Reflections & Resolutions 2019/2020

   Looking back, 2019 was a year which felt unimportant at the time, but now feels like the turning point of something new (in no small part due to the anti-government, pro helping each other attitude a lot of people have after the last election). It's also one of those years which seemed to fly by really quickly, but on reflection, was chockablock with activity and adventures.

   It was a bumper year, with my schedule busier than ever - so much so that I missed the mid-year update I usually do in the summer. That means there's a lot to get through in this blog post, so let's get cracking. Without further ado, here was my 2019:


   I hit the ground running; I wasn't long back from my Christmas holidays when I started getting some phone calls from BBC Radio Derby, inviting me in for not one but two appearances (there would've been more, if my availability had been different). The first time I went in, on the Rachel New show, it was to talk about this year's BAFTA nominations - and in particular, the lack of women nominated for Best Director. I certainly had a lot to say on the subject, but little did I know that I was about to attend the BAFTA awards for myself.

[Above: from talking about the BAFTAs on BBC Radio Derby, to attending the event itself!]

   Yes, my highlight of the year came super early on, when the email came through saying I'd been accepted for a 'new talent' seat at this year's ceremony. A massive thank you to the BAFTA Crew organisers for giving me that opportunity, because I can say without a doubt that it was one of the best nights of my life. The ceremony is everything you expect it to be - from the Cirque du Soleil opening to the long list of cinematic legends gracing the stage. From my high-up balcony position, I could only see people directly in front of me - meaning that if they didn't win or present an award, I didn't see anyone 'famous'. This meant that, although I knew he was in the building, I didn't get to see Peter Jackson - the man who got me into filmmaking in the first place! That was disappointing, but it was a minor blip on an otherwise dreamlike evening.

   The moment I came back from the BAFTAs, it was straight back to work for me, because I was knee-deep in pre-production on B Squared Films' detective drama McKinley. I was in the dual role of Costume and Production Designer, and I had a bit of a proud moment when my 'police line' set dressing was so convincing that the local villagers asked if a crime had actually taken place! 

[Above: a photo from 2019 which really amused me - doing the 'dance of the practical lamps' on the McKinley set, with DOP Jon O'Neil. In spite of how things look in this photo, he was lovely to work with!]

   McKinley was my first design job of 2019, but I actually did a few in the year just gone - including the BFI-backed Going Country in the Summer, which I worked on as Production Designer. There was one design job which sadly got away from me, and another which I started towards the end of this year, but which has since rolled over into 2020 (more on that later). I lamented not doing any design jobs in 2018, so I have definitely rectified that; but for some reason, I unfortunately didn't work on any music videos in 2019, which has never happened before! Maybe one type of job balances out the other.

  It was around the time of McKinley that Night Owls had its official last big screen outing, at Beeston Film Festival's classics night. My co-writer Tommy Draper was in attendance, and he reported back some lovely comments from the audience. It's amazing that people are still responding so well to our beloved short film, five years after it was first shot; I'm only sorry that another year has gone by where we've been unable to progress towards making the feature-length version, Night Owls & Early Birds.

[Above: with an inspirational bunch of artists, including Jessica Hynes, at Hebden Bridge Festival. We were there to watch Jessica's directorial debut, The Fight.]

   A brief 'day off' came in March, when myself and Jema Hewitt (costume designer extraordinaire) had a road trip to the Hebden Bridge Film Festival. I fell in love with the place as well as the festival, and I've since added it to my festival submission wish list. While we were there, I got to meet and hang with the most amazing bunch of artists, including Bryony & Bruce Whistlecraft, Holly Payne (producer of The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?) and Spaced star turned director, Jessica Hynes.

   Again, with little time to rest, I then got back to pre-production on Lepidopterist, my first entry into the Sci-Fi London 48hr Film Challenge. I'd started preparations late last year, and yet it was one of those projects where we were still up against the wire, sourcing some things we needed for the shoot last minute. Once we got on location, racing the clock, it was absolutely brilliant fun (in spite of some INSANE Spring weather changes), and I will do a 'stories from the set' blog post at some point. One of the greatest elements of the project was my cast; I was reunited with Ashes star Sarah Lamesch, and my long-time AD Charlie Clarke stepped in front of the camera for me for the first time. She brought her soul into the lead role of Nic, and the results shine through in the footage.

