Writer’s Block….

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As I type this, I’m struck by the irony that I’m writing about writer’s block, a ‘condition’ that’s basically about feeling unable to write. However, slight ironies aside, it’s a serious subject, and one that has many causes. It’s also something that has affected many, if not all, writers at some point, regardless of whether they are professionals or just amateurs.

In the last few months, it’s something that I’ve been experiencing. I’ve had it a various points before, that feeling of a lack of inspiration, of staring at the page or computer screen, almost willing the words to come out. Then, when they come, they are swiftly deleted or crossed out because they’re just a bit… well…meh.

However, recently, it has been more than just a lack of inspiration regarding a particular idea or part of a story. It has felt far deeper than that. To borrow an example from football, it’s like when a striker can’t score goals, when previously it looked so effortless. The player seems to miss even the simplest of chances, then turns to the sky or shakes their head, as if their talent is slipping through their fingers.

There have been days where, if not questioning my abilities exactly, I’ve looked at the cost of pursuing a career in filmmaking/screenwriting, and wondered if I have what it takes, if I’m embarking on a fool’s errand, as it were. Again, this isn’t uncommon to this line of work, especially for those who, like me, are just starting out. If you have bills to pay or a family to support on top of that, it can only add to the stress and the pressure.

As there are many reasons for writer’s block, from issues with the material itself, to the pressures of life, I think there are many strategies to overcome it, from setting deadlines, to altering writing times to just trying to write anything, in the hope it will get things going. However, all the advice I’ve seen involves effort and work, two inescapable things that a person needs if they are to make it in the creative arts.

That’s because you could have a brilliant idea, and the talent to match, but if you don’t want to put the hours in, then you definitely won’t make it. Of course, effort doesn’t necessarily mean you will automatically achieve your dream career in film, but it certainly won’t hinder your chances.

With writer’s block, I strongly believe that effort will pay off. It might take time, but there’s no avoiding it. In my case, I tried to remind myself of not only why I started the script, but more than that, why I set up 9am Films in the first place: to make films. To do something that I love doing, and have wanted to do for as long as I can remember.

I suppose I should close with a snappy but inspirational quotation or maxim that will hopefully inspire you. However, the truth is, nothing replaces effort, and, slowly if need be, working hard, until you reach a point when the words and the inspiration starts to flow again. When they do – and they will – it will all be worth it.

 

 

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Getting political….

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Before I begin, this has nothing to do with the United Kingdom’s future in the EU, so if you’re sick of all the referendum coverage, don’t worry. This is a referendum-free zone. However, I have been thinking about politics, and how filmmakers could – or if they even should – address political subjects in their films.

My firm belief is that they should. Writers and filmmakers, along with anyone involved in any artistic field, should always create something that means something to them. Of course, that doesn’t always have to include a political angle, but it should be more than just commercial motivations. Filmmaking is an expensive business, both for filmmakers themselves and for audiences. If we’re expecting people to give up their time to help us make something, or to watch what we’ve made, we’d better be sure that it we’re making something worthwhile, a project that contributes something a bit more profound than just allowing people to switch off their brains for the length of the running time.

I’ve been thinking about this because I started my last script in the days following the Mossack Fonseca leaks. I’d had the bare bones of the idea for a while, but it only really came to life following this story. Now, I’m not advocating scouring the newspapers for stories. For one thing, it could lead to basically recycling real life events for story ideas, which can look rather cynical and uninspired. Another downside is that anything that aims to be relevant by chasing the zeitgeist often ends up looking irrelevant and old fashioned quite quickly.

What I mean is finding inspiration is things that will give your work meaning. If you’re particularly interested in environmental issues for example, there’s no reason why your work can’t reflect those interests. At some level it’s inevitable that what interests you will come out in your work, even if it’s unintentional. The very best filmmaking comes from the heart, which is where truly held convictions should reside as well. So, if you’re working from the heart, and your beliefs/interests (religious, political, etc) are really heart felt, then there’s bound to be a crossover at some point. As well there should be.

