Archive for the ‘osama loves’ Tag

C4’s surreal Twitter experiments

Here’s a piece on integrating Twitter with TV courtesy of C21 Media, written by Jonathan Webdale:

SOCIAL MEDIA 2010: Channel 4 new media commissioner Adam Gee says Twitter saved the life of one of the channel’s documentary makers and is responsible for resocialising TV. Jonathan Webdale reports.

As a UK public service broadcaster, Channel 4 has a remit to innovate and over in its factual department that’s exactly what new media commissioner Adam Gee (left) has been doing with Twitter.

Gee, or @SurrealThing as he’s known to his followers (more on this later), cites four projects, each of which illustrates a different use of the micro-blogging service. The first came in July 2008 with Osama Loves, a multi-platform travelogue that sent two people off around the world to find 500 people named Osama in 50 days in a bid to counter Muslim stereotypes.

The journey included visits to places with limited internet and mobile network access, so the stripped down simplicity of Twitter 140-character updates offered a means for the protagonists to keep the narrative going.

“We knew we would have bandwidth issues when they were in the middle of Nigeria or some corner of Indonesia and we needed a different way of communicating, so we used Twitter to tell the story,” says Gee.

Similarly, Alone in the Wild, a series that last year followed documentary maker Ed Wardle’s attempts to survive in solitude when abandoned in the Yukon, also employed Twitter as part of its narrative.

While Wardle wasn’t allowed two-way communication with the outside world, he was permitted to tweet just once a day, partly as a way of adding further perspective to his experience, but also to allow the production team to keep tabs on his progress.

Wardle was trying to last three months in the wilderness but failed to find reliable sources of food and his physical and mental health deteriorated to the point where he had to be rescued after seven weeks.

In one of his Twitter posts he said he was losing weight so quickly that his muscles were disappearing. Another mentioned that his heart was at 32 beats per minute, when 60-100 is considered healthy.

“I can’t definitively prove it but it saved his life because when he started struggling psychologically it first became evident in his daily tweets,” says Gee.

Two other C4 shows drew on Twitter to shape their editorial direction in real-time. A year ago, Surgery Live was a series of four one-hour live operations that ran stripped across the week at 23.00. Viewers were able supply questions to the surgeon via Twitter while he was carrying out procedures such as removing a pituitary tumour or opening a heart.

“I’m pretty sure that this was the first time a UK broadcaster deliberately used Twitter and integrated it into a cross-platform project,” says Gee. It’s probably pretty safe to say as well that few broadcasters other than C4 would have chosen such as initiative to pop their Twitter cherry.

“The system was such that you could tweet a question and that question could get from your mobile or laptop to air in 90 seconds. We had to have a slight delay on the live feed in case something serious went wrong, but it was an absolute thrill to have such a direct impact on the programme.”

Gee himself tweeted in some questions from home on a couple of nights using his then anonymous handle. “Those were before the days when you had your actual name on the Twitter account,” he says. “The reason that my Twitter identity is SurrealThing is because when I first saw it about three years ago I thought it looked like the end of civilisation as we know it.”

But Gee decided that he needed to get to grips with Twitter if he was ever going to be able to commission anything that made use of it. “So I was a Surrealist for the first year, tweeting about melting watches and stuff like that. I couldn’t get what it was for. But over time what emerged was a tool waiting for a mission.”

Through the three experiments listed above he feels he’s now pretty clear about what that mission is, as far as broadcasters are concerned.

The fourth project he notes, Embarrassing Bodies: Live, took Surgery Live a step further, transforming what had been a two-screen experience for viewers into one. Ironically, however, it used a “Twitter-like” interface that ran on C4’s own website, rather than actually integrated filtered messages from the public Twitter feed.

“We didn’t want an un-moderated stream of stuff being published to the site and in that particular instance it was actually easier to build the functionality and integrate it into our moderation system than to use Twitter separately,” says Gee, though he doesn’t rule out direct tie-ups in the future.

Live broadcasts are definitely where he sees Twitter having its greatest applications but he notes that it’s not relevant to all programmes. “You’ve got to be careful what you build your Twitter cross-platform activity around because if it’s over-complex or requires too much concentration it’s not ideal. You actually want something you don’t have to concentrate on too hard,” he says, giving awards shows as a classic example.

As a general observation, Gee believes that C4’s Twitter experiments have helped crystallise exactly what the micro-blogging service’s mission is from a broadcaster’s perspective. “It’s resocialising TV,” he says. “Once, you might have chatted the next day over a shared big TV experience, but with the much more fragmented TV world we have now it replaces that – which I think is it’s greatest strength. That’s where the value for the channel is.”

