Archive for the ‘Innovation & Creativity’ Category
When I got to work this (Monday) morning and everyone was talking about the Opening Ceremony I was struck by how long ago it seems – it was only on Friday night and yet a lot of water seems to have passed under the proverbial. It was exactly a week ago that I sped down to Stratford after work to watch the first full Technical Dress rehearsal of the ceremony thanks to a last minute ticket courtesy of London 2012 digital boss Alex Balfour. I was bowled over by what I saw and heard. It was clearly designed as a television event – you could sense many of the camera angles to come – so I was more than happy to experience the real thing via that medium five days later. I found the structure very interesting too – it seemed to revolve around an iconic moment right in the middle – the coming together of the five Olympic rings in a shower of steel mill sparks. We did not see the other iconic moment at the end – the lighting of Thomas Heatherwick’s 204 petal fire flower – which shifts the structure to something more balanced across the whole event. Danny Boyle’s Isles of Wonder proved to be a panoramic vision of what and who this country is, was and will be. It had a natural diversity and balance – ethnically, generationally, geographically, culturally – which reflect the greatness of Britain.
I’ve thought for a long time that Englishness (I’ll switch perspective for a moment) is characterised by these four things in particular:
- Eccentricity – we always have been an odd, outlandish bunch: the world will think so all the more now (no bad thing), with the striking contrast with Beijing 2008’s bombastic opening ceremony which I wrote about back in July 2012 in this very blog here
- Humour – we have a sense of humour that undermines authority, sometimes in a self-deprecating way (but different from New York humor in that regard)
- Tolerance – basically these isles have tended to absorb other peoples in a constructive way
- Creativity of a particular hard-edged brutal sort – I’ve written about this elsewhere in this blog, Creativity being one of the two the main themes, but to reiterate I believe the combination of Norman refinedness and Saxon warrior tendencies has brought about the kind of culture where a beautiful feminine dress is finished with a pair of DMs, that constant undermining of the conventional.
Danny Boyle’s ceremony was infused with all of these: Eccentricity in turning a sports stadium into a bucolic world from the past complete with farm animals and rugby players, that very eccentric game created when some maverick picked up the ball and ran with it; Humour well captured in that modern day Chaplin, mute and recognised the world over, Mr Bean, dreaming of Chariots of Fire (yes, it pains me to bracket him with Chaplin but there is that common universality) and in getting the reigning monarch to be shoved out of a helicopter to make her entrance (I loved the quotation in The Telegraph the next day: “With the words ‘Good evening, Mr Bond’ the Queen secured the monarchy for the next thousand years.”); Tolerance in the easy racial mix of the whole cast and story-telling, like the modern phone-centric romance of the Digital Revolution sequence, as well as the inclusion of the choir of blind, deaf and other children; and of course Creativity in every fibre of its being. I’m not a huge fan of Boyle’s films but I can’t really fault anything in his conception or direction on this occasion – real vision and insight.
Whilst writing this I had a quick look back at that blog post from the time of the Beijing Opening Ceremony and it read as surprisingly precient:
In 2012 to follow these people making a spectacle of themselves, partying to the tune of the Party, London must be itself, tune in to its idiosyncratic, eccentric, spirited creativity (one thing that cannot be manufactured); its rich mix of cultures and peoples; its unique, particular, genuine handmade in Britain talent; its individual dreams which thread the tapestry of its Jerusalem spirit.
I even got the opening song right – that beautiful rendition of Jerusalem which really should be our national anthem (or the English one at least). That child’s voice, and children throughout the event, were included with a genuine warmth and respect.
What was brilliant about the whole thing was how, despite the regime under which it was created, it raised an almighty finger to the Tory establishment and other right-wingers (including the US of A) by showcasing the NHS, the workers who built this country (and the Olympic Park itself, forming the honour guard when the torch finally entered the stadium), Johnny Rotten and the Pistols, Tim Berners-Lee who gave everything away in a very non-Capitalist way, ravers, lesbian kissing, volunteers, the works – all this, without aggression and in good spirit, plugging in to the energy of creative ideas and imagination.
