Manic Depression, High Times and Roadkill
Despite the giddy highs I felt after graduating from the Dov Simens 2 Day Film School in November 1997, by the turn of the year I had sunk into what I considered to be a form of manic depression.
This occurred primarily because I forced myself to accept that ‘The Truth Game’ worked much better as a play than it ever would as a film; and there was no amount of re-writing that could change that. In other words, the script was stage-bound.
As a consequence of coming to this realisation, the first few months of the new year were excruciatingly slow and I frequently found myself feeling at a creative low ebb once again.
In retrospect, it now seems more than obvious that I was detoxing my mind, as well as my body and spirit, following fifteen years of consuming enough nefarious cocktails to have justifiably obtained a notorious reputation for being a heavy boozer with a serious drugs habit.
Some people told me I was living my very own version of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, but without the fame, riches and cheap women.
In reality, they were all convinced that I would end up dead at twenty eight, in a puddle of my own making, thereby wasting my “God’given talents” and “once in a lifetime opportunities”. Indubitably, I would have drawn the same conclusion in their position.
However, in all honesty, there was never any real danger of what they predicted ever happening, as I came to understand that there was nothing except self-indulgent nihilistic oblivion at the end of the rocky Road of Excess.
I Blame Aldous Huxley
As I stated in the previous chapter, all I needed was a good enough reason to abandon my life of unbridled hedonism. CR provided me with that reason by making me choose between our relationship and my somewhat reckless lifestyle.
However, when I literally jacked it all in overnight, I could sense that all of the people closest to me were shocked at how easily I swapped hard-drinking, partying till dawn and a burgeoning chemical habit, for a nice bottle of red wine, hard work and seemingly blissful domesticity.
Having said that, it took at least six months of often painful self-reflection to come to terms with how I ended up wandering through a spiritual wilderness for so long.
Especially when I started out naively searching for the enlightenment Aldous Huxley falsely promised would be found at the end of the Road of Excess.
In truth, all I found was a barren, God-forsaken place, where my previously prolific creativity, indomitable self-confidence and critical thinking skills deserted me, simply because of my excessive consumption of psychoactive substances.
The Road of Excess is Paved with Bad Intentions
“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom…You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.”
William Blake, Proverbs of Hell.
Some people might blame 19th century Christian mystic, William Blake, for romanticizing the pursuit of wisdom, by and through the enjoyment of excessive sensory pleasures.
Others might blame my parents, for failing to stop me going off the rails in my formative Hepscott years.
Whilst others still might well lay the responsibility firmly on my shoulders. I am, after all, the sole architect of my own life.
However, I blame it all on Aldous Huxley:
“The effective object of worship is the bottle and the sole religious experience is that state of uninhibited and belligerent euphoria which follows the ingestion of the third cocktail.”
In all honesty, I would never have sought enlightenment through excessive hedonism if I hadn’t read The Doors of Perception & Heaven and Hell when I was thirteen.
At which point, I and most of my close friends started decades of taking drugs and/or drinking in excess.
Social Engineering of Generation X
This is the reason I wholeheartedly believe that we and so many other Generation X’ers were socially engineered by Huxley and his odious ilk to spend our most fertile years getting shitfaced on chemical cocktails and engaging in the sexual promiscuity such a lifestyle almost always brings with it.
It is futile to pretend that the majority of us didn’t enthusiastically do so, instead of settling down and having children in our twenties, as our parents and grandparents had done.
Meanwhile, whilst we were all getting ‘loved-up] in a field somewhere in Hampshire, the Baby Boomers were fucking up just about everything that used to be good about this world when we were kids.
However, most of us didn’t even notice until we realized we were paying for all the things our parents were given for free when they were the same age.
High Times in Stroud Green
My significantly depleted dopamine reserves were, nevertheless, rejuvenated considerably, when CR and I moved into our two bedroom flat in Stroud Green, during the last week of March 1998.
To say that we were very happy in our cosy home is an understatement.
