Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Steadicam operator?

Trying my hand at being a Steadicam operator during the filming a couple of weeks back. It's not as easy as it looks!

The camera does stay steady, but the way that you move affects how it 'bounces'. I'm guessing that a ballet dancer would make a good Steadicam operator, but never found out.

I wish we'd had Jay, a friend who works with my son Daniel, with us. But... it was actually very enjoyable. We'll see how good the footage is.

I should mention that the silver 'foil' is actually a car windscreen protector that we cut up to protect the camera, which is black and hence tends to overheat.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Filming in Cyprus

The last two weeks I've been filming in Cyprus. It has been a real joy... and pain to be back filming. A joy because I love filming, but a pain trying to co-ordinate dates and availability of the crew and actors.
Somehow whenever I arranged the dates something crashed in on them and made it impossible and forced me to reschedule! At last we got to be filming. It's not complete yet, but the majority has been shot now.
The films are two short stories trying to communicate the love of God as our Father to people from the Middle East. They are like modern parables. We started by writing the stories, then recorded audio versions and at each stage checked with people around the region that they worked. Finally we committed to film.
This was also a change in technology for me. Up till now we have been filming in 'SD' or standard definition. This was a move up to 'HD' (high definition) but also towards electronic cinematography rather than just 'video'.
This meant that we are trying to make it look like electronic film. So the focus is incredibly tight and we need a 'focus-puller' as well as DOP (Director of Photography). The results were varied. Some I'm extremely pleased with... some we will re-shoot in a couple of weeks time. Overall though I'm very, very pleased.
What was particularly good was to have my oldest son over here for the filming as sound recordist. 

Monday, July 01, 2013

EasyFlight on EasyJet... not

The alarm went off at 5am, time for a quick shave, after all I'm flying home to my wife. Then a shower before driving to the airport at 5:30. I'm in North Africa so the shower was hot, but tortuous. There is no shower tray and the drain didn't work well in the guest apartment and so the water tended to overflow out under the door of the bathroom and down the corridor. The trick was to have a bucket or two beneath you, standing over one of them carefully. Thus when you showered you would to catch as much water as possible and then tip it down the toilet after your shower.

Driving to the airport was uneventful, if slightly stressed since there was an early morning sea mist rolling in over the coastal highway. Navigation was easy though, since I had my trusty iPhone with me and Jane (the voice of that SatNav App) guided me to the airport. I was driving a virtually brand new Kangoo. I'd last driven one when we rented it from EasyCar in the UK some years back. I had booked a Peugeot 206 with air conditioning but the Kangoo without a/c was my 'upgrade' or so I was told. The alternative was some micro car that the rental company didn't recommend on highways. I took the Kangoo!

Arriving at the airport I was disconcerted to find my flight was not advertised. I was further dismayed when the information desk didn't know about it either. However, another passenger also waiting at information assured me that it was OK and pointed me in the direction of the embarkation gate. Uneventful till I was queuing at the gate and was told that my online boarding pass was invalid and that I should return to checkin and get a real boarding pass. Eventually they let me on, sternly warning me that I should not do it next time. They tried to explain in Arabic. My Arabic didn't cope with that complexity. They asked if I could read French, which I said I could a little, so they pointed me to a box on my English boarding pass in Italian, claiming it was French. The box is to the left of an advert, so I had assumed it was just another advert.

Arriving at Milano I find that transit passengers have to exit the airport and cross to the entrance of the terminal about half a kilometre away.

This time my flight is displayed but showing a delay of 2 hours 40 minutes.

Never mind, I will use the time usefully by connecting to the Internet and doing some work. That it seems, is easier said than done. In Milano you get 15 minutes free and then you have to pay for the rest. I believed it should be worth it to redeem the time sitting around in the airport. 

Setting up the account with Milano Internet was relatively easy, albeit they only accepted one of the three email addresses I tried. I never did find out why they didn't like my gmail address or an address which was relatively short.

