Turtle History: Why Do We Fall?

Turtle History is an exploration of how Turtle Canyon Media came to be and a chance for each Turtle to reminisce. Al steps up to the plate first…

 WHY DO WE FALL?

Eleven years ago, in a public park in Amersham, I was running an unbalanced mic cable from a £4.99 microphone through my sixth form jacket and into a flimsy mini-disc player while my dear friend Andrew searched for a suitable hiding place behind a bush. Once we were in position, Andrew hit record on my prized mini DV camera, proudly purchased only six months earlier with some inheritance money. I, dressed vaguely as an Australian approached an unsuspecting member of the public and proceeded to produce a quite horrendous noise through a didgeridoo into his face, he stood, perplexed and still while I “played” my didgeridoo, and then placed a pound coin into my outstretched hand.

This was repeated three or four times until I felt we had something worth using for our (not entirely original) hidden camera show, imaginatively titled: “Unleashed”.

I probably should have been at school. Specifically, I probably should have been in English Literature. I probably should have been at school in English Literature reading and deciphering Jane Austen’s Emma with the rest of my class. Only, the way I saw it, I‘d watched “Clueless” – I practically knew it off by heart – so to grasp “Emma” would require a minimum amount of my attention. On top of that, as a teenager I didn’t much care for my classmates, classroom or the lifeless institution that housed them, so I decided that spending the day bewildering unsuspecting members of the Amersham public was a much better use of my time.

We found one problem though, on reviewing the footage, all you could see was me! No clear reaction from my victim, nothing to cut to at all, it was clear, for Unleashed to be the groundbreaking and hilarious copy of Trigger Happy TV I thought it could be, we were going to need a second camera.

Stuart Laws had been peripherally near me on and off since we were seven years old, and now, ten years later, we were, at best, acquaintances. We shared a class or two, we had our own friendship groups and, through no fault of our own, we hadn’t needed each other to get thru school at this point, but as it turned out, Stuart had simultaneously been out and about during the day filming one or two stunts on his newly acquired mini DV camera too.

To us, it soon became clear, what would be better than two single camera hidden camera shows in the same place? The answer was clearer, ONE hidden camera show, filmed on two cameras… in the same place. A partnership was born that day and so far, it’s going quite well.

We even made a sequel…

Some months later, I was sat in a room with about fifteen other 17 year old boys and what they call a “div tutor”. This was my school’s old-fashioned and meaningless attempt to differentiate sixth form “divisions” from school “forms”, a deception designed to convince those in the sixth form that they DID have a choice to be there and DID have more respect and responsibility for their study, now that they were part of a division, the truth was somewhat different, but that’s another story.

The other fourteen young men were diligently and unquestioningly filling out what I believe is (or at least was) called a UCAS form. Having not filled one out, or actually seen one, I imagine it’s a series of outlined boxes in which one describes why they fit the particular mould that their university of “choice” requires them to.

I was happily listening to something noisy on my minidisc player and attempting to defy gravity with my chair, probably thinking about why no one can produce an accurate “official” Michael Myers mask and wondering why no one making the sequels could ever produce an accurate replica of the original either. My div tutor would occasionally look up at me, and around the room, comparing me silently to everyone else, he would huff and return to his paperwork. This happened a few times before he finally slammed his pen onto his desk and angrily called me up to talk with him, it went something like this:

 “Ali, what do you think your doing?”

“Nothing really, haven’t got anything to do.”

“Why? I seriously doubt you’ve finished your UCAS.”

“Yeah, I’m not doing one”

“Why not?”

“I’m not going to University”

“Don’t be ridiculous, what are you going to do instead?”

“Well, I’m going to hopefully start working as a runner for a television company based near my house, but was also considering working freelance doing camera work and small productions. I’ve invested some of my grandparent’s generous inheritance money in a camera and some editing equipment and with these plans I hope to advance my career in film and television production”     NB: I probably wasn’t this articulate but you get the idea.

“Right, and when that fails, what will you have to fall back on?”

