People to People – stories I considered

The People to People project is quite a challenge. For the last 5 weeks I have been thinking about possible stories, and most of them turned out to not fit into some or all the project requirements, or didn’t seem practical/feasable. Some of the people I asked and they simply said ‘no’ – which I consider to be primarily my fault – I didn’t approach them in a right way. Anyway, here are my ideas for the project:

My Pakistani Landlord

The first idea that came to my mind, while still in the lecture, was my landlord – he is Pakistani, recently got married in Birmingham, and drives every day between Coventry and Birmingham – he is still working in Coventry, but his wife’s house is in B’ham. He is a programmer, working for some government agency, and is generally a very nice and friendly person. I was thinking about interviewing him about what it is like to be a landlord, what problems he faces, what culture differences he has noticed between his culture, the British culture and his tenants. It so happened that all the tenants in his house come from from Eastern Europe – Bulgaria, Poland, Lithuania – so our cultures are a bit similar, but very different to the British and Pakistani cultures.

I scrapped the idea at an early stage, because at the same time the People to People project was running, we decided to shoot the short film for 162MC in the house. So it wouldn’t make sense to engage my landlord with two projects at the same time – it is enough he trusted me to use his house as a film set, so I decided that was enough for now.

My Indian friend

When I first arrived in the UK for the Coventry University International Welcome Week, still at the airport, I met a very interesting Indian student. During the Welcome Week we became close friends, found similar interests, etc. He is 29, currently studies MBA in Sport Management, after 7 years experience in an Indian and then US devision of a financial company, part of the GE financial group, where he was a successful marketing and financial consultant. When he was a teenager, he used to be a professional cricket player (cricket is a very big thing in India), gaining success at national championships, as well as coaching at his college. Unfortunately, an incident with his legs forced him to quit his sports career, leaving him not able to walk for more than a year. His determination and spirit helped him through this hard episode of his life, and even though he can’t get involved with cricket anymore, he can now walk and even run again, and is studying a Master’s degree here.

I decided it wasn’t appropriate to go ahead with this idea first because it would be cheating – he is a student, and it was explicitly said that our stories should not be about students or members of academic staff. The other reason was that he still doesn’t feel very comfortable speaking about his incident – and, most importantly, he doesn’t want to be seen as a ‘handicapped’ person, and does’t want people’s pity or condescension. So I didn’t even bring up the subject.

The retired bus driver / hobby photographer I met at the Transport Museum

During one of my visits at the Transport Museum, I met a hobby photographer and started talking with him about cameras, cars, his last job as a bus driver, etc. At some point, I brought up the People to People project and asked him if he would like to be filmed in a documentary. And at the moment I said it, I felt how wrong it was. He immediately changed his attitude, lost the smile on his face, and generally felt threatened. Cameras are scary… I lost a story, but most importantly, I lost a friend.

The Somalian guy I wrote about

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my strange encounter at a bus stop. It was a Somalian guy who I had met before in Coventry. Unfortunately, I didn’t think enough what I was doing, and instead of trying to gradually develop a relationship with him and eventually bringing up the question about the documentary, I asked him too early. Of course, that was not a good strategy, and I ended up losing him both for the project, as well as losing the chance to simply connect with him on a human level.

As I was telling about it and what went wrong, I got probably the most important piece of advice I have been given this year – Chris Hammond said: ‘Imagine you are on a first date with a guy. Would you ask him to marry you on the first date? And what would you think of him if he says ‘yes’? In order to film someone’s emotions on camera, you need to have gained their trust. And that happens slowly.’ This example was exactly what I needed to understand my mistake – so thank you, Chris, for this one 🙂

The delivery guy – a Bulgarian friend of mine

One of the interesting ideas I had was to make a documentary about a friend of mine who currently lives in London and is trying to start his own delivery business. I know him from a project we were working on together in his and my last jobs in Bulgaria. It turned out we were quite a good team, the project was very successful, and we became friends. What was more interesting – we both left our companies last summer to come to the UK. He – to start his own business, and I – to study. I even spent my first day in the UK travelling with him on one of his long distance deliveries, and I thought it would be interesting to show a day in his life on the road in a short documentary.

I recently brought up the subject, and apparently, he would be OK to be part of such a project. But since it is supposed to be a group project and it would involve people and equipment travelling, I think it is not practical to do it. Still, I think this is a story worth telling, and I will try to find a way to do it individually. The good thing here is that my friend likes these types of things, he is very easy going and relaxed, and I think it could turn out quite well. So the story is on hold for now, but I am definitely thinking about how I could make it.

The lolipop lady

There is a school halfway between my house and University. When I cross the road early in the morning or in the afternoon, there is a ‘traffic lady’ helping kids cross by stopping cars with a STOP sign. I try to cross the road there everytime I can, especially when she is on duty. At first, I felt strange that she is helping me cross and stopping the cars for me even though I am not a child, but then I just thought that she either does it for everyone because this is her job, or she is doing it because she enjoys it. Either way, I think she is a lovely character, and since she is helping me, I always try to thank her and tell her ‘Have a nice day’ or something like that. She is always nice and smiling, even in the winter with the cold mornings and snowy evenings, she was still friendly and helpful. Recently, we have also started to have a quick chat about the weather, and I think it is lovely. It is always nice to know that there is someone halfway through your way that you can smile to and wish a nice day.

So I think the lolipop lady could be a lovely character for a short documentary – there could also be nice imagery of her helping children cross the road, smiling at them, waving goodbye etc. However, I still think it is very early to ask her anything about it, so this won’t be my People to People project. I want to develop a relationship with her, because I am generally interested in her – not because I have an assignment to work on. This is also the reason I don’t want to force things. And even if I decide I could make a film with her, I would have to be very careful about how I approach her – maybe tell her I am making a documentary about people working in the public sector, and collecting their opinions on a popular subject, she being one of them. I think this would be a better way to approach a person – instead of making them feel as the centre of attention and stressing them (because it is very stressful), I could simply say they would be one of lots of other people I would be interviewing. This way, they would still feel significant, and that their opinion counts, but not too scared that all eyes are on them. Which takes me to the thought that if I do make such a project, it would need to involve more people. Leaving in on hold for now, but I will give the idea more thought later on.

A blogger in Coventry

This is just a simple idea I got one day as I was walking back home. Since I know my way around the online and blogging world, I think it could be interesting to try and contact a blogger that is based in Coventry. Bloggers tend to be people who like attention and want their voices heard (otherwise they wouldn’t write so passionately about their lives or beliefs), so it could turn out easier to approach and try and make a film about a blogger. What is more – because their personas are more popular online, there is a hidden ‘offline’ personality which could be quite interesting. I haven’t started working on this idea, and would probably not work on it in the near weeks, but I think it is worth considering for a future project.

The project I will be working on – the police officer responsible for Coventry University

I ended up without a single working idea on the day we had to be allocated into groups, so I will be working on someone else’s project – Sunil Singh’s group. I haven’t worked with any of the guys, so I am facing yet another challenge. The good thing is that we quickly found out I could contribute to the group efforts with my skills in sound recording – they said sound has always been their biggest problem in previous production assignments. We are still in the process of clearing out the idea and plan for the film.

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