The 100 Letters Project - writing to 100 people I don't know personally, who have influenced my
Early on in 2018 (Which seems like a long time ago now) I made a decision, that I am sure some will consider unusual, to write to 100 people that have influenced / impacted my creative career or indeed simply my life in some way by their own creative endeavours. Due to having a somewhat challenging, convoluted and just simply God awful year (2019, which will be the subject of a different blog) I didn't really get started on this until late in the summer of 2019 and even then it took off fairly slowly, not least because I had some trouble cutting the list down to a final 100 people for one thing. (Apart from Kevin Bacon, he's been on any list of both people I have wanted to work with / and thank for inspiration, since before the dawn of time, and thankfully, still around - Look at the scene where he talks about why his Father left in Footloose, this is the scene that showed what an amazing an actor he was going to be, even back then!)
Because I have lived, breathed and eaten film & theatre from a young age (And now I continue to attempt to make my own small mark in that strange creative vocation doing more of the same) and plays & films have been such a huge part of my life since I could walk, many of these people inevitably would come from that industry, either from in front or behind the camera. And as much as someone, somewhere, almost certainly deserves such a letter, I wasn't likely to write to someone who was the best caterer, as its doubtful they would have inspired me to cook. As I became more interested in films as a story telling medium, (And it became more accessible in the digital era) so I was drawn to different people for different reasons who produced work within that world. Some because they had given amazing performances or had told stories that somehow had impacted me or I had connected with personally at important times in my life. (I remember very clearly, the first film that really did this was Dead Poets Society, so Peter Weir, for example, is on the list)
With others it might just be because a certain performance made me laugh or it came along at a time in my life where it impacted me in a way that neither they (Nor I) never could have foreseen. For many its going to be people whom I have always wanted to work with creatively but now feel that window is closing and even though I may not get to work with them, I still want them to know how much their work meant to me over the years and had continued to inspire me in my own efforts. The genesis for this idea started as a result of something that happened almost a couple of decades earlier. Around the time Peter Jackson's 'The Fellowship of The Ring' - was released, I had been very ill battling some serious health issues and I was told (Somewhat erroneously as it turned out!) that it was extremely doubtful that I would be around to see the other two movies in the trilogy. So I wrote to Peter Jackson, thanking him for such a wonderful film and the fact that I had yet to see the sequels would remain a driving motivation to ensure I lived long enough to do so. (And so I did, and I have written to him since, to thank him again and also dedicated my first novel after him and Fran Walsh who wrote the trilogy with him.)
I think all creatives hope their work will have an emotional impact on their target audience but aren't always aware of its direct effect on the individual unless, well, they hear it from them directly. I am aware this can be less important to some actors and filmmakers, than to others but I've personally, always loved hearing from people who have been impacted by my own modest contributions to the creative forums of Film & Theatre. What is the point, after all, of telling a story if no one is going to see it and hopefully be moved by it? One of the reasons I admire Quentin Tarantino so much (And I was at the very first UK screening of Reservoir Dogs in the UK at the LFF before most people had even heard of him.) is that his films are always extensively discussed and debated and love him or hate him, anyone who can generate such debate over their work, is a skill of itself. I've followed his work pretty avidly from day one and even I love some of his films more than others, he is a film maker who of my generation who has had a huge impact in his life time, so I think he will be another on the list.
One of the first people who made me really think about how film making and acting/performance would impact the viewer and their emotions was the late actor Richard Burton.
In fact when I was a kid, I was his biggest fan and always wanted to meet him. (That's what happens when you see Where Eagles Dare at five years old!) It wasn't just his performances but also his voice, his eyes, he just was such a captivating and charismatic individual. His films made a huge mark on my life, something I wish I could have told him in person. I was extremely upset when he died in the early 1980s and I felt robbed of my chance to meet him. In fact I hired out a cinema in London to show a film of his (The Wild Geese) for my 28th birthday which I had never seen on the big screen.