It also captured the intergenerational aspect of the Olympics perfectly, no more so then when transferring that flame from the elder statesman of sport that is now five-time Gold Medal winner Steve Redgrave, via a generation of highly accomplished British Olympians who mentored and selected them, to the 7 emerging talents who carried those distinctive perforated metallic torches (one of which I’d seen from a few feet away two days before as it jogged across my manor by Victoria Park London N3) to light the petals of the cauldron which rose and were united in a single flame in a perfectly judged moment of symbolism.
On the Friday of the Opening ceremony I did my first shift at the Main Press Centre as a Gamesmaker (London 2012 volunteer). That I was working there is testimony to the narrowness of my skills – you didn’t apply for any particular job, you told them what you could do and they assigned you to a role, so I got the website and related social media. I woke up that Friday morning, in another well judged moment of symbolism, at dawn – excited like a child. And like a child I got on my bike (after first having driven it in the back of the car to Stamford Hill, site of my own raving in my 20s at Watermint Quay by the canal) and cycled along the self-same canal in the deserted early morning to the Hackney Wick corner of the Olympic Park. I clocked on at the MPC in good time, joined in the bell ringing at 8:12 (All the Bells by Martin Creed) and then got to it. Seb Coe wandered in during the morning to watch the Jacques Rogge press conference on our telly. He wandered in again exactly 24 hours later the morning after the Ceremony. He looked tired but content. (I’d had only 4 hours sleep myself, and I’m a basket case without at least 16.) I took the opportunity to congratulate him (his speech alone must have been nerve-wracking to a global TV audience of that magnitude) and talk about the reaction so far. He was delighted with the UK press reaction and felt that international coverage was equally positive. We then talked for a bit about what the approach signified for the future of the country, how it was emblematic of the edge our unique British creativity can give in a world dominated by huge populations and their cheap labour. What a telling comparison between the conscripted soldiers making up the serried ranks of the Beijing ceremony and the volunteer health workers and the like who populated the Isles of Wonder.
Today I spent at the excellent The Story conference at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, organised by my fellow Commissioning Editor at Channel 4, Matt Locke (a labour of love on his part). The theme was stories and story-telling – little theory, no money talk, just narrative and tales about tales. So what I learnt…
1) The best conferences (like this one) have only two outputs – Inspiration and catalysing Connections between people.
2) The best comic books have a layer of history, a layer of mythology and a layer of contemporary relevance as evinced by Sydney Padua‘s Lovelace & Babbidge. She showed the development of their new adventure Vs The Organist which combines Victoriana with Orpheus & Eurydice with proto-geekage. Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has a similar combo, a bit more literary, and it’s top of the tree for me. (Talking of trees, the frames in the new story where a band of monkeys break into Babbidge’s office and drag him off to the underworld gave me a sudden flashback to a game we played as children with plastic monkeys, something I hadn’t thought of for decades- there’s so much buried in these memories and imaginations of ours, and connection, especially surprising connection, is the key to creativity.)
3) The best stories combine profound emotion and humour. My old friend and colleague Tim Wright stole the show with his Harrison Fraud story. It’s about a mad time when he tried to convince his business/creative partner, Rob Bevan, that Harrison Ford wanted to work with them. The comic story of facial hair and faked letters was punctuated with insights into Tim’s marital struggles, recounted with an unflinching honesty. That willingness to confront difficult themes head on – as demonstrated equally in Tim’s wonderful In Search of Oldton project which has its roots in his father’s tragic death – is what raises his stories to special heights. Tim and I worked together on the writing of MindGym back in 1996, a game about creativity, Rob worked on it too programming and designing – it was a landmark project for me, drawing me into the world of non-linear story-telling and interactivity, and I learned a wealth from Tim’s methodical approach to scripting. I remember sitting with Tim in a bar in Clapham Old Town, asserting my dedication to film-making and that I’d be giving up this interactive thing before too long, not really my bag. 14 years down the line and here I still am.
