THE BIG CREATURAMA BLOG Part 1
Surviving a global pandemic and beyond
Since my last published Blog here, my life and my business have changed radically. I will try in this blog to catalogue the series of events and personal choices, and sacrifices, that ensured CREATURAMA’s survival through the global crisis through which we all suffered. Both Part 1 and Part 2 of these blogs are in a diary form as this just seemed the best way to chronicle the seismic changes the pandemic thrust upon me and my family.
As the world slid unknowingly into the clutches of the Covid 19 pandemic I, like many, didn’t really realize just how devastating its effects would be and how long the crisis would last. In March 2020, almost overnight, all of my educational workshops (The real ‘bread & butter’ of CREATURAMA) were cancelled. All of my commissions for theatre productions too were immediately suspended and I was ‘Stood Down’ from the film projects I was involved with, along with many other crews across the industry.
In a matter of a few days every part of my business was effectively stalled.
And so, like many of us coping during that time, ‘Lockdown One’ was actually a bit of a holiday!!! I feel a bit guilty now that I really enjoyed the time at home with my wife and daughter. The sun was out, I could garden, even paint for leisure rather than worry about deadlines.
Sat in the garden I hit upon the idea of creating mini documentaries with my young daughter for Youtube. I had some cheap editing software on my computer and a tablet I’d got free with my mobile phone. We sat in the garden making TITANIC models and created the first of what we called ‘THE DEADLY DISASTERS OF BETHANY JAMES’.
As most of us were now ONLINE, her first Mini Documentary was a mini success, so we sort of just started doing that, and to be quite honest I intentionally forgot about how CREATURAMA would survive. We sat in our sunny garden learning about The R101 Airship disaster, then making the models together. Even mummy got persuaded to join in, creating wonderful scores…It was fun and distracting! My daughters ‘Deadly Disaster’ documentary caught the attention of ‘Bedford Museum Service’ who had cancelled an airship exhibition and were looking at ways of somehow carrying on the project. My daughter had to create an airship model (with Daddy), alongside a Channel 5 MILKSHAKE presenter. It was all rather fun and a bit surreal!
Covid 19 took over the world as country after country succumbed to its grip. As the summer wore on, I began to become more and more concerned as to how I would financially survive the health crisis.
‘Lockdown Two’ came and went with pretty much the same effect on the world. By now I’d started to create paintings and had the time to re-visit old product ranges and cull the least effective work in preference of new work I had the time to create. I also made a great many YOUTUBE videos, ready to create a new CREATURAMA YOUTUBE Channel. This never actually transpired, for reasons I will chronicle later. Again, this was a very creative, if limiting time for me, and I refer to my previous blog posted in 2020 that lists some of these new products.
As summer faded and autumn arrived, Lockdown’s were eased and luckily for myself and my immediate family and friends, we remained healthy and Covid Free. During October we took a short break (when allowed) and headed off to one of our favourite holiday destinations – the Isle of Wight.
We went with friends and stayed in a beautiful cottage…and then it happened. We visited an attraction on the Island that we’d visited many times before, but this time, one of its large units was lying empty. My wife looked at me and a mad idea formed… Now I can’t say this was a new idea. I’d banged on about setting up CREATURAMA as a tourist attraction for 20 odd years. But here it was, the opportunity, and at a time when CREATURAMA was almost waiting for its next phase. She persuaded me to take the plunge and enquire about the unit – to follow the dream!
Myself and my wife talked the idea through, and I started preparing. Culling some of my older inferior models and repairing good ones. At Christmas we headed back to the IOW to sign contracts. I would set up CREATURAMA on the IOW on my own, moving to the island to create a foothold, with my wife and child joining me in later years.
It was a weird time, facing the imminent departure and isolation that moving away from my hometown would entail. But with the help and support of good friends the plan became fixed and REAL.
The last of my daughter’s documentaries, created with me in residence, ‘The Mary Rose’ and ‘The London Plague’ were completed during this time. Both more epic than the last. But now I had to concentrate on the biggest change in direction CREATURAMA had ever had. In 2016 a flood at one of my storage facilities had seriously damaged some of my older scenery so I embarked on a plan to replace ten of my larger book-flats with new standardised flatage as I had already mapped out, and created a white card model of my unit. Tony Deeming at ‘The Abbey Theatre’ in Nuneaton was an absolute LEGEND helping in a socially distanced way and allowing me access to the closed theatre to accomplish this plan in record time.
In April we visited the IOW, in a large hire van, and dropped off at the venue the new scenery and as many models as would fit. We also looked unsuccessfully for somewhere for me to live.
Back in the Midlands, as the deadline approached for the move, many friends gave their all to help in any way they could and without them it would never have happened. Their generosity included donations through a GoFundMe campaign, without which the move couldn’t have been possible. I had tried to obtain financial help from ‘The Arts Council’ and independent funding bodies. Unfortunately, this was not forthcoming. I’d have to do the majority of this myself!!!
And so in May 2021 With a fully loaded long wheel-based transit van filled with scenery, artwork, aliens and dinosaurs (as well as my personal belongings, an oversized settee and a mattress) – I moved to the IOW! Amazingly a flat had become available just in time!!!
WOW! only once before in my life, after the breakup of a relationship, had I done anything so reckless. That trauma had sent me to London, to ‘The Central School of Speech and Drama’ and led to me experiencing some of the greatest years of my life. It also led to me finally breaking into TV and film. Would this be a similar seismic epiphany?
To find out more read