Sunday, 27 March 2016

A blog about why I'm making this film

I stepped off the campaign trail for a moment to think about why the hell I'm doing this...

As some of you may know, I’m in the midst of an Indiegogo campaign for a short film I’m directing next month. It’s been both exciting and nerve-racking wondering where the money will come from or even if it will come at all. The day before we launched I barely slept. When I did, all I dreamt about was tweeting and facebooking about the campaign!

We’re now approaching the home stretch with less than 10 days to go. If this were a roller coaster, we’d be on the slow ascent towards that final peak before the adrenaline-fueled descent to the end. 

So in this quiet before the storm, I’ve had some space to reflect.

In getting this project off the ground, I’ve been completely focused on the how - as in how the hell are we going to pull this off, but recently, I’ve been thinking about the why. Why am I embarkin
g on this mad journey?

When I was 11 I tried to write a feature film. Convinced it would be a walk in the park, I just started writing. The story had something to do with a kid and two heavies, who, as I recall, looked like James Belushi and Dan Ackroyd from The Blues Brothers. 

After about ten pages I got confused about whether I was supposed to write what the camera did. This sent me into such a tail spin I gave up. 

You see, I’ve always loved film. I just didn’t know what to do with that passion. 

Fast forward many (many) years and unsure what was next in my life, I took a leap of faith and headed to Los Angeles. 

I had no job, knew a handful of people, I didn’t even have an agent. After a few months of floundering around, a friend and I started working on a web series which we wrote, shot and co-produced. We cast our friends in the lead roles, we cobbled together a minuscule budget and just did it. This was the happiest I’d been in months. My attention was off auditions and networking and was on creating something. 
This was the start of something important. I realised there was more to me than just performing. I loved great story telling. However, ‘great story telling’ isn’t a class you can take or a Matrix-style download you implant in your brain. You have to learn it and so began the lengthy journey to do just that. 

I’ve been to classes, workshops, panels, studied film and still the process continues (I suspect it might be never-ending). I even went to film school last year and while the education was invaluable I could feel I was getting stuck between wanting to start making more of my own projects and being scared to make the leap.

But late last year I had a moment of clarity. I realised I’m the kind of person who likes to create from the ground up. Whilst the idea of being cast as a series regular in something would make life a lot easier, I actual have a passion for generating projects and that I would be denying myself something if I didn’t pursue that. If you are only a performer, you have to wait for the opportunities or projects to be created before you can work and I’m kinda impatient! 

I’m so inspired by people like Shonda Rhimes, Ava Duvernay, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Regina King and Amma Asante who are out there telling great stories. 

They always tell actors to keep training, keep busy but actors never know if anything will actually result from the hours of classes, networking or whatever. With directing, writing and producing, you are more likely to have something tangible to show for your efforts. It might be shit but at least it exists. 

And this is what excites me about directing my own film. I had an idea and now it looks like it might actually happen. And thats my why, that’s what this Indiegogo campaign is about and that’s what’s driving me at the moment. 

If you’d like to contribute to this campaign and see it happen, it’d be great to have your support. You can check out our campaign page here. There’s a teaser trailer, you can meet some of the cast and crew and we have a ton of fun perks.

Thanks so much and have a wonderful week!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Cecil's dead. Now what?

Last week, Zimbabwe’s talisman of natural beauty, Cecil the lion was brutally slain by part-time hunter and full time dentist and prick, Walter Palmer causing worldwide condemnation. In fact the outpouring of grief is approaching Princess Diana levels of hysteria. 

The guilty dentist, once the hunter now the hunted is in hiding, trying to slither out of extradition to Zimbabwe for the illegal hunt, his dental practice and home besieged by angry protesters, politely requesting he “rot in hell” and let’s not even talk abut his Yelp reviews. 

Personally, I simply cannot understand the headspace of anyone who would want to hunt. To take a bow and arrow to a living creature is abhorrent. To shoot then behead and proudly display your quarry, heinous, however the hysteria surrounding Walter Palmer’s actions does leave me scratching my head over one thing. 

