Thursday, 1 September 2011

Making It Happen - Part 2

In part one I gave some background information to give you a bit of an idea of where I was coming from when starting this whole thing, you may see a lot of myself in you, you may see me as a totally different person but that doesn't mean you can't achieve your own dream. I'm not the oracle on how to make things happen, far from it, I just made what I have work for me. I can't stress enough, you will have skills and strengths I, nor other people out there doing this stuff, have, you just have to believe in those strengths. As a no doubt great man (who's name  can't remember) once said, success is based on 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration and he was right. Don't expect a free ride from anybody, this is your thing, get out there and make it happen.

In this blog I will focus entirely on the first steps I took  to make the production of "Of Shark and Man" happen but remember, I haven't even started the edit yet, post production has begun but the early stages are unbelievably tedious and drawn out so there is still legs in this story yet. I hope you can get some snippets of inspiration you feel could be of use to you and your own challenges. 

Let's get started...

Have an idea!

Yes it's blindingly obvious but it's also one of the hardest parts of the whole process. An original, viable idea isn't something that shoehorns the things you like into one little box, you need to have that first spark and then work on that initial flash of inspiration and that can take years.

I first had the idea for what would become "From the Office to the Ocean" over twenty years ago believe it or not and it was just one aspect of what I wanted to do with my life. What would become "From the Office..." was actually, originally intended to be a book. I would spend twelve months travelling the globe exploring the stories relating to the human relationship with sharks in different parts of the world and include lots of lovely glossy photos and stories of my adventures with the sharks. As it transpires, it seems Juliet Eilperin recently had a similar idea and was able to go and write "Demon Fish". I haven't read it yet, I will of course, but by all accounts it's very good and although vaguely similar to my idea, it's not the same so the book is still something I will be doing in the future.

However, I digress. In 2007 I was sitting on a beach in Egypt dreading the return to work and decided that I would go ahead and see if I could make this book happen so on my return to the UK I did some research about the basics of putting a trip like that together and also, most importantly, this... Lesson five, check everywhere you can that your idea has not already been done by someone else! 

In July of 2008 I visited the Bahamas for a shark diving trip and by now the fire was raging inside me to get out and do what I wanted with my life. I was pretty successful at work at the time, hence the trips to Egypt and the Bahamas, so if I were to give up work and go for it, I knew I would be risking a hell of a lot. At that stage I was still quite vague on just how to go about putting a twelve month round the world trip together and more importantly, getting someone else to pay for it because there was no way on earth I could!

It was summer 2008 and I was still working through the minefield of logistics of putting a book together, I was emailing everyone I could think of about this great idea I had had and by now had attended my first Dive Show (more on that later).

It was at this first Dive Show where an important thing happened. I was going from stall to stall trying to discuss my idea with anyone I could in the hope they might be interested and the second stall I went to was for a small dive shop in Harrogate (or somewhere like that anyway) where the guy running the stall gave me thirty seconds of him half listening to what I was saying. 

"You written anything before and had it published?" he asked, 
"erm, no but I've...."
"Sorry mate, not interested."

He had a point so I was on my toes straight over to the Diver Magazine stand where the editor, Steve Weinman had already agreed to meet me for five minutes. He'd had a little nibble on my idea from an email I had sent him so when I asked if I could write him an article about sharks he was more than happy to let me. So I did, and my article about the benefit of shark feeding operations and addressing the misconceptions which go with them was published in the August 2008 edition of the mag.

It was also around this time when I met up with Jim Standing from Fourth Element and we discussed my idea for the book and the various pitfalls and logistical problems I would face in the coming months. It was then he said something which would change everything and start a chain of events which would change my life forever, "you'd be better off doing a film to be honest."

I explained to Jim that making films about sharks was what I had always wanted to do more than anything, that I had chosen the book route because I thought it would be easier as I knew I was a fairly good writer and I had only limited experience behind a Sony DV8 Tape Camcorder to call upon in regards to film, despite having a passionate interest in film-making but he was adamant the film option would be more likely to yield the results I wanted. I bounced out of that meeting, buzzing from the excitement of various ideas spinning around in my head and over the coming months started to look into how I could put a twelve month film production together.

