leave behind seems sort of frozen in time.  Places don’t change, civil engineering in your home town doesn’t happen, people don’t age.

I took to writing to Grandma & Grampy regularly.  I’d write letters, include postcards and photos. I sent scan pictures and photos when I had children. I even hand-drew a plan of our house so they could imagine the layout.  I imagined some day they would come and visit anyway so they would then be able to visualise it. Relatives may have already shown them on their phones or told them the news; but having the photos and the correspondence in their hands would have made more sense to them I think.

Except, while we lived away, people *did* get older.  A few weeks ago, I attended the funeral of the last person I received a hand-written letter from.  And even that was a few years ago.

Finding the writing case, containing a few postcards I’d saved from trips to the cinema, (where free ‘Boomerang’ postcards were available on a stand near the entrance, along with ‘Flix’ magazine; just in case they came in handy for those ‘answers on a postcard please’-type competitions on TV.  Which I never entered anyway.  But you never knew…) and then seeing a TV report on the decline of the postcard, did actually bring a tear to my eye.  Not for the loss of a piece of card, or the designs and photos.  I could take photos of places, some nicer than the postcards I could buy from there.

I don’t really feel bad that a major postcard-producing company is closing down or reducing production (which was what had prompted the TV discussion)  -I’m all for saving paper and being environmental.  I’m impressed that within an instant from the other side of the world we can make people ‘back home’ jealous (because that’s what it’s all about these days, isn’t it? none of your ‘Wish you were here…’ rubbish!).  And entering competitions online seems more like the chance to win something with little to no effort; rather than having to pay for a stamp and post off your ‘answer on a postcard’ and then wait for weeks on end to find out if you won…if you ever did find out; and if you didn’t win, constantly wondering whether the reason your postcard wasn’t fished out of the bucket was because it got lost in the post and never made it into the bucket in the first place…

What I do miss is writing.  With an ACTUAL pen.  A Parker fountain pen, no less.  I feel sad that my beautiful, well-loved, well-travelled and well-looked-after writing case, full of perfect stock, which it kept pristine and ready for me, now has no purpose. I feel a little bit done out of the opportunity to use all those postcards that I’d lovingly stored and saved just in case one day a competition I actually wanted to win came up, and the only way to enter was to send your answer, in the mail, on a postcard.  Or, (in the voice of your favourite Blue Peter presenter,) ‘the back of a stuck-down envelope’. I feel sad that people only receive bills in the mail these days, that the excitement of receiving a colourful envelope that feels like it has something fun and interesting in it along with a letter explaining the photos or the newspaper clipping will never be understood be whole generations.  I feel sad that the fact that a whole generation of people I used to write to is all but gone.

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One final thought. On a postcard.

And it’s a sign of the times that, when I ‘Googled’ “Answers on a postcard please” in the hope of finding a fun image to accompany this post, over 2million returns were listed of pages EXPLAINING “What does the phrase ‘Answers on a postcard’ mean?”

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Acting, TV

The First Rule…

I joined a film club.  The first rule of this film club is we don’t talk about film club.  Sod that, I’m going to anyway!

Actually, I was ‘specially selected’ to be invited to join the film club.  That made me feel quite special, actually.

For two reasons.  One, that they were thinking of me when considering who to invite to the inagural gathering; and two, that I was thought of because ‘they needed some younger females’.

They needed some YOUNGER females and thought of ME!  I don’t really consider myself *old* for someone who’s going to be 40 next year; but in an industry where most casting briefs are for 18-25 year olds; and people are posting in online actor forums “I’m 28, is it too late to go to drama school?  Am I too late to become an actor”; that someone, anyone, remotely linked to this industry considers me a ‘younger female’, is a bonus!

However, just a quick glance through casting directories like “StarNow“, or others of its ilk, where anyone can sign up and ‘put themselves out there’ (There are some that require at least some proof of experience or professional training in order to sign up to); any number of young, good-looking, aspiring-model types list themselves; and jobs such as ‘reality’ shows (You didn’t think Big Brother and Love Island just found these people randomly on the street, did you?) and ‘promo people’, or even ‘normal’ jobs get listed to entice ‘resting’ actors to apply for… there aren’t that many ‘older’ actresses ‘starting out’; nor are there the job listings that are looking for them.  I’ve seen a few more, recently, when you actually look, usually when looking for “Social worker 1” or “Mother of the lead character”. (Strangely, despite being a full-on mum to 3 little boys, I don’t get cast too often as a ‘mum’ – funnily enough, in TV land, even ‘mumsy types in their 30s’ still all look like a size 8-10  catalogue model who’s main experience of childcare is taking her niece to the zoo…)

And, more inspiringly, ‘older’ actresses are getting more press… Shirley Maclaine and Maggie Smith being the coolest characters in Downton Abbey? Diana Rigg ruling Game of Thrones?  Everyone adoring Helen Mirren in pretty much anything she does?  And my favourite person of the moment, who also happens to play my ‘sister’ in ‘medieval times’, wrote this blog piece about how she came to do Acting & Writing, instead of just day-dreaming about it.