It strikes me as strange that people are so vocal about the death of the lion yet most of us will happily be munching on burgers, sizzling bacon and chowing down on chicken in the same breath we decry Palmer’s actions.

Seems we love animals but just not enough to stop eating or wearing them. It’s like we pick and choose the animals we want to feel terrible about. Some justify the discord by explaining that hunting is brutal and purely for the huntsman's pleasure. 

Have you been to an abattoir recently? They’re not massaging those creatures to death, non free range animals living their entire lives in confinement, pumped with antibiotics and growth hormones, fed the cheapest gruel (remember when farmers got caught feeding animals faeces??), then stunned and killed in front of each other for our consumption. 

Unless you are some nomadic neanderthal roaming the wilderness living a hunter-gatherer existence none of us need to eat meat so really, we’re only eating it for our own pleasure. 

In terms of protecting animals, is there really much difference between a man who hunts and us eating animals not because we need the meat but for our own satisfaction?

Most people and I include myself in this, are reluctant to convert to a plant-based diet because we don't want to make the personal sacrifice to save those farm animals (not forgetting it's been proven that it's better for the planet, requiring less resources, water and farmland to provide more food). And that’s fine but how quickly we point the finger at others indulging in terrible practices, such as the Yulin dog meat festival in China, Nordic whaling and yes, big game hunting in Africa (which, by the way, occurs year round ‘legally’ but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone anywhere near as much as when it involves a lion we happen to have given a name to) but those pigs, those sheep, those goats, those chickens we didn't give a cute name to, screw them they're too delicious to give up. 

Don’t we in the west have our own questionable practices. If the Blackfish documentary makers got their facts right, SeaWorld should be shut down immediately but people still attend. I went to a zoo recently for research and my overarching sense was depression. It felt like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest for animals. And isn’t fishing just hunting at sea? Donkeys at the beach, circus animals, elephants in Indian holiday resorts lugging westerners around, it could all come under the banner of maltreatment, the measure of which is purely and utterly subjective. 

Personally, I couldn’t be as strident and vitriolic as some have been towards dentist, Walter Palmer. Not because I condone in anyway his behavior but because I know that I am not beyond reproach when it comes to animal welfare. I still eat em!

Perhaps the one good thing that may come from the death of Cecil the lion is a more honest conversation about our relationship with the animal kingdom making us think twice about the destruction we are causing in pursuit of our own needs. 

Maybe Cecil’s was a noble sacrifice as I'm sure at least a few hunters are reconsidering their choices regarding their next planned hunt regardless of the legality. 


Ultimately I hope all this is not just an outcry over one incident but an opportunity for all of us to really think about our relationship with all animals not just the ones with a cute face because none of us are above scrutiny when it comes to their welfare.

If you want Cecil's death to count for more, donate to the World Wildlife Fund


Sunday, 26 July 2015

Procrastination - What is it good for?

A couple of years ago a producer asked me to write up a sitcom idea I’d recently pitched to them. Let’s say, for the sake of argument it was called, 6 Black Friends Hang Out In Unfeasibly Large Apartments (it wasn’t but writers are secretive). It was one of those bottom drawer ideas writers often have that we’ve fallen in love with years before but have never gotten around to doing anything with. 

But now, here I was with someone not only keen on the idea but asking me to write up a treatment (a pitch document describing the characters and their world) as soon as possible. 

Every writer knows this is potentially the start of a beautiful relationship. First comes the treatment then comes marriage (or a screenplay) then comes a baby with a horse and carriage (and a nice big cheque) as the saying goes - or at least it should. 

So I set time aside in my diary to begin work but for some reason over the following days I found myself reluctant to start. Instead of committing my idea to paper I found a plethora of other things to do. The producer would gently nudge me every few days to see how things were coming along and I’d assure them everything was going to plan. In my head I’d scramble together excuses and justifications for why I hadn’t started and why I absolutely would - just as soon as I’d organized my shoes. 

