The Filmmaker

He’d switched from champagne to beer. He’d disappeared from the reception down in the main ballroom, and I’d decided to try the roof garden first. Not because I knew much about places he might prefer; I hardly knew him. I’d come up here hoping to find him, but also because this is where I wanted to be.

I’d met James Ferrin on a train from London, where he’d been born and raised, to Edinburgh, where he was in school at the university there. He was a media major specializing in script writing. I’d asked him what kinds of scripts he’d written, and he rather embarrassedly told me he’d not yet been able to finish one, and that in terms of genre, he was over the place. He simply could not decide what kind of story he liked to tell best.

As someone who’d been writing for a while, I offered him the advice that perhaps it didn’t matter that he focus on a type of story, but rather on a story that could be adapted, eventually, into a genre he desired.

“A good story, James, is a good story,” I said. “No matter how you present it at the end, you have the base of a story that satisfies you.”

We talked more about writing, and as we said goodbye at the station, I gave him my card. I never actually expected him to contact me. I’ve given cards to folks all over the world, and I’ve yet to have heard from any of them. So it surprised me when, five years after I’d met James, I found an email message from him.

Not only had he finished his degree, but he’d developed one of the scripts he’d written in school with the backing of a British Film Industry grant. The film had been shot and was entered into and selected by the Edinburgh Film Festival.

Would I be interested in attending? If so, he’d have a ticket waiting for me.

I’d not intended to visit Edinburgh at the time, but I couldn’t resist the offer to see whatever it was he’d come up with. So I took him up on his offer and made my plane and hotel arrangements accordingly.

We met at a pub just off the University of Edinburgh campus. I asked him to tell me about the film he’d made.

“Ah,” he said, “I’d rather you come to it with no foreknowledge of it.
I don’t know if you’re like me when it comes to movies. I don’t like to hear or read anything about them until I sit down and watch them. It’s best, at least for me, to come in without any preconceived notions about what a movie is about. I like the mystery of it all unfolding before me. That immediate experience.”

“Okay,” I said, “but do you remember that part of our conversation where we talked about choosing a movie genre? Can you at least give me a hint about that?”

He sipped on his beer, then, “Okay. It’s pretty straightforward. I’d call it a bit of an adventure movie along the coming of age line. But,” he said, “that’s as much as I’ll give you.”

This, I told him, was good enough for me, but the whole mystery of it kind of gnawed at me. I arrived at the theater early enough to get a great seat. Occasionally, I’d look around to see if I could spot James, but he was nowhere to be found. I know there are people in the filmmaking business who don’t like to watch their work after the film is done. Perhaps this was the case.

The theater lights went down and the movie rolled. It was the story of a boy who grew up in London, had been very poor, how he idolized film and filmmakers, snuck into movies because he couldn’t afford to go to them, and how he’d made his way from counsil housing to the University of Edinburgh and became a maker of movies himself.

I love this kind of biopic was enjoying his telling of his life story immensely, and then there was a scene that blew my mind. The young hero, on his way by train from London to Edinburgh, happened to meet a writer from Hawai‘i. They talked about how the important thing was not to worry about finding a genre first but to find a story. A good story, the writer from Hawai‘i said, is the most important thing.

James had invited me to the reception at the Hilton Carlton where film winners would be announced. I’d never been to something quite this grand. It was glitzy, I figured, as anything you’d find at the best film festivals the world around. For all I knew, this one matched Cannes to a tee.

Eventually, I spotted James drinking champagne and talking to a group of his industry peers. I caught his eye, and he broke away to come talk to me.

“So,” he said, a bit red in the face either, I thought, from the champagne or from a bit of embarrassment. “What did you think of it?”

I patted him on the shoulder. “James, I loved it. I love to write personal narrative myself. It was terrific. My favorite part, of course, was when the hero of the movie gave the young man advice about finding a story.”

We both laughed. “That’s really why I didn’t want to get too much into the film with you,” he said. “As I said, I like to be surprised when I go to a movie.”

“Well, I was definitely surprised. I’m proud to have been included. Although I was wondering why you didn’t get Keanu Reeves to play me.”

After we had a few more good laughs, James said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to get back to schmoozing. That’s the way this business works.”

“It’s who you, know,” I said. “I totally understand.”

“See you at the award ceremony,” James said as he walked off.

Eventually, after all the champagne and the caviar, and all other manner of terrific hors d’oeuvres many of which I could not identify, I made my way to the main auditorium.

James, unfortunately, did not receive an award. After it was finished and everyone went back to more champagne, I looked for him without success. The crowd was getting to me; I’m not one for groups of more than ten. I went over to one of the bars, got a bottle of Old Speckled Hen, and headed out to get away from everything.

Taking the elevator up to the roof garden looked like a good thing to do.
The trip to the top took longer than I thought it would, and I was getting a little bit paranoid that I’d never get there, but eventually, I made it.

And there, at the top, I found James staring out over the city.

I called to him. He turned and waved. I walked over to him, wondering.

“Sorry you didn’t win any awards,” I said.

“Ah, to tell you the truth,” said James, “I was excited about the possibility, but deep down I knew I probably wouldn’t win anything. It’s a pretty stiff competition. You’re extremely lucky even to get an honorable mention.”

I said nothing, nodded. Neither did James. The silence continued.

I said, “So you like it up here?”

Maybe he picked up something from my tone. Turning to me he smiled. “I’m not up here to jump off, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

I’d been a bit worried. A bit.

“Hey, me either,” I joked.

We clinked beers.

Then James raised his glass to the city lights and the night. “And if I were up here to jump, that would be foolish,” he said. “If I jumped, I’d never learn how to fly.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s