Reflections & Resolutions 2020/2021

    Today is January 1st 2021, and as I'm writing this, everything feels very silent and still. It's like the world is waiting to exhale, leaving the previous year somewhat bruised, and cautious to see what happens next.

   It's time for me to write my annual review of the year, and I'm doing so somewhat tentatively, as I don't want this blog post to be a negative one. Most of us didn't see 2020 coming - and the ones who did predict it were foolishly ignored until it was too late. It felt as though the world stopped turning overnight, and we were all united in that feeling. Almost everyone I know - particularly those who were born after the Second World War - would say that this was the worst year they ever lived through.

   But here's the thing I can't get out of my head: if this was the worst year of our lives... then how lucky are we? How good must our lives have been before this year? There are people in the world who wake up to national crisis, war and hunger very day; this was one year in our lifetime where we went without the things we love. My heart goes out to those who were taken by the awful virus, and those who lost loved ones as a result of it (as well as the key workers who selflessly carried on through it) - and also those who were affected by other events this year, such as the Australian fires and the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (don't forget to support the Black Lives Matter movement, if you haven't already). But for many of us, this year also brought perspective. Time to reflect and to learn.

  I for one now know how good my life was before, how much I miss and long to get back to, and I'm aware of all the things I didn't appreciate in previous years. 2020 also gave me a sense of clarity about the things I don't miss, and it's taken away my fear of moving on from those things. I've learnt how to prioritise and to let go. In a nutshell, it's given me an attitude of 'I no longer have time for this shit'.

[Above: The Triskelle Pictures 'TED Talk' at Confetti's Industry Week, which happened merely days before UK declared a nationwide pandemic]

  I won't go through the first half of the year in too much detail. We all know what happened, and I covered it thoroughly in my Summer Update blog post. I will say that I entered 2020 as a different person, living a different life. I was in London three times a week at one point, racing back and forth for meetings with producers and my Screenskills mentor at the BFI, as well as networking events - and of course, attending the BAFTA awards with some of my fellow Midlands filmmakers. I'd just completed my most challenging but potentially high-profile job yet, providing costume design services on a television pilot for Channel 4. I also did numerous public appearances, including one day where I did three different talks, starting with a sort of Triskelle Pictures TED Talk at Confetti Institute's Industry Week. I was living life to the full (or so I thought), building up a momentum and feeling so excited for the next stage in my career. I was also exhausted - and although it feels strange to say it now, I was secretly longing for time off.

  It was around that time which I successfully completed my application to The Prince's Trust, although the panel in which I presented my business plan nearly didn't take place, and had to move venue because of the increased social-distancing rules. This achievement may have come early on in the year, but it was one of the best things to come out of 2020 - if not my whole career to date. I have the most incredible business mentor now, who is firm but fair and kept me focused every month, even when things looked bleak. I applied to the Prince's Trust to help me grow my business, but I think their support ended up saving it. More on that later...

[Above: my friends and I had to find ways to stay connected and entertained during the first full Lockdown, including Skype quizzes and weekly dress-up themes! This madness kept me sane.]

  Looking back, it's interesting how many of us remember the first nationwide Lockdown so fondly. Yes, it was awful being cut off from friends and family; I still miss them now, and I loved the day when I was finally able to meet up with my Mum again. We both set off from our home towns (well, village in my case) and met in the middle, up on a large hill in the Derbyshire countryside! But loneliness aside, it was great to wake up to bird song instead of the sound of cars every morning. My partner, Edward Harvey, and I had daily walks, visiting the little local lambs, and we enjoyed catching up on television series we'd been putting off for years, as well as joining in silly Zoom quizzes with friends (see above). I had a Lockdown birthday, but I loved it - we did a Lord of the Rings movie marathon, and ended the night listening to Goldfrapp (and drinking way too much Absinthe!). It was an uncertain time, but it was peaceful too.

[Above: socially distanced walks in the local countryside with my family. We did everything possible to see each other, as soon as it was legal and safe to do so.]