4) The best fiction is less strange than truth. The day was rounded off in style by a besuited David Hepworth, he of The Word and Smash Hits, who told a lovely circular tale of the passage of wisdom from father to son to grandson via a bespoke tailor’s in the Yorkshire village he grew up in. It involved the coincidence of a suit being made for him unknowingly by the tailor who had made his father’s suits. It reminded me of my wedding ring. I wear two rings – the wedding ring my wife gave me in the top O of the OXO Tower by the Thames when the O X and O were all floor-to-ceiling windows and the tower was still a building site, and a plain silver ring I bought from a stall in Camden market several years before. To cut a long Irish story short it turned out that the posh jeweler in Gabriel’s Wharf and the Camden stall holder were one and the same person from Inishowen in Donegal (where my wedding ended, 60 miles down the road from its start point in Derry). This stranger than fiction coincidence came to light one day when I was chucking out old chequebook stubs and I found the £10 cheque I’d bought the silver ring with. Recently I’ve had another such experience where I came across the same person (Pippa Harris of Neal St Films, Sam Mendes’ business partner) through two totally different routes – one starting off in a novel I was reading, The Great Lover by Jill Dawson; the other through judging the RTS Single Drama Award for work – the true-life story weaving through all manner of themes from Rupert Brooke to Wikipedia. It’s coincidences and dynamics like those that make life worth living.
I had a quick chat with David Hepworth on the way out about the merits of The Word podcast (very good for jogging I said, great for repetitive domestic tasks he countered) – it’s the very best on the Web, a chat with friends over the kitchen table. Leaving the period lobby, it felt great to have spent the day in Conway Hall with its radical, left-wing vibe. It was here that I took my first published photograph – one of Gerry Adams and Ken Livingstone that appeared in An Phoblacht, the Irish Republican newspaper. But that’s another story…
Today’s Broadcast exploring Two-Screen Experiences with reference to Surgery Live and Embarrassing Bodies Live
Two-screen TV: terms of engagement
11 February, 2010 | By Robin Parker
Broadcasters are finding new ways of attracting the growing number of people who surf the web while they watch TV. Robin Parker taps into the world of two-screen entertainment.
Broadcasters and producers looking to hold on to the communal experience of TV are increasingly turning to the very threat most readily associated with fragmenting audiences.
The web is fast becoming the place to bring an extra dimension to, and make money from, live TV viewing by capitalising on many viewers’ habit of peering at the set over their laptops.
Reasoning that viewers are talking with their peers on social networks and Googling shows, broadcasters want to own the space – and find ways of harnessing this conversation to inform the content of their programmes.
To date, ‘two-screen’, as the trend is known, has been dominated by live web chats to support ITV franchises such as Dancing On Ice and The X Factor, which attract up to 20,000 people a time, and play-along games for shows such as The Apprentice and Four Weddings.
But players in this field forecast an acceleration of interest this year and expect the forthcoming General Election and football World Cup to take the trend to new heights.
Last week saw former ITV exec Jeff Henry launch an ambitious ‘live linking’ service that sent viewers of Five’s US drama Num3rs to 160 websites featuring material relevant to the unfolding narrative.
This week, Channel 4 takes this development to its next logical step with its first ‘one-screen’ interactive experience: a live web show spin-off of Embarrassing Bodies.
Some might argue that enabling a web audience to interact with the show by asking questions and to vote in polls is merely a 21st-century extension of radio and TV phone-ins, but C4 crossplatform commissioner Adam Gee argues that this is reductive.
As Embarrassing Bodies Live unfolds, the studio feed will be dictated by the volume and nature of viewers’ questions, photos and comments. “Our one rule of thumb is that if the interactive element could be done on a digital channel or a radio phone-in, it’s out,” he says. “Those are not networked conversations and they’re not personalised.
“What separates the men from the boys is to take an existing behaviour, such as on Twitter, and spring-board off that into a conversation that has impact on the editorial.”