When the free time had expired I tried logging in to pay for the remaining hours I wanted. I completed the online form indicating that my residence was Cyprus and the form changed accordingly but didn't accept the address I entered. It appeared that they also wanted my 'Tax reference number' as well. I tried my Alien Registration Number and then a few random numbers but no way would it accept my data.

So I thought that I would try the UK address of our company. Changing my residence to the UK worked fine except now they wanted a ZIP code, and no way would a British Post Code work in that field as it accepted numbers only and British Post Codes are number letter combinations.  Suddenly and without warning the screen changed to Italian and again asked for my Tax Number, presumably my Italian Tax Number (Codice Fiscale), which of course I don't have.

Then there was an announcement over the tannoy that was sufficiently clear that I understood it was about the Larnaca EasyJet flight but sufficiently garbled that I had no idea what the announcement was. The tannoy is actually so loud and the speakers so close to passengers when queuing that it is a serious health hazard.

I visit another information desk and they directed me to one of the gates where there would be specific information about my flight.

There wasn't information but there was an offer of a very small voucher for a snack. My snack cost three or four times what the voucher offered. 4.5 EUR or 3 GBP doesn't go very far in airport eating establishments! However, here was an EasyJet representative who should be given the employee of the year award for going as far as humanly possible to help a client.

I asked him to translate the Italian message on my English EasyJet online boarding pass. A liberal translation, reinterpreted by me, is approximately thus: 'You have just wasted your time with an online boarding pass as we don't accept them in this country so you have to queue like the rest of us'. So despite being in Italian on a English boarding pass it actually applied to a North African country that speaks neither English nor Italian!

Next he tries to help with the problem of the Internet connection. He makes phone call after phone call to different departments around the airport.  He basically agrees that its impossible for a non-Italian to complete the form even though its probably foreigners who need the Internet most in Milano.

Eventually after yet another phone call he says it depends if I am a transit passenger or not, because, he says, since I am not, I cannot have the Internet. I explain that I am a transit passenger, having just flown in this morning on his airline. Ah, he says, and takes all my details and heads off to administration to try and sort it out.

About 5 minutes later he returns and makes another call spelling out my name, email address and other details with the international phonetic alphabet - Foxtrox Alpha India Romeo Hotel Echo Alpha Delta. Then he tells me I will soon get an SMS with a new username and password which will give me at least an hour on the Internet. No SMS comes but I try logging in again with the old username and password and find that I have now been credited with another free 15 minutes... which does turn out to be an hour.

Eventually it is time to go to the gate. I have to go through another Passport Control to get there. This makes two passport controls in Milano to go from one EU country to another EU country, maybe even from a Shengen country to another wanna-be Shengen country! The organization here is bizarre but everyone is very friendly and one just has to shake ones head and wonder.

The plane arrives from Prague and everyone leaps at queuing despite the fact that we will naturally not be allowed to board until they have finished refueling and reprovisioning and changing crews. 

No point in racing, I have an online boarding pass that is accepted in Milano with my seat number allocated. However...

EasyJet have changed their contract with the passengers, it's now an 'English contract' I am told by an EasyJet gate representative, and I am not allowed to take my carryon case onto the plane, it will have to go into the hold. 'Please take all you need for the flight from your case'. So I leave my case on the Tarmac and I now have a collection of other items on the chair beside me. 

When on board the flight crew proudly tell everyone that EasyJet are pleased to announce the new rules for cabin baggage to be found on page 189 of the inflight magazine. Basically this means that if you have regular IATA sized cabin baggage you are unlikely to be able to take it onboard and you need to have a smaller case to have the 'EasyJet guarantee'.

But wait a moment... today is June the 30th... the new rules come into effect on July 2nd.

