What goes on outside the frame


The other day as I was walking on the Greenwich riverside, I saw a bunch of guys shooting a film. It was only a small group: two young men behind a lightweight camera and three actors in 1940s costume, maybe doing a student production. They didn’t have any gear aside from a few props, so most people walked past without even noticing.

I sat on a bench for a while, listening to the waves coming onto the beach below. I could barely hear the actors in the background. Between each take a handful of tourists went by; next to me a young couple was making phone reservations. Down below the tide was coming in, gently depositing bits of wood and the odd plastic bottle on the sand. Life went on as usual.

As a self-confessed addict to TV series, I’m the first one to get sucked into what goes on inside the frame, as if my life depended on it. I hate to think that the characters I’ve come to see as friends are actually actors who may have nothing at all to do with each other off screen. I don’t like that whole worlds are just a set – or worst, special effects. I’m still a bit upset from when I found out the entire pirates show Black Sails was shot on green screen (as if it wasn’t bad enough they’re not real pirates!).

So seeing this simple film being made – which to its viewers, will look like the life of real people in 1940s London – brought home the true meaning of that old expression “you need to reframe the problem”: that is, you need to look beyond what’s in the frame, because whatever you’re focusing on isn’t the whole picture. It may not even be real, and just like my actors working on the riverside, life goes on around it regardless.

In the TV show of my life at the moment – the one where I’m the writer, director and main character all rolled in one – the main plot this season is about financial security, and the ups and downs of being jobless.

In one sub-plot, my character is scared of what will happen when her ex-partner stops supporting her financially. It’s not the main story, but one you know is there somewhere in the background, waiting to reappear and create chaos. Will she be broke, will she need to move out, will she be homeless? In the latest episode, it finally happened: the support stopped without any warning. One day she gets a call from the estate agents saying that half the rent wasn’t paid. *Gasp*. The ex-partner isn’t answering anyone’s calls or emails: not the agents’, not hers.  It’s not explicitly said, but the viewer understands they will probably never speak to each other again.

In actual life, this is how the plot unfolded: precisely nothing happened. Nothing at all changed other than I stressed out for half a day, after which I decided a bit more debt or a bit less wouldn’t make a huge difference, and I went on to have lunch with a friend, who kindly invited me on her expenses account (bless her employer).

It was a good reminder that my own personal drama, probably like yours, only ever happens if I’m so sucked into my own story in the small “frame” in front of me that I forget there’s a whole life around it. If I reframe, I always know that nothing is that disastrous. More often than not, rigorously nothing is really at stake.

As my former boss used to say in rare instances of major disasters: “oh well, nobody died”. And anyway as we all know, even when someone does, life will go on regardless. The only show we really shouldn’t get addicted to is our own.