Professor in the Bathroom – A film diary 

The last few months I’ve been working on a short film with film maker John Tomkins.
Professor in the Bathroom is based on one of the poems from my collection ‘Nice’, published by Burning Eye Books. The idea of a professor trapped in someone’s bathroom gave John the idea of making a film with the restrictions evident in the text, a whole film shot in his bathroom!
The first thing we needed was an actor and John contacted Lee Rawlings. Lee is an amazing character actor, singer and full-time librarian. John and I met up and looked at the poem, working out how we might shoot the film, and I suggested he watch the film ‘Amelie’. We then went to Exeter and met Lee, by which time John had watched Ameile and was filled with inspiration about camera angles, cinematography, and all that kind of stuff.
Lee was amazing and very much interested in the project. A couple of weeks later we all met at his place of work after it had closed, and we spent the evening working on rehearsals, camera angles and the logistical side of things.
As a writer, I didn’t really have much input at this stage, so for me it was fun to sit back, watch them work, and make the occasional wise crack. I took some amusing photographs, too. The process was very valuable to the outcome of the film in that both John and Lee became very familiar with what they wanted from it.
A month or so later we all met at John’s house in Paignton. John had spent the intervening weeks looking at people’s bathrooms, but there were logistics involved. Like, if we borrowed someone’s bathroom, what happens when they need to use the bathroom? John concluded that his own bathroom was aesthetically and practically the place he was looking for.
At home, I recorded the poem and supPlied it by email, and then we all met up for filming. There were so many little bits which needed doing, so many small problems to create the illusion we needed. I found some free standing wooden shelves which stood in for the medicine cabinet, through which John could film as if from inside the medicine cabinet. Lee provided lots of pill bottles, and I had to find the meats and crisps for the professor to eat from underneath the door, a job made slightly harder by the fact that Lee is a vegetarian. The most cunning prop was a long piece of wood which John painted, which stood in for the bottom of he bathroom door.
Filming went very well. My job, as production assistant, was to carry the lighting equipment. Every angle in the bathroom necessitated Lee, John as cameraman, and myself with the lights,,all crammed into that tight space. It’s amazing what just one small poem can end up precipitating!
Once the filming was complete, John spent a couple of months editing, blending in the original soundtrack provided by a very fine musician, and some sound effects of the professor, provided by Lee post-filming, grunting and making strange noises into the microphone in John’s editing suite. My own part in the film may have been small, but it needed rehearsing, (I’m not an actor), and then my lines re-dubbing, which meant I had to go to John’s and match the words with my lip movements. Which is quite difficult!
So Professor in the Bathroom is completed and will soon premier at the Torbay Film Festival in late August. And I can’t wait for you to see it!

Shouting Out Words at the World! And feeling strangely good about it . . .

I’ve just had a great weekend in London performing a half hour set at a trendy film festival in Hoxton, in a studio gallery underneath a railway arch converted for the weekend into a one screen cinema. It was a great event, under the banner Lets All Be Free, showcasing films which probe notions of freedom and what it means to be human in the modern world.

  I was initially sceptical that my poetry would go down well. After all, my oeuvre is mostly comedic and some might see the approach I take to serious matters as Taking the Mickey. The block of films shown before my performance dealt with subjects such as migration and political activism, with serious, weighty themes which were greeted by the audience with respect and contemplation. I was due to perform at half eleven in the morning.
A year ago this would have given me cause for concern and I would have been phased by the whole festival and its spirit of underlying seriousness. Yet now, I am able to approach such events with a sense of wanting to entertain and amuse and to give everything to my performance and the words.
The tactic seemed to work. The audience were appreciative and they didn’t escape to the bar while I was on, indeed, more came in and watched. Not even the sudden death of the microphone halfway through was a problem, I just spoke louder. Because of this I was very happy with the way that it went.
So what’s so different now? Several things have helped. For one, I’ve been concentrating less on the writing process and more on the rehearsal. This is thanks to my unofficial director, the wonderful Ziggy Abd El Malak, who’s shown me several techniques which I now employ regarding movement, pausing, etc. Secondly, I’ve been watching other poets and performers and the way that they do things rather than what they are saying. SV Wolfland, for example, has a wonderful microphone technique and employs body movement, as does Susan Taylor. I’ve even been watching my favourite pop stars to see how they move and how they use the microphone.
And thirdly, I’m just not afraid of things going wrong any more. Spending time with people like Jackie Juno, who can turn a whole situations round and just Have Fun while performing, has been invaluable. Watching the poets at the Womad Festival in close quarters also showed me how the big names control the audience and make every situation that crops up a part of the show.
So that’s why this weekend has been so great. And now I’m sitting here at Reading Station, waiting for my train home, and looking forward to the next opportunity to shout out words at the world!