Jonathan Webdale
27 Apr 2010
© C21 Media 2010

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Embarrassing Bodies: Live was nominated yesterday for a BAFTA TV Craft Award for interactive creativity

How to find God

Jon and John Lennon

Jon and John Lennon

We had a little lunchtime sesh for staff at C4 HQ with Jon Ronson talking about his latest film (REVELATIONS: HOW TO FIND GOD) which transmits this Sunday at 7pm on Channel 4. It’s all about the Alpha Course, but not ripping into it or taking the piss, a gentle generous film matched by Jon’s gentle Cardiffian voice-over. None the less insightful for that – just not taking the obvious route, and in that respect very C4. It was commissioned by Aaqil Ahmed, outgoing Commissioning Editor for Religion, who I worked with on Osama Loves last summer and who is heading off for the Beeb, great fodder for the BBC anti-Christian plot conspiracy theorists. Conspiracy theories are of course very much the territory of Jon Ronson (e.g. The Men Who Stare at Goats) – he summed up the theme of his career in journalism, writing and telly as exploring “bubbles of irrationality”. Reminds me of a protest outside C4 HQ by the Moonies last year – after running the gauntlet through said Moonpeople a colleague of mine gave his definition of a religion – “a cult that got lucky”.

Jon and Che

Jon and Che

So Jon’s latest film is a look at the Alpha Course, the Evangelical Christian phenomenon that has been attended by an estimated 2 million people in the UK, and 13 million worldwide. The film has unique access to the course as it follows a small group of agnostics as they undergo the ten evening sessions and weekend away. For Ronson, it is the second time he has done the Alpha Course – the first was for a Guardian article eight years ago. Here, he reflects on his experiences with Alpha. He reveals how he was nearly won round, what he does and doesn’t like about the beliefs involved, and why he thinks the course has enjoyed such a phenomenal level of success.

Why did you want to make a film about the Alpha Course in the first place?

JR: The main reason was that I wrote a piece about the Alpha Course eight years ago, and I was really struck by how dramatic and powerful the Alpha small group thing is. That’s the masterstroke of Nicky Gumbel, who created Alpha – his use of the small group. Really dramatic things happen in small groups – like they do in Alcoholics Anonymous. I thought if we could get a camera into an Alpha small group and make people somehow feel unselfconscious, there would be a great film. That was my main reason for wanting to do the film. But also I knew that the weekend away, where people are asked to speak in tongues, is another really dramatic thing to capture, because some people are just horrified by the idea of speaking in tongues, while for other people it’s the moment when they dive into Christianity. It’s a moment of drama that I knew we’d capture and would be fascinating. And finally, I thought the idea of people becoming Christians might seem like a boring subject for people to watch, but I sort of knew that within the context of Alpha you could make a really interesting, dramatic film about becoming a Christian. If we could capture the moment an agnostic becomes a Christian, it would be jaw-dropping.

It’s watching someone’s life change completely in an instant, isn’t it?

Exactly. I think capturing that, and making it something you couldn’t take your eyes off, was something I wanted to achieve. And I think we have achieved it. I think it’s a really dramatic film. As you say, the structure of the course is key to its success.

How does it work? What happens on an Alpha Course?

Basically you turn up, you’re an agnostic, and the reason why you’ve been convinced to go is because you work in a bar and the person working with you is a Christian, and you have big fights about it late into the night, and finally they say “Well, if you’re so interested, come and do an Alpha Course.” So you turn up and it all seems very nice, and there are pretty girls at the door offering you Hobnobs, and then there’s a talk from the vicar, which is a talk that’s been written by Nicky Gumbel. And then you split off into small groups to discuss the meaning of life. And you do this once a week for ten weeks, and towards the end of that time you go off on a weekend away, where you don’t realise until you get there that they’re going to ask you to try and speak in tongues. And within that framework, salvation occurs, with extraordinary frequency.

What sort of frequency? What proportion of people on the course are converted?

Well, it’s difficult to come up with an exact figure, mainly because some people who do the Alpha Course are Christians anyway, so that kind of skews the figures. But from my own personal experience of having done Alpha twice and talking to a lot of people, the figure I came up with was about one-in-eight.

You’ve done Alpha twice? For research purposes?