[Above: filming Lepidopterist, aka FIFTY/FIFTY, with an awesome crew - in unseasonably cold weather! Photo by Richard Parker]

   The film was released as FIFTY/FIFTY (the title given to us by the competition), and my team and I were so proud of what we managed to make within the space of two days. But we knew that there was a better film to be made from our footage - particularly as one emotional scene had to be cut from the film because of the competition's time limit. We've been working on an extended cut ever since, re-titled Lepidopterist, and it's shaping out to be a really great little short. Progress on this project has been slower than anticipated, as we've all had to fit it in around other work, but we should be ready to release the film to festivals in the first quarter of 2020.

   And then, a few days after we finished the Sci-Fi London shoot, I turned thirty. I'll admit that I didn't take it as well as I thought I would; as a person in the film industry and as a woman, there's a lot of pressures around age, and I'll probably do a separate blog post about that in the future.

   My birthday also tied in with the start of a string of health issues for me in 2019. I kept it under wraps as much as possible, and continued to make public appearances at networking events and awards ceremonies and such, but I felt incredibly ill for about a quarter of the year. First up, I had an infection in my head, which caused so much pressure against my skull that I'd suddenly fall asleep; as a result, I had to have a minor operation, and some temporary hair loss (hence why there were so many photos of me in hats this past year!). I also spent a few months on antibiotics, which made me constantly nauseous, and I had multiple blood tests which left me with bruising on my arm. Finally, when I'd recovered from the other issues, I had a nasty fall (don't run for buses, kids!) which left me with a bloody face and a cracked tooth!

   Above all this, I worried about my mental health again. It's been on a gradual decline since 2017, and it hit almost an all-time low this year - including two days when it dipped to seriously scary levels. Thank you to everyone who saw me at my worst without judgement; it inspired me to push on through and improve myself, so that, if I can help it, I never feel that low again. Rejoining the gym has definitely helped, and I want to continue looking after myself more in 2020.

   In spite of the above, when I was physically feeling my worst, I cracked on with my film projects and also had one of the most fun experiences of the year: I got to bottle feed and cuddle a lamb! This may sound silly, but it's something I never got to do as a child, so it's been on my bucket list ever since. One of the good things about turning 30 was that I started looking at that list, and I managed to tick off three things in 2019: bottle feeding the lamb, going to the BAFTAs and - in the summer time - raising my first butterflies.

[Above: someone captured the moment I met Denyce Blackman, networking at Flatpack Festival]

   Around the end of Spring, I was accepted into a small group of people for Flatpack Festival & BFI Network's Talent Lab, a one-day event with some great industry speakers. As well as taking home some useful knowledge, I got to network with some brilliant new people - one of whom was up-and-coming Birmingham producer Denyce Blackman. We instantly hit it off, and we've since been working on a new project together - Room 515, again written (brilliantly) by Tommy Draper. More on that project in 2020, but we did start putting together some bits towards it in Autumn 2020.

   As well as the Talent Lab acceptance, I was delighted to be welcomed back into the BFI Network x BAFTA Crew for my second year. That acceptance was made all the sweeter by the fact that I was joined by Tommy and more of my Midlands filmmaking cohort (check out our names on BAFTA's website!). On top of this, I was grateful to be invited to attend two BFI Network round tables, where I got to hear some insights from experienced directors and producers, including Jim Cummings, in a quiet and intimate environment.

[Above: the biggest release for me in 2019 was Growing Shadows: The Poison Ivy Fan Film]

   Of course, the biggest thing to happen in 2019 was the release of my Poison Ivy fan film, now named Growing Shadows. As with all unpaid short film projects, it took longer than expected to complete - but everyone was doing such great work along the way, and producers Aislinn De'Ath & Robert Dukes and I are so proud of the finished article. What's more, we're delighted with how people have responded to the film; it had 1000 views within the first 24 hours of it its release on YouTube, and ended the year with over 12,600 views. Even greater than this are all the comments below the video; we always wanted this to be a film for the fans, and I cherish all the kind words people have been sharing.

