High Tide shoot minus one day: letter from Bob

I am sitting in Long Arm HQ surrounded by filmmaking equipment as Chris our DOP straps himself into a steadycam harness. This is quite a sight to behold. Anyway, there are thousand things to do before bed tonight but I thought I’d share an email sent to us by our old friend Bob this afternoon.

This was wonderful to receive, especially as we were flagging somewhat at the time. Thanks Bobby – it means a lot.

I am so frikkin’ chuffed for you. You boys have worked your collective asses off to get this project moving and now that shooting is about to kick off, you must be air-punching, knuckle-bumping and running round the living room with your shirts pulled up over your heads.

The road travelled was long and tough and unrelentingly awful at times. And the road ahead must look pretty tricky underfoot right now. But you are making something, at a time when most creators sit frozen, neutered and impotent before the forces of reason, commerce and gross indifference. To stand shoulder to shoulder and paint your celluloid canvas (well, digital canvas) with broad strokes of love and life and truth is to skip a stone 12 times (a personal record) across the shoreline of THE MAN then turn and flick the proverbial bird at the circling carrion army that represents armchair artists everywhere.

Doing is the thing, and you boys are doing it for real.

I wish you every success for the coming weeks behind the lens, and months in the editing suite. I cannot WAIT to see what beauty you can conjure.

With love and respect and lots of good old fashioned HOOPLA,
Meanwhile here is a picture of Jimmy trying to look like he knows what he doing with a C300 film camera. He doesn’t. But luckily Chris does.
Jimmy plus film cameraGoodnight from Wales. More tomorrow.

This is where it ends. This is where it begins.

I am on a train hustling westwards towards Swansea. The fields of England are a scorched, biscuit brown and I’ve just entertained my fellow passengers with a medium length, experimental audio piece of my own composition called James Snores Loudly After Reading; the critical notices have not been posted yet but I am guessing the reaction will be lukewarm at best. I have made this trip several times in the last year but today’s journey is a special one. This time I am not returning a day or so later after a frenzied bout of scribbling, planning (a little drinking) and worrying, no, this time I am staying for over two weeks in order to make our debut feature film High Tide.

It has been an extraordinary year for Jimmy and myself. A year of ambition and dreams and nonsense. We’ve impressed many; we’ve upset several more (none deliberately); we’ve worked unfeasibly long hours and neglected our families in pursuit of this one goal. There have been some wonderful highs where we’ve been giddy with excitement, one time even dancing a special dance along the streets of Covent Garden to the presumed bafflement of passing tourists and cheese enthusiasts (you simply must make a pilgrimage to Neal’s Yard Dairy at least once in your life to worship at its cheesy altar – not a euphemism) but we’ve also had darker moments, times when our daily phone calls would be punctuated with long sighs and mutterings of “I don’t know, I really don’t”. A couple of times we came very, very close to calling the whole thing off.

However, one of the many benefits of working in a partnership is, for the most part, at least 50% of the team is feeling positive on any one day. Many times Jimmy has picked me up from the murky depths of pessimism with one of his typically brilliant pieces of production or just his uncluttered Westcountry charm but likewise, I’ve been able to scrape him off the floor (not literally, although I did come close to having to do this after his birthday party once at the Red Lion in Ealing) with words of encouragement and a call for fortitude in the face of the latest missives of bad news.

This blog, although necessarily more irregular in recent weeks, has been an effective means of documenting the past six months (although often by way of rambling anecdotes about 90s music, cheese and being nearly killed by cricket balls) and I am glad that they will remain archived here on the WordPress site as much for me as for anyone else, so I can read them back and be proud of how far we’ve come.

I am also grateful for the “Freshly Pressed” WordPress recommendation of my post about invented inspirational quotations for writers; being featured on the WordPress site sent the readership figures into nonsensical levels for a week or so and I regularly received wonderful comments from people around the world who urged me to write more posts like that one. Despite my attempts to break it to my new readership that the quotations post was a bit of a rogue one and they should prepare themselves for my more-usual swamp of overly-long ramblings that occasionally had the merest of relevance to independent film making, one can only imagine their disappointment as the following few weeks’ writing was served up to them. Readership numbers of the blog are now largely back to their pre-freshly pressed levels although I do still think fondly of my brief international following. I hope they are well and have found someone who can tend to their satirical needs.

