I’m always wary of biopic documentaries, it seems so crass to charge in and make a film after someone has died, a cheap way to make a fast buck from a subject that will never fail to pull on people’s heart strings.

When I first heard about the Amy Winehouse documentary I was especially wary, particularly as it went in to production so soon after her death. Would it tell a real story with integrity or re-hash a load of shock footage in to the gross spectacle of someone’s inevitable demise? Would she be immortalised as a tortured fuck up?

I met Amy Winehouse in a bar in Camden many years ago, I had no idea who she was, I thought she was a pop star. She asked us to buy her drinks because the bar man had refused to serve her any more. She looked sad and lost.

In the years that followed, through all the headlines, internet videos and photographs of her downward spiral I felt really sad because even though we only exchanged a few words I had had an opportunity to see her as she was, a human being, not a construct created by the press to sell newspapers. The thing that made me most sad was that with every drunken performance, every slip up on stage you could see the fire being extinguished, a fire that made her one of the most talented musicians of my lifetime by far. It’s rare that someone like that comes along.

Music is life blood and we champion and celebrate moderately talented, pre-prepped, photoshopped, mass produced pop bunnies who take their clothes off in the hope of being loved. Like fast food, it’s cheap, unsophisticated and bad for our kids. Where are the Nina Simones and Ella Fitzgeralds?

I’m happy to say that this film is a great tribute to Amy Winehouse and I believe it has integrity at it’s core. I also believe it will go some way to painting over the tragic picture that was created by the newspapers, and be a reminder of what a cool person she was long after those newspapers have been thrown in the bin. It shows the darkest and brightest side of human beings, reminds us that red top journalists are (mostly) scumbags and will hopefully make it clearer that even good people take drugs to hide from things that make them sad, and that doesn’t make them bad people.

I hope lots of people watch this film.

Eliot Rausch – A Short Case Study

Below is a short case study of one of my favourite filmmakers Eliot Rausch, his cinematography and direction have been great sources of inspiration on my journey as a filmmaker and perhaps they will be to you too.

Screen shot 2015-10-07 at 10.08.04

Eliot Rausch is a filmmaker who specialises in short form documentary. His socially conscious work has themes of faith and companionship running through it and his directorial focus often falls on the underdog. Integrity is central to Rausch’s work.

From humble beginnings Rausch worked his way up through school and art college, struggling at times with social anxiety and depression and finding a hiding place in creative work. It appears that his own struggles have channelled him toward the challenging and sometimes uncomfortable content that fills his documentaries. Drug addiction, loss and mental illness often feature but are softened with a glow of hope; this is mirrored in the warm tones and soft light that often characterise his films.

Looking back at his earliest published work can offer a snapshot into the themes that inspire Rausch. Nearly 7 years since it was released on Vimeo it also shows how far the filmmaker has come. This short is raw and challenging in it’s content, it captures the inner conflict of drug addiction yet somehow presents a way out, though it may be far from reach. In many of his earlier films, Rausch presents an intimacy with his subjects, as if there is no division between filmmaker and character, one friend and another.

In 2011 Rausch won the Grand Prize in the Vimeo Awards with his film ‘Last Minutes with Oden’. In characteristic style Rausch thrust the topics of drug addiction, mental illness, loss and faith at a huge web audience. The genius of this film was in Rausch’s choice of main characters, one of which was a three-legged dog named Oden. As Oden reaches the end of his life, crippled by cancer, his owner is forced to come face to face with the loss of his best friend who has remained faithful, loving, forgiving and non-judgemental through the most traumatic times in their life together. Rausch presents the uncomfortable truth that these traits are often lost when human beings are in the grip of trauma, loneliness and ill health. We can learn a lot from our dogs.

Much of Rausch’s work is handheld or shot on a steadicam. Free from the limitations and complications of additional film equipment, he is able to work fast a light and develop a deep intimacy with his subjects’ through close shots and symbiotic movement. Much of the beauty of Rausch’s work comes through the use of light; mainly natural, it is clear he has an instinctive ability to utilize the changing properties of the day in a play between light and dark, warm and cold, good and bad.


Rausch has become an acclaimed director of commercials and web content, is one of my favourite filmmakers and is responsible for capturing one of the most arresting and beautiful shots I have ever seen on film. He is also humble and cares greatly about the integrity of his work and still doesn’t understand why he has done so well! The shot that I mentioned is at 1:47 in the video below. The dialogue from the video is part of a 70 speech by Charlie Kauffman at a BAFTA Screenwriters lecture series which can be seen here –


_MG_0146Filming ‘Islands’.

A little over three years ago I finished a film (or a trilogy of short films) about climbing in the Lake District. Although not my first climbing film, it seemed to be when I first found my flow and made something from my heart, not my head. Although it contained some great climbing I didn’t see it as a ‘climbing film’ as such, it was a documentary about people and their motivations. I think to many people climbing is inherently boring to watch, but human beings generally aren’t. The whole project started with one man and splintered outwards picking up other people’s stories as it went. Sadly the catalyst for that film, Mike Pryzgrodzki died a little while after the film was finished, but I feel it was a fitting tribute to his heartfelt passions and complexities.

