Blind Love For TV: I can't see, but all I want to do is be a film-maker

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The Independent Online
After three post-university years of rejection letters from TV production companies, I vividly remember crashing down on the sofa with my head in my hands one day and contemplating a thought that had never occurred to me - maybe I should give up trying to become a TV maker. Hot on the heels of that thought came a rush of panic: how can I possibly do anything else?

All I actually know about is TV and media. If I got a job in anything else I'd soon be shown up as a fraud who had made some kind of hopelessly tragic life compromise. "Look at that sad lonely figure in the corner," they'd say, pointing at me. "He could've been something in TV, he's so sharp and creative, but was never given the break. Go over to him, humour him, have a chat. He'll beguile you with tales of that Nineties' docusoap phenomenon. Then, maybe, you'll want to escape before he starts his monologue about postmodern shot-framing and camera techniques."

"Challenge me Damon," I can imagine you, the reader, saying. "I really want to believe you can make television programmes, but I don't know how. Throw some ideas my way, let me chew over them for a bit, help me understand what it's like to have once had sight, then to lose it but still somehow manage to create programmes for a medium that I'm not sure blind people even watch."

So I lost my sight 14 years ago; this doesn't mean I lost the ability to think visually and it also doesn't mean that my visual thoughts are stuck in a bygone era where Space Invaders, Legs & Co and Rubik Cubes are still the height of "cool". I built on what I already knew and my visualizations developed and grew from there onwards.

To explain this internal visual development I can only draw parallels with my awakening appreciation for the opposite sex. About six months after going blind, I suddenly realised out of nowhere that women had rather attractive curves. I'd always kind of known this but had only started to appreciate it post sight-loss (damn it). Similarly, as I grew older and thought more, I began to build on my existing visual knowledge of television and started to think more about how, where and why pictures fitted together, how edits were covered, how visual continuity is maintained etc. My likes and dislikes changed, I began to understand concepts like, for instance, the tastefulness of minimalism. When I hear about new camera and graphical techniques like those employed by, say, Network 7 and This Life, I seek to update my understanding by boring the hell out of people around me by making them go through video tapes, freeze-framing every few seconds while I ask questions and draw pictures in the air.

I'm already working on my next film. I've done some research, hooked in some contributors, have found two locations; it's going to need some creative thought to liven it up visually. The subject matter is fabulous, but it's my job to enhance it by representing it visually and interestingly without resorting, for instance, to the cliche "making a cup of tea" cutaway shots.

I am attached to the Disability Programmes Unit (DPU) which has a unique "access team", working alongside it. On a shoot, I use one of the workers to describe what the cameraperson has framed in view. Armed with that knowledge I can then direct the action, putting my stamp on the filming process.

There are few sexier things in life than being wanted for your mind and your creativity. Unlike radio and print media, in television you have a multi-layered opportunity to create words, sounds and pictures, appealing to two of your senses and goodness knows how many parts of the brain. It's an all encompassing experience. You can symbolise, juxtapose, skew- laterally, create illusions and tell new stories.

It's very important that disabled people get the opportunity to make television. There are 6.5m disabled people in the UK who need to be represented by disabled film makers who won't perpetuate the stereotypical hero/heroine or tragic victim approach to disability. Although I may be the first blind person to be attending one of the BBC's Directors' courses, I am pleased to say that I am not the first visually impaired person to have directed television. At least half a dozen have gone before me.

So many incorrect assumptions are held about blind people and disabled people generally. In my first week at university I remember walking through the common room in halls, whipping out my phone card, sticking it in the phone and starting to dial. From across the room a fellow student remarked: "My God, you can use a phone ... that's absolutely amazing". Others have said that they don't know how I can even put one foot in front of the other, not being able to see and all. One of the most bizarre encounters was with a man I was sharing a trough urinal with in a pub one night.

"You're not a blind man," he said.

"Excuse me?"

"You can't be blind," he replied.

"Why?" I asked. After a long considered pause, he said: "Because you're just standing there having a piss like a normal bloke".

Assumptions are made about us, bizarre assumptions, damaging assumptions that are reflected by the fact that over 80 per cent of visually impaired people are unemployed. It would be good to think that being catapulted onto the front page of the Sun last week has perhaps ultimately raised awareness of what visually impaired people can do. The big irony, however, is that the majority of blind people are probably blissfully unaware of this media debate because newspapers are somewhat inaccessible.

Damon Rose's first film item will be broadcast on Tuesday night at 7.30pm in From The Edge, BBC2's disability magazine programme.

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