“Strangers with this kind of honesty make me go a big rubbery one” The following essay contains a lot of sensitive and personal information, honestly told, but may still be for some triggering. It’s also quite long winded. So for a variety of reasons you are warned before reading. – Hank.
I recently gave a speech at Northumbria University to a room full of students. Me and my team have done several lectures about collaboration and independent filmmaking but this was the first speech I gave alone at a University as the rest of my team was busy.
The students and the lecturer seemed to enjoy my hour and a half of rambling, and they watched one of my shorts and one of the music videos I directed so that’s cool. And the majority of people were very positive about it – but after, one person, who’ll remain nameless, asked me: Why would anyone want to listen to you?
I didn’t feel insulted by this. I thought, what if they have a point? So let’s consider this. Why would anyone want to listen to me?
Well. As I tell everyone readily: I’m a nobody. In the scheme of things when it comes to filmmaking I am not making multi-million dollar movies. Therefore I am a nobody – this is my own words, I’m not being sarcastic or modest.
I did not go to school after 9 years old. No middle school, high school, college, university, nothing. So I am uneducated. I talk out of turn and suffer from anxieties and depression and don’t always understand social cues. I come across as egotistical and blunt to some people sometimes.
But I am just confident and it took a lot of years to find that voice and believe in it. 25 years ago I went through a series of tragedies compounded by having very few friends and no educational or established network to fall back on. I was homeless for some time. I did bad things to survive and had very bad things done to me. I won’t detail them here in full, but for years they haunted and broke me.
My one escape to the first half of my life was movies. I could watch movies and escape from reality and during some of the most horrific times of my life, when I was at risk of dying or in great pain or fear or forced into situations no one should have to live through – I would pretend I was in a movie and I would pretend these things were happening to a character and not me, I was just watching.
So much of life that causes you pain leaves scars which linger and remind you and can cause you pain again and again. There is a great quote in Strange days that I identified with very much. (I’m replacing the word PLAYBACK with the word MOVIES for my point) “Do you know why movies are better than real life? Because the music swells and the credits roll and you know when its over.”
I remember I’d wheel and deal to get 6 dollars so I could buy a movie ticket in the morning at AMC West Oaks and I would go see a movie and theater hop from screen to screen until closing. I remember one day I saw the Fifth Element, Austin Powers, The Lost world and Fifth Element again. It was my whole day and for that whole day I was safe and lost in a series of adventures beyond imagination.
Even after being reconnected with my mother, after losing America, all my possessions and friends and starting a new life in England, I was shell shocked and depressed and I would spend everyday just watched the few DVDs I had over and over again. South Park: bigger longer and uncut, Baseketball, Starship Troopers, etc. A few of these were watched over and over and over again.
I was a broken person when I moved to England. I didn’t have the mental strength to deal with things and I was afraid of everything. When I lived alone in Gateshead I had no tv, heating or internet and I would listen to Millennium edition of Tubular bells over and over on repeat to lock out the quiet.
All day everyday I thought about ending things. The sense of loss. The nightmares of things I’d done and been done to me. The guilt over being alive while someone I loved was taken from me and the image of them dying forever burned into my eyes. If i’d had a gun I’d likely have ended things because there is an impulse factor with a gun that you don’t have with a knife or rope or water. Too much prep, enough time to talk yourself out of it. So, that was good.
This suicidal malaise lasted a long time and I eventually moved in with my parents when my dad got out of jail (he was a gold smuggler, whole other story) And what changed things for me? What made me become stronger? What made me start to take my life back?
I saw The Matrix 20 times in the flicks. I would walk 3 miles to Silverlink and watch it, grab a burger and walk home. Near everyday. I went back and visited America to see a few friends of mine and how they were holding up – and while I was there I saw a movie which changed my life and convinced me to readjust myself, to focus the rest of my life on turning my ideas into pockets of entertainment to help others escape their lives the way films had helped me escape mine.
One line resonated with me – as I’m sure it has with many – “You have to lose everything to be free to do anything.”
Now Tyler is talking more about capitalism and consumer culture holding people back by building nests which act as prisons – but for me it was when you’ve done such despicable things and when you’ve had people treat you as an object and used and beaten you for nothing more than their enjoyment. I had lost care for my own life. I had lost care for humanity and that meant I was free to rebuild myself.
