Tuesday, 31 August 2010

One for the ladies...

We've all met at least one of them, you know the sort, that guy, the guy who, if you have crabs, he has lobsters. For the divers amongst you, you will have definitely met one on a boat somewhere. He has all the best gear, makes sure to claim the spot nearest the stern so he is always first in the water, he has by far the loudest voice and makes sure it's heard, whilst regaling his stories of oneupmanship to the boat crew.

These guys are never more common than on shark diving boats.

Let's be honest, to the majority, shark diving is seen as a macho, adrenalin charged flirtation with death, where divers will claim to be "crazy," "insane" and "mad." You shouldn't try this though of course, it should be left to the "experts" like them, the guys with the big cojones who are challenging death and winning every time. Shark diving is a past time only for the most manly of men.

Unfortunately for this type of diver, I'm going to shatter that illusion because you might be surprised to hear that the people who really led the way in shark research, the people who brought conservation to the fore and who were diving in the open ocean with sharks before the risks had been properly explored, in order to further a fledgling conservation movement, were, in my opinion, women.

Women like Dr Eugenie Clark.

Dr Clark couldn't be more far removed from the current image television portrays of shark divers and that should always be to her credit. Dr Clark, or the "Shark Lady" as she is known, has been diving with sharks for decades, before it was considered something which could be done with minimal risk. Back then, it was considered  madness to voluntarily enter the water with a shark yet this didn't deter the Shark Lady from learning more about sharks by getting up close and personal and writing about her experiences.

She was instrumental in studies to discover shark deterrents and became well known for her discovery of the Moses Sole in the Red Sea, which, when it had it's sides gently squeezed, omitted a milky fluid which was found to cause lockjaw in some shark species and seemed to have a distinctly unpleasant taste which the sharks would find thoroughly unpalatable.

She was the founding director of the Mote Marine Laboratory, pioneered the use of SCUBA Diving for research and despite having retired from teaching, still holds the title of Senior Research Scientist and Professor Emerita at the University of Maryland. Dr Eugenie Clark is a colossus in the shark world.

Women like Valerie Taylor.

I make no secret of my admiration for Valerie Taylor, nor should I. Valerie Taylor is to underwater film making and shark conservation what Sir Matt Busby is to Manchester United, Elvis is to Rock n Roll and what Cousteau is to SCUBA Diving itself. Valerie and husband Ron, are, in my opinion, solely responsible for the boom in underwater film making, in particular films focusing on sharks.

Ron was astute enough to appreciate the striking visual of a beautiful, seemingly vulnerable woman, in such close proximity to a large predatory shark but nobody should ever make the mistake of assuming Valerie is merely eye candy. Valerie's unending passion and compassion for sharks led to the Sand Tiger shark becoming the first protected shark species in Australia. She continues to fight against anti-shark nets, she and Ron were the first to film Great White sharks without the use of a cage, she has authored several books and has been recognised by the Australian government for her conservation work, receiving the Centenary Medal (Ron has been awarded the Order of Australia).

In the macho world of shark diving, Dr Clark and Valerie Taylor stand head and shoulders above their peers to me because of one thing. With them it's all about the sharks.

Valerie Taylor and Eugenie Clark are like the teachers at school you would keep referring to as "mum" by mistake. Their passionate and warm narration and storytelling still transfixes me to this day, it is clear they are deeply in love with the marine environment and all they want to do is share that with us, to teach us about a world many will never get to see for themselves, in the hope that it encourages people to care enough about its preservation.

The macho image serves only to benefit the few, usually the people involved in whichever publication, programme or film they are in at the time, and continues to perpetuate the myth that sharks are bloodthirsty killers. It's an exclusive club that only the few can enjoy, after all, the more people think it's tantamount to a death wish, the less competition there is for them right? Like I said, it's all about them.

So, here's to the female shark divers, the women who aim to inspire love and compassion for the oceans, the ones who show other female divers that you can enjoy encounters with sharks and that it has nothing to do with how much testosterone you have. Here's to Valerie Taylor, Dr Eugenie Clark, Lotte Hass, Stefanie Brendl, Lesley Rochat and all the other female divers out there showing the men how to deliver an inspirational and responsible shark conservation message with the focus on the sharks.

You can keep your "Shark Men," not enough is said of the women who are working towards a better future for our oceans but I for one, salute you all.

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Thursday, 19 August 2010

Ambition...But at what price?

I heard a saying a few years ago that has stuck with me since, "In every great success story is a chapter entitled 'The Hard Times'..."

