Design, Designer talk, Travel, Current affairs, People A design for life

Sometimes you just need to say 'yes'.

by Ian Thompson
  • Every now and again, an opportunity just crops up that can be life-changing. A couple of years ago, I did a one-month, pretty intensive film course at Central Film School in London. I did this because I’d been watching ‘Revolutionary Road’ on the telly and when Leonardo Di Caprio’s character said ‘I’m going to Paris to see what I’m made of’ it really woke me up. It’s daft I know. In fact, the character never went to Paris in what turned out to be a pretty tragic story, but it did the trick for me anyway.

    It made me think about how much or how little I ‘see what I’m made of’. And, it made me think about how many times I’ve said ‘what I really want to do, is make movies’. It gets easier to say, the older I get, because I have a really good excuse not to get on and do it – I’m now too old!

  • I booked the course that night before I could think too much about it, and I’m really glad I did. It was a great experience and it did exactly what I wanted it to do:

    • It got me away from work for a month
    • It worked me hard on something I know little about, for an intensive period
    • It told me what I might be good at and what I would need to work on if I were to do it seriously
    • It made me feel like I could do it
    • It was a totally different creative discipline
    • We were all as green as grass and we all wanted to make great films – simple

    Above all, it told me that I really, really love it, and you can’t get better than that! When I got back I was buzzing. It put a real spring in my step and reinvigorated my design work and direction. Only thing is, I realised I didn’t know anybody in the film industry and if there’s one thing I learned on the course it was that you can’t do it on your own.

  • So, I spent the following 2 years writing a few scripts, diligently looking after the business and having some really fulfilling adventures with some great clients. But, I was also completely failing to actually make any films. One thing’s for sure, if you’re not making films, you’re not a film maker.

    Then it happened. In the summer this year, I met with my friend and mentor Jude Kelly and we were talking about Grayson Perry’s brilliant series ‘All Man’. She asked me to make a film for a festival at Southbank Centre called ‘Being a Man’ and I said yes. I’d like to suggest that I’d said to myself ‘that’ll show me what I’m made of’, but the truth is, I didn’t give myself time to think about it – I’d said ‘yes’ before she’d finished the sentence. Jude’s great – she understands the meaning of a deadline and the motivating power of trust. As soon as I’d said yes, she picked up the phone and spoke to the Senior Programmer for Literature and the Spoken Word. The whole thing probably took less than a minute. It was well and truly ‘on’.

  • Given how much I bang on about Northern Soul, it’ll surprise many that it was the last thing on my mind in terms of subject matter. I had all sorts of other plans. The light bulb moment came when I was talking to my dad on holiday about his experiences in the dance halls in the 50s and how he met my mum. I had to do a film about ‘men who dance’ and why they do. I realised I’ve always danced, one way or another and I’d also noticed how young men don’t do it much, certainly not without a beer in one hand anyway.

  • So, I made it. It forced me to write scripts, create a structure, find a crew, organise shoots and tiptoe through the hideous minefield of music rights (never again). An incredible learning experience and it hasn’t finished yet. I’ve got a northern screening in January 2017 and I’m talking to the BBC next week.

    I showed the film at Southbank Centre last Friday 25th Nov and I was luck enough to be on a great panel. It was chaired by Guardian.co.uk’s Music Editor Tim Jonze (a Northern Soul fan) and on the panel with me were Christopher Eccleston (another Northern Soul fan) and the wonderful Javaad Alipoor. The proudest moment for me was seeing my daughter Pearl’s face at the idea of me talking to Doctor Who. That’s what it’s all about – getting pally with a Time Lord.

  • For me, it was all about creative fulfilment. The first proper job I had was with a film and TV designer and he said to me, ‘make the best of it while you can, because your creatvity runs out at 40’. I really didn’t like this and I still don’t. It’s understandable that you might expect some of the wonder of it all to diminish over time. I can also see how people might imagine that maturity and increased responsiblity might introduce more of a fear of risk into your work. But, these things are the enemy – they don’t need to be part of the mix if you don’t want them to. Older creatives can often overlook how empowered they are. They’ve usually got more money, they know the ropes, they can put risk into a wider context, they know how to manage people. They’ve gone from oblivious to fear, through the acquistion of knowledge that suggests they should be more nervous, right through to the ‘fuck -it, what’s the worst that can happen?’ stage.

    We fogey’s have fewer excuses than most to neglect our creative spark. And, we understand that we sometimes need to fail to learn. It’s easy for me to say though, ‘cos I’m old enough to be past all of this and I’m squarely in the ‘I’ve got no shame’ stage.

  • So, there I was, sat with the ninth Doctor, feeling all puffed up and proud of myself and I was thinking ‘what made me do this?’ Because frankly I was inspired by many things and none of them were me. And I remembered that immediately after the showing I was going to see my missus take part in the final of Burlesque Idol in The Hippodrome at the tender age of 54 (she won’t mind me saying).

    Now, that’s a legend.

    (PS. I don’t use the word ‘legend’ lightly, in fact I barely use it all. Much as it has become the watch word for a mate who comes back from the bar with an unconventional flavour of crisps, I prefer to reserve it for actual legends).

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