I always struggle when people ask me; “what do you do?”
It should be a simple enough question to answer, but whenever I am asked it- I go into some weird self-reflection, questioning myself and my identity and my purpose, as well as trying to second guess what the person who asked it really meant. I mean, are they genuinely interested or trying to make small talk, adhering to social niceties and how will my answer make them judge me? Will they look on me with disdain or admiration? Will they make assumptions about me according to their preconceptions of what I say it is I do and will these judgments make them look upon me favourably or not. In short, by the time all of this has run through my head, the person has become a little freaked out by the total computer shutdown that has just happened in front of them and walked off.
So maybe I should think about what it is I do and how to define myself? It would certainly make meeting people a little less stressful.
If you asked me what I would do if I could do any job in the world, I could answer that easily. I would be writer. For all the wrong reasons.
I have romantic dreams of spending hours and hours each day struggling with a screenplay or book, fielding calls from my agent and publisher and staying up way too late and eating really bad food. I could happily spend the rest of my life in this bubble of bad nutrition, shit TV and procrastination. But I also realise that there is a chance that life will never be exactly quite like that. I haven’t yet managed to make a full living from the written word although over the years, much more of my income has started to come from writing in various forms. I run a Social Enterprise called Viewfinder, which centres around various workshops and projects designed to develop young people using creative mediums such as film, theatre and drama. Much of these projects revolve around writing screenplays or stage plays based on their ideas formed by exploring relevant social issues in their lives and has resulted in three short films, commissioned by councils, WM Police and Recre8; Hurt, Hold and Bait. The company has been trading since 2011, and in that time since I have also written and directed two of my own short films and written a third that is is due to begin shooting this year.
So why do I still struggle when people ask me what I do? I am still hesitant to say that I’m Writer.
Maybe it’s because I am worried about what their preconceptions of what a Writer is or should be are. Maybe I’m convinced that they will have the same romantic visions of black coffee, late nights and tight deadlines that I have. Or maybe they think all writers are published millionaires like J.K Rowling. Whatever the reason, I simply struggle to define myself and so It’s hard to be confident in doing so to others.
I look at other people that inspire me, both in the world of celebrity-dom and closer to home. People like David Lynch, Hunter S. Thompson, Stanley Kubrick, Daniel Alexander and, aside from Thompson, they are all known foremost for being filmmakers. Lynch writes a lot of his work- sometimes with others like Barry Gifford or Mark Frost for example, but primarily he is known for being the unique visual artist that he is. Much the same as Kubrick, a Director so well revered- and deservedly so- for his interpretations of material originally written by Stephen King, Vladimir Nabokov and Arthur C. Clarke amongst others. Daniel Alexander is best known for the way he has carved out an ever growing reputation for himself due to his technical brilliance behind a camera, as well as his own writing on short films such as Drawing Near and Sylvester but if people were asked to define any of them they would say they were filmmakers. So what am I? I am a novice at best behind a camera. I can point and press record- but I have little to no knowledge about lighting, or lenses or any other number of technical aspects of filmmaking per-se, I just know what I think looks good or what I think will work. To achieve it, I would be lost without someone such as Daniel. So can I call myself a filmmaker? I would think not. So what about a Film Director? I guess that depends on your definition of a Director. On set, one of my favourite things is blocking out a scene and working with actors to find the right way to deliver lines, to motivate movement and find the heart of any one particular scene or sequence. I truly love being part of the process that brings the words on a page to life. So maybe in that sense, I could say that I am a Director but am I one ahead of being a Writer? And would I even want to be?
I am sometimes weary of people with numerous titles next to their names. When people list a multitude of talents or professions the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” springs to mind.
Matthew Ford: Writer, Director, Producer, Musician, Blog-Writer, Kick-boxer, Youth Worker, Social Entrepreneur. Those are all things that I can at least in some way lay claim to being, but I can’t say with any true authority that I am a Master at any of them so they don’t define who I am. Or do they? Perhaps we are kidding ourselves by trying to define ourselves by one label. If you work in a clothes-shop then that is not all you are- a man or woman who can fold a really neat pair of jeans. If you have a part-time job at McDonalds, you are not a Burger. If you work as an accountant, you are not made up of numbers, pound signs and receipts. There is more to you, a plethora of talents, passions, dreams and ambitions so why should you define yourself in such a basic way as by the job you do?
It is difficult to do what you want to do sometimes. Life is tricky and complex but there is always time to at least practice your passion. By that I mean if you like Photography, when it is your day off from working at Burger King- take photos. You are a Photographer whenever you are doing it. If you love singing, whenever the weekend is here and you’re not required to process another cheque at the bank- sing. You are a singer whenever you express yourself like that. What do you do? It depends where I am when I’m doing it.
I work as a Youth Worker, I coach beginners Kick Boxing to adults and children, I play Guitar and write music, I run a Social Enterprise using creative mediums to develop young people, I make films. I am a Writer.
A jack of all trades, master of none…but I’m trying.