Yeah. Although the first time it nearly worked for me. I got all swept up. It didn’t happen for me this time, because when you’re making a film you’ve got so many things to think about you don’t get into the sort of hypnotic bubble. But the first time, yeah, we’d just had a kid, and we’d had trouble conceiving him, and I just felt like Nicky Gumbel was kind of talking to me in strange ways. It’s all in the article I wrote at the time. It’s weird, it was such a personal thing that even though I wrote about it all in the article, I feel a bit uncomfortable talking about it. [In the article, Jon recounts how he was thinking about his son, Joel, being a gift from God. Just at that moment, Nicky started reading from The Book of Joel. Jon writes: “In the middle of the night it becomes clear to me that I almost certainly had a message from God, that God had spoken to me through Nicky Gumbel.”]

What kind of people do you get signing up for Alpha? Do they all have certain characteristics in common? Did they strike you as being lost souls?

Well, I think pretty much everybody in the world is a lost soul. There were one or two people in our group who were a bit Richard Dawkins-y, and really just wanted to have a bit of a scrap. I liked them very much as people, but I didn’t really put them in the film, because that’s not really what it’s about. And then there were one or two people who were more lost soul-ish than the others. But as I said, we’re all lost souls in a way, so you can’t really judge people on that. I don’t think you can really generalise about people’s reasons for doing the Alpha Course. I think that makes it very interesting. They all had a genuine reason for doing Alpha, but they were all very different reasons.

You found it quite hard to get a church to agree to filming this documentary, didn’t you?

Yes. We went to see Nicky Gumbel, who liked the original piece I wrote, except for a line about him equating being gay with being a paedophile, which he says I quoted wildly out of context, and to which I say I quoted it entirely within context. But it caused him no end of trouble, as you can imagine. However, other than that, I think he really liked the article. I think he liked me, and I like him, actually. So I went to see him last December, and said I wanted to make a film about Alpha, and could I film a small group at his church. And he said no. He said he felt that a camera would be like a brick wall between an agnostic and God. Not only would it dissuade people from doing Alpha, having a camera there, but the people who did do Alpha wouldn’t do it properly. So I said to him “What if I find a church doing Alpha who let me film?” And he said “Well, if they phone me, I’ll advise them not to do it for the reasons I’ve just outlined.” And I said “What if they want to do it anyway?” And he said “Well, I can’t stop you.” So we went to lots of churches, and they all said no. Whether they said no because they phoned Nicky I don’t know. But then this fantastic church in Oxford agreed to it. The rector, Charlie Cleverly, phoned Nicky, or one of Nicky’s people, and decided he wanted to do it anyway, because he felt that the presence of a camera might actually encourage people to come. And I got the feeling, from speaking to Charlie, that ultimately Nicky wasn’t that down on the idea.

You seemed to like the people you featured in the film, both those doing the course and those running it. Would that be accurate?

Yeah, I do and I did. And that goes all the way to Nicky Gumbel. However, from a sceptical agnostic point of view, I think that the sort of Evangelical zeal where turning the agnostics to God is the all-important thing, and matters more than anything else, I don’t personally like. So I don’t really like the Evangelical zeal of Alpha. But, then again, they would say that that’s what they believe, that if you don’t find God you don’t get salvation, and it’s crucial. So I see that as a fault, but they don’t. But I wanted to make a film that didn’t focus too much on the negatives. I wanted to make a film that was enquiring and gentle and human. I saw it as a film about people.

The Alpha Course, and therefore the film itself, both take a major, dramatic turn on the weekend away. It comes a little bit out of the blue.

Yeah, that was deliberate on my part. I was worried that, in order to sell the film to the audience, we’d need to put something about that at the top of the film, and I was so glad when it turned out that we didn’t have to. I did it that way because that’s the structure of Alpha – they underplay the weekend away in the first few weeks of the course. So people on the course don’t really know what to expect when they turn up for the weekend. I didn’t want the viewers to know any more than the agnostics we’re following would know.

When the moment arrives where people are asked to speak in tongues, it’s a very polarising experience, isn’t it?

Yeah, it is. And exactly the same thing happened last time I did Alpha. Some people stormed out in disgust, and said “I thought these people were nice, with their biscuits. I didn’t realise they were like some sort of weird cult.” Which I don’t think they are, because a cult is something much more restrictive. If you leave Alpha, no-one’s going to try and press gang you into coming back. But then, for other people, the speaking in tongues is ‘the moment’ – it unlocks something in their hearts. So it’s incredibly polarising, and that’s fascinating. Especially because the rest of Alpha is so un-polarising.

Do you think, then, that it’s a mistake to include speaking in tongues in the course?