_MG_0135Mike Pryzgrodzki topping out on a new route.

Since I made ‘Islands’ (which you can see >> here <<) I have taken a wandering course through a multitude of projects, creating films about music, craft, adventure, running, swimming and one about an elephant. However, I always imagined I would come back to focus on climbing as a subject with the same instinct that underpinned ‘Islands’. And this is what I set out to do with Eden.

The film is set in a climbing spot beside a wandering river, esoteric in nature and shrouded in ancient woodland. The sandstone cliffs of Armathwaite are carved into incredible configurations by the River Eden and lie half hidden by Ash and Oak leaves. At first it seems there is little more than an hour or two of bouldering there, one or two good climbs perhaps, but if you take the time to learn about the nature of the architecture of the crag and how to explore it there are many gems to be found.

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 10.16.28The Eden Valley.

The Eden runs for 90 miles from Hell Gill in Mallerstang, through Carlisle to the Solway Coast in North West Cumbria. It passes ancient stone circles such as Long Meg, hermit caves in Langwathby and Wetheral, through deep sandstone gorges and numerous town and villages. It’s course takes in some of the most beautiful but little known places in Cumbria. Polar opposite to many of the mountain crags of the Lake District, Armathwaite is often over-looked but is a valuable resource to the local climbing community.

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 10.19.48The famous Armathwaite cliff jump.

I have spent many many hours in this place; on my own, with good friends, drinking beers in the sunshine, getting scared on slabs or lonely solos or propelling myself from high ledges in to the cold river. All of this has secured a place in my heart for Armathwaite, but it’s not just my experiences here that have inspired the project. There is a lot wrapped up in the history of this place; ancient poems and graffiti carved in to the cliffs, engraved faces staring from the rocks and some very significant climbing heritage.

375A1351The faces.

Interest in Armathwaite was sparked in the early 70’s when a group of active climbers from the Eden Valley and Penrith area explored the woods. Ron Kenyon, Stew Wilson and friends began slowly picking off some of the future classics of the crag and understandably, tried to keep their little discovery to themselves. It wasn’t long before word got out however, and a bunch of strong climbers began visiting from nearby Carlisle. At that point Carlisle and Eden was becoming an epicentre for climbers looking to train for the mountain crags of the Lake District. Many needed work in the city but were keen to discover new lines or free climb old aid routes. Amongst the main talents of that group were Pete Whillance, Jeff Lamb and Pete Botteril, all exceptional climbers with different styles and strengths. In the days before good climbing walls Armathwaite became the perfect place to train and many of them, Jeff Lamb in particular became exceptionally strong.

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 10.26.57Pete Botteril proudly shows off his 35 year old EB’s.

As the team continued to train and explore the woods further, more lines were ticked off. Many were hard, unprotected solos or very steep test pieces. At a time before super-connectivity, climbing websites and social media, groups of climbers often operated in isolated groups with little connection to the rest of the community. Without realising it Pete Whillance, Jeff Lamb, Pete Botteril and others were establishing some of the hardest lines in the country and pushing the ‘extremely severe’ grading system to the limit. At this point there was no real way to tell how hard an existing line was and routes from E1 to E6 could all end up in the ‘extremely severe’ bracket. A new system was needed, badly.

With this in mind Pete Botteril came up with an idea to number all routes within the ‘extremely severe’ category and began making lists of all of the hard routes in the Lake District and assigning a numerical E grade. Before long, rival teams from South Lakes and the Peak District adopted the system and it stuck. With acres of unclimbed rock and strong partnerships and rivalries it was an exciting time in British Climbing.

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 10.30.37The E list.

The Carlisle and Eden climbers went on to establish routes all over the country and further afield and change the face of british climbing. Pete Whillance in particular became one of the best climbers Britain has ever seen; a slab master, he climbed exceptionally hard and dangerous lines that still stop people dead in their tracks. Many of these he climbed ground-up, without pre-practice, a proper harness, modern shoes or protection, placing gear and pegs on lead.

375A2244Filming with Charlie Woodburn and Pete Whillance.

Jeff Lamb also went on to influence the climbing scene in a notable but more subtle way, establishing many new trad climbs, which his friends often had to push him to even document. A quiet, kind, humble man who rarely shouted about his achievements, he was well loved by everyone whom he met and climbed with. Sadly, Jeff was killed in the 80’s when he was hit by a stone falling from a crag; this was a deep and profound loss to many.

Over the years Armathwaite has remained a training and proving ground for locals looking to move on to bigger, more challenging things. Many ‘not led’ lines remained, too dangerous or hard to consider by most, but in recent years almost all of these routes have been picked off by a new band of strong Carlisle climbers like Dan Varian and Pete Gunn.

