Writing my way out of London

ROYAL MAIL I sent plenty of dreams into the slots of Royal Mail boxes in England (Photo pixabay.com/en/mailbox-background-architecture-22149/)
DREAM CATCHER I posted plenty of dreams through the slots of Royal Mail boxes.

A Writer gives up on the big city.

I LIVED in the city of London for three years. During the first I was heady with hope, not caring that I hadn’t ‘made it’ yet, sure that I would at any moment. Throughout the second I bargained with my definitions of success, as I compromised in order to survive financially while keeping my dreams alive. In the third, my hopes were dashed and my finances dived as I held-on for that dream job, while life collapsed around my deluded ears… relationships, projects, homes, prospects. All gone with the rent money.

Long before I encountered the hopeful practice of affirmations, I was already making them in my own way. When ridiculous barely media-related jobs were offered to me, since I presented as a non-insane organised person, such as the job filming rich tourists on Caribbean cruises, I would get out of them by saying: “Thanks, but I have been offered another job which I simply cannot refuse… I’m perfect for it, and to turn it down would be impossible.”

The crestfallen human resources folk would express a moment of regret, then drop me, still unemployed, with the phone.

Thankfully I landed just enough unpaid independent film and television work to stave off a real ego bruising.

I assistant-directed a Goldsmiths College student film, after answering an ad the student producer put in the local paper seeking skilled volunteers to support the shoot. We filmed in a famous British Comedian’s daughter’s house, and in between consoling her about the abuse her place was getting from its use as a location, and various auditions she felt she had failed, I was consoling the students through a series of disasters. The main one was the discovery that all the rushes (on expensive celluloid!) were unusable due to focus problems.

I encouraged a soldier-on approach, which was met with wild anger from the director of photography, who stood in my face and screamed at me, barely masking his obvious feelings of guilt about the fuzzy rushes. Quite rightly, I felt I didn’t need that, and at the end of that shot, I walked off set and didn’t go back.

Later that year I assisted on two short films directed by the life-enlarging Jillian Li-Sue, who I still feel has a feature film in her waiting to get out, if only someone would take a punt on her and put up the money.

The first of these was shot on location in Catford, only a few blocks from where I lived in Lewisham.

CEDAR ON CELLULOID Production still from Jillian Li-Sue's short film Cedar Wood and Silk.
CEDAR ON CELLULOID Production still from Jillian Li-Sue’s short film Cedar Wood and Silk.

Taking care of odd jobs on a film set, like fetching porn mags to be used as props, and amusing actors between shots, earned me the title of second assistant director on Jill’s beautiful short Cedar Wood and Silk. That was one I was proud to have been a part of.

Amazingly, some Australian friends were able to put me in touch with one of Britain’s film producers of the moment, who was kind enough to meet me at his Soho office, and not laugh at the film script I’d sent him. In fact, he gave it to one of his readers who wrote an exacting report on it. Tough stuff, but a wake-up call.

There I sat, feeling misunderstood, across the desk from this titan of film. He must have been bemused at my silent miscomprehension of exactly how he could help me, kindly pointing out that a certain amount of enthusiasm was essential for getting a project together. I barely knew what I was doing there, really, but he took my number and gave it to someone.

Weeks later, after returning from my regular job-seeking in the West End, I played the answering machine, only to have missed a call for a day’s work on his new movie. I called back, but the super-busy-super-organised production assistant happily informed me that position had been filled. Too late.

Around that time my Soho office (a red telephone booth off Charing Cross Road) was blown-up by the IRA. The kid who did it lived over my back fence in South London, and apparently the  explosives he’d used were stored in the garden shed, only metres from where I’d slept for over a year.

Perhaps I was in the wrong place?

So I answered an advertisement in Broadcast magazine, looking for a production assistant for a small production company in Ipswich, Suffolk.

I had to look on a map to find Suffolk, imaging it to be tucked ‘up north’ somewhere remote. But it was barely an hour away by train. For an Australian, an hour was a mere trifle. Perhaps I should expand my horizons beyond the tarnished fabulousness of London?

Not having even a typewriter to make use of (one of my flatmates stole the phone bill money and disappeared to St Lucia … cue the violins, but I had to sell stuff to get by), I hand wrote a job application and resume onto beautiful thick yellow paper, hoping it would stand out. My handwriting on quality paper was about as honest as I could be in the situation I found myself in.

I posted the letter on the way to my cinema job, and promptly forgot all about it. After all, the Royal Mail hadn’t delivered me a break in three years.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

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