Of course, we can run the risk of sounding like we’re preaching to people, with characters reduced to mere mouthpieces for our views. Which is why the best approach is to present the issues and subjects in a way that lets the audience decide what they think, that also leads to debate. It may also help produce more filmmakers willing to engage with difficult subjects in a thoughtful and intelligent way, meaning that audiences don’t have to stop thinking when the movie starts.

 

 

 

 

Delays….

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Waiting for something is often very challenging, especially if it’s something we’re looking forward to. However, it’s part of life, and it’s also a part of filmmaking. The fact is, you can plan – or think you’ve planned- for anything and everything that could go wrong. In reality, you’ve only planned for the things you’ve thought about. Sometimes there will be obstacles that will spring up during your production that are totally out of your hands, and that you didn’t anticipate being an issue.

Making films, even at the micro budget level, is an exciting thing to do. We wouldn’t be making them (especially at the indie, low budget end of the scale) if we didn’t enjoy it. So when something comes along to stop the momentum of our film, it can be quite frustrating.

With ‘Runner’, we had hoped to have finished with the production stage of the project by now, and be well into post production by now. However, we’ve had a few delays along with way, ranging from issues with schedules to securing a location. Again, not exactly unfamiliar problems for anyone making a film.

As clichéd as it sounds though, they are also opportunities to make sure that your final film is the best it could be. Taking ‘Runner’ as an example, the delays to the start of filming has allowed us to make sure that we’ve got the finances we need to make ‘Runner’ the best we can make it. The alternative would be keeping on schedule but arriving at our shooting date unprepared. In that position, it would be hard to imagine that we’d be able to make a film that would all be happy with.

One challenge I’m experiencing with a delay is that, before they happen, you’re all ready to film. You’ve prepared and know the script. However, when you’re delayed for a while, it can feel like you lose some of your motivation, or lose a sense of the script, the themes, shot ideas, etc. The answer to that is to re-immerse yourself in the script and your characters. Basically, anything that will remind you of the world you have created and will shortly be bringing to life. That could include looking at any test footage, storyboards, listening to any music that may have been composed for the project, as well as any teaser trailers. It will all help to remind you of why you’re making the film in the first place, as well as keeping that enthusiasm going until the big day arrives, and you finally start filming…at last!

Money, money, money…

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The film industry is about money. That is, after all, why it’s called the film industry. It’s the case at every level of filmmaking, although it is perhaps most keenly felt by those working in the independent/low/micro budget sectors.

It would be nice if the obstacles to making that great script into a great film didn’t include money, but the reality is that it does, especially if you aren’t playing with much cash to start with. With our film Runner, it’s feeling like a delicate balancing act, where spending money in one area means having to make savings in another.

However, whilst making a low budget film is challenging, I’m discovering that it also brings with it a number of opportunities, as well as being a great way to learn more about the art of filmmaking. I’ve tried to break down some of the most important things I’m continuing to learn below. Hopefully, they will be of some use to you as you pursue a career in filmmaking. As always, please feel free to leave any comments : )