It’s really interesting, isn’t it? Nicky would say “I didn’t make the rules, God makes the rules.” But I think, in a way, Nicky does make the rules. Maybe he just thought at some point that you need to draw a line in the sand, otherwise it’s too wishy-washy. But it’s an extraordinary out-of-the-blue structural thing. Maybe it’s not a mistake. To a lot of Christians it is a mistake, and it’s the thing they don’t like about Alpha. And some Alpha Courses have done away with the weekend away – I think much to Nicky’s annoyance. The weekend away happens three-quarters of the way through the course, but it marks the end of the film.

Why is that?

It’s just a natural climax to the story – and it’s a natural climax to the course too, really. The last few weeks are sort of a bit underwhelming.

You have a Jewish background. Was that an issue at all?

No, not at all. My agnosticism was more of an issue. They kept on getting me up onstage in front of the local congregation, to ask me whether my agnosticism remained intact, and always got really pissed off when I told them that it did! But besides the Evangelical zeal, which I find distasteful, I really liked the people. I think they’re good people, nice, funny, intelligent people who are just doing what they think is best. I certainly don’t look down my nose at them.

When you’re making a film like this, which is very observational, is it difficult to know when to ask questions and when to remain silent?

I think it’s sort of intuitive. I have made mistakes, and I kick myself afterwards, when I’m watching the rushes back and I think “Why did I stupidly say something then? They were about to say something amazing.” But the older I get, the better I am at that. It’s probably the most important part of film making, and in the end it has to be sort of intuitive. You learn from experience. When in doubt, shut up. If you ask someone a question – this is the sort of dark art of interviewing – and then they answer it and you don’t say anything, they’ll feel compelled to fill the silence by saying something else, and the other thing they say might be fantastic. So definitely, when in doubt don’t say anything.

Why do you think the Alpha Course is so successful?

I think it’s so successful because of a mix of two things. Firstly because of the invisible structure – everything from the pretty women serving you food through to the structure of when each thing is revealed every week. And then that dramatic lurch at the weekend away, when it all gets turned on its head. Some people might see it as a mistake, others think it’s the coup de grace. I’m kind of torn between the two.

A lot of people will tune in expecting a polemic, or a knocking film. It’s not, is it?

JR: I could make a knocking film. There are certain things I don’t like. But that’s not so much about the course as about Christianity. But we didn’t want to do that. I really wanted to make a film that was about the human dramas that went on within Alpha. To learn about these peoples’ lives as we went on was just fascinating. We didn’t have a clue about any of them when we started filming – it wasn’t like Big Brother where the producers know everything about the housemates when they choose them. It was so interesting finding out about the people in this film. If you want to make a knocking film, then you lose that human element in it, and we wanted to make a film about people.

Jon and Wookie

Jon and Wookie

AG: For me, that’s the difference between journalism and film-making. A journalist knows broadly what he wants to say and goes out to illustrate it with interviews and other footage. A film-maker knows what he wants to explore and goes out to see what he can find…

Tweet Dreams Are Made of This

surgery live

[This post was originally published in an edited form on The TV Show blog]

Twitter has been in the mainstream media a lot in recent months. Surgery Live was the second of three experiments by me run out of Channel 4’s Cross-platform Department using this increasingly popular ‘microblogging’ service in connection with television programmes. The experiment reflects the increasingly common habit of ‘Twittering’ whilst watching TV, plugging in to that behaviour in the context of a bold, educative factual television series – importantly a live one.

[Twitter, if it hasn’t crossed your path, is a website from which you can send short messages (of up to 140 characters) to a network of people who are interested in similar things to you or who to choose to follow your short messages or ‘tweets’.]

When I first saw Twitter a few years ago I thought it was the end of civilisation as we know it. I gave myself the identity SurrealThing on the site because I felt at the time the only way to engage with it was as a persona or character, so I decided to be a Surrealist to match the weirdness of the whole concept. I began tweeting about melting watches and the like. Since then I’ve come to see it as a tool in search of a purpose and the three experiments I’ve commissioned (as Channel 4’s Cross-platform Commissioning Editor for Factual) have been about applying the Twitter tool to a worthwhile mission.

The first experiment, early last summer, was Osama Loves which used Twitter to enable two young British Muslims to go in search of 500 people called Osama right across the Islamic world with a view to illustrating the diversity of Muslim culture. Twitter was used in that instance as a means of updating Channel 4 viewers from areas of the world where they couldn’t get online or didn’t have sufficient bandwidth and were forced to rely on mobile to send in their updates or respond to their followers.