It's fair to say that what constitutes "hard times" is wholly relevant to the normal standards to which one is accustomed, these hard times may be fleeting glimpses of how those less fortunate than you live, causing you to once again appreciate your good fortune, for others, they encapsulate a lifelong struggle to get by, a situation whereby life is not for living, but enduring.

I was discussing with a friend last week, which would be worse, going through life not knowing what you want to achieve or spending your entire life with an overwhelming passion and ambition, striving to achieve something that almost always seems out of your reach. We came to the conclusion that each is probably equal and the only people who can be easily pleased are those who are satisfied with what they're given, nine-to-five job, mortgage, wife or husband they can tolerate enough to spend their lives with and a kid or two, they accept that this is their lot, at least they have a night out with their mates once a week to look forward to...

Think back to when you were a child, I would bet that every single one of you had an ambition, doctor, teacher, footballer, astronaut, movie star...How many of you have achieved your childhood dreams to at least some extent? Probably the minority, for those who didn't, do you still dream the same dream from time to time?

Let's be honest, many people have dreams that are very, very unlikely to ever become reality, the most common being "I want to be *insert celebrity*." This is obviously impossible because you can only be you, that is why the majority of people don't fulfill their ambitions, perhaps its a case of wanting to be that person now, without having to have put in all the work, writing their own chapter entitled "The Hard Times" in order to get there?

There is a school of thought that states "if you want it enough, you'll get it," well I'm afraid it's not that easy. The reality is that life gets in the way of what you truly want and in order to give yourself the best opportunity to achieve the things you dream of, you have to remove yourself from your previously "normal" life, focus everything of your being on your ambition and work like you have never worked before to make opportunities where you get that stroke of luck become more likely. The harder you work, the luckier you get...or so the saying goes.

I'll be honest, as I will always be, I haven't had any luck in this process so far, everything has happened because of something I have done to give myself a chance to make an opportunity for it to happen. Some things haven't gone to plan, others have gone better than expected, what I'm saying is that although some people get everything handed to them on a plate, others, like me and most likely you, don't and we have to work ten times harder to get to where we want to be. Is that struggle worth it? If not, give up. If you want it enough though, if you believe in it with everything you have, that then gives you the emotional strength to fight the fight, no matter how insurmountable your task may seem. That though, is only the beginning.

It's all about money. Say it again, it's all about money.

Why is it all about money? Because you don't have any of it, or at least enough of it to set you on the way to achieving your ambitions. That's when you need people that do have enough of it to help you but they want something back which is obviously only fair! You absolutely must be prepared to repay their benevolence in the manner they deem acceptable.

Here is where I am with everything so far, I need one thing and one thing only in order to actually achieve the first of my ambitions, the first film as part of "From the Office to the Ocean," and that one thing is £29,078.16, for arguments sake we'll say thirty grand.

What can I offer in return for that amount of cash? Plenty, alongside a willingness to discuss any other ideas of how my sponsors or investors will benefit from being involved in the process of this film being made. In ordinary situations, I wouldn't dream of asking people for financial assistance for things but this is as far away from being an ordinary situation as possible. I have planned to begin filming in February 2011 for four weeks, before returning to the UK to edit everything together alongside shooting and editing a "making of" feature and writing a number of articles about my story and the stories I explore whilst shooting the film. This means that realistically, the latest I can secure funding is in December of this year if it is to go to schedule.

That is not all, I will most likely have to leave my flat at the end of October at the latest and it is almost certain that I will have to rely on the kindness of others in allowing me to impose upon them until they deem my presence an annoyance and I have to move on again! Is it a stressful and pressurised situation? You bet your life it is but I wouldn't swap it for an easier life back in an office, slowly dying away and dreaming of what could have been!

This is me in my bedroom in my parents' house twenty years ago, holding one of my most prized possessions in the world, a signed book, sent all the way from Australia, from the one and only Valerie Taylor. I can't tell you how overwhelmed I was when it came in the post and to this day it takes pride of place in my living room.

The ambitions I have now are the same as then, to make a series of films about the relationship between sharks and humans, breaking new ground and doing something that focuses on getting more and more people to love and cherish sharks like I do and in turn, caring about their protection. The difference now is that I am in a position to actually do that, barring of course one rather sizable obstacle.

I do believe though however, that someone out there has it and would want to give it to me, it may even be ten people who want to give me three grand each or even a hundred who donate £300, either way, I want to repay those who help me make this happen and that is a cast iron promise and I never go back on my word. I believe it, Cameras Underwater believe it, several people of note in the diving, shark and media industries believe it and it is that belief and the validation of that belief from others that keeps me going.