   Time did lose all meaning back then, and I tried to keep track of it by writing little daily 'to do' lists, and by booking in virtual meetings and online webinars. For that reason, I am indebted to BAFTA Crew, Screenskills, Birds Eye View, BFI Network, Nexus and all the other organisations that gave us things to tune in to and stay motivated. Many of these training seminars were focused on filmmaking and marketing skills, but I also used some as an opportunity to work on myself; during one particular session with a life coach, I did a lot of ground work, trying to figure out not only why I'm nervous during networking and pitch meetings, but also delving into my past to find out when I started feeling insecure about my own abilities in general. It wasn't easy, as I had to unearth some painful memories - most of which I thought were irrelevant to my professional life - but as a result, I feel lighter, like I've opened a door that can't be closed again. I still have a little way to go, but I've learnt to trust myself more, to separate doubt from fact, and I've done numerous pitches for work this year without secretly shaking under the table!

   The virtual meetings were fantastic, as I was able to reach out to filmmakers I admire as well as dear friends I'd lost touch with. I had a meeting with the most high-profile filmmaker I've ever met, and I'm excited to see what will come from that contact in 2021. I also used the time to practice my lighting techniques, often photographing objects in my home - like my action figure collection - and when I shared one example of those photographs, I even got a retweet from one of my filmmaking idols, Guillermo del Toro. At one point, I even did a little painting, just for fun - and I never do things 'just for fun' anymore.

  Work was steady back then, all done from home in my little creative space. I still had edits coming in from my lovely regular clients, even when times were financially difficult for them (although we had to adapt, mostly using footage they'd shot at home on webcams, or shots I could capture in my own back garden!). I also had regular income from my 'day job' at Dynomite Productions, and I'm indebted to their MD Joel Fletcher for working so hard to keep us all afloat. It was out of necessity that I was eventually furloughed, and stayed that way until late into the Autumn. At the same time, work with my own clients went quiet. After years of being on it, on it, on it... I was suddenly left with nothing to do. I'd had the time off that I'd so desired, but then it kept going, outstaying its welcome by months, not just weeks.

  August was the worst month of the year for me. I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult this time was for my many fully freelance collaborators, as even with my supplementary furlough and the leftover profit from Triskelle's previous trading year, I was pinching the pennies and fearing for my future. I began reaching out to people as much as possible, making cold calls every day - even when people weren't in a mood to be sold to. My business has always come from referrals, so sales calls are completely out of my comfort zone, and it wasn't a successful endeavor. It felt so hopeless that some days, when met with only the options of staying in bed or making more cold calls, I chose to roll over and hide under the sheets, the lights staying off. The pandemic just kept going on, the economy was in shreds, and I couldn't see a way that things would get better.

[Above: getting out the house and finding happiness again during some sample product shoots, as photographed by Ian Cudmore of I C Things Photography]

   Two things got me out of my stupor. The first was accepting that the lack of work wasn't down to personal failure. It wasn't just my career that was stalling. EVERYONE in the world was in the same boat, going through the same dark times, and so much of the situation was out of our hands. There was no blame to be cast (except perhaps on certain members of parliament - but again, I'm trying to keep this blog post positive, so I won't go down that rabbit hole!).

   Secondly, I followed some advice from a fellow creative business (as well as my Prince's Trust mentor), and decided to make some sample videos for clients I'd like to work with. That way, I could go in with a visual example of my work to tempt them, rather than just calling them blindly. I picked five businesses I could make product videos for (as product videos are easy to shoot at a social distance), and ended up making four. 

   Moreover, I made sure to enlist help on each of these shoots, so that I had someone to meet up with, and I'd not just be letting myself down if I gave up and stayed in bed! As a result, I was able to work with some of my beloved regular collaborators, including a few I hadn't seen in a long time, and it was a lovely excuse to reconnect with them. Therese Collins (from Stop/Eject and Songbird) provided the location for one shoot, Ian Cudmore from I C Things did behind-the-scenes photography on another, and model Halo Haynes - who I collaborated with numerous times between 2013-2014 - appeared in front of the camera for the final video, joined by new-to-me model Aicha Seyi, who was perfect. Also, my wonderfully supportive parents helped me on two of those shoots; I kept my mask on, but I was grateful to have the chance to see them nonetheless! So far, I haven't actually won any work from making those demo videos, but what they did give me was even better: they got me out the house, I was able to keep exercising my filmmaking muscles, and I felt as though I got my mojo back as a result.

[Above: back to work! Which meant wearing a mask and standing really far away from the clients...]