The web show is the culmination of 18 months of experimentation conducted by Gee, much of it involving Twitter. The highest-profile case, Surgery Live (see box below), became Twitter’s number one trending topic when it aired last May. Another, Alone In The Wild, was, says Gee, an “asynchronous” two-screen experience that opened up the production process before the show aired. It enabled a networked conversation – but one that excluded Ed Wardle, the isolated figure in the series.
Gee believes simplicity is best and thinks two-screen is effective for shows with “a certain wallpaper quality”. He adds: “If Big Brother were starting now, it would totally be in this territory.”
Where it goes wrong, he says, is when too much “unmoderated noise” renders the content incoherent, citing Bad Movie Club, a Twitter experiment backed by the likes of Graham Linehan and Phill Jupitus, in which followers watched the same movie and tweeted their thoughts as it played.
Thirst for information
In the spirit of DVD audio and text commentaries, Henry’s TellyLinks.com is the latest way to feed viewers’ thirst for more information. At launch, it acts like a micro-Google, connecting viewers with external links providing everything from information on an actor to background news stories and details of a show’s setting.
In time, it hopes to sell these links, enabling an advertiser to reach some viewers of regular shows such as the BBC’s Top Gear. Last week’s launch saw the site crash under what Henry says was “overwhelming demand”, which his team is trying to address.
Similarly, Maverick recently provided a Twitter commentary to HBO Iraq war drama Generation Kill as it played out on C4, in which followers of the hashtag #gk were offered definitions of about 60 technical military terms per episode, plus background context on the war that linked through to sites such as Channel 4 News.
The idea came to Maverick’s head of new media, Dan Jones, when he watched the show in the US. “While I loved it, it was hard to follow all the dialogue and I was looking up stuff online after each episode,” he says. “We designed a glossary that you could, if you chose, ignore most of, but you could look whenever you wanted to check something.”
The audience for this was in the mere hundreds but they were, he says, “really engaged”.
Maverick has also started working with talent on this, using Kirstie Allsopp’s love of Twitter to get the presenter to link to craft courses and contributors’ sites during the transmission of Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas.
“It’s low cost and this casual engagement becomes financially worthwhile as you’re directing people to advertising-supported sites like C4’s 4homes. com,” Jones adds.
Meanwhile, having pioneered simple play-a-long tools for The Apprentice, Come Dine With Me and Living shows such as Four Weddings, digital specialist Monterosa is also eyeing the commercial opportunities.
“Some of the biggest brands are measuring their marketing spend by engagement,” managing director Tom McDonnell says. “In shows with commercial breaks, there’s a huge opportunity to reach people waiting for shows – and games – to come back on.”
He believes the games reward viewer loyalty and help a pre-recorded show feel ‘live’. While less than 1% of the audience played along, as much as 80% of these watched every episode. Moreover, he says, “it’s about giving the broadcaster an authoritative role in viewers’ behaviour. Channels like Living have to feel interactive.”
Mint Digital has, under its own steam, developed its own play-a-long game – a fantasy football variant called Football 3s – and is now discussing with ITV how to exploit it for the World Cup.
Product manager Utku Can Akyuz believes the tournament, along with the election, will be the testing ground for two-screen, but feels it will remain a minority interest in the short term.
“I don’t want to go down the path where the only way to watch a show is with a second screen,” he says. “It’s a challenge for writers and producers to create hooks for it without being too overt.”
Another challenge, he says, will be adapting the experience for timeshifted viewing. Mint is prototyping a debate tool that time-indexes each comment made through a broadcast, then overlays them on a show on a catch-up site such as iPlayer so that viewers watching later can get a sense of the experience.
He also wants to finesse the feel of two-screen. “We’re looking at how to design it for peripheral vision – using colours or sounds so you can see things change, but you can decide whether or not to look down at your laptop.”
Which begs a bigger question: with Project Canvas on the horizon, bringing interactivity to the TV set, will two-screen have had its day? Players in this space think not, arguing that the peculiar mix of a personal and shared experience will live on.