Surgery Live – broadcast live on Channel 4 in May – used Twitter to enable viewers to ask questions and discuss live the surgical procedures featured in the series. Viewers were invited to watch a selection of four fascinating operations live at around 11pm each night of the Surgery Live week. From open heart surgery to awake brain surgery to keyhole surgery, the programmes invited viewers to ask questions of the surgeons via Twitter (or email or phone), all filtered via the production team who selected the most interesting questions which were then posed through the intermediary of the presenter, arch-Twitterer Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News. So a matter of seconds between tweet and the question being asked on live TV.

There is of course a long and honourable tradition of surgeons talking and teaching whilst operating and every effort was made to make the Surgery Live questions and answers no more distracting than that normal medical training practice.

So viewers were encouraged to tweet away during the live operations, sharing their thoughts and asking questions. The big difference from the few previous experiments in this area is that this was live TV and you could make an impact with your tweet on the actual TV editorial. Now of course there are echoes of phone-ins and combining TV with forums/chatrooms the best part of a decade ago (notably by Danny Baker on Channel 4) but what this new generation of social media brings is a networked conversation which is global, searchable, tagable and open. In other words, unlike emails, text messages or phones, you can join in a discussion among numerous people from right across the UK and beyond – fellow viewers, experts, medical students, enthusiasts, all manner of interested parties – live and simultaneously.

The online dimension of the project was produced by Windfall Films (who made the TV series) in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust. Included on the Surgery Live website was a section on how to use Twitter, to enable anyone unfamiliar with it to get up and running in under 5 minutes. This is part of the Channel’s ‘digital media literacy’ activities.

The third in this series of experiments is the forthcoming Alone in the Wild which will start life properly on Twitter on 27th June (watch this space – there is some early activity already). It revolves around a British man immersing himself alone in the wilderness of the Yukon for three months.

To get a sense of how the Surgery Live experiment panned out I leave it to the words of our viewers/participants. One measure of its impact was that it ‘trended’ #1, #2# or #3 on Twitter every night – that is, for a while around transmission was the 1st, 2nd or 3rd most popular topic globally. Another is that by the second night, if you googled the word “surgery” the Surgery Live website showed up number 2 of 121 Million results.

philroberts: #slive this could be one of the best models for twitter, live interactive feedback brilliant twitter was a great enhancement to the show

manpreet1: Surgery live on channel 4, and #slive, was a great use of a new format.

bruceelrick: @wellcometrust it was a great success on twitter. #slive now 3rd most popular trend on twitter – pretty great achievement!

J_Dizzle_: just watched heart surgery live on channel 4, twitter questions and updates.. very well done. #slive

mjmobbs: #slive excellent, see you tomorrow, really enjoyed the Twitter and Live TV combination.

Furgaline: What a brilliant way to educate people… #slive

warrenfree: Enjoyed watching Channel4 adoption of twitter to allow us to question the surgeons.. Interesting to watch too #slive

OotSandShaman my question was just asked on @surgerylive! man twitter kicks ass

Sarahgrittin09 #slive good to see social networking sites used for more interesting things like this rather than poncy photos and relationship statuses!

vas_876 @ajd90 Hey, looks like #slive has brought loads of us prospective medics to twitter

mygadgetlife: #slive really C4 a great program made all the more enjoyable with twitter but poor scheduling  [some viewers were upset that the live broadcast had to end after its allotted hour]

ellied18: Shame #slive isn’t on for longer… great insight!

wren154: #slive Forget Susan Boyle and all the other wannabes. This programme is showing where Britain’s Got Talent

marcmcg @SurgeryLive please turn SurgeryLive into a weekly series. Most innovative and educational show I’ve seen on TV in a long time.

tweelhouse @krishgm Watching Mondays #slive – totally fascinating. Have a heart condition and helping me better understand what goes on inside me!

Chrissarnowski #slive Thank you Surgery Live; great eyeopener, makes me more determined to pursue my ambitions in medicine…

wisebuddha liking use of twitter integration in a linear tv show good example from C4 in UK more of this in future http://bit.ly/hevJ2 #slive

Update 17.vi.09: Alone in the Wild in Daily Telegraph

Twitter experiment with live TV

Next up from these quarters is a microblogging/Twitter experiment with live TV. From Monday at 10.25pm on Channel 4 you’ll be able to watch surgery – live. Open heart surgery, awake brain surgery (i.e. patient awake as well as surgeon and us the trusty viewers), keyhole surgery, tumour removal – alive&direct thanks to Windfall Films in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust. Wild enough in itself I hear you say but that is not all, oh no, that is not all…

We will not hold up the cup and the milk and the cake and the fish on a rake, but as the Cat in the Hat said, we know some new tricks and your mother will not mind (unless she’s etherised upon a table, as that other cat-lover said). The plan is to tip our hat (red and white striped topper or whatever) to that increasingly common behaviour of Twittering whilst watching TV and encourage people to tweet away during the live operations, sharing their thoughts and asking questions. The big difference here is that this is live TV and you can make an impact with your tweet on the TV editorial. The best questions tweeted will be fed through to the presenter, arch-Twitterer Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News, who will swiftly pose them to the surgeon at work. So a matter of seconds between tweet and the question being uttered on live TV.

