• Daniel Harding

MY BACKSTORY

I gave myself the aim of writing ten articles during lockdown, detailing my experience, knowledge, and advice for all things filmmaking. I'm sure there are a tonne more topics I could tackle, but I thought it seemed fair to give you some of my backstory



Growing Up

Like most of us, I had a childhood. From what I remember it was pretty decent, as far as you can say that I had loving parents, food on the table, warmth in the home, but I was also surrounded by lots and lots and lots of houses - not that inspiring, eh? I grew up in Grays, Essex, and I think it's fair to say that there wasn't much creativity going on. Who knows, maybe there was? But not that I saw. So little in fact, I probably didn't think about being 'creative' until I hit my twenties. It's strange how an environment can inform your personality, even if it's not suited. Looking back now, I can see clearly how unsuitable I was for that place. It's taken a number of years to break away from the shackles, and even now, I sometimes feel weighed down by it. But having said that, I try to appreciate the restrictions I had growing up (re: not being creative) because it wasn't given to me, so I had to learn it myself - I was typically known as the 'sporty' kid more than anything. I still enjoy sports, but nowhere near as much as I do creating things. So I went to school, both primary and secondary. And then made the silly decision to get an apprenticeship as an electrician with little to no interest in either apprentice-ing or electricity. I spent two miserable years up north learning how to be a child-adult working in a power station, and I hated, hated, hated it. But like most things, it was an opportunity to see, learn and reflect on what it is I actually wanted from life. Along with my parents getting a divorce, I was 17/18 with the heavy-burden of my future already on my young shoulders - I was ready for my pension. I've been told that this was quite a young age to have a mid-life crisis, and whilst it was tough at times, I'm glad it happened because it set me off on a path that was much more suited to who I am. I then went to college (after initially be rejected because I was too old) to get some a-levels so I could then go to Uni. I really enjoyed these few years because I was doing subjects I had an interest in. Admittedly I dropped film because it was too easy, and even then, I was keen to push myself into difficult terrain. I was bad at writing (is that grammatically correct?), so I took English in the hope it would improve it - as well as complimenting the growing interest I had in reading. I left college with AAB, which was a pretty decent improvement from my GCSE results (funny what you can do when you actually enjoy the thing you're doing - consider that the next time someone gets a bad grade). I then attended Sussex University in Brighton, and almost ten years later, I'm still here.


My love for film

Whilst there was not much room to be creative in my childhood, I've always loved watching films. I'm not entirely sure where it came from, because as I mentioned, my household was more inclined towards the sports (football, especially). If I think back, it probably had something to do with my Grandad's video collection. Whenever we'd go there, I would take a VHS home with me - typically a Disney film. Probably from an early age I grew a positive relationship with the idea of films, which obviously kept growing as I got older. Psychologists might say that I enjoyed the predictability of them - they started, ended, and could start again if I wanted them to. Also, unlike real life, the story never changed. If you saw it once, you'd know what would happen a second time - I found comfort in the familiarity. We would also rent videos from the store and return them the next day, in which time I would have tried to rewatch the film perhaps two or three times. I could easily get lost in the worlds on tape, and watching them always felt completely natural to me. I'm sure most people felt this way growing up, but I do believe I had a stronger pull towards film than most. I would happily watch films all day without the need of washing, eating, oxygen or sunlight (which is still true to this day!). Give me a film, preferably a trilogy, and I'd be content (I must have watched The Karate Kid and The Mighty Ducks a zillion times growing up). Although I watched a tonne of films, I never thought about 'making them' until I was much older. It was just never presented to me as a possibility. They were a complete mystery. So much so, it felt like they just appeared out of nowhere. So even though I loved film, when I quit being an electrical apprentice, it wasn't as simple as saying "Oh, I'll make films instead". It took a long time of slow, slow, slow progression towards it, often heading in the wrong direction.

Going to University

The amazing thing about University is that it gave me the room to develop the knowledge and understanding I am still utilising today - I remember being amazed by the edit suite, and when chopping up audio ("wow, this can manipulate what people say!"). I studied a 'practical media course' which basically meant half the time we were doing something practical like photography, documentary or radio, and then the rest of the time we were learning about film history, the media, and advertising (amongst other things). For a while I regretted not going to film-school (again, I didn't really understand it was an option until I was already at Uni), but the course was kinda great because it gave me a taste of all the things I could do on my path towards becoming an life-living adult. For a while I thought I was going to work in 'media', not really understanding what that meant, but as the course developed I realised, for the first time, that I could actually make films. How I was going to do was a completely different question, but the awareness that I could was beginning to grow. For the 3 years I was there, I said yes to everything. I volunteered for everything. I filmed everything. My aim was to make use of the equipment-stores there as much as I could (once being asked by a lecturer whether I was squatting there over the summer months when everyone else went home). I knew I needed to make the most of this opportunity, and that's exactly what I did. I was fortunate in that Sussex University gave me an extra bursary each year because I was the first person in my family to go to Uni. This meant I was able to save up a little bit of extra money so that when I left I could afford to buy my own equipment (Uni offered me a discounted rate to borrow theirs, but it would have meant travelling there every time I wanted to use it). I knew I didn't want to work for a company, 'working my way up', as it'd feel very much like I was beginning an apprenticeship again. I was ready to make my way. But I just had no idea how long it would take.