But the new rules are interesting: One of the good things about flying EasyJet is they have no weight limit on cabin baggage. Sometimes we have had up to the 20kg limit on checked baggage and up to 16-18kg on cabin baggage. With the new rules this means if you have a much smaller bag with your real cabin baggage within your official cabin baggage ready to extract at a suitable time when challenged you'll be able to get away with two 20kg effectively checked cases rather than one. The trick will be to put the small, high density items (like books) in what is originally called 'cabin baggage'.

Apparently this plane is not the one that should have been on this route, but a replacement due to some mechanical problem with the original one, hence the delay. This means that many of the online boarding passes and those issued at checkin don't correlate with the actual seating plan of the plane. People who booked a row of four seats are really put out as there are only three seat rows on this aircraft and somehow some seats have become double booked. The ever friendly cabin crew handle the situation with diplomacy and everyone seems satisfied.

What was observable was that the crew were scrambling and racing to get us off as quickly as possible, since we were within minutes of hitting the €400/person compensation time obligated by the EU. Maybe they were offered a bonus if they saved the airline the compensation it would otherwise have to pay. It ended up they made it by something like 16 minutes! Having a fixed cut off point sort of helps, but in reality what would be better is a scaled compensation: Any delay over 30 minutes, free Internet till you leave. Any predicted delay over 90 minutes, a €30 food voucher (not €4.50 as I actually got). Then the real financial compensation at the 3 hour cut off. And EasyJet, here's a tip... whenever you have a delay offer everyone on the flight a free drink and a free muffin.

The cost of food on EasyJet is quite reasonable, so I order a fresh baguette only to find it might be a baguette but fresh it is not. Sad really because on the other two EasyJet flights I had a chocolate muffin and coffee. The chocolate muffins on EasyJet are such that it's almost worth taking the flight just for the muffin!

The inflight magazine proudly informs us that they are having a trial run with 'mobile check in' at a number of selected airports. One wonders how EasyJet North Africa will cope if they cannot even cope with printed online boarding passes.

I've never taken a Ryan Air flight when they haven't been on time or early. EasyJet is very friendly but efficient… not. I arrived home just before midnight.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kindle edition

It's almost 12 months since I wrote on this blog. I definitely should get back to doing so. 

I finally got the Kindle edition of my book published. Available both on US and UK Amazon sites: I priced it at the lowest that Amazon permits: $0.99 or £0.74. Any idea what would be a good price in the UK? The aim is to get people to read it rather than make money (all the money goes to the charity anyhow).

Sunday, February 07, 2010

In the image... of a creative God

For the last two years I have been writing a book. Well, it hasn't been continuous work but the initial writing and re-writing happened a couple of years back and then it's been the last year doing the layout, proofing, proofing and more proofing. It's now available on Amazon:

Below is the introduction to the book... to hopefully show you where it's going.


For many years I have been involved with trying to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with people: young people through the youth groups at various churches, and others through media in the UK. More recently it has been through media in the Middle East and, of course, directly with the occasional person I might talk to about Jesus: everywhere from a transatlantic air flight to a meeting in the street.

I don’t think I do it well. Looking around, I’m not sure many of us do it very well.

Some people I know are much more open and will talk about Jesus with almost everyone they meet… even with a stray customer coming out of the same restaurant in a same lift or elevator. But it’s not how often we share Jesus that matters so much as whether we really do communicate.

When we try to explain who Jesus is to Muslims, it’s pretty hard. And most of us feel we don’t do that at all well.

I started writing this book as a result of attempting to develop methods for evaluating what we are doing in our media communication of the love of God to Muslims. The following methods were developed by a Muslim Background Believer with whom I shared my thoughts. In the process we became friends.

For some time the group I am involved with had been longing for a set of tools to help us evaluate what we do. Someone from another group worked with us for about six months, trying to get his head around the problem. He wrote, we talked, he thought. He talked with Arabs and he tried different methods, but it just didn’t ‘come together’.

However, something in the chemistry of having this friend from that background in our office every day for six to eight weeks worked, and we ended up with something we have found helpful. One of our aims, as a group, is to act as a catalyst for sharing the Gospel with Muslims through media. My colleague Peter said this should not just stay with us, but be shared further with others trying to do the same thing. So I started to write a book.

