year roundup

So, How About That 2020?

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

Astute and observant readers may notice that I haven’t posted an update here since January.

Well.

What a year it’s been.

In the tail end of 2019 we in the UK were casting a nervous eye over the news coming out of China about a new virus that was threatening to spread quickly and widely enough to become a pandemic. The more foolish of us thought ‘surely it couldn’t happen here’ – including, it seems, our own government, given how ill-prepared we were when it did in fact happen here.

Cue a year of poor information, misinformation and disinformation, of death and sorrow and loneliness across the world. It’s still going and it shows no signs of letting up; as of the time I’m writing this the government yesterday announced that London and the South East are entering a Tier 4 lockdown over Christmas, effectively cancelling Christmas. (Edit: as of the time I’m posting this, everyone’s going back to work and the government is delaying second-dose rollout to get more people first-dosed, thus likely ruining the effectiveness of the vaccine and oh god it’s just such a farce)

While I’m glad I haven’t lost anyone to the Coronavirus, it’s been a tough year for me emotionally as I came to grips with losing my Mum last November. I think that grief may have acted as a catalyst of sorts, because despite lockdowns and depression and the sheer madness that this whole year has been… I’ve somehow had one of the most productive working years ever.

I know, I’m confused too.

So here’s a recap of some of the big things I did/that happened to me this year, in chronological order and with a disclaimer that my memory is poor and I’ve undoubtedly missed something out.

It’s going to be a long one again, so buckle up.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Set Up Professional Twitter Account

This was in 2020, right? I think so. Anyway, it’s small but important – I do all my whinging and nonsense on my personal Twitter account and retweet roughly six hundred angry political tweets an hour, so I figured it was time to get professional and split off my work persona from my shitpost-loving regular self. I still arguably retweet too much, but now it’s mostly signal boosting creative opportunities and projects, which I like to think helps put a little more positivity out into the world. Check me out over at SamKurd42!

Image from Ginger Nuts of Horror


Joined Ginger Nuts of Horror Review Team

Way back in Februaryish I saw a shout-out on Twitter that horror site Ginger Nuts of Horror were looking for reviewers. I love some horror, me, so I reached out – and before I knew it I was watching screeners and reading anthologies for review. Now it’s December and they haven’t tossed me out on my ear yet, so I’ve successfully fooled them into thinking I know what I’m talking about!

Joking aside, it’s been a great opportunity and I’m having a blast. While it’s true that there have been some stinkers, I’ve discovered some real gems like zombie comedy Ravers and dark Russian comedy Why Don’t You Just Die! which I may have missed otherwise.

If you like horror, definitely go check out the site.

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Attended the BFI Co-Working Space

The BFI hosts a co-working space in various venues to allow filmmakers a place to work in peace and meet fellow creatives to network or just get to know each other. Nottingham’s was hosted at Broadway Cinema, and I signed up for 6 months of Mondays in a lovely quiet room to write or chat or do whatever work I needed to. It was great, and working in the same room as the local BFI Talent Exec was a buzz.

Sadly we didn’t get to do the full 6 months because of, well, you know. The last couple of sessions were strange, with the handwashes and the social distancing, and then it just wasn’t viable any more. Happily they set up a Slack so we can keep in touch, but it just wasn’t the same as commuting to town and feeling like a ‘real’ worker again but without the stress. Ah well, maybe one day we’ll be allowed to meet in person again.

Image by Oli Lynch from Pixabay

Landed a Shore Scripts Internship

About the time I started going to the Co-Working space, I landed an internship at Shore Scripts. If you’re an early-stage screenwriter you’ve probably heard of them: they hold multiple competitions and provide resources for screenwriters. I got to know which scripts had won and placed last year, and I got to connect industry members with the scripts I reckoned they’d most like to read. I also did some article writing, some research and some judge hunting to add to their roster.

If I remember correctly it was only meant to last 3 months, but it was just so much fun and so interesting that I just sort of kept doing it. I’d heartily recommend going for it if the opportunity arises!

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Attended London Screenwriters Festival – Online

This one was a doozy. I’ve never been to the festival before, and I was very nervous when I bought my ticket. Being A Broke, I had to pay monthly, and every Paypal notification was a reminder that soon I’d have to go down to That London and brave the crowds and noise and try to stamp my social anxiety down (and the regular anxiety too). When the news broke that gatherings were being curtailed and it looked like I wasn’t going to get to attend after all, my disappointment was tinged with relief that I wouldn’t have to put myself through the stress of it all.