   Two short films released in one year is a record for me, but another film also did me proud; Songbird completed its festival run in November 2019 (and has just had its digital release on Amazon Prime), picking up 26 laurels and 26 awards along the way - including multiple Best Song/Music Awards and 'Performance of the Festival' for the wonderful Janet Devlin at the Actors Awards, LA - not to mention my first ever Best Direction award, courtesy of Colorado Intl. Sci Fi & Fantasy Film Festival. Songbird has been a juggernaut of a project, and I am happy to see its journey come to a successful close - although I do have some little behind-the-scenes videos planned for social media, which I'll edit and release as soon as I get time.

[Above: Songbird did us very proud, winning awards at multiple festivals including Midlands Movies Awards and Out of the Can Film Festival. Photos by Philip Eldridge-Smith and SnapAndMotion]

   Another film which continued on a festival run in 2019 was Hidden, which I wrote for Small Person Productions and Badshoes Film. The film has been very successful, and I'm delighted to see it picking up so many deserved accolades for director Jess O'Brien.

   In terms of my corporate work and edits for clients, I still work at Dynomite Productions, although we cut down my hours at the start of 2019, enabling me to do better, more focused work. There's a few projects I did with Dynomite in 2019 which I really loved, including some videos for a great legal client and a beautiful suite of mindfulness socials for Interflora. In terms of my own clients, 2019 was the first time I worked on location at Towersey Festival, and it was a magical experience to see all the scenes I'd previously edited come to life before my eyes. I've continued to work with Towersey since then, and we have plenty more videos planned for the new year.

   My attendance at Towersey marked the end of summer (it took place over an incredibly hot bank holiday weekend), but Autumn brought more bits of great news for me - including two in one week. First up, I learned that I'd been accepted for an Access Pass at BAFTA Guru Live, which gave me exclusive one-on-ones with an agent and a showreel doctor, among others; I also got to attend all the great public talks, including one with Robbie Ryan, one of my favourite DOPs.

[Above: BAFTA Guru Live was made extra special this year because I had an Access Pass]

   Shortly after discovering I'd been accepted for the Access Pass, I got a phone call from The Prince's Trust, inviting me into their business development programme! Due to turning 30, this was my last chance to be accepted into the programme, and that call was cutting it a bit close - but I couldn't be more thankful. I have already learned more about business management and marketing in two Prince's Trust sessions than I have in ten years of being active in the film industry! Since then, I've been working on my business plan in any available pockets of time, and I'm set to pitch it to a panel in March 2020. If I can get through that stage, it could mean great things for myself and Triskelle Pictures in the near future.

[Above: speaking at the ScreenSkills Open Door
event with friend and fellow filmmaker
Lauren Parker, who was also one of the
Night Owls producers]
   Finally, 2019 was the year where I started to accept my level of success. It was the first time I was able to say "I'm a director - I've directed a handful of short films, all of which have done well at festivals" without flinching. Before then, I'd always introduce myself as a production designer, or someone who works in corporate film (depending on who I was talking to), because both felt easier and more 'sensible', for some reason. 

   I still doubt myself a lot - and I compare myself constantly to others who are higher up in the industry than me, because I'm very ambitious - but that doesn't mean I'm not successful to a good degree. I had numerous invitations to appear on podcasts and at public events last year, including a ScreenSkills event where I was able to share advice to a newer generation of filmmakers; that was a rewarding experience which also helped me to put my own achievements into perspective. I have more similar events planned for 2020, including an industry week appearance in March.

   And above all, I still have my family; in spite of everything, I didn't lose anyone in the year just gone, and I gained a new baby cousin. My family also came through for me at the start of winter 2019, when the extreme flooding in Derbyshire meant that I was unable to get home for over 24 hours! I'm also delighted to say that I'm still with Edward Harvey, still living in our gorgeous countryside cottage with two spoiled guinea pigs!


   So, that was 2019 (I told you it was a bumper year!). What is the plan for 2020? Well, most years I'd say 'more of the same, but better', but that's not the case this time. 

   It's not just a new decade, it's also about to be ten years since I graduated university, and 'more of the same' has only got me so far. I'm proud of everything I've achieved, and I love everything I do, but I must admit that I have my fingers in too many pies, and I run the risk of burning out faster than I can move forward. I still plan on working hard in 2020, but focusing my workload more; if directing is where I want to get to, I need to only accept work which will get me to that goal. I don't know how to make that happen, or which jobs are right for me, but it is something I'll be looking into.

