• Mark Caldwell

My Year Out of Cinematography

Let’s be honest, the last year has been difficult, traumatic and weird in varying degrees depending on your respective situation. So as the first year of the pandemic and the anniversary of our first U.K. lockdown passes, I wanted to reflect on my journey through this turbulent world-changing year and take stock. It was clear a year ago I was not going to be able to continue as a cinematographer for some time, so I started working out what I could do in the meantime, such as studying for a new degree, learning academic copy editing, losing weight and hopefully transitioning to a new colitis medication. Not that this journey is over yet but here is some of my story from the last year.


Shielding

As someone who has been on the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) list since the beginning due to immunosuppression control of ulcerative colitis, I was told to Shield with immediate effect by the NHS, my GP, consultant, via letters, emails, phone calls and text messages. Which for anyone who doesn’t know, that means not leaving the house for months and months on end at all, and isolating yourself as much as possible from the rest of the world until further notice. I will write more about this another time as it is a far more complex story but it is safe to say that because major industry bodies and insurance companies made it difficult or impossible to employ those on the CEV list, I owe my wife an enormous amount of gratitude for the support (and work) she has given me, along with many family and friends.


University

Over the last decade, I had been considering doing a masters degree with a view of doing a PhD, although I had never been sure what it was I wanted to study. My academic history is varied but it is all in the science and engineering realm prior to film school. Given I have over twenty years of experience in film making and cinematography, the obvious thing would be to study that, but the only place that could offer me progression at this point in my life would be the NFTS and I simply can not afford it, even if I had a chance of acceptance.


Plus there was a chance that whatever I was looking to study would end up needing to be the new direction I might need to take as a career given the global situation worsened. I have to be honest that I had no calling to go back and do another computer or engineering degree. And although I still have the qualifications to go study medicine (my original goal many years ago), I couldn’t convince myself that it was still something I still wanted to do, especially in my forties.

After a fair bit of thinking, along with my own life experiences with mental health, I chose to do a two-year accredited MSc in Psychology online with Northumbria University, this offered a lot of flexibility in case I needed to find an alternative career, or I could use it to further my learning and understanding of myself, cinema and cinematography.


Psychocinematics

At the time of writing this blog post, I am still investigating the fields of psychocinematics and neurocinematics ahead of proposing my master's thesis later this year. It is still early days but they both hold a lot of interest for me in exploring ourselves, cinema, film making and cinematography more deeply from a cognitive and neurological perspective. I will likely be writing more blog posts on these subjects as I delve deeper into these fields, some of this is still quite recent scientific thinking but I am also interested in learning more about the Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image which has been around since the 1980s.


The future of the film industry in the UK is still shaky and uncertain, as I understand it, colleagues are finding work very intermittent, plus creativity and time management under the current restrictions is extremely difficult. However, as the vaccination programme moves ahead at pace, with myself expecting the second dose by mid-April, there is at least hope now that I can begin thinking about a return to some kind of career.


Returning to Cinematography

So finally, with two feature films and several short films that I was the cinematographer on before the pandemic angling for release this year, the film industry and cinematography will not let me go at this point. This is for the best as rehabilitation back into normal society is a pipe dream and I'm confident no one should ever have me as a therapist.


It won't be a rapid return for me I'm sure, even after my second vaccine jab in April there is no mention of altering the CEV status, which will still be legally challenging. As I mentioned at the start though, thanks to studying psychology, beginning to learn academic copy editing, losing weight and finally transitioning to a newer, better bowel disease medication (Adalimumab), I know I’m not the same person I was at the start of this pandemic. I've no idea where any of this is going, however, the best I can do is follow it all and see where it leads, hopefully to interesting people, stories, productions, films and new ideas.


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