  • PRIORITISE: Whilst it’s true that the greater the funds, the greater the options available. Bigger and better equipment, ideal locations, more adventurous shots, plus a greater flexibility in choosing cast and crew are just some of the things that increase with more money.  However, these things can sometimes be a distraction from the story and the characters, to the point where they get in the way of the story, rather than enhancing it. There is nothing quite like having a smaller (though no less creative) range of options that a small, micro or non-existent budget will bring. It forces you to focus on what really matters – the story- and how to tell that story in a way that is exciting visually.
  • USE WHAT YOU HAVE: When money is tight, you obviously want to watch those purse strings. So look at what skills your cast and crew have that might be useful in saving money. For example, you might have a producer who knows a thing or two about film make-up, so can also fill the role of make up artist. You may also be able to reduce the budget for the costume department by having the cast provide their own costumes, or maybe you know someone who knows someone who can help secure a certain prop. Whatever, it’s a great chance to dip into your contacts book, or turn to family and friends for help. Just remember to thank them in that awards acceptance speech!
  • BE PREPARED TO SACRIFICE: This is closely linked to the first point. It might feel like it’s polluting your vision, but sometimes the brutal reality is that it’s better to tell a slightly pared down version of your story than none at all. It’s about recognising that point when commitment to the material stops and naivety begins. Are all those expensive props really needed, or could they be made more cheaply? Or cut entirely? Ask yourself what your story is about, and make sure that everything you have in front of and behind the camera serves to tell that story.
  • CROWDFUNDING: There are a few options out there, and there is a chance that not every one will be suited to your project, but they are worth exploring.
  • LEAVE IT TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE: In the industry, it’s the producers/executive producers who have to concern themselves with finding and providing funds. Don’t entirely wash your hands of it to the point of ignorance, but make sure that concerns over money don’t distract you from making your film. This is supposed to be your career one day, and you don’t want to waste it by worrying about the money.
  • BE SENSIBLE: Again, it’s linked to priorities. Use the resources wisely, and always remember that work on a film doesn’t stop with the finished edit, so leave sufficient funds for promoting your film.

 

 

 

 

 

The Oscars and diversity…

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The Academy Awards will always be big news. That’s a given for one of the most important dates in the film industry’s awards season. However, at the moment the Oscars are making the news for all the wrong reasons.

Over the past week or so, the usual pre-Oscars discussion has changed from who will/who won’t win, to a much more serious and emotive question of diversity. For many, the issue is that this year’s nominees illustrate an increasingly obvious bias against non-white people, made all the more stark by some surprising omissions.

At the time of writing, Will Smith has just confirmed he’ll be following his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, by not attending this year’s ceremony. Smith had widely been tipped to pick up a nomination for his role in ‘Concussion’, yet was overlooked by the Academy. We can also add to that list ‘Creed’, whose director Ryan Coogler and leading man, Michael B. Jordan, were also passed over. Spike Lee has also confirmed he won’t be attending, while there is pressure on Chris Rock to step down as host in protest.

So, is the Academy simply out of touch, or is there something more sinister going on? This isn’t the first time that the Oscars have been accused of a racial bias. For many, the evidence suggests an institutional bias. Last year, Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo were controversially overlooked for the Best Director and Best Actor respectively for ‘Selma’ at the 2015 Academy Awards. The Academy has also been criticised for the lack of women recognised in categories like Best Director, with the aforementioned DuVernay being a recent notable omission.

Of course, film is a highly subjective medium, where opinions differ greatly. This is especially true when it comes to awards shows. Just because a person is omitted doesn’t necessarily mean that they have been excluded on racial or gender grounds. However, when it comes to the Oscars and issues of race and gender, 2016 and 2015 aren’t isolated examples. The Academy has long faced calls to improve its diversity, both in terms of the nominations, and in its membership. In this light, 2015 and 2016 look increasingly less like exceptions and more like the rule.

It could be a vicious circle. The less diverse the Academy membership, the less diverse the nominations. Seeing as receiving a nomination is one way to become a member, we are back where we started.

It’s clearly an emotive issue. As to who should win what, it should all come down to performance. Skin colour or gender should never be an issue, whether that’s to exclude someone or to give a token nomination or award. However, to say race and gender shouldn’t be an issue when it clearly is, is to sweep it under the carpet and pretend the problem isn’t there.

I still remember the 2002 Academy Awards, and the Best Actor/Best Actress wins of Denzel Washington and Halle Berry. Though the coverage in the news afterwards was right to suggest their historic importance, the fact that it was so notable shows how much work the Academy had to do back then regarding race and gender. The fact that we are still having this same conversation  in 2016 shows the work still needs doing.

 

Improv…

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Seeing the band Of Monsters and Men recently made me appreciate the strengths of another art form, in this case music. Or more specifically, live music. One of the things, aside from the talents of both OMAM and the support act, Highasakite, that impressed me was the feeling of a shared experience, that both the bands and crowd were feeding of each other. It was clear to see that they enjoyed being on stage, peforming, and that the audience were connecting with the songs.

