Rain in my Heart - the filmmaker's view
by Paul Watson
Freelance documentary maker
"My objective as a filmmaker was to record an alcoholic's journey"
An alcoholic is a drunk for whom nothing can be done. Until, hopefully, a day arrives when they decide they want to get well.
That day will come when they can go no deeper into the mire of self abuse. A day when there is only recovery available to them, or death.
My objective as a filmmaker was to record an alcoholic's journey either to well being or a miserable death.
In making Rain in my Heart I would need to film people with troubled psyches; people within which gremlins and monsters lurk producing psychological pain and miseries, miseries that often push them to self-harm.
Some will slash their wrists and arms as a way to forget the mental pain. Many more will medicate their pain by the use of alcohol.
"Booze" becomes, for them, the only reliable medicine to quieten the monsters. A medication that in the first instance seems to work until dependency takes over.
An "alcohol dependency" that eventually obliterates the person within whom the untouched "gremlins and monsters" continue to exist.
Convincing the carers
These patients would not be easy people with whom to work. Trust, the biggest element in any observational documentary, would need to be created between the individual sufferer and filmmaker.
But first I had to convince the carers, the doctors and hospitals, that my concerns were sincere. That Television was not embarking on another sensationalist piece of exploitation.
Nigel, who died during filming, is kissed goodbye by his wife Kath
I "knocked" on many hospital doors. Their barely considered reply was "no". Constantly I heard the answer to my "why?"
"Reality TV is not interested to seek explanation. I don't want my hospital represented in a way that makes me and my Board feel dirty. You will exploit us. That is the way of Television today."
Life the TV way
And so it went on, hospital after hospital, until I met a friend, who knew a man, who knew a hospital Chief Executive.
Job done! But out there, in the real world, there are still many people who, rightly in my view, do not trust our TV versions of their world.
I would simply work hard at being in the right place at the revealing time, at reducing my impact
"Telly Reality!" Accounts of life that prefer to deal in rating gimmicks and supercilious sneers than truth and insight.
A fabricated reality where only the clichés count and the subjects' unsettling facts give way to the lowest common denominator needs of entertainment.
Producers have knowingly taken leave of their sensibilities, indeed all sense of real life in order to create a "reality world" that ideally troubles nobody.
For years now they tell me "that's life" the TV way.
Smugly their audience learns to laugh "at" not "with" those they have set up for our amusement.
It seems information like honesty slows the entertainment value, a view that can only please contemporary Chief Executives of TV channels, Members of Parliament and, of course, "wannabes".
A study of addiction
From the impoverished Medway towns of North Kent, Mark, Vanda, Toni and Nigel allowed me to study their alcohol addiction as they sought help from Dr Gray Smith-Laing at Gillingham's Maritime Hospital.
My deal with the hospital was that I was only allowed to film on Dickens Ward, that staff and patients had the right to say "no" to being filmed.
Four volunteers, some family and a doctor was my achievement by the end of five months' research.
Like most alcoholics they were their own worst enemy and yet one could not help but like them. Four battling alcoholics and a charismatic carer wife to whose whims and ways I would have to adjust, not control.
No "reality" formula of false relationship. No traducing. I would simply work hard at being in the right place at the revealing time, at reducing my impact.
As the good doctor, Smith-Laing said, "for a big man with a camera stuck to his face you disappear surprisingly quickly".
Meet the gremlins
With no script, no format, it is a daily case, for almost a year of "que sera, sera" with people who, against the fashion, trusted me and themselves.
Yet we all knew I was there to discover their monsters, their motivation for excessive alcohol abuse. What secret gremlin demanded of Vanda that she drank, each day, four bottles of cheap wine? "I'm not ready to say, I'm not..."
And of Mark, one and, on occasion, two bottles of vodka? "It would start on the train. I never hid it, just swigged it!"
Should Vanda tell me the details of her abused life? Should Mark be filmed in drunken disarray and tear-filled tirades; his anger taken out on himself in razor blade slashes of self harm?
As I film on my knees, the slime of warm spewed vomit permeates my jeans, inexorably moving upwards. My job is to explain, not entertain. Voyeurism this is not. Explaining hell it is!
Is it my job to stop them drinking? How do I answer the suspicious complaints that I'm "only concerned to get outrageous behaviour in order to make 'good telly'"?
During the year I am witness to two deaths. Others stumble on toward slow suicide.
Each day I arrive to film I fervently hope that "today will be better, they will be better".
But I know, despite political promise, the NHS has all too few resources for the "one alcoholic whose illness affects some five other people".
Boozenight was shown on Thursday, 13 November on BBC TWO