We had already filled our new life together with interesting experiences, extraordinary places and remarkable people, as well as great food, intellectual discourse and lots of laughter.
What can I say except life was undeniably better from the day we moved into what truly felt like a proper home, where we could lay down roots and grow together.
Stroud Green was also the very first place I had ever lived in London where I felt part of a genuinely thriving local community. We even had cool stoners for neighbours, upstairs and down.
Pulling Myself Up By The Bootstraps
As soon as I put my front door key in the lock for the very first time, I knew instinctively that our new home was the place I would pull myself up by the bootstraps.
When I managed to do that in a relatively short period of time, without psycho-analysis, therapy or anti-depressants, I learned another valuable life lesson:
Depression, no matter how deep, is a malignant state of mind, emotion and spirit, which can be obliterated forever by laughing in the face of the anxiety that causes it.
That is why so many comics get over their terrible insecurities by joking about them to a room full of strangers.
Put simply, when a self-deprecating joke reduces an audience to laughter, the subject matter is no longer an anxiety – it is a strength.
By way of example, I formerly tortured myself over my propensity to gain vast amounts of weight, without ever realizing it until presented with photographic or video evidence.
It is no exaggeration to state that my immediate reaction upon every occasion I saw myself in widescreen was to live in the gym, eat water pie and not look in the mirror, until I could comfortably fit into my tightest old trousers, without calling myself a fat bastard [before somebody else could].
However, as I approached my twenty ninth birthday, I put an end to that self-imposed anxiety about my girth. I did so by telling the following joke to a packed audience, during one of my stand-up showcases at the Studio in Beckenham:
“Sorry, I’m not feeling too good tonight, as I’ve had some very traumatic news. I mean, imagine how you’d feel, finding out after all these years that you are, in fact, the long lost bastard lovechild of Bonnie Tyler and Meatloaf!”
Whilst I will always recoil from any image of me that is carrying excess baggage, that joke has proven an absolute banker everywhere I have ever told it.
Nevertheless, the seething irony is it only works if told to a room full of Gen X’ers and our parents, when I’m carrying two to three stones too much round the middle. Isn’t that just typical of life.
My Second Family
From the moment I walked through the door of CR’s parents’ home in leafy Hertfordshire, during Easter weekend in 1997, her amazing mother, M, treated my like one of her own sons.
Whilst her artistic husband, L, was and remains the most intelligent and sensitive man I have ever had the pleasure to know.
In addition, her fantastic brothers, P and B, both of whom are truly gifted intellectuals, who excel at everything they do, much like their sister, became the brothers I never had.
Inspiring Affirmation of a Life Worth Living
Words cannot adequately express the extent of the significant impacts they all had upon my life during this critical period of transition.
The most remarkable aspect of my relationships with CR’s parents was how they nurtured and loved me as one of their own. In so doing, they taught me a myriad of lessons about life, love and parenting.
Upon receiving such invaluable spiritual riches from people as spectacularly remarkable, generous and compassionate as the Family R, I saw no cause to doubt myself ever again.
From the bottom of my heart, I always have and always will love them as if they were my own flesh and blood. Every moment I was fortunate to spend with them was an inspiring affirmation of a life worth living.
New Workshops and Stand-Up Gigs
With persistent encouragement from CR, I started to organize as many stand-up workshops as I could, in London and the South East.
Since the course I ran at The Studio in Beckenham was becoming increasingly popular, I started teaching classes there twice a week.
Both classes were attended by Hackney Empire of the Year winner, Jon Reed, and rising star, Josie Long.
With the assistance of Time Out comedy editor, Malcolm Hay, who plugged each new course in the listings, it wasn’t long before I was generating enough income to just about pay all the bills.
In addition, I held low-budget filmmaking workshops at The Studio and East 15 Drama School, before I had even made my first film. I also started booking stand-up gigs, including a short set at the Comedy Store.
The truth is I found that compering my stand-up workshop showcases provided much needed stress relief from the daily grind of chasing film production finance. So I booked some gigs of my own to help me unwind.
