The Early Years
My story began some 34 years ago as the youngest of three children in a loving family in Essex. My dad was a printer by trade and my mother was a devoted homemaker, which occasionally meant she would have to stack shelves in the local supermarket to make ends meet.
My parents always did the best with what they had which sometimes was not as much as they would have liked. When I was 10, after my dad was made redundant again, they took a big leap to move us to the Hampshire countryside to become shopkeepers, in a bid to improve the quality of our lives.
They taught me most of what I call the useful stuff, my mother taught me to read and write before going to school, while my dad taught me how to fix things, approach problems and build stuff, which in turn instilled in me a work ethic that I still have today. I feel this is one of my greatest character traits, along with my mother’s skill of listening.
My brother David and sister Helen were like any other siblings; together we fought, teased each other, played games, rode our bikes and caused countless headaches for our parents. We also loved one another, which was most apparent with how we all dealt with David’s epilepsy, as no matter what was happening at the time my brother’s illness always came first.
David had suffered from epilepsy for most of life and we had all supported him through various treatments and therapies. On reflection this drew us closer as a family as we focused on the wellbeing of our brother. All I can truly remember is how the love for my brother and the concern for his welfare would cut though every other emotion I had, it was so pure and it would take over my entire being to make sure he was safe, even if we were fighting.
Aged 24, David failed to wake up after suffering an epileptic fit in the night, a fit I normally would have heard had I been in my bedroom, but sadly I was not. I had been out all night clubbing and ended up sleeping in my car on the drive having been locked out. My dad woke me at 6am and I crawled into my bed but little over an hour later I was woken by the distressed voice of my mother calling for my brother to wake up.
With the increase in pitch becoming alarming I leapt from my bed to find my brother unconscious and blue. As my mother cradled him and begged him to wake I ran to call an ambulance. After giving them the details and recounting the facts, while still on the phone I knew it was already over and I began to break down.
We all accepted my brother’s condition but none of us thought he would die from it, SUDEP or Sudden Unexpected Death In Epilepsy was a complete shock to us all and it would take years before I felt normal again.
What I felt that day and in the weeks and months that followed were the purest and strongest emotions I had ever felt; if emotions were like punches then these had floored me. Before this, pain or sadness was a petty argument or a girl dumping me in the playground.
Now, though, my emotions had grown. Relatively, the highs would be higher because the lows were now that much lower. With time I would come to understand this had widened my spectrum of emotions and had given me a greater insight into the human condition and a new understanding of pain.
This traumatic event also sparked something deep within me that I would later learn to recognise as my truth. A voice inside was now making itself heard and was now compelling to pursue the most daunting path. The first thing this voice was suggesting, was to travel. So I decided within months after David had died that I would go travelling. This was to be my call to adventure.
My First Adventure
There is, however, a large gap between the thought of going travelling and actually going travelling. I spent the next 12 months talking about going travelling, made some petty attempts to save money and sell the idea to some friends, but it was only after my dad’s mate John sarcastically said to me “James, some people talk about doing stuff while other people do stuff” that I finally found the strength to march into the travel agency, book my flights and to begin my journey.
Travelling opened me up to a sense of adventure. It taught me about being in the moment, it rekindled my passion for learning and inspired me to buy and read my first book. At school I never read the books I was told to. I found no pleasure in reading what people told me to read and so lost my desire to learn. Now, though, having experienced a little of the world, driven from Canada to Mexico with a wonderful friend, I found that I wanted to learn again. I was asking why of life and I wanted answers.
I walked into the bookstore in LAX (Los Angeles) airport before boarding my flight to Fiji having said a tear-filled goodbye to my friend and, as simple as 1,2,3, I spotted a red book, picked it up and read, What Should I Do With My Life? A book by Po Bronson and in that moment I knew that this book was for me. I paid for it and left feeling excited at what lay ahead.
It was the most inspiring book I had read in my life and still is in many ways. Reading the true life stories of people who have dared to ask the ultimate question of themselves. It was so nourishing that it filled me with hope that one day I would find my answer. The question of what I should do with my life was now firmly fixed in my head.