BUT. The team performed a miracle of human co-operation and pulled together to host the festival online. This was the perfect solution for me personally, the only person who matters. I got all the benefits of the expert speakers and networking events without the sheer terror of being surrounded by strangers. I met a LOAD of lovely fellow writers and creatives, and now I know that when we’re allowed to be in public again and the festival is held in meatspace, there’ll be lots of friendly faces to calm my nerves.

And they’re doing the online one again in February! Maybe I’ll see you there!

Attended Semi-Regular Online Meetups/Webinars/Courses

Off the back of the success of the online LSWF, I threw myself into semi-regular online events. Sundance Collab had free events, the BFI and Screenskills had loads of opportunities, and I even did a couple of webinars on marketing myself and developing a career as a creative with Script Naked Coaching and Cine Circle. I joined the Global Film Industry Zoom Cafe and while I’ve not been able to attend most of the events, it’s still a great time! I’ve also attended a weekly writing Zoom chat nearly every Sunday morning, hosted by Bob & Savannah from the LSWF – if you’d like to join, hit me up and I’ll shoot you the Zoom link!

Image by Finmiki from Pixabay

Got an ADHD Diagnosis

So back in 2019 my spousal unit (author and badass Rachel Tonks Hill) was diagnosed with ADHD. It was a Big Deal as it explained a lot about her upbringing and hangups and mental processes. I was right by her side as she went through two consultations, one private (to diagnose and start treatment) and one NHS (to transfer treatment over to the NHS, because we are Hella Broke). As she answered the questions about her childhood and attention span and so on, alarm bells started to ring… “uh oh,” I thought, “this is… this is me.”

I sat on this for a while, did a self-test thing that indicated ADHD was likely, worried about the cost of getting me a diagnosis too. Eventually I got the ball rolling on an NHS assessment – I thought, cut out the middleman and just go on the waiting list, get diagnosed when they have time, no biggie. In February I had my assessment and it… didn’t go well. LONG story short he wasn’t interested in asking the official assessment questions and was only interested in if I had PTSD from my time in Palestine. He then told me I “may” have ADHD but if I did he wouldn’t prescribe meds anyway because he doesn’t think they’re effective. When I complained to the NHS they were pretty dismissive, they agreed with him and said they were shutting down ADHD assessments anyway so goodbye and good luck.

I was a bit distressed, to be honest. My first ever let-down from the NHS (I’ve been very lucky, and they’ve been absolute stars, don’t let the Tories dismantle the NHS). After humming and hawing over going Private, we decided it was worth the expense as we had some money saved up (and a generous contribution from my girlfriend and from my metamour’s grandparents). I went through Clinical Partners and after a consultation that overran because I had so much material to give him, the doctor declared that I very much do have ADHD.

It’s been a bit of a shock to the system. After years of being told by parents and teachers that I was “lazy” it turns out my brain just isn’t wired to give out dopamine for the basics like most others are. No wonder revising was difficult and felt thankless. No wonder I always preferred reading and computer games (the latter especially are very good at doling out those dopamine hits). I was never stupid or lazy. I was untreated, just like I was untreated for depression and anxiety.

I’m still getting to grips with medication and wrestling coping mechanisms, so watch this space to see how successful I am at that, I guess?

Image from Strictly Arts

Wrote Intrusion’ and joined ‘Seaview’

In one respect it’s been a slow writing year. In the past I’ve churned out several short scripts in a year, alongside work and a feature script and who knows what else. But now, trapped inside my house for a year (yes there were times when I could go out and see people, but Anxiety is a hell of a drug) it feels like I’ve barely written anything at all. On a rational level, I know that that’s fine: we’re going through a period of global ongoing trauma, and it’s ok not to write The Next Great American Novel while you have ‘spare time’. But irrationally, I spent my whole life beating myself up and I’m not about to stop now! Not until my next few rounds of therapy, at least.

But I actually surprised myself by doing remarkably well. Put it down to spending the last few months of 2019 with my mother as she died, or to burst of creative energy supplied by the BFI and LSWF events mentioned earlier, or to all of that and more. I found I was putting myself out there more, and more effectively watching for opportunities I could grab. Competition-wise it was a complete bust, but I did get two very big breaks I’m proud of.