The other day, I showed her something I am involved in writing.  And she loved it. Despite the fact that the leads were not necessarily 18-25 year olds.  And it reminded me of something my writing partner had been told, sometime last year, about not waiting for the parts to come up, but writing your own stuff was the way to go (of course…that depends on how well you write…but hey, there are ways around that!) and then…at this year’s BAFTA film awards, it was mentioned how successful ‘older’ women are successful, mainly, when they go out and write their own material themselves…because sitting around waiting for someone else to write you a character, well, may be a very long wait…

And so, back to Film Club… It’s, very basically, a group of people who just want to make stuff.  Some of us get paid to do it, some of us want to learn, some of us can see a huge potential for this group to be a good lerning/teaching base, a forum for furthering causes (for example, mental health is a big focus at the moment, particularly mental health in the arts, and a current project deals with this) or just for producing entertainment; with no requirement for dealing with budgets or sponsors or ‘money-men’ – we have directors, writers, producers, actors, cameramen, sound ops, editors… and anyone at any time can opt to beome a student of any of these roles and learn from each other, depending on the project we’re creating.  Just for the sake of creating. And being able to show something that we created. Just because we created it.

Posted in Creative, Harry Potter, Life, Movies, Social Media, TV

Fandom taking over…

A while ago I wrote about my own personal earlier experiences with fandom, before and after the invention of the internet.

Years ago, geeks and nerds and cosplayers (which wasn’t even a word then…adults who play dressing up); were derided. Even conventions, VERY big business today, were covert trips.  They were the uncool kids.  The spotty bespectacled kid in the corner who was at best, ignored, and worst, had mashed potato slingshotted towards them from the back of a spoon (well, according to American TV shows and movies I saw…I don’t think I ever noticed any of these individuals in the UK…or wherever in the world I happened to be at the time).

It’s funny how the internet has changed this one particular walk of life.  Like I said above, Conventions are now huge (and there are so many more of them…everywhere…no longer do you have to save up a lifetime to go to San Diego for Comic-Con…) as is cosplay.  It’s now uber-cool to post pictures of yourself in your costume when heading off to {insert your city here}-Con; it’s perfectly acceptable to spend your social time discussing in-depth the comparisons of the latest Doctor Who series compared with the Peter Davidson or Patrick Troughton years over your Caramel-Macchiato (coz…y’know, no-one goes for a pint at the pub anymore….it’s always a coffee at that cool coffee-house on the corner…).

Because we’re no longer simply at the mercy of what we read in a handful of papers or what our neighbours and friends tell us in some kind of chinese-whispers type of way; or based solely on what we see on 3-4 TV channels that some TV boss somewhere has decided we should see or think is cool.  Now, we can search for anything, compare our thoughts and feelings and find the people, all over the world, who think like us about subjects we feel passionate about.  Now, the nerds and the geeks from every high-school in the world can unite, and show that they are many, and then the closet geeks and nerds who wished they were them feel brave enough to come out, dressed as a Klingon.

When I was in University I house-shared with a girl who was in the Medieval Society, she met her boyfriend/fiance in said society; we lost touch but I always wonder when I see reports of ‘themed’ weddings whether they did that, all those years ago before it was fashionable?

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It’s no longer ‘a bit odd’ to come out and announce your affiliation to whichever-genre-you-choose or the fact that you have Hogwarts robes in your wardrobe.

Mind you, the quality is so good these days, because *they* {Manufacturers, marketers, licensing people I suppose…} know that big fans will spend the money on them, I might even have purchased a ‘proper’ robe myself while I was at Universal, even as a not-so-huge HP fan {Loved the books…because I love books anyway…kind of went off the whole franchise with the movies etc…} but was put off by the price.  Which is kind of a sticking point I’ve noticed.  Across the internet, there are online-quizzes and games asking “Are you ***** biggest fan?”; articles and blogs about ‘Blah-Blah-Blah’s biggest fan”.  I found this video on Youtube (there are many, for all different ‘fandoms’) of a girl in America who “believes she’s the wizard’s biggest fan thanks to her vast collection of memorabilia worth a staggering £40,000.” and the comments range from basic “wow” to “I’m a big fan too” to “Does the fact she’s rich and can afford to buy the expensive memorabilia make her the biggest fan?”.  To be fair, not everyone has the money to spend, but she does address that in the video saying she’s worked hard for it all.