Anyway, we’ve got there. We’ve reached the end of the pre-production phase of High Tide and on Saturday we are actually going to start making it. This is an enormous relief but it is also exciting and pretty terrifying. Thanks must go to our wonderful casting director Briony Barnett who has supported us throughout this year; she really is one of the very best and her fortitude in the face of what might euphemistically be called “challenging circumstances” has been the stuff of legend. Through Briony’s tireless efforts we have assembled a wonderful cast, not least the superb Melanie Walters in the role of Bethan. Elsewhere we have Sam Davies in the role of Josh, Claire Cage playing Tess and Charlotte Mulliner appearing as Sophie. All of whom are going to be brilliant.

So thank you Briony. We are sorry for the sleepless nights. You have done an incredible job and we salute you.

The remainder of this week will be taken up with last-minute preparations, praying to the Gods of good weather, briefing our talented crew and plus I will be continuing to wage my as-yet-unsuccessful campaign in support of buying Long Arm lanyards for the whole team. Jimmy thinks this is a waste of money. But I will have one. Even if I have to make one myself. Which it looks like I will.

As we move into the shoot, the likelihood of me having the time to write regular updates on the blog is as great as the chances of Jimmy changing his mind about the lanyards. However, we will use this site to host various photos and videos that we will take on set. You will also be able to connect (if not spiritually then at least electronically) with the High Tide shoot via the inevitable social media pipes of which Nat is our plumber on-call. She even has social media overalls, making her look like a sort of Sci-Fi Super Mario. And man, you should see her jump! And eat mushrooms.

So, deep breath, here are those pipes in full:

Long Arm on Facebook
Long Arm on Twitter
Long Arm on YouTube
Long Arm in the pub

And I think I should end with a thank you. A thank you to the huge numbers of who have supported us on this adventure so far. Your constant good wishes have been a huge help to us and just the (gin and) tonic when things have been difficult. We realise that there is a certain amount of arrogance implicit in making art; a sort of necessary but not entirely edifying bragging that what you’ve got to say is worthwhile or, and I shudder to use this word, important. And then you ask your audience to have faith that these brags are with substance, that they are justified. Very few of the people reading this have seen the script for High Tide and yet so many have great faith that Jimmy and myself are going to do a good job. And I suppose all I can say is that we are going to do our very best to repay this faith; we are going to be meticulous and hard-working, we are driven and we back ourselves to produce something wonderful. Something of which all of us can be proud.

Although tonight we are going to the pub. We live in different cities. We don’t see each other very often. And we’ve got this far. And so we are going to have a few Welsh pints to celebrate. Please don’t begrudge us this little indulgence.

This is the end. And this is very much a beginning.

Keep watching. Keep in touch. And thank you.

Andy Murray saves the world from Norman Lamont’s eyebrows and endless photographs of trees

It has been a crazy week. A crazy few weeks actually hence the relative scarcity of blog entries on jamesgillingham.wordpress.com (which really should have a snappier name). I have become like the BBC’s summer schedule in the 1980s when all your favourite programmes had ended for the season and been replaced by endless repeats or “specials” comprised of highlight clips which were hastily banged together and shoved on to the airways by the one remaining employee still working at TV Centre during August. The one blessing of these sparse weeks of programming was that no one had yet invented the format in which clips are interspersed with largely dreadful comedians and horrid, vacuous television “faces” reminiscing about cherry coke and pop tarts and Sterling’s ignominious exit from the ERM in 1992.

Cue Lee Mack:

“Oh right yeah, I just loved that Norman Lamont and his crazy eyebrows. What were they about? Yeah he was wicked. And when it went tits up with the ERM I was so mashed on vodka I barely considered the medium and long term fiscal implications for Sterling’s place within a single European marketplace. It was mad. And then Lamont joined Right Said Fred didn’t he? Deeply Dippy and all that. Fucking brilliant tune”

(swearing is permissible because these programmes are edgy, clearly)

Where was I with that analogy? Oh yes, having no time for writing blog entries. Last time I did an 80s BBC and scraped around the edges of my hard-disk and managed to prise off a few poems for your perusal. And this time I was seriously considering a finding a few photos and shoving them online for your mild perplexion (which apparently isn’t a word but I’ve just gone and used it anyway because I can) and inevitable disinterest. The standard would have been low. Look – here’s a picture of me drinking a cup of tea in my parent’s garden in Devon sitting next to Auntie Georgie. I am sparing you more of these.


But I need to do better. So here I am, a little hot and a lot sweaty and ready to produce some more of the usual twaddle to occupy you for the brief time it will take you to read it.