Recently I was thinking back to this episode and in general about procrastination. I often see articles about how it's a negative trait and one we should seek to obliterate but perhaps, I pondered, it serves a purpose. 

With this treatment I was supposed to write, I realised that the reason I was reluctant to get started was because I didn’t know what the end game was. When the producer, in one of their nudging emails, gave me an indicator of how they’d like to proceed, I finally felt I had a clearer understanding of their intentions and after weeks of delaying, cupboard cleaning and towel organizing, I completed the treatment that afternoon. 

But what made the difference - It was that I ‘felt’. I could feel in me that it was the right time to get cracking. The resistance had shifted because things were clearer now and I was able to work unencumbered, towards my goal. 

Perhaps, procrastination is just preparation time, thinking time, getting into the right headspace time, rather than time wasted. 

When I’m planning on writing a screenplay, it can be months, sometimes even years before I get to it but in the interim, I’m considering it, coming up with great characters, story beats and twists all in preparation for when I finally commit the thing to paper. 

Now that I’ve seen this process time and time again in myself, from leaving thirty minutes to pack for a three week trip, to writing this blog an hour before I’m suppose to post it, rather than fearing my procrastination I kind of enjoy observing it and trusting that at the right time a switch will flick in me and I'll know it's time to begin.

I don't know if I can recommend this to everybody but I've started to trust my own internal clock. I like the idea of moving on something when it feels right not just when I think I should, like when a gut instinct tells me the time's right for black friends in big apartments and I think, ‘now I can begin’.


It’s all part of a bigger process of trusting your own instincts about what’s right for you. I call it 'navigating by heart'. I believe our heart knows what’s best for us, is set to our true north and will never steer us wrong. I’m learning everyday to listen to those quiet thoughts and instincts that are there to guide us towards what’s in our best interests, the quiet word that says, go on that date, don’t buy that dress, trust this person, write that treatment. 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Perhaps Serena can help change our perception of women?

Following Serena Williams’ Wimbledon triumph last week, the conversation about her physique lurched into life once again. Like the psycho killer in a bad b-movie this topic refuses to die.

J.K. Rowling issued a perfect sniper shot at a troll who claimed Serena’s win was down to her being 'built like a man'. In the parchment dry wit we've come to expect, J.K. retorted “Yeah, my husband looks just like this in a dress”. And accompanied the tweet with a photo of Serena at her most glamorous. 

The post received north of 93,000 retweets and that troll is probably still treating the burn marks from the flaming he received from the Twittersphere.

It both surprises and disappoints me that people (mainly men I’m sorry to say), have such narrow views on what womanhood should look like, dismissing Serena as unattractive because she doesn’t adhere to their idea of femininity. There were, of course, many who spoke out positively acknowledging her athleticism and stunning looks, not seeing them as opposing factors but yet we’re still in this broken-record dialogue about her body.

Die hards insisted Serena’s muscle mass is ‘manly', commenting “Serena’ is manly - fact”. No, it’s not a fact because there are no absolutes. You’re just referencing off your own ingrained beliefs. You just don’t see it. Going beyond my immediate impulse to defend her, I tried looking at her objectively. I found that, she is, unarguably a sturdy girl with a musculature normally associated with men but does that actually make her manly? 

For example, just because Kevin Hart is 5’ 4”, we don’t dismiss him as ‘childly’? We know there are tall men and short men and height has nothing to do with manliness. (That’s penis length - kidding).  

Perhaps rather than leaping to label people we need to broaden our views.

Dialogue around our perceptions of gender is gaining prominence and we’re seeing greater pushback on traditional views as we fight against being boxed in by perceptions that are dated and reductive.

Rather than telling us how a women should think, what work we should do, how we should dress, we’re now starting to say, what I am is what it means to be a woman. If it doesn't fit your perception, change it! Don’t expect me to change to make you comfortable. 