As with Victoria Maclean, who I had the pleasure of meeting last year and working on set with; co-incidentally after I’d read her autobiography online…completely by chance after coming across it from a different source (Mutual friends on Facebook I think).  Now Victoria’s similar…she has a vast collection of merchandise.  But again, she bought it all with her own money; she was gifted some and sent some (…and similarly is careful that it doesn’t completely take over the house in a hoarder fashion!).  But reading her book brought to mind my point.  Years ago, someone might have thought twice about building their life-story around their fandom.  In an autobiography, it might have been one chapter, or a sideline, if it was mentioned at all…incase it made the story ‘uncool’ or put people off reading it.

Nowadays, the fandom is a selling-point, a marketing tool.  Harry Potter fans, of which there are millions of all levels (myself included to a small extent) would flock to read the story purely because it references Harry Potter and the effect it had on Victoria’s life.  One event that occurs in one of J.K.Rowling’s  Harry Potter stories is the Yule Ball.  Thanks to her using that term in the book for the annual festive celebration at Hogwarts, to anyone familiar with Potter-dom, it no longer conjours up visions of some Victorian Christmas Party; it’s now intrinsically linked forever to the world of Harry Potter.  And that’s why Victoria is throwing her own.  Far from just collecting memorabilia and hanging her robes in her closet until the next Comic-Con, she’s made it her life.  She’s organised book nights and quizzes and runs online groups and Twitter accounts for other Harry Potter fans.  And, like two of my best friends are throwbacks to my Due South days…beause we will always have that in common; Victoria’s closest circle are also dedicated Potter fans.  And that circle is probably going to grow at Christmas time as other fans flock from all over to her *almost-sold-out event.

At the end of the day, no matter what you’re a fan of or how you celebrate it, it’s probably more about community.  30 years ago, if you were the loner in school, who never had the hot boy/girlfriend, because you wanted to read comic books about Thor and that’s just not what the other kids did, you just kept it to yourself and went to find a quiet place to enjoy it.  Nowadays, you don’t have to be sidelined…you go On-line; and find your best friends.

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The internet can be, and is, blamed for a heck of a lot of bad things these days.  But this is one to be celebrated.

That, and 24-hour shopping for just about anything you want, of course 😉 **

*at the time of writing, there were 3 tickets left
** that’s a joke.  The Internet is actually Good for you

x

Posted in Acting, Filmmaking, TV, writing

It’s My Shout

Last summer I was fortunate to be involved in the “It’s My Shout” short-film training scheme.

It’s South-Wales based (although I think participants travel from elsewhere too). Industry profiessionals (crews who work on local productions for BBC and others, such as Casualty & Welsh-language soap opera Pobl Y Cwm ) take on trainee crews and even cast, to produce short films, derived from a short-film writing competition ealier in the year.

The first I’d heard of it was seeing a friend on Facebook congratulating a friend of his for making the script shortlist; followed by another friend & fellow actor asking if I’d like to go along with her to the introduction and registration evening being held locally.  After attending that and registering, we went along to a casting session. I read for two parts.  They were talking abotu a third I quite fancied but they didn’t seem to be casting for.  Of the two I read for, I preferred one.  After a few weeks, I got a call back….for the other one I hadn’t preferred! I went down to BBC Roath Lock Studios in Cardiff and met again with the director of the second audition. In the meantime, I’d had a call from the production office asking if I’d take on a completely different role I hadn’t read for!

As it turned out I didn’t get the other role I was called back for, nor the other role I read for.  Chatting to a fellow cast member, someone lined up for the role I’d been cast in, had been asked to play the other role (lost track yet?!)…the one I had been interested in at the open casting but they weren’t getting people to read for that role…

Anyway…fast-forward a few months and the award ceremony (a rather grand affair at the Wales Millenium Centre in Cardiff Bay); I was nominated for Best Supporting Actress!  Considering I hadn’t even gone for the part initially I was chuffed to pieces (after getting over the shock!).  I scribbled a few notes in my head – just in case of winning, you know; but…this was a comedy role.  We all know that comedies never win the awards, right?  It’s the hard-hitting dramatic roles that win gongs…

It was a tough category…where every other category had been whittled down to 5 nominees (one even had 4…I think they had been struggling to find nominees for that one?); there were 8 nominees in my category. From a series of 9 films. If I didn’t stand a chance before, that was just the nail in the coffin now.  I almost stayed in my seat and didn’t bother to go to the nominees seating area closer to the stage; I was that convinced it would go to someone else.