   Shortly after that (again, thanks to some kind referrals!) things picked up. I had many meetings, and ended up filming with a plethora of new and old clients. I made a music video for T. C. Cartwright in Nottingham, pictured above (we were also joined by my brilliant regular DOP, Will Price), followed by a portrait film for the talented tattoo artist Gerry Carnelly, and since the start of December 2020, I have created numerous films for the lovely Cathy Hay and her company, Foundations Revealed. In August, I thought that my business was going to go under; now, after all the tears, sweat and marketing experiments, Triskelle Pictures is in profit again. Obviously I'm not counting my chickens before they've hatched, I know that anything can change in an instant during this turbulent time, but I'm relieved and thankful to be back in the place I am now (even if I'm somewhat 'too busy' again!), and I'm feeling hopeful for the future once more.

  There's one video I made this year which pretty much sums up 2020 for me - in a good way. Towersey Festival, one of my awesome repeat clients, sadly couldn't hold their festival this year (the events industry was even worse hit than the cinema industry, and that's saying something!) - but that didn't stop them from finding ways to adapt and unite their loyal fans! On the days when the 2020 festival would've happened, they hosted a range of online concerts and craft workshops, and invited ticket holders to create their own festival at home - bunting and all! It was a huge success, and many of the people who took part filmed the day on their phones; I had the honour of putting all that footage together into one video, as well as contributing some of my own, and the result made me quite emotional. It was the epitome of 'keep calm and carry on', and during a time when my social media feel was filled with apocalyptic headlines and paranoia, it was wonderful to see so many messages of love:

   Finally, in terms of work I brought in, 2020 ended up being a decent year for Art Department and Costume jobs. Last year, I made the conscious decision to start moving away from that kind of work; much as I love it, I have too many fingers in too many pies, and I need to start throwing as much weight as possible at my directing career. But luckily I didn't announce my retirement too soon, as I would've missed out on three varied, creative and satisfying shoots! As well as the television pilot in January, I was lucky enough to work as Art Director on True Colours in November (under Production Designer & Director Milda Baginskate, who is incredibly talented and instantly became a good friend to me), and I'm also currently working as Costume Designer on We're All Black Down Here for my Night Owls co-producer Sophia Ramcharan, of Stella Vision Films. WABDH is a really rewarding project to be part of because of its important themes, and I'm looking forward to working on that film as soon as the locations are able to open again.

[Above: Our screenplay for The Barn was accepted into FilmQuest in July. That festival has been on my wish list for a few years now, so I was delighted! Background art by Qingling Zhang.]

  That's an overview of the work I've been able to do for other people, but what of my own films? I make no secret of that fact that I miss being on set as a director above most things, as it's coming up to two years since the last Triskelle short film shoot. I am worried that I'll get a bit rusty from this hiatus, but the time away from set has also made me so determined to get back there again. After successfully going through The Prince's Trust, the next best thing to come out of this year is meeting Jo Lewis of Hipster Films, who is going to help me bring The Barn to life after years of development and longing! We don't know yet when we'll be able to start filming, but we're ready to go as soon as we get the green light; I was even able to do some of the location recces in 2020, re-joined finally by my Ashes and Night Owls DOP (and dear friend) Neil Oseman. There's a lot of details I don't want to share publicly yet, but I will say that the working title of The Barn is finally going to change, and also that it may not quite be the film I originally pitched to people - for one thing, it's no longer accurate to describe the project as 'film' in the singular... more news to come on that later in the year! But needless to say, I'm so excited by the prospect of bringing this film to life. It's been a long time coming.

[Above: The Lepidopterist poster by
Adam Blakemore of Strelka Design]

   Lepidopterist (the extended, polished version of our Sci-Fi-London 48hr Challenge entry, FIFTY/FIFTY) was finally finished in the Spring, which was one of the best things to come out of the first Lockdown, and we're all pretty darn happy with the new cut. Thanks to a brief funding campaign in the summer, we have been able to start submitting the film to festivals, but unfortunately there's still no screening dates to share with you - partly because so many festivals were forced to postpone or cancel completely in 2020. I really hope that we'll be able to bring the film to audiences on a big screen soon, but with all the cinemas remaining shut indefinitely, I sadly don't know when that will be.