So what has been happening? Well, the sun has finally got its act together and begun really shining its arse off on the UK. It is hot. Really hot and it looks as though it is going to continue for the next week or so. Cue the much-observed British madness of naked pasty flesh flopped and reddening in parks and gardens up and down the country; cue an air thick with exhaust fumes and charring sausages; cue the collective necking of gallons of Pimms Number 1 Cup as a nation pretends that is not proper alcohol and drinks three cups too many and then feels a bit sick and falls asleep with sprigs of mint stuck between its teeth (I did this only last night). So far, so achingly predictable and rather good fun.

But then Andy Murray goes and wins Wimbledon.

The grass of Wimbledon is scorched indelibly into my memory and every year it evokes a pang of nostalgia as strong as a favourite song or stumbling across a photograph in which you looked young and thin and fearless. For as long as I remember I’ve spent the last week of June and the first week of July really caring about tennis. And when I say really caring, I mean standing on the sofa and shouting at the television-level caring. I used to sit watching with my Grandmother as she called “out” loudly whilst reading the telegraph and balancing a Silk Cut cigarette between her lips. She used to say “well done” to anyone who’d produced a half-decent shot with a tone like that of a slightly stern school mistress from a Victorian novel. Often she’d fall asleep and then be woken by the sound of cheering from the crowd and immediately she’d say “well done”, even though she’d missed the entire game up to that point. I would also sit with my Mum as she did the ironing and we’d get almost over-wraught with excitement if Jeremy Bates won his first round match. And we loved Becker and Edberg and thought that Sampras was just a little too brash and arrogant to ever be a truly great champion. Even though he clearly was.

And then of course came the Henman era and for a few years Britain had a tennis player who wasn’t utterly shite and our annual two week shout at the television became more sustained and frenzied. Henman (who even now still manages to look as though he hasn’t yet started shaving) came close to making the Wimbledon final but never really looked like a viable champion. And then, several years and many sore throats later, this happened:

Andy Murray

And it is brilliant. And not just because he is the first British winner since Chaucer beat William Langland in a tense four-set encounter in 1389 but because he epitomises all that the smug, BMW-driving, champagne-glugging, striped-blazer-wearing upper middle class tossers who run British tennis are not. He’s  just a bloke who’s really, really good at tennis and for all David Cameron’s puffy red faced near-orgasmic shouting on Centre Court this afternoon, Andy Murray will never represent the Tory-endorsed view of a Britain which pampers its rich whilst simultaneously shitting on its poor and weak. Andy Murray belongs to us David, every hard-working, inspired, brilliant, grumpy Scottish inch of him.

And I wish my Grandmother had been alive to see him win. She’d have been genuinely chuffed. And would have told him “well done”.

I think I can be credited with introducing tennis to my filmmaking partner and sometime lover Jimmy Hay. When we were a lot younger I’d take him down to the courts in our village and due largely to the fact that I was older and stronger I would draw immense pleasure from regularly beating him. And then in that way of his, the charm and grace and aptitude that allows him to schmooze a room like a Westcountry Clinton (President not Cards) he became really good at tennis. For a match or two I had to work very hard to beat him and then came the point when he began to beat me. Whilst smiling broadly. And then offering me advice on where my game was so shabby.

So I did the only mature thing and left for University and resolved NEVER to play him again. The bastard.

Talking of Jimmy, we are very close to the start of principle photography (a needlessly grand term but one I use with considerable pleasure) on our film High Tide, a fact that has contributed in no small part to the madness of recent weeks and the reason why I considered posting a few random photos of trees on the blog rather than actually writing something.

For the moment, there’s not a lot more I can say as we’re still closing deals, making arrangements and spending a lot of time on the phone. Jimmy is a genius in these moments; he is very much the Long Arm “go-to” guy for all of the STUFF that has to be sifted as we approach the day when we finally start making this thing. You can rest assured (or rest alarmed, depending on your point of view) that the blog updates will come thick and fast during the run-up to the shoot and we also have some videos planned to report on the filming itself. So that will be good. Or at worst mildly irritating.

So well done Andy Murray. You gave good tennis. Well done Jimmy. You remain an indefatigable and inspiring fifty percent of Long Arm Films. And well done James, er, um, oh yes, your chicken with lemon and mint this evening tasted pretty good.

And so here’s a song. This has been on repeat in my ears for the past couple of weeks. Even though it was released just a couple of weeks ago it sounds as if it could have been made in 1993. And you’ll be shocked into stupefied wonder to discover that this is exactly why I like it.