Have you ever experienced something so shocking that everything seems to come to a standstill? And yet…when they called out my name, I wasn’t frozen to the spot…but my reactions felt mechanical…going through the motions. My mind was pretty numb, I guess my face was kind of stuck in a shocked expression, I managed to go through the motions of getting up, glancing around to acknowledge any faces I recognised, find my way to the side of the stage in the dark, and graciously thank (I hope!) the presenters of my award.  I think I even managed to say something legible that didn’t sound like a) a jumbled pile of garbage or b) a complete shocked silent stare; and then pose for a relatively nice picture with the presenters backstage.

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It’s my Shout scheme 2017 is open for 10-minute screenplay submissions until April 14th 2017, and potential Cast & Crew trainees can register interest now via the “Get Involved” section of the It’s My Shout Website, and follow their Facebook page for updates on registration sessions across South Wales and later on, open casting calls.

 

Posted in Art, Creative, Filmmaking, History, TV, writing

Happy due South Day

Just because…

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This is what happens when you combine the fantabulous Paul Haggis, the Amazing Leslie Nielsen and the breathtaking Canada, mix in a little Shakespeare, in one little TV show …

A few months ago I wrote this post about online fandom.  Even without online fandom that there was at the time, I would have fond memories of this TV show.  Anyway, since the episode containing this speech (Swansong ep “Call of the Wild”, in case you’re wondering and want to go back and find it) aired, the random date chosen to feature in this speech has had a place in many DS fans’ hearts as ‘Due South Day’.  So, here it is.

Click here for Buck Frobisher’s 11th March Speech

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Happy March 11th.

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Posted in Life, Movies, Social Media, TV, writing

Online Fandom

I can remember being a fan of various shows as I was growing up.  There were special shows for which I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime (“Fame” and “Dempsey & Makepeace” I seem to recall).  There were shows that during my teens allowed me to escape teen angst and the growing pains of, like “Quantum Leap“. (Weird teenage hormones … couldn’t decide if I was watching it because I fancied Sam or Al the most … eh?!!), but those were my pre-internet days.  In fact, it got cancelled before I got so hooked on it that I realised I was such a fan.  Then they started re-runs. And I started writing spin-offs in my head.  I guess that would be what is now known as Fan-Fiction.  I did a LOT more of that, before I came to learn of the term ‘fan-fiction’.

Due South was my first passionate following, and it happened to be not only right when the internet was making it big, but when I had my first full-time job, which happened to give me constant computer access (I worked in the 151 faults call-center for BT at the time).  Remember, this was the days before Facebook (What?  You mean there was a time Facebook didn’t exist?  O.M.G.!); the days before seemingly everyone had a computer at home, a laptop in their bag and a computer-phone in their pocket.

gaspYes, I know, these days it seems like so long ago.  And recently when someone reminded me it was TWENTY YEARS … yes, 2-0 years, since Due South first aired, I realised that, yes, it actually WAS so long ago.  When I was little, it seemed like an age before I would be 20.  Now I’m so far past it, it seems like equally an age ago.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, the early days of what we now think of as ‘The Internet’.  Not the REAL early days, when simple binary message were being sent from black screen to black screen in robotic green typefaces; but when there were forums and chat-groups, and long before any type of instant messenger (remember Yahoo Messenger when it was WOW and NEW and FAB?), when a whole conversation consisted of one-line emails … and I had nothing else to do on the internet; in between calls, on quiet days (for example, it was my first full-time job, I was a moody young person, not yet 20, who couldn’t WAIT for an excuse to escape the good old ‘family Christmas’.  So I volunteered for the Christmas Day shift.  I sat there for 10 hours and took 2 calls.  And one of those was trying to order a takeaway but got the wrong number…).

Do you remember the first ever thing you ‘looked up’ when you got the internet? (Come on, I don’t think there was even Google back then, so you couldn’t have ‘Googled’ anything.  I’m pretty sure Yahoo! was EVERYTHING.  Unless you were in the U.S.A and had AOL. )

Well, I’m pretty convinced mine was Due South.  Seriously, I can’t think of ANYTHING else I was doing on the internet in those days.

A couple of years before, I’d actually expanded my fandom into getting in to contact with other fans, via that old fashioned medium of ‘snail-mail’.  There was a short lived, international magazine called E-TV, which specialised in niche-TV shows, like emergency shows and cop shows (E.R., NYPD Blue,).  My parents ran a newsagent at the time and I found this on the shelf one day and this particular edition had an article on Due South in it.  On the ‘letters’ page (remember those?) there was some guy in Canada who was looking for international pen-friends.  I don’t think he was specifically talking Due South but I just cottoned on to the ‘CANADA’ underneath his letter and decided to write. I can’t believe that was so long ago. We sent articles back and forth in the post, about UK shows he’d heard of and seen, and he would write back about Canadian stuff, and Due South.