375A2117Pete Gunn about to set off up his 15 metre E7 solo, Scallop.

Having moved away to Kendal and become a southerner it has been a real joy to re-visit my old haunt with new friends, swim in the river, climb old favourites and film some brilliant climbing. I am already very proud of this film.

Eden is a film that celebrates the beauty of the valley, the particular but pleasing nature of it’s climbing, those pioneers who committed their time to future development and close relationships forged at the base of the routes. And cutting through the modern cacophony of numbers and objectives and ‘look at me’s’, I hope it can serve as a fitting tribute to a much loved and humble man, Jeff Lamb.

Eden will be premiereing at ALPKIT’s Friday Night Fringe event at Kendal Mountain Festival (more details of this coming soon), and will also be avaliable on the web through the ALPKIT and DMM websites. I would like to say thank you to my sponsors for supporting the film and everyone who has been involved so far.

Scan 93Jeff Lamb proving his strength.


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I often work alone. There is a certain safety that comes with orchestrating and executing each part of a film project myself. I don’t need to rely on anyone, the only person I will be let down by is me and I find that less irritating than being let down by someone else. I also feel a sense of pride when I sit down to watch it and I know its all mine, I made it from start to finish. ALL MIIIINE. Perhaps that’s another greedy and self-indulgent part of working in a creative domain.

With every project my filmmaking improves, I learn something new, do something subtle that I haven’t done before. However, it is easy to float along doing similar things because you know they work. Sometimes you need another ingredient to make something sing, come face to face with someone else’s creative process to kick you out of comfortable routine.

I have been working with Simon at the college for a couple of years now and we make a good team. I also respect him greatly as a filmmaker and award winning writer (I will read your book one day Si), but we have never worked together on a film. We bagged a commission from the Lakes Comic Art Festival and decided to pool our respective skills and collaborate. I took first leg on the filming side and he took second on the edit.

As soon as we sat down with a pint of cold beer in the Castle I knew that we could come up with 10, 20, 30 great ideas for this film. We could have made it differently 5 times over and each would have been as good or better than the last. I realised how powerful and enriching it could be to work together with someone instead of plowing through it all on your own.

The filming of the journey itself was pretty tough. I was navigating, flying a drone, shooting on two DSLR’s and operating a steadicam next to very busy roads for nearly 10 days straight, but it’s nothing I haven’t done before. The film came alive when Si tried something new and turned his hand to motion graphics and paralax, creating the brilliant archive sequences that illustrate the story. It would be infinately more boring if I had done it all!

Of course it isn’t just me and Si that made the film what it is. As the project bumped along it was shaped and influenced by the people who commissioned it, Aileen McEvoy and Julie Tait. It has an incredible score composed by the very talented Ben Metsers. Huge personality, a context, a narrative and some brilliant pieces of artwork from Oli East. Some more personality from Lorenzo Lawrence and Simon Von Seals………..and it has a flippin elephant. What more could you ask for.

Here is it……HERE
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Beyond the frame

Best Spirit Of Adventure Film Gold.fw

We move on, onwards and upwards. Joe continues to heal and be a changed man in a changed body. I get to dance between the discomfort of receiving praise and the squishy feeling I get when I’ve made something good.
It’s an absolute pleasure to get another award and it’s even more thrilling to get one for this particular film from such a great festival. Many thanks to all at ShAFF.

A Wealth like no Other


My working life has changed significantly over the past year. I am no longer just navigating the often stressful, uncertain world of freelance work, which I admit, has it’s perks and moments of brilliance.

Over a year ago now I stuck my neck out and applied for a job teaching film production in post 16 further education. It was an experiment at the time really, as an unqualified, largely self-taught filmmaker I felt I had little chance of getting the job but wanted to aim high. Now over a year has passed, I am a teacher for four days a week and I happily look back on how far I have come.

Teaching is hard. You have to be resilient, pick yourself up time and time again, come face to face with your own flaws, and somehow justify your place in an educational system that is constantly squeezed, shifted and jeopardised by cuts from politicians like Gove. You get some holidays but holy shit you have to work for them.

Although at times this stuff can dominate, I try to stay mindful of the personal things that teaching has given me. From the moment I walked in that door on my first day I had to learn to listen, be less selfish, more compassionate, more adaptable, open to different ways of thinking and being, to look at my own film work and consider it’s quality and importance. Without doubt, since I started teaching others, I have developed personal and professional qualities that I never imaged I would. It’s not for everyone, and it might not be forever, but I’m glad I stuck my neck out.

I now have a stable income which allows a little time to pursue the projects that re-kindle my love for film, which is a great thing. This is something I filmed in Sprint Mill a few months ago, with my friend Sam, whom I respect greatly for his raw style and the integrity of his ideas and beliefs. I hope you enjoy it.

In the Frame trailer on BMC TV!

Communications have been a little quiet recently as I have been in an editing frenzy at every possible opportunity. But the trailer has gone live and the film is nearly done! Bring on the premiere!