“I wasn’t planning on failing”

“This is ridiculous, everyone needs to go to university, that’s all very well, but you need a back up, look at Roger, he’s going to read History, he’ll be set for life”

“Hmm, I’m going to leave now”

I left the room, because at the time, as a slightly pretentious and angry chap, I had convinced myself that “he’d better leave it, or I’ll punch him”. Probably, if it had come down to it, I would have just cried a little bit and got a migraine. Nevertheless, I can’t blame him for this exchange, this was our school’s policy on 18-year-old leavers, indeed it seems to have become this country’s policy on school leavers, certainly from the education sector’s stand point but again, that’s another story.

I should be clear, I am not decrying anyone’s decision to go to University for whatever reason they may choose to, but I knew in 2002 that it was not the right choice for me, and I was right. My objection was that there were far too many people around me who would prefer that I not have a choice. My school always has been, and is to this day, quite unashamedly proud of how many of their school leavers not only go on to university, but especially how many go on to two particular universities. They make this quite clear on their gold-lettered oak boards mounted proudly in their school hall with names of those who “made it to Oxbridge” from the past 20 years, although personally I doubt they have any clue or interest in what happens to those people after obtaining their degree.  When someone comes along with a plan to go to work rather than university, they aren’t too pleased.

So I did my exams, I even managed to get an A in the paper about “Emma” as it happens, although I’ve still never read it. I left school and was soon offered a job as a runner working at a truly wonderful company over at Pinewood Studios. They were so good to me, and I suddenly loved getting up in the morning, I had things to do, I had responsibilities, deadlines, a boss. To this day I can still remember the cast of teletubbies’ hot drink orders. I LOVED that job and it taught me more in a few short months than I can remember learning in 13 years of school.

In October of 2002 I got a call out of the blue from the headteacher of a local school. He happened to have been the headteacher of my primary school growing up and had heard from my mum that I had some equipment and some interest in video production. He had been given some money by the arts council to get a film made about a day in the life of his school. My running work being freelance and variable, I was only too happy to take this project on as well. On Sunday that week my Dad and I went to McDonalds for lunch and he’d clearly been “thinking”. He was convinced that I might be able to set up a business making films like this for more than just one person, he thought I could actually turn this into a job! My worry was that I wouldn’t be able to handle it by myself, it just seemed a bit too scary to me. My dad said, “Ask Stuart to go in with you”. I explained that, as much as I’d love to, Stuart had decided to go to university, he was going to be studying film and would be leaving in a matter of days. Dad shrugged and gave me a look that I interpreted as, “it’s worth a shot”.

I called Stuart later that evening, as I had decided that it was indeed “worth a shot”:

“Alright mate, it’s me.”

“Hello!”

“So, I’ve been offered some freelance work doing a video for a school, a documentary for my old headteacher, you remember him from Tilehouse?”

“Good for you, that sounds cool”

“Yeah… it could be, my dad thinks I should go into business doing that sort of thing, um, I know you’re going to University next week, but I don’t suppose you’d prefer to NOT go and we could start a business doing that instead, I need you, I can’t do it on my own.”

“Yeah, ok. Nice one. I’ll come over tomorrow and we’ll set it up”

“Cheers mate”

Soon enough we were in pre-production on a big job for education and accelerated learning company, ALITE. They contracted Stuart and I, now trading as Direct Digital Pictures, to produce a series of 9 DVD films in which we would interview 6 participants, people who had overcome struggles in life and had made something special happen for themselves. Working on this project was an inspiration to us in itself. Aside from being a great early job, and the money it brought in for us, we met some truly inspirational people and solidified a relationship with a client who we worked with for many years to come and are good friends with today. Interestingly enough, one of the participants was a man named Renaldo Lawrence, who we caught up with again only last week to discuss an up-coming project – a great example of the lasting relationships we have always taken pride in since we started this job.

Direct Digital Pictures went from strength to strength. After three years we’d made countless videos and films, had some wonderful, loyal and satisfied customers and had managed to produce, direct and star in a full-length feature film funded entirely by ourselves. We were excited to move forward. As much as we loved having a bed in our office (Mum and Dad’s spare room), Stuart and I decided it was time to take some office space at Pinewood Studios. We secured a small loan from our bank (yeah, you could borrow money back then). We moved in, bought some more equipment, tidied up, met the neighbours… and all our work dried up.