So, back to the internet.  So, I looked up ‘due South, and found a mailing list (I suppose the modern equivalent would be a Facebook group!), which basically consisted of group emails flying about.  Discussing Due South, the storylines, the characters, the actors and their other work.  And anything remotely related. There could be hundreds of emails a day, I’d have a separate window open behind my work screen and be carrying on a conversation.  Don’t forget – of course it would be against everyone’s ‘Internet usage at work‘ policies by now (probably thanks to me!!) but back then, there was no precedent for this.  And, even back then I was quite good at multi-tasking, I was still getting pretty good call-handling and file-updating targets and whatever else, despite carrying on an email conversation about a Mountie and a deaf wolf at the same time.  Pretty sure they knew … they’re not stupid, but since it wasn’t interfering with my productivity; and to be honest, it was probably enhancing my PC literacy skills beyond anything they could teach me!

I didn’t do it all on company time, however.  There was an Internet Cafe nearby.  It’s where I would go after work, spend an hour or so.  I had an electric word processor at home, which I used to write on.  I figured out how to convert what I wrote on there to ASCII text, on a floppy disk.  So, I could save a load of emails, mainly the longer ones; at the internet cafe, onto a floppy, take them home, read through them, write some equally long and insightful responses, then on my next trip to the internet cafe, (After the man at the desk had dutifully scanned the floppy for viruses) I could upload the ASCII text files, copy and paste them into an email and that was my contribution to the mailing list…without spending paid for hours at the internet cafe typing it all out!

Goodness, until I started this post I’d not even thought of that little place in years.  It wasn’t one of these glossy chain places you might see these days.  It was upstairs above an old betting shop or something, a rickety staircase into what was probably a converted living room, with some old tables and creaky floorboards and cheap industrial carpet. There was a castle across the road so the view from the small pokey windows was quite cool.

As a result of that first venture into internet fandom, internet groups and the like, two of my oldest friendships were formed.  Well, three, if you include the guy from Canada.  Who is still there.  I’m still in touch with him; he joined the same internet DS group, and since Facebook (well, hasn’t everyone?).  I’ve still never met him in person; but even if I never do, I’d consider him a ‘friend’ rather than an ‘acquaintance’.  Incidentally, he occasionally dips is toe in the blogging waters too.

But on the other two counts, we have met.  Three of us, girls (ladies) of similar age; similar tastes in TV and literature.  We have sporadic but almost regular ‘meet-ups’ (when I’m not living in far flung corners of the world).  All because we started chatting randomly on this email list some 15-16 years ago…

Sometimes, well, not so much any more, but I used look at events like ‘Comic Con’ and other fan-centric conventions as being solely the domain of ‘geeks’ and ‘nerds’ … well, they are, I suppose but being one of those is becoming more popular and less … erm… geeky (Don’t ask). And a few years ago, probably wouldn’t have admitted to having any part in ‘internet fandom’ – surely geeking over something online is just as bad as doing it in ‘real-life’.  Except, they’re both ingrained now. whatever happens on the internet can so easily be ‘real-life’.  And usually is.  And, in western society, rarely does anything happen that is not somehow related to the internet, the use of the internet, or else be photographed or written about on the internet.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m grateful to have been there from the early days.  Maybe not the very start, but close enough.  Before the madness REALLY took hold.  What brought this home to me, really, was an older relative, after I showed him how to use his newest smart-phone, asking how I’d learned computer and internet stuff. Because he’d done ‘a computer course’ (and we all know, computer courses aimed at the older generation consist of how to turn the computer on, set up a Hotmail address, send a basic email, use Word and maybe another MS Office program… but even then, I had to show him once how to add a photo as an attachment to an email…).  And really, there was ‘an IT room’ in school but we didn’t really delve into I.T. that much…it hadn’t really caught on that much before I left school (am I showing my age now?).  I mean, I did a secretarial course, which included word-processing on a ‘computer’ (yup…black screen, green robotic writing…); but the only time we spent in the ‘I.T.’ room was some of the lads drawing rude phallic pictures on ‘Paint’, and using the time to type up essays and print them out.

So, basically, I have DueSouth to thank for my modern take on computer and internet literacy.
Oh, and if you were wondering if I ever worked out who I fancied most out of Sam or Al … Nope.  Jury’s still out on that one.