I went to therapy, got on meds and tried to correct myself for a few years – tried to tell myself I had to stop living like I knew I wouldn’t make it to 25. I stopped drinking. I stopped taking drugs. It took me a few years to realise that therapy and meds didn’t help me and that finding inner strength is a personal journey for me.
I’d always felt stupid because I didn’t go to school (my criminal father had us in America on fake names and because I had no birth certificate, it was too difficult to get me into school legally without risking exposing him, again, another story…) So I decided to try and better myself mentally.
I read hundreds of books, from the “classics” to all popular stuff like Steven King, to more obscure indie writers like John Schwartzwelder. As the internet was becoming more common – though slow – I would troll through the starting phases of Wikipedia and absorb as much as I could about history and politics and the world and cultures and so on. I Wanted to better myself, and I can’t stress enough to people how important it is to read and write – that is to me quintessential to being a human being.
I decided to write a film as a form of exploration of my feelings – which admittedly looking back at it, its a art house film on accident, that’s just where my feelings were at the time. Juggling work and maxing out my credits cards, I wrote a script, cast the film, and bought a camera, taught myself how to use it, taught myself film language and editing and everything else and just went out and spent two years making it.
While the film was in editing I made a few short films and helped others I’d met and started building a network. This was where I met Wayne and James Thompson, my two Thompson brothers. Who on more than one occasion saved my life. And they know they have.
Just as life seemed to be getting on track in a way that I was following my dreams. I had a fiancé. Had my own house. Had a film in editing. Was meeting people. Had flown to Cannes and promoted my short film. Blew the last pennies I had and stretched myself thin. Walking 8 miles in the sun in a tux to make a premiere. Met Jeff Goldblum and Jack Black and Denis Hopper and had meetings with people like Ray Winstone who was interested in being in my next film and talked with executives from Film 4 and Canadian film companies about working together and it was all coming together. Several years of hard work paying —-
And then the week I got home my house was raided, all of my computers, footage, cameras, everything were taken by the police and I found my father had identity thefted me when I was younger and set up multiple me’s around the country and amassed more than 2 million pounds of debt in my name and then had a stroke and died, leaving it all at my door.
The next 3 years, I lost my film, the deals, my home, my father, my fiancé, my bank accounts, and I found myself in the same state I was in 14 years earlier. Alone and on the streets. At least this time I was able to couch hop quite a bit. Also my mother was there but being she had contributed to my identity theft, it took a long time before we made any amends and I stayed with her at all (before she went to jail, and I learned of some of the horrible things my father did to her to make her help him – again… Another story…)
I’d love to take sole credit for being strong enough to survive this, but to overcome the desperation to end things, I was buffered and given additional strength by those around me. My cousin Andy, my partners Wayne and Jim and they helped me mentally keep going. People like Wayne Madden entered my life who genuinely have a care to see you do right regardless of personal benefit – which is a rarity in life. A girl came into my life as well called Danielle (and we just celebrated our 13th anniversary).
I won’t go into full details of the end of the court case but suffice to say even now I look back and don’t feel I got the best lawyer, who advised me that the court had agreed 99% of the fraud could be proven it wasn’t me (I was never on any cameras with any of the properties, my signature didn’t match, etc) but the other 1% was unknown and “They will find you guilty on that to make an example of you” so I was advised to plead guilty to diminished counts and look at a couple of years in prison – versus get found guilty fighting it and face up to 10 years in prison.
No jury, just a judge and credit to the dude – he said in court he felt I had had horrific representation and that it was clear to him in the evidence that it should have been fought, but because I’d pled guilty he had to sentence me and said he would give me the least he was legally allowed to – so I got probation and community service and my lawyer was talked down to by everyone involved.