The quest to find my purpose had begun and while travelling I met my first great love who taught me that art and creativity are essential expressions, not just career choices. Through her life story and upbringing I found inspiration to follow my artistic passion, no matter if it would be hard to get a job or not. The fear of regret was now greater than the fear of failure, I had to give it a go or I would be forever regretting my choice not to.
Becoming An Artist
After travelling I went to university to study TV and Film and although I did not have the conventional entry requirements, I had done work experience with the course director who I met through a neighbour who worked as a dentist, but who also owned an outside broadcast TV truck. My luck didn’t end there though. The dentist was also acquainted with the top man at ITV Meridian and the top man at BBC Southampton (where I had also done work experience) as they were all neighbours in the same village as my family’s shop.
Luck also struck again when in the first summer off from uni, it happened that the ITV Meridian man walked into my parent’s shop with an ITV T-shirt on. My dad asked him for a business card and told him I was studying media and he graciously said I should send him my CV. I applied for what I thought was going to be more work experience. I attended an interview, only to find out later when I received a call from the HR department, that I was to be offered a full-time trainee position with ITV News.
Although I had thought about getting a job, I didn’t think it would come so quickly and it was not an easy decision to make in deciding whether to take it. I took advice from everyone including the incoming course director who happened to be a former ITV News employee and after speaking to him I knew what I had to do. I had gone to uni as a mature student, I had gone to explore my passion and it did not take long for the universe to reward that action with an amazing full-time job, I felt for the first time that I had made the right choice in exploring my potential as a creative.
I took the job, quit university and felt excited at what lay ahead. I was trained in all aspects of live studio production, from floor management to vision mixing and directing, later progressing to drive and operate the satellite truck and working as a location cameraman. It was an amazing experience, taught me lots and took my camera skills to another level. But after five years I had to come to the creative limit and felt quite low after having spent those years telling mainly uninspiring stories of what’s breaking down in the world.
So in 2009 I took early redundancy and plunged into the world of a self-employed creative. I started without a single client. I did however have a few thousand pounds of redundancy money but had no idea what I was going to do with it. This was again a great leap into the unknown, an action that I felt was right even though logic and reason was saying otherwise.
After a month or so of being a plumber’s mate, a job I took in the meantime to make ends meet, I got a call from a company who had given me some work experience while at uni. This was yet another serendipitous event, simply being in the right place at the right time. Here was a company offering me my first self-employed work, two weeks in the USA and Canada and twice the wage I was making as a plumber’s mate. It felt like a message from the universe, a sign of what was to come and for the third time in my life I felt I had made the right choice by taking a leap into the unknown.
There is a saying as a freelancer that you are only as good as your last job, which means that you are always being reviewed. This turned out well for me as the cameraman I was assisting ended up giving me more work, which resulted in a move back to London from Hampshire. Now living in London, earning a good wage but only working 1-2 days a week, I found I had lots of free time and would often stay in bed all day playing video games and watching YouTube films which resulted in mild depression. I say mild, as is was not diagnosed. but I was unhappy and had a very negative perception of the world.
I was low at the feeling of not having purpose in my life. I had met my needs, earned enough to pay the bills and still had 3 weeks of the month to go. This spare time caused me to question everything and left me feeling uncertain about life and my place within it. I felt lost and I needed to find my self. Over that year, I had begun to watch the same YouTube channels, filmmakers who were challenging the status quo and often going toe-to-toe with police and security guards. These films were firstly entertaining but later would become the catalyst and motivation for my next call to adventure.
Although depressed at my life and the state of the world, I had successfully completed two full years of being self-employed, I had met my needs and paid my bills without spending any of my redundancy money. This realisation caused me to think about investing the money in order to gain more value from it.
I spent months thinking about how and what to invest in and was fairly close to investing in and Isa or pension scheme. I happened to catch sight of a horoscope from the well-known astrologer Jonathan Cainer. It said something like, “Now is the time to invest in yourself to develop your true value.” This triggered the realisation that although I wanted to be a filmmaker I did not own a camera. My truthful voice had spoken again and was compelling me along another unknown path. Within months I was making some of the largest purchases I have ever made and I invested in a camera kit and edit suite, purely on the basis of exploring life and my place within it.