One way or another, 90% of our clients simply didn’t need, couldn’t afford or didn’t want any more videos made. Suddenly we were in the position we hadn’t found ourselves time to be in before: we needed new clients, we needed to make things happen for ourselves, but quite honestly, we didn’t know how. The next two years were pretty tough, there were many times when we would sit together and come pretty close to giving it all up. It just wasn’t working anymore. We have our parents and partners to thank for us not doing so, such wonderfully wonderfully supportive people who refused to give up on DDP even when we were ready to.

Something had to give, something had to change and somehow we had to find a catalyst that would allow us to recover. That catalyst would be Becoming Batman – a batalyst if you will…

We’d been talking about doing a series of spoof web videos about Stuart becoming batman for a while, we just couldn’t nail a good starting point, and then we were given one. The article printed by the Buckinghamshire advertiser calling for a Batman to protect Chalfont St. Peter was real, and it appeared exactly when we needed it to. This article gave us what we needed to get things started, and Stuart and I found ourselves in a similar predicament as we had back in 2001… we needed someone else to hold the camera.

We’d met Nick a few months previously. Something about talking with Nick felt right, he was working as a freelance editor and producer with Omnivision at the time, and the more we all got to know each other, the more we found we had in common. One of the things we had in common was a penchant for a cheeky cup of coffee. Omnivision and Direct Digital Pictures were two flights of stairs away from each other at this point and up at DDP we had the luxury of a coffee machine right there in the edit suite. As Stuart and I often had little to do at this point, we would make quite a lot of coffee, and soon, every time the coffee would go on, we’d give Nick a courtesy call, over the months, it became inevitable, that if Stuart, Nick and I were all to go on in this business, somehow, we should do it together.  The first season of Becoming Batman was born out of that decision.

Nick had a client, a client who was becoming busier and busier when he bumped into me at Pinewood. He needed more editors on site who would be able to take up some of the work he had coming in with increasing regularity. After a meeting or three, Direct Digital Pictures was to become a new supplier to that client. The problem/great thing was, it got to be more and more work, the work Nick couldn’t take on would go to us, the work we couldn’t take on would go back to Nick, the pesky thing about this situation was those two flights of stairs.  Once again, it was time to have a serious think about the way forward. Within three weeks, Direct Digital Pictures was no more. This was a new start, this was our future, Stuart, Nick and I were to become Turtle Canyon Media.

The future is looking pretty good, we have increased our operation steadily in the past 3 years, have taken on new staff, have worked with a huge range of brilliant clients and are simultaneously moving our business in the corporate and the creative world and everything in between. Short films, TV pilots and full-length features are all on the horizon. Unique, exciting and groundbreaking corporate productions are coming out of the Canyon at all times. Just like so many times before, our realisation that we need one more camera has evolved again, we need another business, that business is Turtle Canyon Media USA, and it’s coming right up.

Oh by the way:

Tinky Winky: Cappuccino

Dipsy: Cappuccino

Laa Laa: Double Espresso

Po: Herbal Tea, something fruity please!

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4 responses to “Turtle History: Why Do We Fall?

  1. Well done.

    Anyone who really knows you always would have known you were destined for great things.

    Congratulations on your adventure so far and the adventures still to come.

  2. P.S. Loving the Batman reference in your blog title (not missed by me). Also, I still have a VHS copy of Unleashed… worth a fortune one day.

  3. legendary. This was your calling from the day i ran into a phonebooth door in order for you to capture it on camera as part of unleashed. You both always had the spark and creativity that others lacked.

    I wish you and the team the greatest success and am proud to have been a ‘small’ part of your history 😀

    Congrats guys!

  4. I’m proud to say I have the Unleashed soundtrack… and prouder still to call you my friend.

    This wonderful little retospective couldn’t be more Al, nor more inspiring. I’m so, so happy for you and all that you’ve achieved, and I wish you – and all the turtles – all the success in the world.

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