The real kicker was I was working, so the legal aid retroactively charged me for the legal service and garnished near 50% of my wage (after tax of course) for the next 2 years and Danielle and I suffered through poverty. Also finding new or better work was almost impossible because when you have a conviction in the UK you have to disclose it until it is “spent” which is 7 years after the fact- and while no one is allowed to prejudice against you – I’ve walked and gotten every job I ever applied for – until I reported I had a conviction. I applied and interviewed for dozens of jobs and each one they had conveniently already took someone else on… (The system in the UK is set up to keep offenders offending by removing their ability to move forward, not even mentioning how they LIED to and BULLIED my girlfriend into losing 18,000 pounds just because she knew me – but hey, that’s a whole other story too…)
I got ZERO help when I was homeless by the council – ironically I was told if I was GAY instead of bi or a herion junkie instead of a recovered addict – they would move me up the list. I actually got escorted out by security for flippantly telling my advisor “Well I’ll rush out and suck a few dicks to buy a quick fix and come back here and shoot up.” (Also another story…)
Over the next several years I slowly tried to get my life back together. I got my computers and cameras back from the police – but they didn’t all work as several years and poor storage had deteriorated the hard drives and such. And my partners and I decided to try and get back to filmmaking slowly.
We wrote a few scripts which were well received in several places and had some potential funding which fell through a few times and various other ups and downs. We started freelancing in spare time. Doing the occasional wedding or live event while juggling full time work and so on.
We had cool moments like a millionaire inviting us to his home for a script reading and praising the hell out of it and then saying he’ll buy a ticket when we find the funding now see ya later! (Seriously ha) and we met Ron Thal – Mr. Bumblefoot whom Wayne Madden introduced us to and we were able to film his live event in the UK which got us more interest from how good the recording was.
Few more scripts and more freelance and more shorts and overtime we started to build some momentum. It took 10 years to get back to a remotely stable position to where the fridge will almost always have food, the rent is almost always paid and all that jazz.
And me and my film partners decided lets pool all we have and create a studio, because its something we never have support with. So we got all we could together, money, equipment, etc. And got a great location and signed up and opened the doors – and one day later we entered into a 9 month lock down where we couldn’t work.
You couldn’t write this shit. But, two years later – we are still here. There have been months none of us have took pay to do our work, there are long gaps of time we’ve struggled and sacrificed but we are still here and we have produced music videos, short films, rented studio space, produced podcasts (our Movie Madness podcast has been listened to thousands of times from all over the world) we’ve attended business meetings with government and charities and businesses, we are working with several international filmmakers and helping support local independent artists.
WE ARE STILL HERE – And that’s quite amazing. Every sacrifice, every ounce of blood sweat and tears has led us here and while we and I are still nobodies – we’re working on several feature films, music videos, short films, audio content, commercial clients. We have scripts being read by producers across the globe in various stages of discussion. We have been awarded several times from festival bodies around the world.
I myself have been awarded for directing, writing, producing and editing several times now from places all over the world. England, Spain, Italy, America, etc.
I still suffer from depression and PTSD and anxiety, I barely sleep and overwork myself and sometimes I can’t find the energy to do work and sit on a couch for 8 hours begging myself to find the ability to get up. I only have nightmares and can’t remember a peaceful nights sleep. I am still facing suicidal tendencies and I not only keep doing what I can to be strong – a major emphasis of our studio is to support those that suffer invisible or mental illnesses and when we’re able to support people, passing on to another person, that passion, escape and giving them belief that their feelings, their soul is important. Genuinely brings tears to my eyes and makes me thankful I am still here.
Why would anyone want to listen to a nobody like me?
In many ways I didn’t have a childhood. I’ve been displaced several times in my life. I’ve been hurt repeatedly. Been abused in ways no kid should be. I watched people I care about most die. I’ve hurt a lot of people. I robbed and beaten and taken what I could when I had nothing. I’ve been stabbed. Shot at. I’ve been robbed of my identity. I’ve been arrested. I’ve been homeless. I’ve lost everything multiple times. I’ve been a drunk. An addict. A loser and a survivor.
I’ve given back. I help everyone I can. I gave up therapy and meds. Cold turkey on heroin and coke and weed and drink. Never relapsed to drugs for 20 years. I’ve kept dreaming and kept pushing and through hard work, sacrifice and strife, my head is above water. And have found myself the creative manager of a studio, my work shown world wide and I’ve traveled to several parts of the world to show it off.
I don’t lie and sugar coat and sell, I will say what I know to be true for myself – life is fucking hard and dreams take sacrifice and pain and suffering to follow. And while I am not a famous rich millionaire, I have fans, I’ve effected people with my work, I am proud of what I have achieved no excited for what still could be to come.
Why would anyone want to listen to a nobody like me?
To be reminded when things are difficult: Don’t give up.