Now, this might sound like a frustrated musician talking, (and I promise it’s not), but it was hard not to feel almost envious at the way live music, offers people the chance to experience this, whether they’re on the stage or in the audience. It gives an immediacy to the songs that you won’t find on record, and is obviously only found in live peformance. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting contrast with film, where, whilst creativity and flexibility are needed, there is obviously no equivalent to the kind of live performance you get with music. The clearest exception to this would be theatre, although there the acting style is totally different to film.

This isn’t meant to come across as a moan about my career choice. I love films, and I’m blessed to have this opportunity to attempt to make a living out of them. It just got me thinking how a medium like live music allows musicians to see, firsthand, the affect that their music is having on audiences, and the satisfaction that must come with that. The closest thing we have to that in filmmaking is box office figures, although that doesn’t reflect what people thought of the film, just that they paid to see it in the first place.

Aside from the limitations of one art form against another, I wonder if there might be a way to inject some of the spontaneity of live peformance into filmmaking? Improv is one way to harness the spontaneous, and it’s something I’d like to explore as a filmmaker. You obviously need your cast to remain within the parameters of the story and their characters, and to be mindful of the visual/technical apsects of the film, but within that I think there is scope for creativity and a certain element of spontaneity.

I’m beginning to realise that as a filmmaker, you have collaborators in front of the camera as well as behind it. Of course, there has to be one unifying voice and vision, (yours, as the director), but that doesn’t mean you can’t accept and listen to suggestions from cast and crew throughout the production. Indeed, I think the best directors do exactly that. I imagine what it would be like to work with actors skilled enough at improvisation, like Robert Downey, Jr and Emma Stone, and how using those talents could add even more to a script.

With the criticism being that many blockbusters offer little more than filmmaking by numbers, what better way to tap into more creativity by allowing your cast and crew to be more spontaneous, giving them the freedom to use their skills and talents, then putting that through the filter of your overall vision?

Yet another ‘flawed’ female hero?

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Catching up on season two of True Detective has been a rewarding experience so far. If it hasn’t quite hit the heights of its first critically acclaimed season, then there has still been much to admire, not least in the acting, cinematography and its complex plot.

However, for me there has been one false note: the character of, played by Rachel McAdams. I want to stress that it has absolutely nothing to do with McAdams’ performance, which has been compelling and realistic. The issue is that Bezzerides seems like yet another example of a strong female character ‘with issues.’ We can probably trace this recent phenomenon to Carrie Mathison of Homeland. As talented a CIA officer as she’s supposed to be, it’s an understatement to say that Carrie has a few emotional and mental issues that she’s dealing with. Taking Carrie and Ani together, we have two strong personalities, capable at their jobs, but both with a number of personal issues.

Of course. no one is perfect, I understand that. We are all flawed. The trouble is, it seems like whenever we have a female lead character on TV at the moment, in serious drama at least, she seems burdened with personal problems. to the point where she’s barely holding it together, often with the use of pills and copious amounts of alcohol. I’m all in favour of presenting the archytype of the flawed hero. It’s just that when it comes to lead female characters, the issues seem to define the characters in a way they don’t for their male counterparts.

Bezzerides is asked by one of her colleagues, Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrel) about the fact she carries a few knives, as well as her sidearm, on duty. Her reply is telling. She points out that as she’s smaller than many of the men she will come up against, she needs to protect herself. The contrast with her (equally flawed) male colleagues is clear: they carry guns, as she does, but that is because of the job, and the authority it brings. With Bezzerides, it seems like she’s carrying these weapons because she’s scared. She’s armed herself to this extent because she’s scared.

Her backstory (a difficult relationship with her hippie father, a failed marriage, a string of bad relationships) only adds to the perception that the way she’s armed is a response to her fears. Maybe, the very fact that she’s a police officer is because of her past: it’s a way to defend herself, sort of striking back against a patriarchal society as a whole and certain men in particular.

