Late To The Party
Emma Keeling is a creative thinking Kiwi based in the UK. Best known in both her country of birth and her adopted homeland as a news broadcaster adept in all areas of storytelling - from sience to sport and everthing in between - Keeling has this year achieved a longstanding goal of moving into film as a writer and director.
She explains to The Big Idea why never giving up on your creative passions is so important - and why chasing it is so fulfilling.
My mum once told me that if people waited until they had enough money or were ready to have kids, they would never get pregnant.
I don’t have kids but at the age of 48, I now understand this also applies to realising your dreams.
My dream was to write a short film.
I know. I only wrote a short film. Not a long one or a series or even a novel! It took 20 years of phantom contractions until I finally ‘gave birth’ to my short film Late To The Party. In my defence, my dream was to write a series but that seemed so overwhelming that I kept it short. Which, as my former colleagues will tell you, is a minor miracle.
The title Late To The Party is metaphor for my life. I have come to many things late, including my sexuality. I didn’t come out until I was 36. In the end it was a wise friend who encouraged me to be brave by asking a simple question; would I prefer to be uncomfortable for a little while or continue to be uncomfortable in my own skin for the rest of my life? It was an easy decision to make but obviously not easy to do. It was the same with creative writing but slightly less dramatic!
I didn’t need to be brave to write, I just had to get off my arse. This time it was my colleague and now friend Makez who was my blunt instrument of motivation. And it was a little bit like coming out – something that was an authentic part of me, my creativity, had been buried for a long time.
I knew that even if what I wrote was terrible, it would still feel better than not writing down the ideas that had been lodged in my brain for years. I was also feeling smothered and frustrated working in news and factual television. I wanted to write comedy.
I had told Makez about my idea for a series when we met in 2019. Two years later, she showed me two scripts she’d written in COVID lockdown. She had a plan; we would team up and shoot her two films and then we’d film mine so I needed to hurry up and write it already.
At last I realised what I had been missing: a deadline! It also helped that she believed in me, even though she’d never seen anything of fiction I’d written but, then again, neither had I!
On the Late To The Party set. Photo: Supplied.
It took me a while to figure out what my writing process was. I read books on script writing, watched comedies, went to short film festivals, joined an online writing course and invested money in what we were doing. I think that is key; you need something on the line to motivate you if you are a procrastinator like me.
I’ve heard some people quit their jobs to light the fire but I really like going out for dinner so decided to hang on to mine. And not having a lot of time to write made me value the time I did have.
So after all that, what happened? Well, I wrote the script over several weeks. They say write what you know - so I decided to write a comedy about 42 year-Charlie who is about to marry Freddie. The action takes place at her sex-toy themed hens party to which, unbeknownst to her, her secret ex-girlfriend and her mother have been invited.
We cast the film in March and it took a while to sort logistics, location, crew etc. I’m not a fan of production details. Then on one glorious weekend in early July, we shot a film that I had written and I said action and cut – mostly at the right time.
Emma Keeling living out her film directing dream. Photo: Supplied.
My euphoric moment came when I was directing the actors on set and I realised this is what I had always wanted to do. It just felt right. And the ripples of joy kept coming as cast and crew laughed at the lines I had written. Bliss.
Most of us don’t think we’re good enough to realise a dream. We’re too young or too old or we haven’t been to the right schools or worked in the right places. It’s a habit of thinking that stops you from taking that first step.
And to move, you only need to be brave for that one moment…..annnnnd maybe a few more after that. But I promise you it’s not as painful as childbirth. Well, that’s what my mum told me.