The conversation prompted by Serena is about people expressing a deep desire to be themselves, to live and let live and accept each other as we are. 

In Break Free, a short film by Orange Is The New Black star Ruby Rose, she explores breaking out of preconceived ideas of femininity to be her authentic, androgynous self, something she has battled with from a young age. 

Just look at the largely positive reception Caitlin Jenner has received where she’s being welcomed not only as a woman, but as a fashionista, pioneer and role model and even received the Arthur Ash Award for her courage through her transition. 

And guess what, through accepting her, we immediately broadened our view of what it is to be a woman.

The pushback is happening around body image too as we refuse to let the media dictate what we should and shouldn’t wear or whether we have a 'beach body' or not. 

On a personal level, this shift is welcome. I am not a petite girly girl. I can't wear hipsters. They barely cover my ‘shelf’ (and don’t get me started on thongs!). I’ve got hips, lumps and bumps and I won’t stand for anyone telling me muscular arms or sturdy legs somehow make me less of a woman. 

This is a really important conversation which I hope gains momentum. In years to come we’ll see what a major shifting point this was in how we perceive and treat each other and how we grew as a society. 

The brain loves to categorizes to help it understand the world but we are more than those primal impulses and as we continue to grow, the need for labels may become superfluous. We won’t worry about sexuality, gender, race or class. We will notice it but we’ll connect with people beyond that stuff. I mean this is a long way off but if we continue as we are, it’s a real possibility for the future. 


In the mean time, check out this video made by comedian, Angela Barnes as she looks at her relationship with her own appearance. 

By the way, my new show Super Shoppers is on Ch4 tmrw night (Mon 20th July). A cunsumer show with added silly!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

How To Fix The Hollywood Diversity Gap in One Move

From Patricia Arquette’s impassioned demand for equal pay for women at this year’s Oscars (You go Patsy!) to the many panels and discussions on equality, the conversation about diversity in Hollywood has been placed front and centre. 

Ethnic diversity in Hollywood is pitiful as a short film series I recently came across demonstrates. In Every Single Word, actor and playwright Dylan Marron re-edits Hollywood films showing only dialogue spoken by people of colour. Wedding Crashers, Black Swan and Fault In our Stars all tap out at about 40 seconds. It’s pretty depressing viewing. 

But why do we have this problem? Ethnic groups make up around 15% of society but are a fraction of that on screen. I believe it all comes down to finance. Unlike TV, Hollywood money comes from wealthy individuals and companies who are often part of an old, white establishment who have no real interest in supporting diversity. Subconsciously they’re predisposed to back stories that reflect themselves and so Hollywood is dominated by stories about white guys. Female talent is undervalued, black-led films are rare and become labor-of-love passion projects (such as Lee Daniels’ The Butler, 12 Years A Slave and Selma - which, by the way, often go on to dominate during awards season). 

All this started me wondering. If Hollywood’s money comes from this relatively small pool, how do we get them to take the diversity gap seriously. 

Simple. They're business people. Hit them in the pocket. Every film is entitled to apply for tax credits and incentives from the local state or country they film in, some productions relying heavily on this ‘soft money’ as it’s called meaning that of the budget they spend, they might receive 20-30% of it back as a tax credit from the government provided they meet certain criteria like ensuring a certain number of the cast and crew are local. I say, let’s go a step further. Let’s make these tax incentives dependent on diversity. Let’s have every production have to provide evidence of diversity in front of and behind the camera be it gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or culturally.  

No company would turn down the opportunity to recoup a percentage of their enormous budget if all they had to do is ensure women are fairly represented in the film or that there’s cultural diversity. 

Furthermore, switching up diversity can only add depth to a movie. Place an LGBT character in a supporting role, just because, or make a character’s partner a person of colour - just because. Perhaps changing the lead from a woman to a man could introduce a new dynamic that you’d previously not thought of. Take the Alien franchise for example. Originally intended to be a man, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley has become one the most iconic sci fi characters in film history. 