   For the same reason, Growing Shadows: The Poison Ivy Fan Film had a stunted festival run in 2020, with most of the scheduled events being forced to cancel (although we did show the film at a few online events, one of which gave me to opportunity to join in this director's Q&A in the summer). However, the film has still done me proud, as it has the highest festival acceptance rate out of any film I've ever made, it's had six award nominations so far (five were from the Azure Lorica Fan Film Awards), and it's also had over 26,000 views on YouTube alone!

   I also made the decision to produce again, for the first time since 2013. When Rob Sharp of Sirloin Films sent me the script for his magical and moving drama, Good Grief, I knew I didn't have time to commit to it fully, but I loved it so much that I agreed to help in any way possible. As a result, I am attached as Executive Producer, with my wonderful collaborator Charlie Clarke on Associate Producer duty. You can find out more about my involvement in the film by watching the video below, and you can still support the project's crowdfunding campaign for a few more days. I really look forward to seeing how Good Grief shapes up over the coming months; This Is England star Vicky McClure has already agreed to join the cast!

   Furthermore, a couple of the older films have had some love this year. I finally had time to edit and release the suite of Songbird BTS videos I'd had on my to-do list since the film was shot in 2016 (my favourite of which is this honest and slightly cringe-worthy video from the day we tried to shoot a fantasy battle scene in the middle of a thunderstorm!), and I was also really proud when filmmaker Keith Allot asked if he could screen Ashes to a group of film students he was teaching. Songbird was also released on Amazon Prime in January 2020, for anyone who's yet to see the film.

  I'm aware that this blog post, as they often do, is starting to get very long indeed! So let me bring it to a close with a few final personal thoughts on the year just gone. I miss hugging my family more than anything else in the world, but I also feel grateful to have a family I can love that much, and so lucky that we all made it through this pandemic pretty much unscathed. Someone I know was taken from us too soon last month, which wasn't a result of Covid but still feels incomprehensibly wrong; I have striven to remember them with fondness, and to feel grateful that I had them in my life at all, even if only for a brief while. Finally, as much as this year has taken away, it has also given things to people I care about the most: three of my dearest friends found love this year, and one has even got engaged, so there are still many things to celebrate. I can't wait until we can all be together again in person to do just that!

[Above: as part of my new no-fear 
attitude, I ended the year with green
 hair. It was supposed to be blue!]

   I'm not going to make any resolutions this year; the past few months have taught us that nothing is really in our control any more. We cannot dictate what happens in 2021. All I have are hopes. Things I am looking forward to, and things that I hope will happen. The biggest things among these are filming The Barn (as well as our smaller project, Room 515, with a bit of luck!), celebrating some big family birthdays, and moving house with my Edward (who has been a constant crutch throughout the past year!). Much as I've loved our cottage, there were too many days last year when I found myself trapped within its walls, combined with the fact that our neighborhood doesn't provide the friendly 'village life' we anticipated, so it's time to accept facts and seek out a fresh environment. I hope that we will be happy in our new Hobbit hole; as long as me, Edward and our guinea pigs are together (not to mention our huge wall of DVDs!), I know it will still be home.

  Thank you to everyone who has supported me through this UNPRECEDENTED year. We'll certainly never forget it! Whatever lies ahead for us, we've all made it this far, and I hope for happier and healthier times for all of you. We just need to take it one day at a time, keep taking a moment to be still and to breathe, and to never forget how much we've learnt to appreciate.



Countries visited: Just England, and I mostly stayed home - but Edward and I did have a wonderful mini break to Matlock in the Autumn.

House moves: None, but there's a big one coming up...

Weddings attended: Covid said no! But a dear friend of mine did get engaged.

Film Festivals attended: Only online, thanks to this god awful year! But those online festivals - Beeston Film Festival, Kino London and Geekfest - all screened Growing Shadows. I really missed festivals this year, particularly our regulars like The Short Cinema. 

Gigs attended: Again, none. This really was the year that wasn't! I had tickets to see Rusty Shackle (but had to miss it due to a sudden overly-dramatic illness, which wasn't Covid), and also to see Goldfrapp, which was postponed because of the pandemic. However, I did enjoy all the online concerts brought to us by Towersey, Nottingham Bodega and independent artists during Lockdown. This year I have tickets booked to see Haim, as well as the rescheduled Goldfrapp gig - the latter is something from my bucket list, so I have EVERYTHING crossed that the concert goes ahead!!


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