Living My Dream
Buying a camera was yet another great leap and another call to action because no sooner had I made the leap and bought the camera, that I then had to ask myself what kind of films I wanted to make. I had learned from my time in news that I wanted to share a more positive story, a story yet to break into the mainstream and a story that would inspire people to want to tell better stories of themselves.
So I set up my first YouTube channel (Gorilla Film Maker Now) and began to make whatever my heart led me to which initially was a festival where I serendipitously met Jonathan Cainer once again who, like my dad’s plumbers mate before him, had been my call to action. This confirmed to me that my new leap into the unknown was the right choice. The universe had taken little over a month to quash any fear I had and I felt excited at what lay ahead. Once again my journey had evolved, I had taken a leap into the unknown and once again the universe had rewarded me for it.
Over the next few years I learned how to make films, and I met some of the UK’s most inspiring activists. I have had the pleasure of meeting people who are dedicating their lives to improving themselves and the world around them. I have made many films for charities, community events, festivals and generally anyone I have felt is making the world a better place. To date my films have had millions of hits and they have helped many organisations and charities secure funding and donations worth over a million pounds. They have helped share a more positive story of self that reflects our unity with people and planet.
Over time themes began to emerge and patterns became clearer, I could see that although the subjects varied, my questions and style remained the same. I began to be affected by my films and I began to realise that I was already shooting the film of my life and through asking what kind of films I wanted to make I realised I was asking the same question of my life.
My Path To Enlightenment
Up until this point my range of choices as to how I might live my life was distorted by the thought that I needed a job, the thought that I needed to perform tasks for others in order to live, which was something I felt was expected of me. Nearly everyone I knew growing up was a worker, from my parents to the milkman and the teachers at school, everyone was working for a wage and so naturally this is also what I thought I should be doing. I needed to earn a living, an idea I now know to be toxic to the art of creation.
Now though, having seen life through my camera lens, I have met people doing quite the opposite. In general the people I have met have all made great leaps into the unknown. They have let go of what was expected of them, which sometimes meant leaving very highly paid jobs, to pursue what they felt was their destiny. This often meant earning very little to begin with. Sometimes this resulted in homelessness. One man’s actual leap of faith even resulted in the loss of a limb, which almost cost him his life but which he now attributes to resulting in worst and best day of his life, as this led to greater, more fulfilling experiences for him.
What truly unites these people is that they are each on their own hero’s journey. From Jesus to Luke Skywalker, Gandhi to Mandela, all great heroes, mythical and real, follow a similar path. They are normal people who embark on a journey of self-discovery, get called upon to act, and then set about to become the hero only they can be.
Through the films I have made and the incredible stories I have told, I learned that I could be anything I wanted to be and do anything I wanted to do. My life is mine to do with as I choose. Strangely, through this portal of being a filmmaker I have discovered my gift and now I want to share what I have learned and show everyone my unique perspective on life.
I now know that I am here to help tell a more compelling, loving and sustainable story of self. I am here to help shift the cultural narrative from unsustainable selfish greed to self-sustaining and sharing freely. The stories I tell are to help us all find or clarify our story, to help everyone discover their gifts and hopefully inspire them to share it.
What’s Your Story? is the true-life film of people who are daring to ask the ultimate question. It sets up the power of personal stories, how they shape society, how we need to change the current narrative and powerful is the act of sharing our personal stories with people who are listening. It’s both a way of healing ourselves, and also a way to find solutions to how we heal our communities and environment.
So with over 10 years’ experience in professional filmmaking, many years of personal development and social activism, armed with my camera I am setting off once again in search of the immediate experience of life, to find people who have dared to ask life’s ultimate question.
I want to find out what makes people live the way they do and I want to share that with everyone so that we may all learn and grow from each other’s experience and perspective, helping us all tell a more compelling story of self, one which encompasses the whole.
Through sharing and listening to each other’s stories and experience we not only make everyone feel like a valued member of society we also help drive innovation, as though sharing our thoughts and ideas we will be able to harvest more wisdom from our collective intelligence.
Together we are stronger and through changing our story we can change the world.
This is my story but more importantly, what will your story be?