Obviously the application of this is dependent on the film and when and where it’s set but many times films are set in major, diverse cities and yet somehow the cast are predominately white. 

As shows such as Empire, Scandal and Being MaryJane clearly demonstrate, people of color can carry a show and importantly, audiences respond very favorably to that. 

One thing we learned from the Sony email leaks is that some executives feel black talent-led films won’t sell as well in international territories. In this instance, surely you cast the actor, back black talent because if you want to break down stereotypes you don't panda to those groups, you show them how amazing the talent is and what the hell they're missing out on!

Of Denzel Washington in The Equalizer an unnamed producer wrote to Sony Chairman, Michael Lynton:

“I believe that the international motion picture audience is racist — in general pictures with an African American lead don’t play well overseas,”

The film made $191m worldwide  (47% coming from the terribly racist international market). 

Not every country has the same relationship with race but if America considers itself a developed country it has to operate by developed standards and be the leading edge on ensuring all groups are represented in films. 

This is critical. We must not be naive and dismiss movies as simply entertainment. Through representation in film we are making a declaration about how we feel about ourselves and each other. When we delve into film archive of the thirties and forties we are peering through a window on that society and how they regarded women, people of color, people with disability and other social and cultural groups. 

We are well overdue change but Hollywood may not come willingly. Personally, I’m tired of seeing women that look like me in a limited number and type of roles, with only a select few being permitted to break through. I want to feel I have a shot at any part because Hollywood realizes that all people can be all things - lovers, teachers, artists, police officers, spies, pilots, criminals, assassins, wizards and warlocks, angels, scientists… I mean it’s an endless list when the imagination is set free. 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Noisy Neighbours - The Horror.

When I lived in East London my neighbour had a drain that gurgled loudly every time they flushed the toilet. It sounded like an alien creature choking on its prey. It became my ungodly morning alarm clock. 

I also lived behind a bread factory and every time there was a flour delivery the drivers would bang the containers to get the flour out. Why? Because Britain needs toast, people. 

After a year of this, I couldn’t take it anymore so went online to find out who I could complain to. I shit you not, the only contact name I could find was a 'Dr Din'. 

Eventually I found an actual manager (not a Marvel baddie), explained what was happening after hours and after several phone calls, emails, meetings and a totally pointless but enjoyable tour of the bakery (it’s really interesting. You should go), the noise stopped. 

Though the gurgling drain monster wasn’t vanquished at least Premier Foods midnight performance of Stomp was over.

Fast forward two years and I'm lying awake listening to my neighbour coughing up what sounds like every organ in their body. Starting around 5am, their phlegmy dawn chorus continued all day, echoing off the tightly-packed apartment buildings surrounding us. The only relief was joking about it on twitter. I even started a hashtag #coughwatch. 

Then one day, I thought, oh my god. I’m being an arse hole. What if this person is dying of some terrible disease and here’s me mocking them. 

However, my sympathies quickly dissipated when, sat by my window one afternoon, I realised that waft of cigarette smoke I occasionally smelt was coming from Coughatron’s apartment. “F*** them” I thought. “100% f*** them”.

Listening to Marge Simpson’s sister cough up a lung was bad enough but below me, when my downstairs neighbours weren’t having blazing rows, their dogs, which they left unattended for most of the day sounded like they were raping each other. 

I had to move and so I found a cute little apartment a few miles away and settled in.  At first it seemed perfect. Lots of space, off-street parking, a balcony…. the rumble of the elevator and automatic gate for the garage below my bedroom, the garbage trucks that stopped outside my window six times every Friday and of course, the piece de residence, my upstairs neighbour Danny who made so much noise I suspected he was building a terminator from girders. 

When he wasn’t constructing his T1000 he was selling dubious substances out the front of the building where a stream of ne'erdowells would whistling to get his attention or throw coins sometimes missing Danny’s window, hitting mine. 

