Filming ‘Beard Envy’ with John Tomkins.

In 2013 I wrote a poem about being envious of beards. It soon became a staple of my spoken word set and I have performed it hundreds of times around the U.K. and even in New York. It might even be considered the poem I am most well known for, such is it’s reception.

Last year I made a short film with filmmaker John Tomkins based on my poem Professor in the Bathroom and we had a great deal of fun filming if over one day in the cramped confines of his actual bathroom. I was even given a bit of a cameo at the end. John suggested that we do another poem, and I didn’t really think anything more of it until he contacted me with the idea of filming Beard Envy.

But this would be a much more ambitious project. The first stage was for me to come around and record the poem as a basis for the film shoot. As I did this, amusingly, the microphone started falling down, and the actual take that we used was the one where I was crouching down, desperately trying to follow the mic as it slid to the floor.

He then employed a script writer to take my poem and turn it into a proper shooting script. Tom Eastwood is a very talented professional with a BA in Television, and he took my faithful old poem and turned it into a workable script that John might use. The next stage was for John to draw up a rough outline of the camera angles and locations that he would employ. It was at this stage, as we had one of our meetings, that I saw how ambitious his vision would be for Beard Envy.

My part in the production was now done, just as things were starting to get interesting. First of all John went to Exeter to film a Lee Rawlings, who’d previously starred as the Professor in Professor in the Bathroom, this time as the Beard Tamer. For this, Lee borrowed the ringmaster outfit that will be my costume for my new Edinburgh show, In The Glare of the Neon Yak.

John next hired a lead actor for the role of the man who is envious of beards, and for this he found a young actor from Plymouth university, Jack Allum. John was very excited when he told me about Jack who, he assured me, looked very much like a younger version of myself! Naturally I can see no resemblance, though I’m worried that if Jack reads this, he will look at me and see a chilling warning of things to come.

John let me come along to the next day of filming, and this was one of the most bizarre days of my spoken word career. In the confines of a cabaret club in my home town of Paignton, John, Jack, cameramen, sound people and photographers mingled with members of the South West Beard Association to film the key Beard Competition scenes. And what a wonderful group of people they Were! Cheerful and accommodating, we shared stories of beard shenanigans and they all enjoyed themselves immensely. Jack, too, was excellent, professional and enthusiastic for what is, by all accounts, his first film role. And me? I hung around, likening myself to Larry David on the set of Seinfeld, lurking the other side of the camera and somehow responsible for all this madness.

I hate to use the cliche ‘surreal’, but that’s the only word I can find to describe seeing a whole project born out of my own imagination come to life. I really kept having to remind myself that I was responsible, and I kept telling people, ‘All I did was write a poem!’

It was an amazing day and I’ve never had so much fun on a Sunday afternoon in Paignton before.

Two more filming days followed, and John showed me the rushes, the film looks absolutely amazing and the performances spot on. John did film me doing a very brief cameo to go at the start of the film, as a silent era movie star.

I really must thank John Tomkins for his skill not only in realising his artistic vision, but also in drawing together diverse people and artists to create something truly special. The finished product will look amazing, and having seen a lot of the scenes, albeit in the wrong order, I really cannot wait for other people to see it too!

Find out about the film here

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Author: Robert Garnham

Performance and spoken word artist.

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