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George Atkinson: “Do not underestimate luck”

“Parkinson’s Law: A Job will only take as long as the time you give it.” Or in layman’s terms, just do it, stop dancing around it. I used to do a lot of procrastinating. I think it’s a thing that creatives do and especially writers but just get on with it and see how much […]

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“Parkinson’s Law: A Job will only take as long as the time you give it.” Or in layman’s terms, just do it, stop dancing around it. I used to do a lot of procrastinating. I think it’s a thing that creatives do and especially writers but just get on with it and see how much you can do in a day. I’ve tried to surround myself around people who push their productivity as well as their creativity. My publicist, Tracy, really inspires me with her work ethic. She’s constantly working and she loves it. She’s really made me start to ask what’s possible when it comes to getting a large amount of work done professionally in a shorter space of time than one might expect. Again, as Parkinson’s Law dictates: A Job will only take as long as the time you give it.


As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing George Atkinson, founder of UK-based Effortless Pictures. He wrote his first scripts as a child, and by the age of eight, his scripts were being performed at a small local theatre. 
By 16 the Pyramid Arts Centre, in the northwest of England’s large town of Warrington, had invited him to premier his first short film. He founded Effortless Pictures in his 20s. This year saw the release of a documentary film (about music historian, writer and record producer Sam Charters and his wife Ann; a noted photographer and writer). Called ‘Searching for Secret Heroes’ the film is a collaboration between Effortless Picture and the internationally renowned award-winning heritage record label Document Records. Today he’s working on several exciting new projects including a film, ‘Grace’, which examines the moral test for a middle-aged woman whose husband is in the advanced stages of a degenerative illness. He is most passionate about the outstanding ‘The Secret of Svalbard’; a thirteen-episode, science-fiction Thriller series that tells of a small group of people who, through various circumstances, must come together to find Nikola Tesla’s lost and most radical creation; a strange but powerful room, buried deep beneath the Arctic ice on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Currently, in development, this life-affirming adventure, full of intrigue and suspense from one episode to the next is breathtaking and industry watchers expect it to be a breakout hit across demographics.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in a little town called Whithorn, tucked away in the southwest of Scotland and even at a very young age, stories were very important to me. There wasn’t too much to do because it was so rural, so television and VHS tapes were a constant companion. I feel that I grew up maybe watching a little bit too much Television if I was honest about it but that sort of thing really triggered a passion and desire to be part of it. It was a great upbringing, I think that also living around the Scottish countryside really developed my visual style, Growing up around such beauty as the Galloway Hills.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I knew, from about eight years old, when I first saw “The Matrix”, that Film and now TV would be a big part of my life. It was a rush watching that movie at such a young age; it was the new, all singing, all dancing thing.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I would say all of the strange coincidences that have been happening with ‘The Secret of Svalbard’. Many people have come into the project. We have just had Canadian art icon, Patricia Gagic, contact us about the project. Like everyone else that knows about the project she is very excited about it. She told me that she adores Tesla, adores the arctic and that she had a story idea in mind, which came from a dream, involving the mountain called Meru Peak, which features in ‘The Secret of Svalbard’. Many people who have come into this project turn out to have experienced spooky, personal, coincidences with it, often just prior to them hearing about it and getting involved.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It’s not exactly ‘funny’ but when I first began writing for Film and TV there was that issue of not quite understanding that one has to write a screenplay or teleplay as if it’s a blueprint for a screen rather than it being more literature-based, with highly descriptive paragraphs. Very early on, I remember I did a whole paragraph about stars for this scene set in space and I was describing the scene with all of it’s ‘ethereal sensibilities’ and ‘awe and wonder’ of the scene, and the director just sent it back and said “Just write “Starscape”. That made me laugh out loud, the fact that we had gone from a few lines to one word but that’s screenplay writing and there’s a definitive craft to it. It’s tough and you have to ask things such as “Okay, is this to the point?” It’s a very disciplined but rewarding craft that can teach you many things about human communication as a whole.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Our TV project ‘The Secret of Svalbard’ has been, so far, a complete whirlwind of unbelievable events. I can hardly believe we got Lani Billard to return to “series Television”! That’s going to be quite incredible and I feel very privileged that she has said “yes” to this after we knew that she had turned down a lot of offers in recent years.’ The Secret of Svalbard’, for me, is a kind of tribute to the science fiction I used to consume on a daily basis, as a kid but now it is from the perception of an adult. I really have wanted to create something that anyone, young or old, can sit down and enjoy. We’ve had a couple of industry people say to us that this is not possible anymore, with all of the different platforms that we have to consume media and that there’s no way one can create an engaging sci-fi show that everyone can enjoy. But my career has had a theme of proving to certain people that these things are, in fact, still possible. ‘The Secret of Svalbard’ is about a group of people, who under normal circumstance may never have met each other but now they are thrust into a situation where they must try to find a lost invention of Nikola Tesla, which is basically a mysterious room under the Svalbard snow and ice. I’m amazed at how smooth the development has gone, so far, and just how many people have become interested in the story and the overall premise of the show so rapidly. Everyone has high expectations for the series.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

