Tommy Flavin: Relax lads, God’s in control
A few years ago, I was making my first documentary in Africa. As you can imagine, this was a terrifying and exciting experience in equal measure. I had no idea what I was doing, what the story I was trying to tell was, or how I was even supposed to tell it. All I had for guidance was a copy of Herzog On Herzog I’d nicked from the college library and a notebook stuffed with quotes from different filmmakers (my flatmate observed before my departure that, in my nervousness, I had become a walking desk calendar, spewing inspirational quotes for comfort). It’s probably no surprise to you that I’ve never had as much fun making a documentary since.
But three weeks is a long time and we had our bad days. I remember one day in particular- midday had come and gone and we were still wandering around aimlessly having shot absolutely nothing. The crew, too, were unmotivated and unfussed at the prospect of a day’s shooting wasted. I was growing increasingly irritated and desperate. We were getting nowhere.
Then, as we drove through one of the poorest slums in the world, I caught sight of a slogan painted in huge letters on the side of a house: RELAX GOD IS IN CONTROL
So I relaxed. And, lo and behold, not half an hour later, we’d found a young man who wanted to talk to us and we’d shot some fabulous material full of life and story. Now, the lesson here isn’t that God is going to help you make your film. God hates filmmakers. No, the lesson is to relax. At its best, documentary is a state of mind. When one is relaxed, connected and receptive, then and only then, will you find your story. If you’re panicked, nervous and desperate, then story will run from you. If you reach out and grasp it, it’ll disappear in your hands. Truly great stories come to you when they’re ready, not when you’re hunting them. This might sound like hippy bullshit, and I’d be the first to rip the piss out of me for saying it, but I’ve found time and time again that it’s the only way to make documentaries. That by making ourselves receptive to the world, by abandoning our ego and sense of control, and by having faith, then we can be gifted with great stories. Only when we relax, and accept that God, or Providence, or Fate or Whatever is in control. There’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere if you’re bothered.