My belief is so strong that should the unthinkable happen and I don't get the funding, I actually do have a backup plan, a very drastic, risky and slightly ridiculous backup plan which I would rather avoid if you don't mind!

So, to return to the quote with which I started this blog, I am going through the hard times now, it's not a problem, most of my adult life would fill this part of my story but the difference this time is that I am in the process of writing the following chapter. A friend of mine says to his son, "think of your life like a book, make it one you'd want to read," he thinks it's a bit daft, I personally think he's nailed it.

I'll finish by saying that I do appreciate you reading my blog, actually, properly appreciate it because its honest and your taking the time to read it does actually mean a lot to me. If I could ask you one favour, if you read it and enjoy it, please pass it on to at least one person who hasn't seen it, it may be about my journey but it's a story which I think resonates with most people and if I succeed, anyone who has followed my story will be a part of that success and see that it is possible!

"From the Office to the Ocean" has two primary messages, cherish, love and protect sharks and be inspired to make your dreams become reality, I know I have readers who feel as though I am speaking directly to them, they have told me themselves, if the message gets through and people start to embrace life, I will have succeeded in at least one of my goals, you never know, maybe someone will read it who can help me make this happen!

If you're on Facebook, there is now a group, just search for "From the Office to the Ocean," ditto on Twitter. To learn a bit more, check out www.officetoocean.com and in the coming days, I will blog here, more detail about part one of "From the Office..."

Sharks rule.

Monday, 16 August 2010

"Sharks and Nazis..."

Rotund comedy genius, Ricky Gervais, once said that National Geographic's sole broadcasting output was programming focusing on either sharks or Nazis, obviously he was joking but one could argue that the media, for many years, has struggled to differentiate their message about sharks and Nazis. An all encompassing, malevolent force of evil, intent on the destruction of all mankind, personified in the image of a sneaky, heartless devil with an attitude problem...Their message about Mr Hitler and his brethren wasn't all together dissimilar either.

In fact, as the troops marched into battle at the Somme in 1916, blood simultaneously stained the beaches (and creek) of a popular Jersey Shore tourist resort as in just twelve days, sharks (I won't get on to the singular shark argument here, I could go on all day) killed four people and seriously injured another. The events at Matawan Creek altered society's perception of the shark forever, it was the only event in wartime America that removed the war from the front pages of the newspapers and from then on it was not uncommon to see cartoonists using sharks as caricatures of German U-Boats, there was even a widespread rumour circulating that the Germans had brought hundreds of ravenous sharks to the shores of the United States as some kind of biological super weapon to devour beach goers trying to cool off during the worst heatwave for a century. It was official, sharks were almost as big a threat to us all as the tyranny of evil, laying waste to thousands of young men on the battlefields of Europe...
That was ninety-four years ago, in between we have had the Indianapolis disaster, South Africa's Black December, high profile and widespread reported shark attacks such as those on Albert Kogler, Barry Wilson and Robert L Pamperin and of course, the ultimate shark shocker, JAWS. Here we are in 2010, have we really progressed much in regards to the media's representation of the shark?

It might be a controversial view but I don't think we have.

Why? Because there is still a distinct barrier between the scientific community and the "man on the street." Of course, there have been huge strides in the last decade or so in regards to wider reporting of the catastrophic plight facing the world's sharks and our oceans on a wider scale but it's thirty years too late and although coverage in the media is becoming more commonplace, it still needs more and for the media to focus on the real issues about sharks.

Shark Week has come and gone, being in the UK, I was unable to watch it as we haven't had the pleasure yet but looking at the titles of Discovery's programming I'm going to stick my neck out and say loads of really bad reconstructions, rehashing of documentaries that have been done before (and better) and perhaps a brief focus on the conservation issues. I have no problem with documentaries about shark attacks, it is an area of particular interest and expertise personally, but the wider stories are almost always missed.

Not being fortunate enough to have grown up in the Bahamas, Florida or Australia, I relied upon documentary films to feed my passion and shape my ambitions. Ron & Valerie Taylor were, and still are, somewhat god-like to me, their groundbreaking approach to interacting with sharks, their scientific yet personal presentation and Valerie's passionate yet reassuring narration heralded a golden age of underwater film-making. We have more technology at our disposal than ever before yet it seems, more often than not, the focus is on "yee-haw" macho men, "the housewives' favourites" or merely putting someone with a biology degree in front of a camera for sixty minutes to do the best he can with a script and story so dry you risk getting eczema merely watching it...