Other times, there'd be a thudding emanating from above me, sometimes in the middle of the night. “Ah the blind man juggling competition must have started”, I'd muse. 

I spoke to the building manager, who should be in the Guinness Book of Records for most laidback human. He told me my best bet was calling the police. 

oh yes I'd love to see how that goes down. “911 what's your emergency?”

“Drilling…”

Click……

As it turns out, the police are the people to call in such instances. Despite the plethora of Hollywood mansions here, most people in LA live in densely packed accommodation and noise nuisance is one of the things the LAPD regularly deals with. 

So, after a year of listening to Danny river dance in concrete clogs, and after one particularly egregiously noisy night where I didn’t sleep a wink, I called the cops. I was really calling them on Coughatron and the Alien drain and all noisy arse holes everywhere.

The police were very helpful and after they left… Danny went into full drilling, thumping and DIY mode. It was like an episode of Pimp My House was being filmed up there. My heart sank as Danny’s thundering fuck you came through loud and clear but then… around 6pm that evening… it stopped. 

The banging, the drilling, the stomping…. stopped. 

I actually thanked God. I did. 

Noisy nieghbours seems like a comical non-problem until you’ve had to deal with them. They caused me many, many sleepless nights, stress and depression because I knew deep down the problem may never go away because they didn't really care or they wouldn't be making the noise in the first place. 

That evening, after the police had gone and silence had finally descended, was magical. I don’t know how long it’s going to last but I’m enjoying it while I can. 


I’m also desperately searching for a new apartment. One of my criteria is that there’s nothing above me other than a roof and the Californian sunshine. 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

A Blog on the recent comments of Tim Hunt - A new rhyming slang??

It’s a few of week’s since esteemed biochemist Tim Hunt was fired from his position at University College London following his remarks about women in science.


It has subsequently transpired that his comments about how the problem with women scientists is that they fall in love with you and cry when criticised, were a joke. As jokes go, it's not the greatest. In fact, Sir Tim, if you're planning on doing a tight five minute spot at the Comedy Store, I wouldn't open with it. 

Thing is, even if it was said in jest, it does point to the fact that we still have this perception that women are sometimes over-emotional in the work place and, indeed prone to the odd weep. 

I have to confess, once, in a meeting with my boss while discussing a possible promotion I felt myself welling up… and he was being nice!

But my predisposition towards blubbing doesn’t invalidate my ability to do my job or be a viable candidate for a promotion. 

Look, you don’t need to be a statistician to predict that women probably cry more in the work place than men but if you think we’re the only ones that get emotional, you’ re sorely mistaken.

EVERYONE is susceptible to an emotional flare up now and then. It may show up as anger, frustration, jealousy or a myriad of other emotions. We have to not see tears as a sign of weakness or failure. They’re a sign of vulnerability and if you see that as a problem, that says more about you than the person having a moment. 

And furthermore, just because there are tears doesn’t mean we’re not able to comprehend, listen. Tears come out of our eyes after all, not our ears. 

Even in science, emotion is permitted. Didn’t Archimedes jump out of his bath screaming when he made his discovery?

It’s a shame Tim Hunt was forced to stand down from his position because, as Professor Brian Cox points out, that response may have been disproportionate to the offence however, we must never forget the power of language.  Even when comments are made in jest, they have an impact and send out an implicit message. I’m sure he meant no harm but while we’re in the midst of a difficult battle against misogyny, one must choose one's words carefully particularly those used on a public platform. By example you are demonstrating to those who look up to you, what is appropriate.

Here’s the thing, in the future, when all things are equal, comments such as Sir Hunt’s will be of no consequence and can be taken as simply a silly and mistimed quip, but let us be under no illusion that we still have a long way to go in terms of equality. Don’t be surprised if more and more, people get called out on language that undermines, be it used in humor or otherwise. 

The words we use, the things we say are an indicator or our underlying intent. 


As Emerson said, “People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.” I believe this also applies to the things we speak into the world. So we must choose wisely and represent our highest intentions everyday.