Birmingham director Tayyib Mahmoud reached out to me on Twitter thanks to a recommendation from a mutual friend (writer/director Sheikh Shahnawaz, watch out for his debut feature Bluff) and before I knew it I was writing a hard-hitting short thriller about a black family who are terrorised by a pair of white home invaders. It was uncomfortable to write, because the subject is so far out of my comfort zone – those who know me know that until recently my writing has mostly had quite a light tone, and I’ve not really tackled many weighty Topical Issues. I asked Tayyib if he was sure I was the right fit and explained it’s not my usual wheelhouse, but he had faith and I’m glad he did. The end result (well, so far – there’s always room for development!) is something I’m proud of, even though it doesn’t make for pleasant reading.

A key part in the development of Intrusion (working title!) was my having to take a few months off it thanks to landing my first ever paid screenwriting gig! I joined five other emerging (and extremely talented) writers in the writers room for Seaview, an urban supernatural drama series about a working class Black family that risks being torn apart by dark secrets but might be able to save themselves with the help of a young man’s hidden gift. We got together (virtually and physically with plenty of precautions!) to create the overarching series narrative, character arcs, story world and so on, and after much work each of us was assigned an episode… and I was trusted with the final episode. The climax, the culmination of all the arcs and action, with enough of a hook to keep the mystery alive and provide a starting point for a potential series 2.

It wasn’t easy, but with a great support team, super talented fellow writers and brilliant creative leading (along with a pinch of talent from moi, I suppose), the end result was a bloody fantastic series of six episodes following the loves and struggles and triumphs of a family who just want to live in peace and be allowed to aspire to be better, like anyone else does. And when we had a (safe!) live readthrough of the series, I was blown away by how well everything fit together. So were some of the actors, who didn’t seem to have read to the end and so were stunned by the bombshell I dropped in the final scenes! That’s all you can ask for as a writer, really, to see someone mouthing ‘what the fuuuuck’ as they read your work!

My time on Seaview really helped me understand a few things about writing and creativity. It helped me re-connect with writing-as-play, and re-affirmed my love of collaboration. But perhaps most importantly, I feel like it matured me as a writer. This wasn’t my world, and dipping into it with research and listening to folks from this life was a real boon. I may be working class, but I’ve always had a middle-class affectation (read: I’m unlearning being a snob) and I didn’t even grow up in this country. I wasn’t sure I could write this with any truth, was worried I’d bring very surface-level stuff to the table. But showrunner Corey and script editor Sophie trusted me, and I’m forever grateful for that because I finally experienced first hand that story connects all of us from all backgrounds. I may not know what it’s like to be in the drug business on the streets of Birmingham, but I know Ambition. I know Fear. I know Hope. I know what it feels to know you can do more, be better, but be frustrated at the obstacles beyond your control. I know Love and Regret and Anger. So how could I fail to write truthfully as long as I put my soul into it?

Once my time on Seaview was done, I returned to Intrusion with new confidence and produced a Good Script. Both projects are in pre-production now, and plague-willing will soon enter production with an aim to be released later this year – or, in the case of Intrusion, at the optimal festival-submission time. Seaview is one of the flagship events of the Coventry City of Culture 2021 Events, and has been promoted by no less than the National Geographic so it’s guaranteed to have a few eyes on it! If I play my cards right and keep hustling then maybe I can line up some projects for 2022, who knows?

Cuchillo by Nedarus via Flickr

Kept Poking Hen Party Massacre

So far my only feature (more that in a moment) and I still love it, so I’m making steps towards actually getting it made. I’m keeping my expectations realistic – a couple of festival entries and hopefully a spot on Amazon Prime would be lovely to achieve; even if there weren’t a plague I wouldn’t expect a cinema release for it! I just think there is an audience, however small, that would like to see a Bride and her Hens bicker and bitch while fending off a masked killer, you know?

I’ve chatted to theatre director Miriam Sarin who enjoyed the script, and have sent it to a producer I’ve worked with to see if she likes the script and can help me find a producer (or maybe even come on-board herself, which would be amazing). Nothing is set in stone, of course, but it’s movement. It’s movement.