“A lot of TV viewing is done with more than one person in the room,” says McDonnell. “Wouldn’t it be pretty annoying if dad was obscuring the TV just to play a game?”
C4 OPENS THE DEBATE
Windfall Films’ week-long Channel 4 series Surgery Live, which covered live operations from a surgical theatre, was the first significant and deliberate attempt by a UK broadcaster to involve Twitter and Facebook in shaping the editorial. Backed by a Wellcome Trust grant for online development, it asked viewers to become virtual students and tweet the questions and comments they would give if they were in the room with the doctors.
“It was a digital media literacy opportunity,” says C4 cross-platform commissioner Adam Gee. “We couldn’t assume people knew how to use Twitter, and this helped get them acquainted.”
More than 10,000 questions and comments arrived via Twitter and Facebook over the course of the week and the best got to the surgeon within two minutes. By the final night, it was Twitter’s biggest trending topic in the world and the Facebook group counted 5,000 members. Given that the show itself was only accessible in the UK, this was no mean feat and Gee counted surgical students, doctors and health charities among the interested audience who continue to discuss the issue online nine months on.
“It was a great opportunity to experiment,” Gee concludes. “It amplified what was going on and we took some real steps forward by initiating a broad range of debates on medical issues with a community that developed in a completely organic way.”
[Article reproduced courtesy of Broadcast]
As I’m becoming an older git with a dog’s age of doing cross-platform under my belt, I’m becoming conscious of my work disappearing into the mists of time (hence my recent archiving of MindGym in this august journal, at least it will be August tomorrow). Next week a site I did to mark Paul Greengrass‘ drama ‘Omagh’ being broadcast on Channel 4 in 2004 is about to be ‘migrated’. I suspect that means ‘knackered’ so I’ve just nabbed a few shots for posterity, a couple of which I’ll archive here. This one was a real labour of love (my wife is Northern Irish, my kids are Irish, I filmed in Omagh in the wake of the bomb).
[Happy days, working with designer Mark Limb and producers Kiminder Bedi and Katie Streten]. Contibutors included director Paul Greengrass (who sent me his contribution from the set of ‘The Bourne Supremecy’), actor Adrian Dunbar, singers Brian Kennedy and Tommy Sands, writers Nell McCafferty and Colin Bateman, comedian Jeremy Hardy, nurses, churchmen, shopworkers, all reflecting on what, if anything, positive came out of the bombing of Omagh from the perspective of 5 years on…
Hooked up the other day, after a dog’s age, with designmeister Jason Loader (who has just set up on his own as Yeah Love). We made MindGym together way back when – a game about creative thinking. Jason has been kind (and patient) enough over the weekend to dig out some of the old design assets from a moribund machine…
There are some more here
All these 3D environments were designed by Jason Loader (at a time when they typically took over 18 hours to render, so a bit on the frustrating side if you didn’t get it right first time). MindGym was a concept I came up with at Melrose Film Productions in the wake of making a series of films about Creativity. I nicked the title from Lenin or one of those Ruskies, who used the term with reference to chess. So Jason and I started work on it, then the pair of us hooked up with NoHo Digital to realise a bastard creation of great energy. Rob Bevan (now at XPT) did the interface design and programming, skilfully combining this kind of rich 3D with elegant 2D inspired by You Don’t Know Jack. His creative partner Tim Wright led the writing team – him, Ben Miller and me – it was a comic script with serious stuff underlying the gags. I couldn’t help chuckling recently when I heard someone refer to Rob & Tim as the Jagger & Richards of new media. Talking of which, Nigel Harris did the music and sound design – excellent audio was one of our explicit creative goals, again inspired by YDK Jack. And talking of Jack the lads, Paul Canty (now of Preloaded) and Mike Saunders (Kew Digital), who were just starting out, were also among the production team. The studio was infested with red ants (possibly flesh-eating), but it didn’t distract us from the task at hand…