Look, if you’re gonna say “SAM of course” …. maybe it’s just the uniform…
Capture

But, maybe, not quite as good as this one:

Leslie Nielsen guest starring as Sgt. Duncan 'Buck' Frobisher, with Paul Gross as Constable Benton Fraser, in 'dueSOUTH'
Leslie Nielsen guest starring as Sgt. Duncan ‘Buck’ Frobisher, with Paul Gross as Constable Benton Fraser, in ‘dueSOUTH’
Posted in Acting, Filmmaking, Life, Movies, Social Media, TV

Random connections…

So, Twitter has been my fad of the moment.

I mean, I signed up for it ages ago, and tweeted a little;  but up until now, it’s been one of those things I could have taken or left.  I use Facebook a lot … living in other countries and having children meant FB was good for keeping in touch with family and friends and sharing the children growing up. Twitter, I never really got.  People said “It’s what you make of it”, “It depends who you follow, and what you’re interested in”.

I have the odd convo with people I’m also friends with on FB and in real life. someone told me once they use Twitter for saying things they wouldn’t say on FB.  Fewer connections, a little more anonymous, I guess.

Sometimes I’ll check it in time to learn some big piece of breaking news.  Other times, I’ll search a hashtag to see what other people are saying about stuff (like #Casualty when they did those double eps at the end of August!). Generally, no. Generally, Facebook is my go-to society.

Except something strange happened.  A couple of weeks ago now.  I got an availability check from an SA agency.  (This is when they put out feelers to people who might suit  a particular role they’ve been asked to cast.  They choose the people who fit the bill from their database, then contact those chosen to see if they’re available for the dates required, before putting them forward to the production).  Anyway, over hurdle #1 before I even knew about it – I sort of must have fit the bill ‘they’ were looking for.  #2, I was available for the filming dates, and could possibly make the suggested costume fitting schedule.  Next thing I know #3 – I’ve been shortlisted for “the part” -( i.e. a named part, meaning this was no ‘random passer by’, this was a particular role.  Not necessarily speaking, but what is known as ‘featured’. ) but ‘they’ wanted to see a video clip of those of us on the shortlist; to see how we are on camera.

By tomorrow morning.

And I was on set, dressed for the 1980’s.  Green eye shadow and hairspray and everything.

ETA at home, possibly after 10pm.

So, I get home, dig out the tripod and the remote for the DSLR, and realise from what other SA’s had been talking about who’d done some of it, this is a period thing they’re casting for – no eye shadow or hairspray type of period.  Wipe off as much make up as I could; disguise the fact my hair has been backcombed to within an inch of its life; try and get the lighting as right as I can, in the dining room, alone, at night; and film myself talking random gibberish to camera for a minute or so (trying to not wake everyone in the house); edit it slightly to add my name and a little title screen, so it looks relatively presentable; and email it back to the agency.  Phew.

After all that excitement, my mind starts wandering to what it would be like to get this part.  That I hadn’t considered even  existed before today, let alone wanting, or chasing, or applying for.

I hadn’t considered being on this particular production.  I’d heard other SAs talking about it – about how days they’d done on it had been enjoyable.  For a lot of period work, well, anything earlier than the 1970s I suppose, they rarely put anyone with a fringe forward. (Along with no dyed hair or obvious piercings, etc etc)

My fringe was still growing out.  I was in such a mindset that I had a fringe, I hadn’t realised that by now, it’s really long enough that it can be pretty much styled to not be seen. Up until now, I had not even considered being put forward for anything other than contemporary stuff.  So, this sudden turn of events had peaked my interest in this production they’d all been talking about.  So I googled it, and IMDB‘d it, and scrolled down the cast list for the character to whom I would have been related.  Interesting … portrayed by an interesting looking actor, who happens to be originally from the same locale as me!  So, I look up said performer on twitter and, purely out of interest, you understand, click ‘follow’.

Next day, more excitement … I am down to THE LAST TWO!

It’s me or someone else.

O.M.G!  Two days ago I didn’t know anything about this production nor did I have any inclination or need to go anywhere near it.  By now I was pretty overly invested … damn you internet searches!

Hurdle #4 – can I get down to (secret location) to see the costume and makeup departments ASAP.  Hell yeah I can! Hot foot it, leaving half a cup of tea.  Nice chat the the hair lady who loved my hair but worried it was too short, and mentioned she was under the impression I was the only one left in the running, and advised what to do with my hair before shooting day; and the costume team, who measured pretty much everything…

So, you can guess how this is going to go….