Fast forward to late summer 2009 and the defining moment of this whole process. I googled myself, "David Diley Shark" and was perplexed by the results. My article, the one I had written previously was all over the net and two people in particular were saying some very positive things, Patric Douglas at Shark Diver and a guy calling himself "DaShark" in Fiji. "Da Shark" in particular interested me because he seemed to be involved in a project about which I had been fascinated for a good few years, over a decade anyway, the Shark Reef story, so I did some research, all the while, remembering an idea for a film I had had since first hearing the story around 1998 (I think). That was it, this is my idea, I was going to go and make a film not over the course of a year all over the world, but break it up into separate films and I was gonna start with the first film in Fiji, the story of Shark Reef Marine Reserve, an amazing tale and even better, nobody else had gone and done it, something I could never, ever understand. If they're not gonna go and make the film I want to see then sod it, I'm gonna do it myself!

Do a proposal

I did one for the book and I did a new one for the film, in fact, it was the very first thing I did. I knew I needed a document I could send out to people who had even a tiny bit of interest. I'd never done one before so in keeping with what would be a theme for this whole project, I learned as I did.

The proposal would be done, then re-done, then re-done, the re-done again and again and again, often to focus on a specific potential sponsor so a huge amount of time was spent staring at a computer screen often until 3 or 4am and bear in mind I was still working at this point and having to get up at 7:30am so for months, I was utterly exhausted!

My proposal contained several key points, about me, about the story I wanted to tell, why I wanted to tell it, how much I would need, how I would get the money, what I was going to do with the film and perhaps most importantly, what benefits I could offer to a sponsor in return for their hard earned cash?

Putting together your budget, in other words, how much you need to make this happen, is not easy. My first budget was about £3600! Let's just say that fell way, way, way short of what it would end up costing to put this production together. That amount was with the first idea in mind, I would go alone, be the only cameraman and it was reliant on services and accommodation being provided for free. I very quickly realised the numerous mistakes I had made.

I will admit to being nervous as the cost of the project continued to escalate, I was worried that the higher the cost, the less likely it would be that someone would invest in my idea but the truth of the matter is this, lesson six, if you have a good enough idea, a good enough approach and enough benefits on offer to potential investors or sponsors, if your budget is realistic you stand a good chance of getting financial backing, in fact, the higher your budget (within reason) the more likely you are to get it, remember the old saying, "you get what you pay for!"

Make contacts!

Good, credible contacts who might just be able to help you are your most valuable asset, you need them, don't underestimate how much either because without them, you're screwed.

As I mentioned before, I had started going to the Birmingham and London Dive Shows, I have done about seven now and to this day, I haven't once done the mooching around the stalls and looking at dive gear thing, I am there solely on business and to meet people I think might see the benefit in working with me. What you will no doubt find, as I most certainly did, is that most people, to put it bluntly, couldn't give a shit about you or your idea, be ready for that and be ready to hear "no" a hundred times more than you hear "yes," further to that, expect not to hear anything at all two hundred times more than you even hear "no!"

I spent months sending emails, a minimum of twenty each day, on one particular day later into the process, I sent almost seven hundred. For all the good emails do, a phone call is better and even better than that is meeting people face to face. In the early stages I approached at least one hundred people and in that first wave of action, I met Jim Standing of Fourth Element, Steve Weinman of Diver Magazine and Mario, Dave and Duxy, then of Cameras Underwater. All these people bought into what I was doing and not only did they offer their support moving forward, their outward expression of enthusiasm and belief gave me an enormous boost.

I quit my job!

It was early June 2010, by now I had been in regular contact with the aforementioned "DaShark" who I had discovered via Patric Douglas, in a wonderful twist of fate, was none other than Mike Neumann, the man behind the Shark Reef Marine Reserve in Fiji! A rare stroke of luck indeed and I had made my contact, I had discussed my idea with him and sent him my proposal to which he responded extremely positively and it had come to the point when I had to ask the burning question, "Mike, if I can make this film happen would you facilitate my diving and support me in Fiji?"