Some people choose Yoga, I know. My choice was making people laugh, or dying on my arse trying. That says a lot more about me than it does about stand-up or Yoga.
The End of The Road for TTG
Inevitably, after many months of turmoil and despite having the main roles cast with up and coming actors, I finally made the decision I had been dreading:
‘The Truth Game’ will never be made into a film. Not by me, anyway.
Having spent three years of my life arriving at this conclusion, I was already way past being bitterly disappointed.
If anything, it was a blessed relief, after wrongly believing so many times that we had raised the money to make it into a film.
Nevertheless, we had little choice, as the project had been knocked back by just about every film financier in London, at least once.
However, I learned so much through the failure to secure the production finance for TTG, I knew that my next project had a much better chance of succeeding.
Especially when I had a feeling in my gut that I’d finally nailed the concept for my first feature as producer, writer and director.
‘Nefarious’ was originally conceived as a fast-paced London-based thriller about karma, friendship and the hypocrisy of the drugs laws, in the summer of 1998.
As soon as I started writing it, I was already thinking about trying to persuade Michael Caine to play one of the leading roles – a veteran international cocaine distributor with marriage problems.
The other two main characters, a couple of lovable dope dealers from North London, were being written with brilliant Scots actors, Douglas Henshall, and Ewan MacGregor in mind.
Having completed sixty pages of the first draft of the script by the end of August, it was without doubt the best thing I had ever written, by a considerable margin.
But that’s not all…
Tony, the Brummie filmmaker I met on Dov’s course, managed to convince a Welsh funding body called Scrin to give him ten thousand pounds, to make a 35 mm short film of a script he wrote called ‘Roadkill’.
Popular Welsh actors Brian Hibbard and Dorien Thomas had already agreed to play two hillbilly brothers, with Helen Griffin set to play their love interest and Dylis Pryce her disapproving mother.
The film was scheduled to shoot for five days in October 1998, subject to Tony securing the rest of the budget and a co-producer.
However, he went one better than the latter by asking me to co-produce and co-direct ‘Roadkill’ with him.
It goes without saying that I accepted the offer with energetic enthusiasm and immediately set about calling all the UK production houses to tell them the fantastic news:
I’m going to need those rock bottom quotes from you because I’m just about to co-produce and co-direct my first 35 mm film.
By the end of the first day of pre-production, we had already shaved 50% off the initial £38,000 production budget, adhering to what Dov taught us to the letter.
Now all we needed was to secure another £10,000 from the Welsh lottery and we would be ready to start the five day shoot in Wales at the end of October, on a budget of £20,000.
That included money set aside for stunts, special effects, explosions and paying everybody union rates.
This was easily achieved because I had been cultivating solid relationships with the managing directors of Panavision, Lee Lighting, Kodak and Deluxe Labs, since we completed Dov’s 2 day film school the previous November.
We were given two thousand feet of prime film stock from Kodak for nothing, £35,000 worth of lighting and camera equipment from Lees and Panavision for £500 and two 35 mm prints from Deluxe for £750.
As a result, we could afford to hire the best crew available during the production period, including a fantastic Director of Photography called Rory Taylor, along with top stunts coordinator, Ray Nicholas.
The last remaining acting role was cast when veteran actor, John Scott Martyn, agreed to play the errant hillbilly brothers’ drunken father.
Green Light Means Go
As expected, we managed to secure another £10,000 from the Welsh lottery, but not until October, when the manager of the lottery arts fund finally accepted that we could complete ‘Roadkill‘ for £20,000.
However, we were so confident we would get the money that we began six weeks of pre-production [before the green light] in mid September.
By the time I made the trip to Tony’s cottage in South Wales, two days before the first day of the shoot, I can honestly say that I don’t think I’d ever been as pumped up with such eager anticipation.
Of all the things I’ve done, getting this close to making my first film was the most difficult to date, but I was more than prepared for the opportunity.