There have been some pioneering experiments in this area by the likes of The Bad Movie Club (established by Graham Linehan, writer of Channel 4’s Father Ted and The IT Crowd, spotted recently on stage at the TV BAFTAS) and Channel 4 News but I think this may be some kind of first in the telly realm. Now of course there are echoes of phone-ins and combining TV with forums/chatrooms the best part of a decade ago (by Danny Baker on Channel 4) but what this new generation of social media brings is a networked conversation which is global, searchable, tagable and open.

I think it is important to consider carefully what kind of broadcast material to combine microblogging with. I personally tend to indulge in the practice while watching undemanding TV like Jonathan Ross on Friday night. Bad Movie Club has the right idea – the clue is in the word Bad, stuff you may well have watched before and is crap in a good way. There was a little unofficial attempt at it at the BBC but it was allied to radio, and egg-heady radio at that – the broadcast material was too complex and demanded too much attention to allow for multitasking. What I’m expecting with Surgery Live is that once you get into the flow of the programme you don’t need to give it your undivided attention to be able to follow the action. I, of course, will be watching over the rim of my specs to take the edge off it all, being of a squeamish disposition and never cut out to be the doctor my parents wanted me to be. I’m a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, the City livery company associated with the crafting of swords and surgical instruments, which is ironic given my phobia of all sharp edges (other than the cutting edge of interactive media ;-)  ).

Surgery Live is the second of three Twitter experiments on my radar. The first was Osama Loves which used Twitter, early last summer, to enable our two intrepid adventurers in search of 500 Osamas in 50 days right across the Islamic world to update sharers in their journey from areas where they couldn’t get online or didn’t have sufficient bandwidth and were forced to rely on mobile. The third is the forthcoming Alone in the Wild (watch this space).

I’ll report back here on whatever interesting comes of it but in the meantime, please do join us for The Operation: Surgery Live on Channel 4 on Monday at 10.25pm (then Tuesday through Friday at 10.30/11.00, varies) to watch an illuminating show and discuss it there & then.

Adoption Experience

Britain's Forgotten Children

Britain's Forgotten Children

Yesterday afternoon saw the launch of my latest project – Adoption Experience www.channel4.com/adopt – this is the thinking behind it:

“Adoption is an area of childcare and family life shrouded in misconception, myth and confusion. The best way to untangle the realities from the rumours and hearsay is to focus on real people’s real experiences.

Adoption Experience shares valuable first-hand experience of Adoption from every perspective – people who have been adopted, adopters, social workers, siblings, people left in the system, potential adopters, every viewpoint that helps give insight into the realities of Adoption.”

Now those of you familiar with the peripatetic, seemingly random wanderings of my oeuvre will notice distinct similarities between Adoption Experience and Sexperience. Here was the thinking behind Sexperience:

Sexperience enables people to share their first-hand experiences (as opposed to opinion or theory) of a broad range of sexual issues, problems and solutions in video and text form, thereby recognising the complexity and individuality of the subject through multiple perspectives and transcending the easy, often over-simplified answers of self-help manuals.”

When it came to the subject of Adoption, it struck me that the same grounded insight brought by a focus on direct experience to the realm of sex and relationships might really help to shed light through the fog of preconceptions obscuring my understanding of this other subject. For me what first sprung to mind was a nightmarish, intrusive process; social workers telling you you have too many books in your house or are too pale for your own good; a recent tale of an adoption imploding and tearing apart the family and marriage of my friend’s sister; compelling tales of retracing birth families; happy sorties filming childcare projects with Emerald Productions and ArkAngel Productions for Barnardo’s; various celebrity stories headed up by Mia Farrow (recently on hunger strike over Dafur – good on her), Angelina Jolie and Madonna; and a few lovely, sometimes quiet kids at my sons’ schools. So what I decided to do was to lift the infrastructure of Sexperience wholesale and reapply it to the subject of Adoption.