When I grew up, certain characters were role models to me. Characters such as Captain Picard and even The Doctor from ‘Doctor Who’ truly affected my life, they still do! The things I saw on television and film really did shape the way that I thought and felt and when I got to a certain age, I did start to realize that straight white male figures did, for the majority, have the monopoly over Film and TV. It’s something that has bothered me for a while because I thought to myself, “what about children of certain colour and sexual orientations? Where are their role models? Where are the characters that certify that they are no different and that they are valid?” It’s something that has been in my mind since the beginning of my career and to be blunt I find some characters today that attempt to promote ‘diversity’ to be only token characters that are just added at the last minute to appease the mainstream media. Characters that promote representation should not be shoehorned in. They should be treated with respect and curated with the sole purpose of creating a solid, relatable, character, rather than just trying to appease a quota.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

“Do not underestimate luck”. It may seem like a very impractical piece of advice, I know, but it’s something to keep in mind, in both ways; good or bad. Sometimes, when things are not going your way and you’re not getting gigs or jobs, it might just be that it’s not your moment of fortune but as they say “This too shall pass”

“Parkinson’s Law: A Job will only take as long as the time you give it.” Or in layman’s terms, just do it, stop dancing around it. I used to do a lot of procrastinating. I think it’s a thing that creatives do and especially writers but just get on with it and see how much you can do in a day. I’ve tried to surround myself around people who push their productivity as well as their creativity. My publicist, Tracy, really inspires me with her work ethic. She’s constantly working and she loves it. She’s really made me start to ask what’s possible when it comes to getting a large amount of work done professionally in a shorter space of time than one might expect. Again, as Parkinson’s Law dictates: A Job will only take as long as the time you give it.

“Rest days are as important as your work days.” You should take pride in and really appreciate the days where you’re not working and you’re just doing the things that make you relax and unwind. I remember a good friend asked me something that always stuck with me: “George when do you recharge your phone?” I said “Well, almost every day, of course”. He then asked “When do you recharge yourself?”

If the project’s not working, drop it. I’ve been very lucky with ‘The Secret of Svalbard’. So far, everything has been coming together very nicely but I have had certain projects that have been real slogs. I was writing a rather generic film before Svalbard. But I wasn’t feeling it. If I’m honest, I’d had some very small traction with it but nothing truly overwhelming and even if Svalbard hadn’t come out of the left field and become what it has become, so far, I think I still would have dropped the film script. You have to realize when to call it a day because one only has finite time and energy, so use it wisely.

Being a true perfectionist is truly unhelpful. It’s good to strive for ‘perfection’ but as Picasso said about his paintings: I never finish them, I just walk away” and that’s a good thing to know and have in mind when you’re creating art. We can all very easily be our own critic and tinker and obsess, which is helpful to a degree, yes. But when you are making yourself ill and almost hamming up your own perfectionist tendencies, this is not helpful. It’s stressful and not a productive or pleasant way to live.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

It’s truly a great pleasure when you have the privilege to do something that you love for a career, I try never to take that for granted. With that in mind, you can often think that what you are doing isn’t really work’ but you must give yourself credit. You are working hard on your projects and you deserve that rest day or that downtime. I think that creatives who don’t have a set schedule will get the biggest burnout. People who plan out their day, know their weak spots where they can lose energy and do things to mitigate that. Little routines that keep me focused and fresh, like Yoga and Meditation, have been a Godsend. Finally, when you have a day off, take it and fully enjoy it.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The environment. It’s not really up for debate anymore. It’s a bizarre thing, as I’m writing ‘The Secret of Svalbard’, which is a real place in the arctic and we intend to get a second shoot unit there as we’re mostly filming in Canada but the scary thing is the question of “How arctic will the arctic look in a few years?” That has really bothered me a lot, as, since the show is set partly in the 1930s, you can definitely create that contrast between Svalbard then and Svalbard now. We honestly have to just try our best to be mindful of the planet we are on. It’s a played-out comment but we do only have one planet. There is no backup…

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There’s many. I’m very lucky to have a great Mum and Dad, who always encouraged me from the beginning and wanted me to succeed, but someone that actually stands out is my friend and cinematographer extraordinaire, Rik. He has stuck with me throughout. And of course, a big thank you to Megan, who has continued to be a bright light in this venture and in my life.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The one that has stuck with me the most is when Tony Robbins talked about when he went to learn Golf and he kept hitting the ball into the water or into the sandbank. He started to get frustrated, thinking he was completely failing and was ready to quit when his coach said to him that he was actually, simply, “a millimeter off”. It’s a great thing to think when you feel that all Hell is breaking out around you and that all is lost.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

It would be honestly great to have breakfast with Christopher Nolan. He’s literally my “north star” with this whole endeavor. We’re both British, we love and adore science fiction and shooting in “real film”. There’s also a lot of similar ideas and work ethic. I’ve watched countless interviews and read interviews of him, myself. I truly feel as though I can relate to his style and ideals and not just that but think of the breakfast; a classical, British affair, I’m sure, with Earl Grey tea and crumpets. How sophisticated! It would be lovely.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can check out www.effortlesspictures.com for info on our projects, including ‘The Secret of Svalbard’ but you can also see ‘The Fragrance Apprentice’ project on YouTube. That’s where I developed much of my style and storytelling abilities, in a “trial by fire” sort of way. The Fragrance Apprentice is something I can’t quite say goodbye to yet, I still love it but I know, with the accumulating traction and attention that “Svalbard” is getting, I will probably to have to move on soon.

I can also be contacted through my publicist, Tracy Lamourie at Lamourie MEDIA: www.lamouriemedia.com at [email protected]

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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