My twenties

Wow. Okay. I should probably try and look back on these years fondly, because there were some good moments hidden away in there. But man, my twenties were tough - I know they were because I am comparing them to what my thirties are like now (but who knows, maybe my forties will make my twenties look like the breeze). The main issue was that I was still learning, because I truly had no idea. When you're at the bottom, it can feel like you've got a mountain to climb. Every decision I made felt like the wrong one, and nothing ever seemed to lead anywhere. I would try one thing, fail. Try another, fail. Try something else, and fail. Or at least, that's what it would feel like at the time. But admittedly what was happening is that I was learning. Slowly, slowly. Building brick upon brick which would ultimately lead me to where I am today. I am lucky that I am quite stubborn and determined. I knew what I wanted, I just had to figure it out. I made the decision to stay in Brighton which meant I had to work a part-time job I hated in order to pay the bills. I could have potentially tried to get a position in a local production company, but like I said, I didn't want to work for anyone else. So I was a waiter for most of my twenties, working for minimum wage and tips - but spending monday to friday on whatever I wanted to do. The money was alright, but I worked the minimum I could afford to because I hated it so much. I was probably a nightmare to be around, but it just wasn't the right environment for me to flourish creatively (obviously). I also didn't like seeing things mis-managed, so I would always have a problem with someone or with management (I've been a director since birth). And so I struggled on. Working, being poor, working, being poor. All the money I managed to save went into making my own short films. I've always had the ambition to make feature films, but I could hardly afford to make shorts, so how could I? At the time I thought I was making good films, but I now realise how primitive they were. But in that time I managed to produce about 7/8 of my own short films, which helped me to learn and grow into a somewhat competent filmmaker.


28

I hit 28, and my life felt like it was going nowhere. I was still a waiter, dreading the thought of still being one into my thirties (no offence to anyone who still is - it's a decent part time job if you find the right one), and crippling anxiety started to set in. I was so determined to do more and be better, that it was actually stopping me from progressing (the irony, eh?). I was crippled by the fear that I was not going to amount to my potential, so much so, that I was admittedly the worst person to be around. Amazingly, I eventually noticed this and felt a strong desire to do something about it - surely how I felt wasn't normal? I now understand to some degree that it's a burden of being both creative and high in consciousness, with a mix of underachievement, but I felt so horrid that I knew deeply that I needed a change. Luckily for me, the waiter job I had at the time was by far the worse I had ever had - I think this is important if you are to be forced into making a tough decision. Because if it wasn't so bad, I probably wouldn't have left. I went away for four weeks on a low-paid film production, with the promise that I'd have hours available when I got back. But guess what? I didn't. Shock. I know it was all a ploy to get rid of me - I was too vocal and critical of how poorly run the restaurant was. They were replacing all the old staff with new, young, teenage girls - in the hope they wouldn't back chat, I suppose. I was the last of the old guard, determined to keep my weekend job which paid my rent so regularly. But the management team (sort of) won, which forced me into a decision. I had to start making money from filmmaking. How was still undecided, but I now had no choice. I had to do it. I doubt they'll ever read this, but to the two managers who essentially forced me into making this life-change, thank you. Genuinely. You probably thought you were getting one over on me, making my life worse, but in truth, things were about to get a whole lot better for me, in no small part thanks to you cu*ts.


Lastly, my life since then

So after I left the restaurant, I was forced into earning money from being a filmmaker. You sink or swim, and I had no choice but to swim. It's amazing what you can do with a little bit of pressure and a bit of financial help from your parents. For a few years I had the idea of filming showreels for actors - I had the equipment and some of the know-how, but the first attempt failed miserably, so much so that I never wanted to do it again. But now I had rent to pay, and no safety-net job, so I went back to it. I created a website, shot some examples, and away I went. It was a slow at the beginning, but as long as I got two clients a month, I could afford rent (probably not food, but that wasn't important). I also signed up to Deliveroo - the epitome of the gig-economy, which I greatly benefited from as I could pick it up and put it down whenever I wanted and I didn't have a boss changing my rota each week to suit their needs. I was my own boss. I started taking the odd production job here and there, because now I had the time to do so. I also started meditating (TM) which (perhaps coincidentally) coincided with the positive shift upwards in my life. Mediation greatly helped me to focus that anxious energy, and I owe a lot to the practice. Now, I run a semi-successful showreel company, I make my own films, I write pretty consistently, and more importantly, I love my life. Being a freelance creative is hard, and there isn't much security in it, but it's the right lifestyle for me. I have the freedom to do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it, and I can't wait to see what comes next.


Oh, and P.S. a few days ago I received a email reply from Roger and James Deakins, which is quite possibly the best thing to ever happen to me, especially because Roger called my work "quite remarkable". Life is good.


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Founded in 2011 by award-winning filmmaker Daniel Harding, 23½ Films is a South East, UK based creative film production company striving to make unique and  original  stories