Step #5, the next day, they have to wait to see the other girl …

And… she got it.  Apparently, they ‘Luuurrved me, dahling’ … and there were arguments over me.  But in the end, I wasn’t chosen. Ah well, two days work, at a higher rate than your regular random background blur.  So near and yet so far. On a brighter note, from what I could gather from write-ups, there are regular gruesome endings for certain charcaters of this show.  Chances are I might have only had one scene – the one in which I died. Plus, another SA who was in 1980 with me (see above) said she’d had a similar near-miss experience of being offered a featured part – she saw it as a bonus – one day featured, or a couple of weeks as a regular background later on … good point, I suppose.

Meanwhile, the point of this post is not the excitement of this particular casting process, but it leading me to Twitter.

Ah yes, Twitter.  So, the feeling of rejection, insofar as I hadn’t courted the role at all up until a couple of days ago, really got to me, for a couple of days at least.  (At least it took my mind off other things going on in my life, for a couple of days).  I consoled myself by following the cast and crew of my new found ‘must see’ production on Twitter.  Particularly that original cast member. Who was having various Twitter ‘conversations’ with other followers, mostly in the U.S.A. I randomly started participating in one of these conversations; and eventually, fell in to conversation with one of those other followers, completely separate from cast and crew.  And blimey, this complete stranger from the other side of the world turned out to be amazingly interesting – living such a different life from anything I’d been used to (Which, I’ve mentioned in other posts, is quite a lot, really).  I mean, for one thing, she goes prospecting for a few months of every year – I never knew people even did that anymore!

Prospector_dance

Now I’m having notions about going on a writers research trip and following her on a prospecting trip, and writing about it – maybe an article, or a book, even a movie.  Now there’s something I’ve not done before.  A bit fanciful.  No, EXTREMELY fanciful; but still …

Apart from this new pen-friend, a few other random conversations seem to have happened from simply participating a lot more there.

In amongst the drivel and the drudge, I’ve come to realise just how wonderful is this interabyss that it allows us to just connect, and share, and find those we need to talk with or just share with, to help us feel right again; just when we need them, to take our mind off things, to connect over something.

Posted in Acting, Filmmaking, Movies, TV, writing

How I became an ‘Extra’

When I was in school I chose drama (or, more specifically, “Theatre & Media Studies”) as an A-level subject.

I’d been ‘steered’ away from choosing it for GCSE and regretted it for that entire 2 year period.  It really was all I had any interest in doing anyway, apart from English, which was a given, set subject anyway.  But, it was a subject that led nowhere, I should choose more academic subjects, learn skills and choose more useful courses. I’m sure you’ve heard that excuse before.

When it came to choosing A level subjects,  I probably could have had the choice of a number of GCSE subjects which I’d done pretty well at, with little (or no, now I come to admit it) effort in revision or study; but I really didn’t have the heart to pursue any of them.  I always wanted to act, and/or make movies. (I still do, but that’s a whole other story.  Although it’ll probably crop up once or twice during this post.) when it came down to discussing it with teachers, and then mum, once they gave me cause to hope it was possible to choose this having not studied it to GCSE.

Looking back since, I think it was pure desperation on their part to make up the numbers – there ended up only being four of us on the A level course anyway.  Which, for any other course with practical aspects might have been a hindrance.

But for us, it worked out fine.  Any theoretical classroom based work was quiet and studious with no distraction.  And the practical aspects…well, we produced a ‘prospectus video’ for the school, which with just four of us as a tight knit production team was easy – fewer of us to argue the toss, to storyboard, to direct.  We were able to all get hands on experience with the camera, and the teachers got us a day in an actual editing suite, learning to use the equipment and again, all getting hands on experience editing our actual video.  Being only four of us, any practical acting presentations (as a group or sometimes two pairs) we did showcased each of us far more than larger groups might have had the opportunity for. I went to a Welsh medium school. Because the 1st-lanuage Welsh speaking community in South Wales was so much smaller than in other parts of Wales, a lot of welsh-speakers had, I suspect, friends and acquaintances in different professions in the area.  In this case, Welsh speaking drama teachers have a number of contacts within the world of Welsh-language drama and TV production.  Therefore, a small group of drama students could be offered ideal experience in TV and media production (to benefit their studies, of course) and at the same time benefit the production company by being a bunch of free extras for various productions.

Off the top of my head, an S4C drama called “Er Mwyn Tad” whose main character was a teenage girl, and so, for certain scenes, required a group of teenage friends…Voila; and Welsh-language soap opera “Pobl-Y-Cwm” – still alive and well today – where a contemporary story line involved an underage schoolgirl getting involved with one of her teachers.  Hence, scenes regularly being filmed in and around our school and some of us being required to populate halls and classrooms for scenes; and, when said character left school and went to college, she still required friends/classmates for certain scenes set in said ‘college’.  It was fun, it was an experience, and I doubt everyone who ‘did drama in school’ can say they had such benefits to learn from.