Got Accepted onto Arab Film Development Workshop

Speaking of movement and grabbing opportunities, I applied for a spot in 2021’s Arab Film Development Workshop. The project I wanted to work on there is… a little controversial, perhaps (ask me about my Palestinian Time Travel idea some time), so I wasn’t expecting to be taken on – but imagine my surprise when they called me and said I was in! BUT with a caveat: they honestly didn’t think they could help develop that project because they don’t think it’d get funded/made so did I have any other ideas?

Honestly, I can’t say I blame them in the slightest. In a time where it’s becoming increasingly common to conflate supporting Palestine with anti-Semitism, it’s a big risk to take. That’s why when I do write that story, in prose or script or maybe even as a play, I know I’ll have to be very careful to make my intentions clear and unmistakeable. It’s a story about self-identity and inherited trauma, not about Palestine vs. Israel. One day it’ll see the light, if I’m brave enough and honest enough to keep working on it.

But for the workshop, I’ve come up with much lighter fare: a young Arab boy in the UK becomes convinced his neighbour is a Djinn and tries to convince him to grant his wish: the return of his father from Palestine. Yes, it still has Palestine in it, I’m trying to get in touch with my roots, sue me (please don’t sue me). The Hidden Djinn podcast has proven to be very useful and also fascinating, check it out.

Image by Shepherd Chabata from Pixabay

Survived

I hope this doesn’t feel glib, considering the millions who didn’t survive 2020, but I feel like it may have been touch and go at times if I’m completely honest. Despite the concrete evidence that things are going ok for me, there were times when I was close to giving up and… well.

But I didn’t. I’m still here, and so are most of my loved ones. Despite the hopelessness, the terror and trauma, the wilful ignorance and hatred. We’re still here.

If you made it this far down the post, then thank you. Thank you for sticking by me, thank you for caring. If you make it this far down on a second or third attempt to read it all and feel guilty about not reading it all in one go, thank you too. And if you didn’t read this at all but have supported me in other ways, thank you as well even though you can’t see it because you didn’t read this!

2021 isn’t the magic wand that’ll make everything better. People will still hate, and they’ll still be taken advantage of by those who can make a quick buck off that hatred. And climate change and Brexit and the plague and murderhornets and our new alien overlords (did those monoliths ever get explained?), they won’t go away just because we’ve hung up a new calendar.

But let’s keep trying. Try to be compassionate, try to harness your anger, try to help people. Try to create but try to forgive yourself for needing not to create. Try to understand yourself and others. Try to reach out if you can, try to ask for help if you need to, try to accept help if you have difficulty with that.

Self-care and care for others.

Let’s make 2021 about that.



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30 Day Film Challenge – 6. A Movie You Wish You Had Made

I love zombie films. There’s nothing quite like a horde of shambling, moaning corpses to brighten my day. It doesn’t matter if they’re fast or slow, if they crave brains or are just generally hankering for a hunk of human flesh – give me a good zombie movie and I’m happy.

I love zombies so much that the first film I made with friends was a zombie film – you can check out the link on the My Films page. It’s not the best film we’ve made, but I love it nonetheless. It was fun to make, and ended with a punchline that I’m altogether too proud of.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I would list Shaun of the Dead as a film I would have loved to have made. The RomZomCom premise is (a slice of fried) gold, and it’s so well made. I don’t just mean it’s well shot, though it certainly is. What I especially love about it is how tightly it’s written. Every detail, every joke, every event from Act One has a comeback or a payoff later in the film. From the obvious (“Next time I see him, he’s dead.”) to the more subtle (Nick’s pub crawl plan foreshadows the rest of the events of the movie), it’s a jigsaw that fits together beautifully. Hot Fuzz does the same, and though I’ve not seen it more than once I’m certain The End of The World is just as tightly plotted. It also helps that it’s immensely quotable, making it a goldmine for those who like to communicate almost entirely in pop culture references.

Shaun of the Dead is a love letter to the genre, from the biggest nerds the film industry had to offer at the time. The referential and irreverent humour really complements the subject matter, and the buckets of gore don’t hurt its case either. You can tell it was fantastic fun to write and to film, and that’s everything that a film should be. Fun, entertaining and exciting for the filmmakers and audience alike. Between this and Spaced, there’s a wealth of lessons to be learned on filmmaking in general and comedy in particular. If you’ve somehow missed out on watching this, please rectify this immediately!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have a nice cold pint and wait for all this to blow over.

Yeaaaah booooiiii.