[Above: with Edward Harvey
at the wedding of a dear friend
in September 2019]
   I'd also love to get to a point where I can have one 'social' day a week, wherever possible; I had some lovely times with my friends and family in 2019, but I also came to the sad realisation that my career has created a distance between myself and the ones I care about the most. Much as I'd like to go off, make my films and come back home with my relationships in tact, that's not the way it works: friendship is about giving as much as receiving. I'm always going to be ambitious, but I want to make an effort to be present too, so that I never get to the 'visited by three ghosts at Christmas' stage of running a business!

   Those are the big, overall goals - but what about the fun little bits? As I said, Room 515 is in development now. It's a raw and emotional drama short with a lot of heart, and an amazing script. We're planning on shooting that film in 2020; we've already applied for funding, but if that doesn't work, we'll fall back on trusty crowdfunding. There will also be a small crowdfunding campaign in the next couple of months, to help us pay for the Lepidopterist festival run, and we've teamed up with an amazing artist to help create the merchandise for that campaign. I can't wait to share those designs with you all.

   Although we were unable to get funding for The Barn in 2019, it continues to make me proud, having reached the quarter finals of two Screencraft writing competitions. It's an ambitious project, and it was always going to be hard to launch, but we're going to keep trying in 2020.

   In addition, much as my heart will always be with Night Owls & Early Birds as my ideal first feature film, I have started looking for feature scripts which are slightly easier to achieve. I now have two great film premises potentially in development - the ghostly Her Song with Aislinn De'Ath and Robert Dukes (since we're all so keen to work with each other again), and the grounded travel drama Postcards to Izzy with Tommy Draper. I don't know if either project will go into production next year, but they're definitely things which I'm working towards, and I'll keep my eye open for any opportunities to get them made.

   I have no way of knowing how Lepidopterist will do in festivals, once it's finished - but Growing Shadows is definitely going to have a good year. We've been accepted into two festivals already, including the Azure Lorica Fan Film Awards (screening on 28th February) and GeekFest, which tours Comic Cons (the first screening date is 11th-12th January, but expect more dates throughout the year)! We're also waiting to hear from a couple more festivals, and we're looking for short film nights in the UK who would be willing to screen our fan film for audiences.

   To sum up, I am so excited to see what 2020 brings. Although I'm a way off reaching my main goals in life, with the upcoming Prince's Trust panel (and potential mentoring off the back of that), and with my new BFI-based mentor to boot (thank you, ScreenSkills!), I am feeling quietly confident that everything is one step closer. I'm certainly excited to hear from all these experienced people. On top of this, my latest costume design job is on a pilot for a Channel 4 comedy, filming later this month. I am so honoured to have been given that job, and I hope it marks the start of more work of that nature.

   Change is in the air - maybe some bad as well as some good - but I feel as though I am ready to face it. Come on, 2020 - let's see what you have for me.



2019 - The Year in Stats

Countries visited: Two! As well as living in England (obviously), I finally went to Ireland for the first time in my life (another one to tick off the bucket list). It was a lovely all-girls trip to Dublin in January, where we were all able to refresh and take stock of the year just gone.

House moves: None. Still mostly happy in my cottage - and I did build my mini allotment!

Weddings attended: One, which was the wedding of one of my oldest and dearest friends. I also attended the hen do of his brilliant bride-to-be.

Film Festivals attended: 6... I think? Hebden Bridge Film Festival, Flatpack Film Festival, Paracinema/Derby Film Festival, The Short Cinema (supporting the brilliant Keep Breathing by Tommy and our friends at Siskamedia), The Nexus Film Awards and Out of the Can Film Festival. There were lots of screenings of Songbird I sadly wasn't able to attend due to my workload. Aesthetica is still on my wishlist.

Gigs attended: On top of all the great acts I saw at Towersey Festival (including The Unthanks and Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita), I attended a Lucy Rose gig as a post-Sci-Fi-London-filming treat with Tommy. Her support act, Samantha Crain, was equally brilliant. I've booked tickets for myself and Edward to see Goldfrapp in 2020, one of my all time favourite musical acts, and I cannot WAIT!


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