Fast Forward twenty-something years; and, even though it had crossed my mind a few times in the interim, ‘being an extra’ had never really occurred to me as something one does.  Over the years I’d watched stuff – TV and movies, and it had struck me how some people in the background seemed to be acting very very nonchalantly, as though they hadn’t noticed a movie being made, and a Hollywood A lister walking around right in front of them.  On other productions, (sadly, the majority) some of those in the background seemed to be over-acting, or just generally very bad at ‘acting normal’.  In most instances, I assumed that someone on the crew just went round after they’d cordoned off the set and grabbed some people on the street and said ‘hey, you, come and walk along this street and pretend you don’t see Mel Gibson crashing a car behind you, OK?’.  Or words to that effect.

On one occasion, someone who drank at the same pub my parents did, got cast in a movie they were shooting locally (yet another period piece, so using the castles an landscapes of Wales), and his tales of being on set were pretty inspiring…and tales of getting paid for it as well, even more so.

Years later, when I’d moved to the other side of the world, and was expecting #1 and contemplating maternity leave, I saw an ad in a local paper, I think, looking for people of all ages and looks and races to sign up to be TV and movie extras.  I toyed with the idea for a bit, as a hobby or a part time thing, but for some reason it slipped my mind, and to be honest, I’d not even thought of that until writing this now.

Then, all change again in my everyday life, and finding ourselves back here, and finding it difficult to find work of any kind, let alone full time, to fit around the OH and his shifts, and the children and their school and other commitments; I settled for a hotch-potch of casual contracts, for now.  One, the first one, really, was one of those ‘Seasonal’ jobs that comes up around Christmas time.  No, not your general extra checkout people at M&S or the supermarket; or extra sorters at the local parcel depot; this one was the cream of the crop…well, short of switching gender and growing a long white beard…but if it’s Christmas and you’re a woman (especially one who, when it came to castings in the past, always got cast as a matriarchal-type figure); where better to be but at Santa’s side playing Mrs Claus?!

mrsclaus

And so, this was my first foray into public performance, acting, since all those years before, in school, (and extra-curricular drama club). Back in the saddle.

The grotto would close so we could all have lunch together; Mrs Claus, Santa, the elves. during one of our lunch breaks, during the “What do you do when you’re not doing this” conversation that one generally has when participating in something short-term, concentrated, like this; Santa let on that he was pretty much a full time Extra (Or ‘Supporting Artiste’ – generally referred to within the industry as an ‘S.A.’.), and, contrary to what I’d always assumed in previous flirtations with the idea, made quite an O.K. living out of it.  Well, Full Time and able to make some kind of living off it?  Now there’s an idea.  And with all the ‘hanging around’, time in between to get on with writing; not to mention absorbing more production experience while it was going on around me.

So, in the new year, I looked into it a bit more.  Of course, in the years before when I’d toyed with this idea, there was no internet.  Now, all the information is far more accessible.  For everyone.  And there are so many more trying to get in to this line of work. The agencies are full to bursting of people vying for work.  And they’re always happy to take more – the more versatile and full their books are the more chance they have of placing someone on a production and therefore earning commission from the fee.  Easy to find the information and sign up.  Not so easy to get offered the work …

All in all, I’ve been quite lucky in my first year as far as amount of work.  Of course, far from being full time, it’s still more along the lines of interesting hobby which pays a bit. Although from what I can gather, some of those who treat this as a hobby or a sideline, sometimes don’t see any work at all for the whole year (most agencies require the people on their books to re-register annually.  If for nothing else, this means that photos are always up-to-date, a requirement since productions cast on the way you look and fit in to their background/set), so I’m one of the lucky ones I think.

This year, I’ll be back being Mrs Claus again for December, with the same Santa too, so we can swap stories.

I did read a blog post recently about someone’s life as an S.A.; but do you think I can find it again to link to?  Nup! So, one day soon I’ll write a bit more about the ins and outs of it; within the parameters of the rule-book of course !!! (Yes, there is one of those too!).  Don’t expect insider gossip or pictures of ‘the stars’.  If I had any, if there’s any sure fire way of getting kicked off the books, that would be it! Don’t expect show-stopping glamour or tales of how anyone got their ‘big break’, either.  It’s none of those things.

On the other hand, there’s a great bunch of hard-core ‘regulars’ on the circuit, and we do get to play with memes like this …

casualty