How Claire Danes and Rachel McAdams play these roles is actually beside the point, as the issue is in the writing. With Bezzerides and Mathison, their issues seem to be front and centre of their characters, defining them. It’s not that there aren’t male characters on TV that are flawed. True Detective has given us a number of them, such as Rust Cohle and Martin Hart from season one, as well as Velcoro and Paul Woodrugh from season two. My point is that the range of characters on TV for men appears to be far more complex and varied, covering a wide variety of types. For women however, the most popular seem to be the love interest, the kooky, crazy one, or the emotionally scarred one.

It’s getting to the point where in some cases it strains credibility. It’s hard to believe that anyone with the emotional issues displayed by Carrie Mathison would be allowed anywhere near the CIA, especially not in Mathison’s position. It renders the script unbelievable, and it verges on being dramatically dishonest to suggest that that this could happen in real life. This is even more damaging for a show that tries so hard to keep up with current news events, such as the civil war in Syria and the ensuing refugee situation. Such realism is lost when you have a character who defies logic so often.

While Bezzerides doesn’t seem as unhinged as Carrie, it’s still sad to see yet another female lead role portrayed like this. It raises the question as to why the writers felt the need to create the characters like. Could Bezzerides do the job without these issues? Yes, but even if the writers wanted her to have these flaws (perhaps thinking that by doing the job despite them it shows her strengh) then is it necessary to have her respond in such an emotionally fragile way?

Olivia Wilde’s recent comments about female superheroes being portrayed like “goddesses” isn’t without foundation. However, while that is an issue, it isn’t solved by going to the other extreme, and having female lead characters who are practically buckling under the weight of personal demons. It makes me wish for a character like Kate Morgan, from 24:Live Another Day. Partly because of the writing and partly down to Yvonne Strahovski’s strong performance, Kate Morgan looked and acted like a CIA officer. It wasn’t because she was some flawless superwoman, though. Morgan made mistakes, and had challenges to deal with. However, we didn’t need to suspend our disbelief to accept her as a CIA officer, and could instead imagine that we were watching an actual real intelligence officer.

Characters that act like real people? Plots that don’t defy logic? Surely that’s not too much to ask?

Props…

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One lesson I’ve learned is that there are very few things that are simple about making films, even micro budget shorts. In fact, I was once told that when it comes to filmmaking, the general rule is that if it can go wrong, then it probably will. It might sound a bit pessimistic, but it’s true. Even on a short film, the amount of things that can go wrong, and therefore need to work for the project to be a success, is considerable.

Actors, crew, locations, cinematography, lighting, sound, editing, equipment, costumes/make-up and hair, production design and props are just a few of the things that are potential obstacles to getting your film made. As it happens, it’s that last item that’s giving me the biggest concern at the moment.

I’m working on a short called Runner, and one of the props we’ll need is an imitation handgun, equipped with a silencer. Now, the issue isn’t finding one, as even a basic internet search will draw up a long list of websites that provide imitation firearms for for short and feature length films. The issue has been what might be called the bureaucracy that goes along with it.

It’s not hard to see how using an imitation firearm might cause problems, especially when, as is the case with Runner, it will be an outdoor shoot. Now, every budding filmmaker wants to get noticed. However, I draw the line at getting noticed by the police, especially if they’re armed.

This is where drawing on the experience of your collaborators helps. Two of the crew members on Runner know the procedures to follow when using imitation firearms on a film, including how to go about notifying the police before filming.

It goes to show why filmmaking is such a collaborative process. Not only do you get to bounce ideas off other people, you get the benefits of their experience as well. In this, case, I knew what the script required (the ‘prop firearm’), but I didn’t have the experience of how to go about it.

It might seem like a small thing, but it brings me back to the advice I received about the potential for things to go wrong when making a film. No matter how trivial the ‘thing’ might be, there is a greater chance for things to go wrong if you aren’t prepared, and it’s far easier to be prepared when you have a group of people with whom you can collaborate.