The production company/digital indie, Mint Digital, said it would probably work but they’ll be a 5% difference in the structures. I stuck to my guns that it could work as a pretty much 1-to-1 match and that’s what we went with. So, in effect, it’s my first attempt at an online format. (Another class implementation by Mint in the wake of Sexperience and Osama Loves. Video content by Betty TV. Reminds me, Sexperience has just been nominated for a Broadcast Digital Award [Best use of Interactive] and the Osama Loves documentary, Osama Bin Everywhere, is up for a Rockie Award at the Banff TV Awards in Canada.)

Now Sex is of universal relevance whereas Adoption is something of a niche concern, so I wasn’t sure what kind of take-up to expect. The signs so far are good and I feel like we’ve found our clear blue water. There’s little out there on the Web which captures first-hand experience of Adoption issues in a non-textual, engaging form. The first two hours, from a standing start, saw:

  • 29,448 pageviews
  • 5,578 visits
  • 5.3 pageviews/visit (promising since the user-created content which drives the creative concept was very limited, starting empty that very afternoon)
  • 170 experiences and questions were posted by viewers, many very illuminating and detailed

This came in unsolicited from a recent adopter today: “I think the site’s great – fantastic that it’s open to the public to post questions and responses about their experiences. This is what the adoptive and adopted audiences really need I think!”

The site was created out of the Channel 4 Cross-platform dept. as part of the Channel’s Britain’s Forgotten Children season broadcasting all this week. It springs from the themes of the documentary series Find Me a Family, commissioned by my equally mad-haired colleague Dominique Walker. This is the striking trail created by Brett Foraker of 4Creative to communicate the thrust of the season.

Osama Loves Loved

Osama of Love global hunt Doctor

Osama of Love global hunt Doctor

Osama Loves, as previously mentioned in this august organ (dontcha just love both those words?), is a participative online documentary I commissioned last summer from the breath of fresh air that is Mint Digital and Menthol TV. The interactive documentary came about in response to a request from my fellow commissioner at C4, Aaqil Ahmed, who looks after religious and multicultural TV programming. He had commissioned a season of television programmes about the culture (rather than the politics) of Islam, including a flagship primetime doc on The Koran. The underlying theme of the season was that Islam is not a homogeneous culture but a diverse and multifaceted one. Aaqil asked me to come up with an online project which conveyed the heterogeneity of Islamic culture and, after some great conversations with Andy Bell, Jeremy Lee and the MintFolk, Osama Loves was born…

In an interesting iterative dynamic, the interactive documentary which was born of the TV season in turn gave rise to a TV documentary commissioned through Janey Walker, Channel 4’s Head of Education. It’s a beautiful film entitled Osama bin Everywhere (and sub-titled Searching for 500 Faces of Islam). It follows the progress of Farrah Jarral and Masood Khan through the participative Web travelogue that is Osama Loves, on their mission to track down 500 people called Osama in just 50 days. The two intrepid explorers uploaded blog posts, tweets (a relatively early application of Twitter to enable our protagonists to publish by mobile when out of PC-based internet range), photos and videos each day,  asking the public for tips and advice to help them complete their challenge and get the most from the countries they were visiting (including Nigeria, Egypt, Indonesia and Canada). As they backpacked across the Muslim world their search offered a window into the everyday life, culture and belief of the Muslims they met.

They asked each Osama they met “What do you love?” The idea was to transcend clichés about Muslims – the most well known Muslim on the planet being a certain Osama who epitomises these clichés and is not normally linked with Love. So Osama Loves sought out as many other Osamas (previously a popular name in Islamic countries) as they could in the time and showcased the rich diversity of their hopes and beliefs, concerns and perspectives.

When the spin-off TV doc aired again recently in the C4 morning slot it prompted a mass of positive feedback from viewers including:

“I am a Catholic and father to 6 children. Having just watched Osama bin Everywhere, I feel this programme should be shown to every child in every school in the UK regardless of religious belief. How refreshing it was to watch. This young woman deserves public recognition and a national award. The comments made and feelings expressed by all the Osamas were a true insight to Muslim people and the meaning of their religion.”

“Not really a press enquiry but please pass my congratulations onto Farrah – I taught her at school in the 1990s. Watched today’s Channel 4 programme whilst at home recovering from surgery. Very, very proud of what she’s become – but not at all surprised!”

“The programme was a joy to watch and I’d love to see more programmes like it. The presenter should be very proud of the programme – she is a great ambassador for her religion.”

“In a time of ‘reality TV’ which seem to be centered on Channel 4, finally a program that I could call brilliant! I was at work during my break and caught Osama bin Everywhere. I can honestly say I’ve not been so engrossed in anything in such a long time. This was a pleasure to watch.”