As soon as I started I realised that I wanted something out of it myself. Even if it never gets published my desire is that it will accomplish the second aim. That is, to help me think through the issues relating to communicating Christ in a post-modern Muslim context. I added the word post-modern because I think it’s relevant for two reasons.

People have talked about this being a hinge generation, passing through from one established world view to another. Though the implications are very different in East and West I think something similar is happening all over the world.

As I see some post-modern attributes in the youth of the Middle East, I also see examples of pre-modern thought among the older generation there. There are two results of this: Firstly, there is a major culture gap between generations in the Middle East. Indeed, I would see the difference between a young person in the Middle East and their parents as being similar to the difference between a young person in the West and their great-grandparents.

Secondly, there is another significant culture gap when Western modernists attempt to communicate Christ to a simultaneously pre-modern and post-modern Middle East. It is as if people from the West attempt to sail through the gap between the two world views, without really making contact.

Much is written about post-modernism in a Western context, but almost nothing is being written from the point of view of the Middle East. So this book is a journey for me to research, and think through, and see what new things God is doing in the region. God is, as He always has been, creatively dealing with the world.

We need to catch some of that creativity in communicating Jesus. This is a journey that can particularly influence the way we communicate the Good News to people from the Middle East.

There has been talk of an ‘online church’ linking believers from the Middle East together in secret. We have been working towards building online communities who have decided to follow Jesus. However, despite many reservations about the institutionalised church, I am not sure how the body of Christ can be anything other than incarnational. We are commended to meet together, and an online community lacks much that we gain from face-to-face communication and physically shared worship.

There is a third aim in writing this book for me, and that is to re-discover my place in the Body of Christ.
Recently I have become somewhat disillusioned with traditional evangelical church structures and communication techniques, tiring of its output of modernist verbiage. Though I am comfortable sharing the Good News about Jesus, I am not sure that the church is very good news for me, let alone the average Muslim.

Philip Yancey shares a similar path, though his disillusionment and re-finding happened when he was younger. GK Chesterton and CS Lewis were the two authors who he felt helped him along the path.

Although separated from me by a vast expanse of sea and culture, they kindled hope that somewhere Christians existed who loosed rather than restrained their minds, who combined sophisticated taste with a humility that did not demean others, and above all, who experienced life with God as a source of joy and not repression.1
In answer to the question Why did I return? Yancey explains:

My career as a journalist gave me the opportunity to investigate people… who demonstrate that a connection with God can enlarge, rather than shrink, life. I began the lifelong process of separating church from God. Though I emerged from childhood churches badly damaged, as I began to scrutinise Jesus through the critical eyes of a journalist, I saw the qualities that so upset me – self-righteousness, racism, provincialism, hypocrisy – Jesus himself fought against, and that they were probably the very qualities that led to his crucifixion.2

If we are to communicate the love of God to the people of the Middle East, we will need to find ways to separate their preconceived ideas (some of them painfully true) of the ‘Christian message’ we communicate, from the person who is both our and their Messiah.

While you are reading this, you will find that there are areas I leave open to discussion or debate. Sometimes those are in places where I cannot personally see a clear Scriptural direction. Other times, I do see a clear Scriptural direction, but know of other Biblical followers of Jesus who see things differently. One of the major differences between following Jesus and being a Muslim is the acceptance of diversity. We should celebrate this. It’s part of our freedom in Christ. He treats us as people with whom He wants a relationship.

Post-modern Christians frequently object to didactic - formal, structured, unidirectional teaching. They do not talk about a set of doctrines, but about a dialogue. This book, then, is an attempt to start such a dialogue.
Richard J Fairhead
Autumn 2007
1 Soul Survivor – Philip Yancey – page 41
2 Soul Survivor – Philip Yancey – page 42-43