The reason for this huge rework of the blog area of the website, is that in early 2015 I chose to intermit my post-graduate course with Raindance. Some of the added pressures that appeared during the academic year were simply so great that even if they did not halt my work on the course, there is no way that I would have been able to undertake it to full effect.
During the intermit however, a number of things happened. Some of them were work related, some of them course, some of them personal. During this time, I ended up changing the focus of the course and started a full redevelopment of my Learning Contract to reflect the changes.
In the second half of 2015 however, something else happened. Something that meant that I would not only roll-back the changes to the Learning Contract and fully start again, a second time, but something that would mean that I would change the entire course of my career. Circumstance mean that this career training will not take place until after the Raindance post-grad ends, but it is important enough to result in me bending the focus of the Raindance work to support it all when it arrived.
This is not to say that the Raindance course has been degraded by it. The changes are very, and perhaps surprisingly meaningful to the film industry - it is just a shame that some further tweaks to the Learning Contract were required, going to three full re-drafts, because Raindance simply did not have the authoratitive graders to mark it all. Now however, it is all set to go and work has begun in earnest.
So what is the new theme?
In mid-late 2015, I discovered that I was Dyslexic. Yeah, I know - reading this, how could I be dyslexic, right? More on this in later blog posts. I am now also the head of ASTRAL - the Assistive Technologies Research and Learning group at the college where I teach, as well as now assisting my daughter with her own dyslexia (the whole reason behind me identifying my own). With all of this going on, it makes so much sense to extend my STEM specialism into SEN and share my research and learning across everything that I am doing.
So what could I do in film-making that would benefit this new learning chain?
The first choice was to research dyslexia in the film industry - which is as much as 30% of the industry personnel, 5 times the general population norm - and ultimately make a documentary. Why should this be the case? In my own IT speciality, we have have had as many as a 45-50% cohort. So what skills and attractions are there in certain industries that have made them a hub? What positive skills do dyslexics have (a situation that is very real) that make them prime players in these industries?
The problem here is that we are also treading into Education and Psychology territory - in a conventional University this would not be a problem, and staff would be drafted in from other departments to provide the assessment skills. In Raindance, this is not possible, and I have had my own issues with graders not appreciating, or perhaps not wanting to appreciate, an area of research even prior to the intermit. I pre-empted Tiska's thoughts on this (head of Education at Raindance) - the idea needed tweaking so that the Raindance staff could do what they are best at.
Eventually, I decided that the best approach was to not undertake my own new research, but to present the established findings of others as well as personal experiences of being dyslexic. This meant that there would no need for Raindance staff to grade the Dyslexic research, only that of the film-making process. But what to produce at the end? What would give this course of action its own unique selling point rather than it being purely about the production of a documentary on Dyslexia? Though in itself admirable and providing a great deal of scope, I wanted a better twist.
The Final Decision
So here I am. My final theme is the production of a documentary on dyslexia. Only it's not a documentary, it's a dramatic production (which is not to be confused with say, a serious drama).
Why present it as drama? Because I can make it fictional, and bring in lots of sterotypical experiences where in reality they may be shared across many people. Because I need a way to include anecdotal experiences with actual medical fact, but be consumable by school staff, parents, and children without making it serious and stuffy, and certainly without making it frightening. I have seen a lot of good dyslexic short films recently, but to my mind being a little too dark. We should be concentrating on the good side of dyslexia, not the bad.
This theme is intended to produce a film that educates dyslexics if what they are and more importantly what they can be (I am a firm believer in the Dyslexic Advantage and Positive Dyslexia for a reason, again see other blog posts). It also needs to be a film which tells the uninformed, or even better those who think that they are informed, what the reality of dyslexia is and how dyslexics can be helped in teh classroom and workplace in often very subtle ways. Dyslexics don't want an advantage - they want the opportunity to operate at the same level as everyone else, without penalisation.
Because of the mix of information that needs to be delivered to the audience, jumping from fact, to anecdote, to medical proofs, and the aim to deliver this to both adult and child alike, a very specific style is going to be required. At present, I can see this ultimately being a stylised Wes Anderson, Lemony Snicket, Tin Tin crossover - so its going to be interesting!
The remaining course is therefore to be broken down into four modules, the last being the major Masters Project which is double length:
NP1 - May to Sept 2015
NP1 will be a research module examining actual dyslexia truths and interviewing the experiences of dyslexics both wanting to enter the industry and those within it, but also a development module. The final result of this module will be a script that can be built into a final production.
NFP - Sept 2015 to Jan 2017
NFP will be the production design module - something that is a little like returning to my roots in that despite spending more than thirty years in IT as a Chartered professional, my highest academic qualification is actually in Design. It is here that I will be examining exactly what this film needs to look and 'feel' like to the audience, as well as producing any prototype props and sets.
NP2 - Jan to May 2017
NP2 will be the pre-production phase. This phase includes a lot of work in both casting and location scouting, but also a lot of the administrative side of things usually accomplished by the Producer and their team. Here I'll be doing everything from scheduling and budgeting, to ensuring that I have insurance, licenses and permissions for everything that my crew will be doing.
MAP - May to December 2017
And now, the big one. A double length, double point module in which I bring it all together and produce the final film. But trust me, it's actually a lot more involved than that. Wish me luck!