I was confident he would say yes due to the nature of our previous correspondence and thankfully I wasn't disappointed but both Mike and I knew that in order to make this work, I would have to make a number of sacrifices and commit to it 100%

The weeks passed and I spent every second, of every day developing my idea and daydreaming of the moment I would set foot in Fiji for the first time. I became more and more energetic for the idea, more and more insistent that I could pull it off and even more determined to actually go and do it. Conversely, my commitment to the boring rigours of daily life went the opposite way and I viewed anything which took me away from working on my project with disdain at best and at worst, utter contempt.

The one thing which was taking up far too much time and energy better used elsewhere was my job. I've had some pretty shitty jobs for some pretty shitty bosses, I worked on the produce department at a major name supermarket chain whilst at university for a boss who was sixteen, three years younger than me,  I worked for a sports shop chain which actually paid you less per hour the more you worked, I was a steward in the away end at Barnsley FC's Oakwell ground and was paid £25 to spend match days battling with various sets of supporters from around the country, this was infinitely preferable however, to stewarding the entrance to the toilet, a vantage point where only one thing was actually visible as the game went on and that was drunk, urinating men. You get my point...

In June 2010 however, I worked for a great boss at a great little company. A boss who would actually reward hard work and endeavour and who went out of his way to make his tiny little team happy. I loved working with Dean, Lisa and Joe but I didn't love what I was doing. The rewards were good, the people great, but the actual day to day stuff was as far removed from what I wanted to do as you could get. I would view each day as one wasted which was taking me further from fulfilling my ambitions and I would dread the sound of the alarm clock. On that morning, June 28th 2010, as the alarm clock interrupted my three hours sleep, a distinct depression flowed through me, a dread, an overwhelming urge to scream from the rooftops, "f**k this!"

The voice inside me was repeating over and over again, "just quit, do it, do it, do it!" so I did. I walked in, asked Dean for a word and that was it. I have always wanted to leave a job in a blaze of glory, screaming obscenities whilst turning desks over and disappearing, leaving nothing else in my wake aside from open mouths and scattered post-it notes. I was never going to do this with Dean though, I like him far too much and hugely appreciated everything he had done for me, if I had wanted recruitment to be a career, I would have stayed there forever but I didn't and obviously, I didn't.

That Thursday was the first day of unemployment, the first day of the rest of my life and for the first time in thirty one years it felt exactly that, my life! It was a little nerve wracking but I figured the desperation of my new situation and the enormous risk I had taken would motivate me everyday to make my dream become a reality, I could concentrate full time on this gargantuan undertaking and I knew I was going to pull this off, like I said in part one, failure was never an option.

Tell the world what you are doing

The very first thing I did was to make a public commitment to seeing this through and there were two reasons for this. Firstly, I needed to build interest and initiate discussion about what it was I was doing, the more people talking about it, the more attractive it becomes to potential sponsors. Secondly, it was a way for me to get extra motivation, nobody likes to fail, even more so, nobody likes to fail in public. The more people I told, the greater the expectation on me to pull it off and alongside that, the greater the sense of embarrassment if I failed or even worse, gave up.

I started this blog, I set up a Facebook group, a website, a Twitter account and posted on various websites and forums and that was it, people were talking about this guy who had done something which looked very stupid, in the hope he could do something which looked impossible!

Go it alone or hand your idea to a Production Company?

The first plan was to get a production company on board who would put the production together and let me control the shoot, the story and the final edit which was admittedly, insanely naive. However, within less than a month, through an introduction made by Hamish, I was on the cusp of a meeting with a chief exec of a London based production company with a very good track record in factual programming and who's development producer was actually really keen on my idea.

Unfortunately and through no fault of my own or on the part of the production company, this meeting didn't take place and I was back to square one, a blow of course but I knew it wasn't going to be easy and there would be plenty more false dawns to come yet.