We all have different gifts and skills, strengths and abilities. This is especially relevant when making a film. I’m discovering that one of the skills that a director needs is the ability to recognise what is needed to make any particular film, and find the people that can help to make that script a reality using those skills.

However, trying to do too much yourself only damages the film you’re trying to make, as it can take your focus from your own role, which will in turn affect your ability to manage your cast and crew effectively.

So, whatever the script calls for, it’s far better to meet those challenges with a decent sized group of collaborators around you. It might be the case that you don’t know the answer to a particular problem, but someone working with you might. If that’s the case, you might also discover that problem wasn’t as hard as you thought.

Reputations and the ‘box office flop’…

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Seeing the critical and commercial failure of the rebooted ‘Fantastic Four’ film, released last month, got me thinking: in the movie industry, reputations can be built up very quickly, but they can also be lost just as easily.

Rewind to 2012, and the film ‘Chronicle.’ A critical and commercial success, it marked out its director, Josh Trank, as one to watch. It wasn’t long before his name was being linked with a number of high profile franchises, and it was no surprise when he was chosen to helm the new ‘Fantastic Four’ outing.

Trank’s ‘one to watch’ status was further cemented when he also signed on to direct a spin-off film in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise. For a while it looked like Josh Trank was on the fast track to Hollywood’s A list of directors, a well received film under his belt and one, (soon to be two) franchises to his name.

Then, suddenly, things went a bit ‘off script.’ ‘Fantastic Four’ opened to poor reviews and a weak box office, while prior to that, Trank exited the ‘Star Wars’ spin-off, citing a desire to work on his own projects, rather than be attached to another existing property. However, perhaps more damaging are the rumours that Trank was difficult to work with during the ‘Fantastic Four’ shoot, which led to Disney executives deciding against hiring him to helm the ‘Star Wars’ spin-off.

For his part, Trank has accused Fox executives of meddling with the final cut of ‘Fantastic Four’, even to the point that entire sequences were removed. Whether this is true or not, or if Trank’s version would have resulted in a better reviewed and popular film, is beside the point. Trank’s example shows, again, how a bright reputation in Hollywood can suddenly be smothered in a wave of negative publicity and poor box office.

It’s highly reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s career trajectory. After ‘The Sixth Sense’, he was hailed in some quarters as ‘the new Spielberg.’ Then, a few box office and critical disasters later (the nadir surely being ‘The Last Airbender’. Or possibly ‘After Earth’) and suddenly all of that is forgotten, and even some of the very things that had marked him out as a talented writer-director (such as the last act twist) became evidence of creative indulgence.

However, in M. Night Shyamalan’s story there is reason for hope. If Hollywood secretly likes the classic ‘fall from grace’ story, then it’s just as hooked on the story of the comeback, the ‘phoenix from the flames’ tale of career redemption. Shyamalan, like others before him, has started his career rebuild on the small screen with the well received ‘Wayward Pines’, while he is also once again enjoying success on the big screen with ‘The Visit.’ A return to the low budget chiller territory of ‘The Sixth Sense’, it has seen Shyamalan get his best reviews and box office for a long time.

There are plenty of other examples in Hollywood of a career brought back from the brink of either off screen scandals, poor reviews, box office bombs or a combination of all three: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Downey Jr, Mickey Rourke, Drew Barrymore, Kiefer Sutherland, the list goes on. Of course, one box office flop doesn’t necessarily ruin a career, but it can certainly put the brakes on it for a while, as Andrew Stanton may have found when he moved from Pixar to the live action ‘John Carter’, and all the goodwill he’d garnered from his work at Pixar evaporated as ‘John Carter’ failed at the box office.

So what is the lesson to learn from all of this? As I said, in Hollywood reputations can be lost as quickly as they’re built. Though perhaps that wouldn’t be the case if we all, audiences and the media together, didn’t collude in building people up so much. For some, it’s just so they can take cruel delight in watching others fail, in other cases it’s because we expect too much of people like actors, etc, idolising them to the point that they can only fail to meet our high demands.