There are of course exceptions, Mike Rutzen's recent films have been consistently good, helped by his amiable personality and passion for his work, the BBC's Paul Rose is another who I want to see more of on our screens, he was by far the standout presence in the excellent "Oceans" series and having had the pleasure of his company on a few occasions, I can say from experience he is also an exceptionally nice bloke! Rob Stewart and Rick O'Barry also deserve praise for the work they have done, I have stated on here before my admiration for Rick and his passionate belief in actually doing something to make a difference.

Shark documentaries aside, the general standard of programming in the UK is atrocious, "101 ways to leave a game show," anything with Katie Price/Peter Andre attached to it and the recruitment process for T4's presenters in particular deserve a special mention. Reality television is as popular as ever, is that a case of the public getting what they want, or what they're given, you decide, however there is a case to be argued that says what can be more fascinating, intriguing or gripping than actual real life?

Where the majority of reality based television programmes focus on making ordinary people look daft, why not have reality television with a difference, where ordinary people can inspire, where their stories can illustrate wider issues and encourage dialect among the man on the street where previously he saw no relevance? Why not have reality television that shows ordinary people can actually do something just, worthwhile and with value?...Combine that with sharks and I think you'd be on to a winner!

If anybody connected with television happens to read this, I'd be happy to point you in the direction of someone who can make that programme for you!

That aside, I will state that where we are now in regards to the shark's media persona, is a far cry from yesteryear and for that we should all be grateful and may the upward curve in the personification of the shark as something at which we should all marvel and something to be enjoyed and treasured be a steep one!

Finally, if I could ask a favour, if you think you may know anyone who would be interested in my shark-centric ramblings, I would be delighted if you could point them in the direction of this blog, maybe encourage them to subscribe? We all need a little love from time to time ;)


Saturday, 7 August 2010

Day 38 of the great shark adventure!

Hello lovely readers! I hope you are enjoying your weekend so far!

I have just returned from a couple of great days in the south so I thought an update was in order. It is now thirty-eight days since I left my job to chase this dream and it's been a rollercoaster to say the least!

Prior to going down to London, I spent Monday and Tuesday trying to put a list of people together, people who I could contact to try and get involved in this project by way of funding and in return, whom I could benefit by association with a venture which is supportive of both environmental awareness and the investment in talent. Richard Branson's people have already said no due to it not falling into their current investment remit. This is always going to be the biggest hurdle to overcome, despite having total costs of less than £30,000, much less than your average film of this type, it is still a lot of money to ask that somebody invest in me, however, given the quality of what we will be able to produce, I am certain it is money well spent and which will hopefully be returned with profit as soon as possible! This side of my venture is without doubt the most difficult however, most things worth doing usually are!

On the upside, on Wednesday and Thursday I was extremely fortunate enough to spend my time with some incredibly kind, generous and hospitable people who I am delighted to say I can welcome aboard the good ship Shark Adventure!

On Wednesday, myself and Hamish met with Dave Glanfield and Mario Vitalini from the very highly respected Cameras Underwater (http://www.camerasunderwater.co.uk/). I had spoken to Mario a couple of weeks previously and when I say the guy knows his stuff, I am understating his expertise somewhat, he is an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to cameras, housings, strobes and all other facets of underwater photography and video!

I initially expected to have about an hour with them, discussing the project and whether they would be interested in getting involved, instead, I was given almost five hours and both Mario and Dave fully understood where I am coming from and what I want to achieve. Their enthusiasm and energy when discussing "From the Office to the Ocean" was matched only by their generosity in offering their support  to me in several ways, all of which will be a huge help to me in making this happen. I will give more details in the weeks to come but what I can say is that I am chuffed to bits to be able to say that Cameras Underwater are now in full support of "From the Office to the Ocean" and I can't wait for us to work together in the months and years to come!

After the meeting finished, Mario's generosity extended to his offering us a place to stay at his lovely new house with his equally lovely girlfriend Caroline. Great company, Chinese takeaway, Wild Berry Rekorderlig cider and hours and hours talking about sharks and diving...Not a bad way to end a brilliant day.

Thursday saw an early start due to Caroline and Mario having to go to work so we decided to head down to "The Devil's Punchbowl" near their home in Liphook. The scenery there is jaw dropping, the sun was shining and we were feeling good to say the least! When the guitar came out along with a magnificent sounding travel amp, the ambience changed somewhat, the local ramblers must have wondered who the two strangers playing Metallica, Ted Nugent, AC/DC and Foo Fighters songs were and what on earth they were doing up at 8:30am!