I did my research on suitable companies and did the rounds, emails, phone calls, those first two months or so were filled with conversations with producers, development execs and surly receptionists. When I got past the dreaded gate keeping jobsworths on reception (only joking, okay, half joking...) the conversations were helpful and pleasant, a little dismissive but they were polite nonetheless, but they didn't go anywhere. It was frustrating but at least they were all nice people and wished me luck!...Apart from one.

I have toyed with the idea of naming the absolute horror of a woman I spoke to at one production company in particular but I don't think that would be very professional, nor does she deserve to have her name linked with this project in any way shape or form, especially because, in being utterly detestable during our twenty minute conversation, she actually did me a huge favour! I have hinted at this story before but never told it, however, it's an important part of the journey so I'm going to tell it now because the chances are, you'll have your own story just like this to tell in the future...

I had spoken to this person's assistant twice already and she was enthusiastic, helpful and very friendly so I was feeling good, especially when she said to expect a call back when she had spoken to her boss. The phone rang the following day and thinking it was the assistant again, I answered cheerily greeting her by name and thanking her for calling me back;

"It's not ***** it's ****, I have a message to call you about something or other, what is it?"

I was taken aback by her somewhat confrontational approach but put it down to her being busy so gave my elevator pitch, a brief description of what I wanted to do...Silence.

I asked if she had any questions;

"Why do you want to do this then?"

"It's a fresh approach to shark related media, it's exciting, it's an amazing story and it's never been done before" I answered.

"Yes it has, we've done it." she barked.

I was surprised at this because I knew they hadn't and when I questioned this, the example she gave was so far removed from what I was doing I had wondered if she had heard what I said, it featured someone almost as far removed from the "everyman" as you can get, was based in the UK and had nothing to do with sharks or shark conservation. At that point, I knew the conversation wasn't going to bare fruit, but she continued;

"Who are you anyway, why should anyone give a damn about you and your story?! I'm sorry but people want to see familiar faces, you're a nobody, nobody is interested in watching other nobodies on television!"

This wasn't going well and she smelled blood, it was then I ended any hope of her taking me seriously;

"Why do you think someone like you can do something we haven't already, if you were worth knowing, I'd know you and I haven't a clue who you are!" She said.

"To be honest," I replied, "I think people are tired of seeing the same things in regards to sharks, the same places, the same people, the same stories and the same sharks, I know shark media better than most and in regards to television documentaries, it's stale, it has been for the last fifteen years, it's all been done before and to be honest, I think it's lazy, I want to inject new vigour into it."

"I've been making those shark documentaries for twenty years."

Oops!...To be honest, I didn't really care that I had offended her, in my mind, she needed telling and I just wanted the call to end, "so I take it you're not interested, thank you for your time anyway, I do appreciate you calling me."

"The only thing we would do is invite you for a screen test..."

Hang on, what's this? Maybe she's been breaking my balls to see what I'm made of and she is interested? I've more than fought my corner, maybe she is getting a modicum of respect for me?

"You need to send me full details of your idea, a screenplay and what you've done so far and we'll see about arranging a screen test afterwards."

Alarm bells started ringing, "what if you decide you don't like me after the screen test? I'm a little nervous at basically handing my idea over to you on the strength of you saying I might get a screen test." There was a pause...

"...Look, if we don't like you then we don't like you, do you want this film to be made or not? You have to realise though, if I want to make this film and take your idea I will and there will be nothing you can do about it. I have worked in this industry a long time and you're just some bloke with an idea, you ain't gonna make this on your own so you need me but I'll be honest, the chances of you being in it are slim, we have people we use all the time for stuff like this so why shouldn't I just replace you with them?!"

I was incredulous, maybe naively, I couldn't believe she would be so up front and arrogant about stealing my idea. Needless to say, that was the end of the call and the email was never sent. At that moment, in a potentially reckless display of defiance and with a "f**k you" attitude I said to myself that I was doing this alone and I didn't need a production company, I was going to set about doing this whole production entirely independent of the bullshit I had just had to put up with. It was one of the best decisions I would ever make...

To be continued...

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