Back in the nineties I decided to pack my job in and have a last ditch attempt to break into TV by enrolling on a video production course in Manchester.
It was at a place called the WFA which, if I remember correctly stood for the Workers Film Association. It was a rather left wing place too as you can guess from the name, and certainly it wouldn’t have been a good idea to say you admired Mrs Thatcher!
To get a place on the course I had to give a presentation on a media subject. I chose working class representation in film and television and spoke about the kitchen sink movie dramas of the sixties and seventies, (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A Kind of Loving, Alfie, and so on) the TV soaps of the nineties (Coronation Street, Eastenders, and Brookside) and how contemporary British movies were then, and now I suppose, very middle class, (Four Weddings and A Funeral and Notting Hill for example.)
On the very first day we had to introduce ourselves and explain why we were on the course. I gave a quick resume of myself and my career, a re-hash of the above presentation and a quick mention of my film making heroes from Billy Wilder to Oliver Stone. I was somewhat surprised to say the least when the next candidate said he had just bought a video camera and wanted to know how to work it and then someone else said they knew nothing about video but wanted to know more. Well, I wonder what film making subject they chose for their presentation!
Our movie was about taxi drivers and after a brief introduction to the camera we were off into Manchester to start interviewing taxi drivers and filming the comings and goings of cabs in the City Centre. A big issue for Manchester cabbies at the time was that the city council was enforcing a new ruling about cabs being wheelchair accessible which meant either a new cab or a costly conversion. Every taxi driver we spoke to mentioned this and they were clearly upset about it. Another thing they pulled me up on was when I dared to call a private hire vehicle a taxi! Dear me no! Didn’t I know taxis and private hire vehicles were two entirely different things? Apparently not!
Another issue that came up was when we screened our rough cut for the whole media school. One taxi driver mentioned that certain places in the city were dangerous to go to as there was the possibility of passengers making off without paying or even robbing the drivers. The cabbie mentioned Moss Side, close to the city centre. One member of the audience complained that the driver was racist as Moss Side is a predominantly black area. I didn’t think he was racist; he just didn’t want to be robbed or lose a cab fare whether the passenger was black or white. My co-directors wanted to cut the offending moment but really the cabbie was just trying to highlight the risk factor in his job.
At the end of the course I took away my video and started pestering documentary producers for the chance to make a full length broadcast version but I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere until I wrote to channel 4. I went down to see them, they watched the video and the first thing they said to me was ‘Why didn’t you get in the cab with your camera?’
Well, we had asked taxi drivers if we could do that and they did say ok but if a passenger wanted us out then we would have to get out, no matter where we were, so rather than risk being stranded somewhere we didn’t take any rides in the cab. On hearing this the Channel 4 producer looked at me and said ‘If you were a real film maker you’d have got in that taxi!’ After that, despite my protests and assurance that I would get in the taxi when fully commissioned, numerous assistants arose, handed me my video and quite quickly I found myself out on the street!
That was my part of my brief foray into television. I’ll let you know more in another blog, however if you’re interested in seeing my Taxi video; here it is;
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