Just over a year ago I stepped back from my job as CEO of the content agency I co-founded and reduced my hours to two days per week. I, along with my business partner, had built the company up from three of us in an HDB to two-dozen in an office serving some of the biggest clients in the world. I was earning a decent enough wage and the crippling hours of the early years were behind us but starting the business had taken its toll. I was feeling tired, bored and creatively restless so I handed the reigns to my eminently capable partner and spent a year in search of creative fulfiment. This, in brief, is what happened…
Firstly I realised I am friends with some extraordinarily creative people. Few more so than Roxanne Holman and Mark J. Blackman, founders of Joker’s Pack Productions in London. They, like me, earn a living creating content for brands but they, like me, were yearning to create something on their own terms and decided that 2016 was the year they were going to do it. I asked how I could be of assistance and, after kicking a few ideas around, I came on board as Executive Producer of NEON, a short fantasy film written and directed by Mark with all the production values and special effects of a Hollywood blockbuster.
In the past 6 months NEON has been officially selected for 8 festivals around the world picking up 9 award nominations and one win for best director (well done Mark!) not to mention rave reviews all of which you can find here: http://mooreslore.com/2017/01/6-months-of-neon-festivals-reviews-awards-so-far/
Watching Roxy & Mark create their short masterpiece was a huge inspiration and I wanted to create something of my own so I dug out a long forgotten concept called Freelancers and re-wrote it as a six-part web-series called Headspace. I was pleasantly surprised with what I churned out so sent it to a few potential collaborators to see if they’d be interested in shooting a pilot. My first choice actors, Pam Oei and Gavin Yap, agreed which prompted Clarisse Poh to join as Producer and Jeremy Mackie as DOP. Between us we were able to scrape up enough willing volunteers to shoot not quite a pilot but a sizzle of the first few scenes to show potential sponsors and investors.
It was during the post-production on Headspace that I was introduced to yet another extraordinarily creative person by the name of Shareed Hassan. Shaz, as he prefers to be called, is a producer, director and publisher of street art sticker books. Having achieved acclaim with a couple of investigative documentary features Shaz was feeling the urge to direct his first scripted short and asked me if I had any other scripts to share. I told him I didn’t have a script but I did have a 10,000 word story about a man who creates virtual child porn as a way to prevent paedophiles molesting real children. Being a dark and twisted soul Shaz was hooked and asked me to write the screenplay for Virtually Innocent. I’ve never written anything personal for another person before, only commissions for customers, and it was a challenging process both adapting my own work and taking notes from someone not paying me (I’m now up to draft five!), but the project is about to enter pre-production and I can’t wait to see how Shaz visualises my words on screen.
Throughout my collaborations with Mark, Roxy, Clarisse, Jeremy, Shaz and others the topic of money; who has it and how to get it, came up time and time again. All of us have a passion for content creation, especially filmmaking, but if it’s not for a customer how you gonna get paid? This question is not new but seems increasingly at odds with the seemingly infinite appetite audiences have for original content today. Why do the rules of supply and demand not apply when audiences are clearly so demanding? I explored this topic in a fortnightly blog I wrote throughout most of last year on the business of content and creativity, covering alternative business models and interviewing those who have tried them. This eventually blossomed into a podcast series and was a great platform for meeting yet more potential collaborators as well as providing me with a weekly creative goal to bridge the gap between productions.
So far so fun but there was one major undertaking still knocking on the door of my imagination. Ultimately, I want to make a feature film and I had decided some time ago that it would be about my hometown of Bromley near Southeast London. As an expat people are always asking me where I come from and why they might know it. Bromley is the home of Charles Darwin, H.G. Wells and David Bowie and as a die-hard Bowie fanatic I started looking for stories about him. What I eventually found was an out-of-print memoir by Bertie Marshall, formerly an androgynous gay teenager who moved into Bowie’s street in 1969. There he discovered music, the Sex Pistols and the infamous Bromley Contingent of punk fans that included Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Severin and Billy Idol.
It took me two months to track down Bertie and another three to convince him to sell me the rights to his book but I did it and, once again, I will be working with my friends at Joker’s Pack to turn it into a feature. Being Bromley born and bred they’re an obvious choice and, should we succeed, well that’s another story I can tell about Bromley.
And that just about concludes my year. Believe it or not it wasn’t an easy decision to hand the leadership of my business over to someone else, take a 60% pay cut and spend my hard-earned savings on creative flights of fancy – I had to convince my wife for a start! But she has always been my most steadfast supporter and, I think, felt it was the best way to save me from a much worse mid-life crisis a few years from now. Her only caveat was that I didn’t waste any time and I hope this post proves I didn’t. I also learned a lot along the way too:
- I learned I prefer making content to managing a company that makes content. This is important. It’s easy to get caught up in having the most senior job title, the biggest chair and highest salary but if it doesn’t make you happy, frankly, fuck it. I’m now back in the business full time but in a completely different role that I love and that my clients love me in too.
- I learned the only difference between those who make it and those who don’t are those who do. We all know someone who says they’re going to write a novel, run a marathon, make a movie…one day. We also know they never will. Because you don’t start by writing a novel, you write a short story, or a journal, or a joke. You don’t start by running a marathon, you run a mile, then five, then ten. And you don’t start making a movie with millions of dollars and an A-list cast. You start by making whatever you can with your mates. If you can’t even do that you’ll never make it.
- I learned I’m not alone in my ambitions; there are plenty of writers, directors, producers, cinematographers and other artists out there making money from their talent but wanting to make their art too. Find them.
- I learned that no matter how much time you have it’s never enough so put down your phone and use those moments sitting in traffic, standing in queues, lingering around water coolers to create because there is no “right time” other than now.
- Finally I learned I’m much happier when I’m creating stuff, which is why I always have multiple personal projects on the go. It’s like going to the gym, you don’t always feel like it at the time but once you’ve been you always feel better. I don’t always feel inspired to write something or call someone but I always feel better when I do. It’s like Ginger Wildheart says, “no one likes writing, but everyone likes having written”.
You may not have the opportunity to simply drop everything and take a year out but if you have a passion, stop scrolling and indulge it. You will be happier, more successful and fulfilled I promise. Standby for more film and web-series news throughout 2017.