A guest at a meeting suggesting that I make him and the other male attendees drinks. A lawyer banging his fist on the table in front of the other male negotiators to silence me.

It takes time to shake off the effects of being silenced. Whether overt or subtle, sexist or not, the sudden impact is not unlike the five stages of bereavement: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and – acceptance?

First comes the stomach flip and the subsequent queasiness that ensues: “Did that just happen?” Then follows frustration and anger.  But it is the bargaining, depression and acceptance that are the most confronting.

Bargaining in this context for me, takes the form of a lively inner debate: an attempt to rationalise, excuse or shake-off an incident that more often than not resolves itself by attributing blame, shame or both at my own door rather than the perpetrator’s.   That resolution ensures that the incident is never spoken of openly, although it will occasionally resurface to nudge me towards negative introspection.

Depression nips at introspection’s heels when an inability to speak out safely, isolates.

John Boyd, a well-known military strategist and once Pentagon adviser identified this when he said in his 1987 lecture “The Strategic Game of Interaction and Isolation”:

“Interaction permits vitality and growth while isolation leads to decay and disintegration”.

What started with the leak of Trump’s “locker-room talk” audio and the manner of Clinton’s defeat, is now permeating through every layer of society in a post-Weinstein era, most recently, in the humanitarian aid sector. The conversation is no longer a solitary whisper, it is a marching chorus. “Did that just happen?” “Was it my fault?” and “Is it just me?”, has transitioned to: “It did just happen” “It wasn’t your fault” and: “Now, what are we going to do about it, together?”

Acceptance of the status quo is no longer an option.  Silencing others – and the desire to control and undermine that underpins it – can be challenged now that we have the space, the forum and the voice to do so.

But how?

Acceptance of others and alternative points of view is one of my #2018goals.  As a seasoned and scrappy negotiator, this is I can tell you one of the more challenging works in progress currently on my slate.

My version of acceptance does not mean submitting to conflicting viewpoints with a serene and benevolent smile.  It means listening to them, getting educated, finding precedents and trying to identify some kernel of commonality, where possible. Mostly, my version of acceptance means taking the time to reflect, throwing a sponge frustration brick at the wall and/or bending the ear of one of my inner safe circle of three.  This self-imposed time-out no longer includes negative introspection and self-flagellation. But it does provide a safe space to objectively assess the situation and the part that I played in it, as well as whilst in that space, identifying some less incendiary and more positive next steps.  Next steps more often than not lead to options and everybody, save the most steadfastly entrenched, prefers options to stalemate.

I was recently made aware of the Finnish word: “sisu”. A key proponent, Emilia Lahti,  wonderfully explains that sisu “…is often translated in to English as determination, guts, perseverance and the capacity to endure significant hardships…but ‘having sisu’ has the added dimension of doing so with integrity, honesty and humility.”

As silence and control are lowered in to the earth, sisu shoots emerge as the only stage required for an invigorated life philosophy to guide me through 2018 and beyond.

 

Image: Debark’s Doggy Etiquette by (c) Emma Topping.  All rights reserved.

Maya Angelo once said: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time”

That first call with a filmmaker, producer or studio interested in adapting an author’s work tends to play out in one of two ways: the “first date” approach where we cautiously, but politely, circle each other and take a sniff, leaving the bottom lines to the next call (or the lawyers); or the no-nonsense “straight-shoot” when I receive an impassioned pitch for the call’s duration that leaves me in no doubt of the speaker’s vision for the project – and his or her commercial terms.

Which works? Of course it depends on the work and the project, but really: it’s all about the delivery.

Dog lovers will tell you numerously (because it’s true), that you can learn a lot from our furry friends – and watching Koni interact with other dogs is indeed an education.  Being an all white Japanese Akita with alert ears and a curled tail, although kind and loyal if approached correctly, Koni simultaneously exudes authority and a touch of haughtiness. Those that courteously greet her adhering to the rules of “Debark’s Doggy Etiquette” (© Emma Topping) are received well. Those that charge Koni at full pelt barking excitedly regardless of intent without giving her an opportunity to assess or engage, tend to be less successful.

So back to that initial call: whether it’s a first date, a straight-shoot or a first date straight-shoot (when you better have a few night hours dedicated to working on LA time): whilst attention should be paid to what is being said, it is the way that those words are delivered and the openness to receiving and hearing a counter point of view, that really reveals whether a successful collaboration is possible.

In a recent IndieWire article, Ben Travers recounts the following statement by Jack Bender, director of the critically acclaimed television adaptation of Stephen King’s “Mr Mercedes”: “Stephen’s very unobtrusive…When he trusts somebody, [he] lets them take his project.”

And it is genuine and mutually respectful collaboration between author, filmmaker, producer and studio that creates that trust.

Image © Emma Topping.  All rights reserved.

It’s usually at this time of year as I pack away my summer wardrobe: cool sport-luxe as I like to call it, or rather “trainers with everything” and dust off and shake out my winter version (with jumper), that I start to think about how the year has been going and what I can start doing now to set the tone for next year.

Typically, I’ll have just returned from a glorious round trip adventure: Brighton – Lakes – Belfast and this year was no exception.   The image above was captured at the tip of Lake Windermere just as the sun was setting, bathing Koni (aka Bear) and I in a surreal glow that felt more like an studio set than Beatrix Potter’s rugged land.

Safely ensconced in my childhood Belfast bedroom with dear family, friends and Bear by my side and without the relentless familiarity of the noise and bustle of my commuting week to London, a plan took hold:  simplify, de-clutter, shut out the noise.  Reset.

I heard someone shout “Reset!” for the first time earlier this year when I was lucky enough to attend a night shoot on a feature currently in production.  Nodding knowingly (but knowing nothing), I looked about and shuffled a little in line with what those around me were doing in response.  Ridiculously, really, since as it turns out this is a term that the 1st AD (Assistant Director, don’t you know) calls out to actors and actresses, telling them to go back to where they were at the start of the scene to do it again.

I may have returned to Brighton and the weekly commute to London, but this year my annual pilgrimage to Belfast via the Lakes and that inspiring night shoot have galvanised me towards a reset.

And so, with my first monthly blog I launch (rather grandly) my new logo and website, blending business and creative, reflecting my commitment and enjoyment to the business of making films, television shows and stage shows, almost as much as watching them and showcasing two authors that I am excited to represent in respect of book to film, television and stage adaptations.

In the words of Beatrix Potter:  “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.”

Quite.