Lots of the people whose work influenced me from a young age such as Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris are no longer here (Even though I did, fortunately, get to meet both of the latter in life and tell them that briefly in person.) so I often thought about what I might say to some of the my favourite peers who are still living today, if I ever had the chance. The problem with me when meeting people, especially people I don't know (And this applies to anyone, not just industry types!) is that firstly I can get very nervous. Secondly, I have a brain injury from 2004 which has left me with a wondering eye of sorts, this means my eyes don't focus in any one place for very long and I often start looking else where when talking to someone even though they still have my full attention and when this is with someone who doesn't know me well they can think, wrongly, I am deliberately disinterested in them and being very rude. I used to frequently explain this to people but got so fed up of doing it that I got out of the habit of doing so. My fun brain combined with my nerves means I have a tendency to into overdrive to compensate some times and I end up becoming a bumbling idiot, with any carefully crafted verbal preparation going right out the window. Often I say something I didn't even intend to and recently I've proven rather adept at doing this, much to my frequent dismay in numerous social situations. (First dates have always been especially hilarious!) So writing a letter where you actually can take the time to say exactly what you want to say ensures my best intentions don't go awry or are misunderstood. Letters are also quite rare these days, people just don't write them any more outside of an email and even though I am not about to get my quill out they will still be printed, put in an envelope and signed by hand. Until 2019 I've only thought about doing this, I've never done anything about it (Peter Jackson aside) apart from when Gene Hackman, very much someone I had always aspired to work with, announced he had retired from acting. So I wrote to him and told him how much I had admired him over the years and thanked him for his numerous performances that I had enjoyed a great deal. But to send such letters out to people has always felt a little odd to me and to some extent, difficult. As I say, I've procrastinated about it a number of times and always found reasons to put it off and I am not normally a procrastinator. Why? Was it a bit cheesy to send someone such correspondence? I briefly doubted the purpose of such an enterprise and I certainly was not motivated by hoping for either a reply or thinking it would increase the chances of us working together. I knew the world and the industry does not work that way, so believe me when I say, its nothing to do with either of those reasons. Sure, it would be true to say part of me had hoped that my career would have reached somewhat loftier heights by now where I would have been in such a professional position to tell these people who had inspired me, such things in person. But, I had to ask myself again recently - was such a time ever going to come to pass? And what if it didn't? Would I regret never writing these people anyway and did it really matter in the grand scheme of things to write them such a letter? Was it simply enough to just know myself that they had impacted my life in such a way? In any event, would such a letter even mean anything to such a person coming from someone they didn't know? What after all, was the point of such a time consuming exercise? I thought about that long and hard, which is why its taken me so long to get around to it. Someone called me a 'people pleaser' recently, and maybe this type of thing comes under that category but if so, it is fine with me. I also reminded myself that it wasn't as if I was writing and asking for an autograph or something, it was more a mixture between a fan letter and a professional thank you of sorts and it was as much for them, as it was for me - so why not? But still I debated. Then a couple of people who were on the list passed away last year (Director Lewis Glibert, pictured below on the 007 Spy Who Loved Me set, who I had been meaning to write to for ages and the fabulous writer William Goldman) and so after that turn of events and the passing of a friend of mine last May, whom I had wanted to say similar things to, I decided I shouldn't procrastinate any longer. It's probably worth adding here, I am not one to shy away from telling my friends who inspire me or support me, that they do so. And I frequently give them thanks for doing both but the passing of one friend had reminded me to keep saying such things and not to take it for granted that various friends of mine know and assume this is the case.
So my decision made, I started writing out the list of names during a break between working on various scripts. It wasn't a case of finding 100 people to put on the list, more whom to include from a much longer list of people. A list of people whose work I simply admired would be a very, very long list indeed, including everyone from Darabont to DeNiro!) so I decided to narrow it down to people who specifically had done work which had directly inspired my own professional efforts or whose work had influenced my own life in some other more personal way. I guess I should also say here that they may well be people that many of the man on the street hadn't even heard of. (Tim Thomerson being an example of one person on the list whom most of my friends under the age of 30 or so, probably wouldn't know but he was an actor whose work I followed ardently for some decades and was someone I always wanted to meet.) Ultimately what mattered was that their work/careers meant something to me personally. It would be necessary in many cases to write to these people via their agents and of course one doesn't even know if such a letter will ever reach the person for whom it is intended for. So I would just have to hope for the best but in as many cases as possible, I would endeavour to make sure the letter would be received by the individual directly or by someone who would at least pass it on. In certain cases I could write to directly via Facebook/Twitter (I already follow several people on my list and some have even liked or commented on my tweets from time to time including Matthew Modine) but its quite hard to write such a personal letter of this nature to someone via a tweet. I could of course make them aware of its presence, so they know its coming via snail mail and know to look out for it, should they care to do so. There are of course some people who would have been on this list that I am already friends with (Three examples would be actors Donal Logue, Jason Flemyng and Sharon Duncan Brewster, people who I loved dearly and who continue to inspire me in a professional sense, almost daily and whom I am also in contact with) but The 100 Letters isn't about the people I am already associated with, it's about those I am almost certainly never going to meet in my life time. It's about those who have added something to my own passion and creativity on my own journey. Unfortunately gettin such a letter to a person personally is going to prove harder in some cases, more than others. My letter to Tom Hanks & Rita Wilson was sent back to me recently, all the way from the USA!!! And I even had someone who knew him, write him an email to let him know it was coming! Guess the gatekeepers were pretty mean to me on that one!
So who is on this list of 100 people? Ah well, I will do another blog, exactly one year from today, to update you on who, on the list I got around to writing to (5 down so far, 95 to go!) and perhaps on that one, I will include the list. I can tell you it will definitely include the members of Spinal Pap (Only kidding, Spinal Tap) If you've seen the film, you'll get that joke.