On opposite walls in my shed currently I have two projects. These take the form of mood boards with photos and quotes scribbled on Post-it notes. On one wall is my long-term project about Tom Polgar, an offshoot of Voyageuse. On the other is my current project, Tilo in Real Life which exists as a set of index cards with handwritten descriptions of each scene.
Elsewhere in the house there’s two-thirds of a script on my laptop and a growing pile of props acquired for the shoot, mainly small electrical items bought off eBay. In my edit suite there’s a set of camera tests shot over the last nine months that are encouraging. Cutting these, I try to convince myself the film’s worth making. It’s strange to be in this position because what else can a filmmaker do after making a film but make another one? I also have a scrawled quote from Kafka that expresses my feelings – You are free, that’s why you are lost.
I don’t know how other people deal with it but for the last few weeks I’ve suffered from writer’s block. It happens. Excuses for not writing include steam cleaning every surface in my kitchen, pulling weeds, baking scones and scrolling my Twitter timeline.
The best distraction I have is walking, though I fear I’m overdoing it when recently I had an email from FitBit high-fiving me for earning my Sahara badge, having clocked up 4800 kilometres. Some days I take the same route to one of three local parks. On other days I take a detour.
One regular detour takes me to the flats where I shot last August, half of which was razed in November. I’ve made so many trips to this building that I’m on friendly terms with the tenants waiting to be rehoused. In the surviving building recently I met the concierge, Alister, mopping the rubber-tiled communal floors of the almost vacant block, unfazed by serious structural breaches in the concrete walls.
After explaining my reasons for loitering, I learn that Alister shares my enthusiasm for photographing the lesser-known sites of our native city, those uncelebrated buildings that vanish with alarming regularity while others lie vacant and neglected, often for decades, until they collapse or mysteriously combust. Talking to Alister about the changes in the area I’m reminded that living memory, like life itself, is short. We’ve since swapped emails in which he has kindly sent me several photographs of the flats in question. How much longer will they stand, I wonder?
Other walks I take in pursuit of potential locations. Some places are viable, e.g. a group of vacant shops I’ve visited four times, at both night and day though I sense it won’t be long before they make way for a new development, probably housing. Others are not so viable. In Govanhill, an area of both real and reputational damage, on a recent visit I entered a tenement close and found a plastic bucket containing human faeces. Later I learned from a local business that this isn’t unusual. Indeed, wandering the back lanes, I came across a handmade sign, a crude drawing of a bare backside with a red cross and a caution, ‘No Shitting.’
In the no man’s land that skirts the M74 Extension I walk in search of a suitable vantage point under the motorway. Here I find a mix of commercial premises alongside derelict buildings. Picking among piles of debris and litter on the footpaths, on my last visit I collected almost 30 empty vials of nitrous oxide.
Elsewhere, on an outing to Govan on a Saturday night I talked to the security guards at the Graving Dock where last week shooting took place for a Steven Spielberg production following months of preparation and an expensive exterior set build. Further up the road at Linthouse I paused at a patch of wasteground, watched over by another, albeit overzealous security guard at the arms manufacturer, Thales who perhaps assumed he could prevent a potential threat by stepping out of his booth and folding his arms aggressively in my direction.
After watching a Thales promotional video and by reading the Glasgow Film Office code of practice for film production it would be easy to be discouraged from making Tilo. Both refer to issues I touch on in my script with themes that are, frankly, daunting: economic and market forces, precarious employment, untrammelled surveillance, cultural division, alienation and fear. Oddly, in the Thales video, is a line – ‘We put you in control of your data – and we don’t make money from it‘ which begs a question because I’m certain somewhere, somebody’s paying for it.
Still, I’m glad I’m not the only person not making money – who needs another no-budget film made in Scotland about how bad things are in Basketcase Britain? Or, for that matter, another expensive Hollywood film about WW1?
As I came to learn while making Voyageuse, the crippling anxiety experienced by many people depends on one’s perspective. In my worse moments – and admittedly so far this year’s not been my best in terms of my mental health – I’ve often struggled to step out of the house, let alone contemplate creating another feature-length film out of little more than the streets where I live and a few cheap (or free) props. Another challenge I face, apart from the weather, is daylight which during midsummer is plentiful in these parts and making night shoots very late – and short – affairs.
Occasionally, however, something happens that restores my faith. The other day I went to my local scrap yard to mooch for some metal I need for a particular sequence. Here I met the owner, Stevie and his dad, Tam. I expected to be shown the door but instead was told to help myself to what I needed. In exchange I offered to help Tam out by scanning, retouching and printing some old family photos. A win-win, at least for now.
The above image is of the silver vials I picked up while looking for locations, adding to my eclectic prop store. I have a feeling they’ll find their way into the film.