People are flawed, and no matter how talented a filmmaker, singer, politician or athlete might be, they will fail and make mistakes. It’s certainly a risk in filmmaking. Some ideas work, but some don’t. Even those that looked on paper like they would. Making films is a risky business, and sometimes they don’t pay off. If on some occasions we hype people up too quickly, then equally we write them off too quickly as well. It’s worth remembering that one film doesn’t make a young filmmaker the next Spielberg, Hitchcock or Scorsese, any more than one failure consigns them to the scrapheap.

Free Speech?

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Is it a human right to not be offended, or should we accept it as a side effect of free speech in a democratic country? It’s a big question, and it seems to be becoming more and more pressing at the moment. I started thinking about it this week after seeing a story in the news about a radio presenter, Alex Dyke, on BBC Radio Solent. Dyke had made some controversial comments during a phone-in discussion on his show.

The remarks concerned breastfeeding in public, which Dyke said “must be stopped”, while he labelled breastfeeding “unnatural.” Unsurprisingly, this didn’t go down too well, and before long an online petition to have him taken off air had gathered more than 6,000 signatures. Even though Dyke eventually apologised, it was revealed he wouldn’t be presenting his show on Friday (14th August.)

Another familiar, and very modern, feature is the role of the internet in all of this. Moral panics and collective offence at something is nothing new, but the internet has the advantage of making it far easier for people to get those opinions out there. This democratisation of outrage has levelled the playing field, to the extent that it looks like all you need is a computer, an internet connection and a grasp of how to use Twitter, and you’re away.

The huge irony here is that the offended masses often argue that it is their right to not only take offence, but to register that offence publicly. Not only that, but by doing this they are exercising free speech, seemingly ignoring the fact that those who made the original comments could claim to have been doing just that.

I’m not saying we should be negligent and act with malicious intent. What I’m saying is that if we have free speech, and a free media, then that means, inevitably, people will get offended. If we as makers and consumers of media content value truth (and we should), then we need to remember that the truth can sometimes be inconvenient for some and cause them offence, no matter our intentions. The same is true for opinions, and if we truly believe in freedom of speech, we should believe that same freedom extends to those views that are opposed to ours, no matter how objectionable we might find them.

The alternative is a narrow orthodoxy that seeks to force its beliefs on other people, all the while claiming to defend democracy. It is this contradiction that is at the heart of the UK Government’s plans for Extremism Disruption Orders (EDO’s), where the definition of an extremist is worryingly loose and fluid, and could be applied to any view that is seen as threatening to mainstream opinions.

That’s really the issue here. If your views happen to line up with what is temporarily the majority view, then you might be in favour of the Government’s measures, or of censoring the ill judged and poorly phrased comments of a radio presenter. However, consider for a moment if your views aren’t considered mainstream, or if they used to be, but then times changed, and now you find yourself on the fringes of what is regarded as acceptable opinion.

Just look at the recent court case involving the Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland, accused of discrimination for refusing to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan that went against their Christian beliefs. Despite losing the case, they garnered a lot of support for their stance, even amongst some supporters of gay marriage, who perhaps recognised what the ruling actually represents: in seeking to protect the rights of certain groups, it’s now seemingly okay to discriminate against other groups. As well as being hypocritical, It’s nothing less than legally approved discrimination against Christianity.

Such anti-Christian sentiment is also evident in the media (and especially online) following Ireland’s legalisation of gay marriage, and the recent SCOTUS decision to allow gay marriage across America. Both demonstrate a worrying trend: it isn’t enough to object to an opposing view, we must demonise, slander and ridicule them, asserting that their views threaten the unity of our societies.

However, this neglects another important truth: it is this very drive to artificially create a uniformity of beliefs and opinions, and to rule out anything the majority rules as being offensive and divisive, that is actually the most offensive and divisive thing we can do. It’s the exact opposite of what a mature democracy should be doing: it’s not free, it’s not fair and it’s certainly not democratic.