We left at 10am to make our way to a meeting with underwater cameraman extraordinaire, Hugh Fairs, blasting out the new Cypress Hill album (very good by the way) whilst navigating the winding, narrow roads to a lovely pub in the middle of nowhere called "The Parrot." Again, we were excitedly discussing the film for almost five hours, I made good use of probing Hugh's expert knowledge and it was again fantastic and encouraging to see how enthusiastic Hugh is about all of this.

So here we are, I already feel closer to getting this film made and changing my life forever, I have had incredible support from people with enthusiasm, expert knowledge, industry expertise and perhaps most importantly, a shared vision of what I can achieve. The most important thing when you have ambition, is to approach the right people who you feel understand your ambition who you think can help you. It is of course, a two way street, you have to understand how you can help them in return and that is how great, successful partnerships are formed.

If you have belief, passion and a plan and you can articulate that passion and vision eloquently, you always stand a chance of getting people to believe in you, when that happens, you are closer to realising that ambition. It isn't easy though, it is a journey with enormous amounts of obstacles but with every obstacle overcome, you get closer to your goal. If your goal is worth reaching, you won't mind the obstacles along the way.


Monday, 2 August 2010

A bit of background...

I thought it would be a good idea to give a bit of background and update as to where I am with everything at the moment.

When I left my job it was in a maelstrom of different emotions, happiness that I was making the first step, sadness at leaving behind the fantastic people I worked with, excitement at what lay ahead but also fear, the fear that I may not get that stroke of luck that makes this all possible and there was also understandably doubt, am I doing the right thing? The main emotion however was freedom, I was finally taking control and although the spectre of money running out is a constant weight on my shoulders, it is one which also serves to motivate me to throw everything I have at this to make it become reality.

The first step was compiling a list of people to contact who may be able to help. This list consisted of industry experts, media, diving businesses, newspapers and television Production Companies. The next step, predictably, was to contact them, first by email, then by telephone.

These introductions, more often than not, were positive, there were of course a few "not interested" replies, the most memorable being an impressive Duncan Bannatyne impression, which although not the answer I hoped for, still made me chuckle.

The trick with any kind of cold approaches such as these is to expect that you will get knocked back more than you get positive responses. It isn't about a thousand "no" answers, its about the one vital "yes."

I am still in search of that "yes."

I had some bad news at the back end of last week, the Production Company who had showed a huge amount of interest had to put a temporary hold on any progression due to internal factors and the meeting I had scheduled this week has thus been cancelled. I won't lie, I was gutted but, onwards and upwards, I can't allow myself to dwell on this setback too much.

I am approaching this on two fronts, commission from a Production Company or Distributor or gaining corporate sponsorship, enabling me to make the film and then approach the former with a finished product. Now I know this film will be brilliant, other people with higher profiles than I, have been happy to go on record and say the same but convincing somebody to part with the best part of £30,000 is a lot easier said than done! The courage it has taken me to take the biggest gamble of my life is mirrored by the courage it may take for a wealthier individual than I, to take a gamble on me. I know that an investment in me will be well placed but I am not the one handing over thirty grand! This is not an easy process and requires a thick skin...

So, here I am, I am making great contacts and have had the pleasure of discussing this project with some wonderful people who have been a great help but I am still far nearer the beginning than the end.

I would also like to take a moment to mention some of the people who are continuing to give me the inspiration to believe in myself because they believe in me. My good friend Hamish Harper has been nothing short of a godsend, he has always believed in me and his continued positivity serves to bolster my self belief when I need it the most. Mike Neumann at Beqa Adventure Divers is another, always happy to answer my questions, give advice and when needed, encouragement to continue with something he believes in as much as I do, thanks for everything Mike. Last but certainly not least, Richard Theiss of RTSea Productions. Richard is a talented filmmaker and committed shark conservationist who's guidance has been vital to me in getting my foot through doors which may have otherwise, been slammed firmly shut in my face!

I would love to be able to fully articulate my appreciation to these three wonderful human beings but I fear nothing I could ever say would get close enough to how thankful I actually am. Thanks guys.

Finally, the website is now up and running thanks to another wonderful individual, Kris Allen, the man who used to put the voice to my songs when we were in Nerve Engine together. Kris put his own personal free time aside to make this site for me and I wish to go on record and say without him it wouldn't be anywhere near as good as it is, nor would it have been done as quickly. Kris, you rule!

If I can make a quick request? Please feel free to leave your comments, I love hearing from you and if you have enjoyed my blogs so far, please pass on the link to others you feel may be interested also, the more readers I have the better! If, by any chance, you also feel you may be able to help, please feel free to contact me!

As I said, onwards and upwards!