“What a fantastic programme! A real eye-opener, but I only saw it because the TV happened to be on when it started. Why was such a positive, heart-warming program hidden away on morning TV? Have you shown this in an evening slot? Please do!”

“I truly appreciate what you set out to achieve. Everytime I watch a programme on the television about Islam, it highlights the “bad apples”. I am only 18 years old, but have lived all my life in Britain. Having only visited Pakistan once, and at a very young age, you have driven me (in the most positive way) to go back to my country of ethnic origin. The programme itself has opened my eyes to how shallow people can be, relating everything bad to one name. I hope one day that I will have the power to enlighten people, just as you have to me. May you have all the health and happiness in the world, Inshallah.”

And here are a few other reactions to Osama Loves from more pressy sources:

Mike Mendoza, BBC Radio 2 website of the day
This is interesting – a Dave Gorman-influenced quest from 2 London-based Muslims (in collaboration with Channel 4), to find and meet 500 people who share the same name. In the process, they hope to change many people’s perception of Islam. Long-standing listeners will know that I like a pointless quest, so it’s nice to see a quest/travelogue which aims to do something a bit more positive.

Islam Online
Islam doesn’t provoke much interest unless they [Muslims] are burning flags or pillaging embassy workers or holding insulting placards. It won’t provoke much interest outside of Muslims, but Muslims worldwide will be grateful for the positive break. Put it this way, at least it’s better than their annual masterpiece, Big Brother.

The Sun
No doubt the FBI will be keeping a close eye on the site – especially for any entrants expressing a love of the Tora Bora caves in eastern Afghanistan.

Toronto Star
None of this is sponsored by the CIA – the aim is to give dignity back to a much abused and reviled name.

Practically living in The Sun

Anna Richardson and Sexperience

Anna Richardson and Sexperience

My next project, Sexperience (aka Sex Education), has sneaked out quietly into the world…

…in The Sun.

That’s two Sun spots in a couple of weeks (Osama Loves hit that august journal on 23rd July). It’s good to break out from the narrow confines of the broadsheet world from time to time and enjoy the super soaraway expanses of The Sun. Which reminds me, I’m off on hols at the end of the week so no action in these quarters for a couple of weeks.

Osama Loves in the Currant Bun

Osama Loves in the Currant Bun

(Talking of wide expanses, Osama Loves made the evening TV news in Canada the day before yesterday)

Update 01.09.08:

Here’s the holding screen for Sexperience (including an indicative video clip) which launches tomorrow

and here’s a rather good mash-up of that Sexperience clip by Paul Carr, a man with delightfully too much time on his hands ;-)

Currently reading Paul’s new book Bringing Nothing to the Party which won my Phrase of the Day the other day with: “the litigious little cunt” – not quite Swift but made me laugh out loud on the Tube in context

Osama fun in the Currant Bun

The dear old Sun has picked up on Osama Loves today in a full page spread on p22. Naturally enough they’ve brought their own special magic to it – like photoshopping out the male half of our dynamic Muslim duo.

Osama of Love global hunt Doctor

Osama of Love global hunt Doctor

Osama Loves

Farrah and MasoodThis morning two young British Muslims, Farrah and Masood, set off on a 50 day mission right across the Islamic world. Their goal: to meet 500 Osamas. Why set out to meet so many people with the same first name? ‘Osama’ conjours up the most prevalent cliches of Islam in the minds of most non-Muslims. By seeking out 500 people with that name – people of all ages, shapes and sizes, backgrounds, hopes and loves – Osama Loves seeks to undermine the cliche and put a human face on Islam, whilst showing the diversity of Islamic culture across the globe.

The project came about when my fellow Channel 4 commissioner, Aaqil Ahmed, came to ask me if I had any ideas about how to give his Islamic culture TV season (The Wonders of Islam) an online dimension. He had commissioned a very special documentary about the Qur’an, a series about the Seven Wonders of Islam and some other programmes, all highlighting the diversity of Muslim culture beyond the Middle East. So that was the brief: show how varied Islamic culture is across the world.

I had been talking to Andy Bell at Mint Digital for a long time about doing a project together but it never quite happened, the right thing hadn’t come along. From chatting to Andy I knew he had recently married a Muslim woman, that he had a strong interest in things spiritual, and that he had insight into both worlds. We bounced a few ideas around, brought in other colleagues from Mint, combined a few themes and merged some ideas until we had the participative journey that is Osama Loves: Searching for 500 Faces of Islam.

So today that journey starts and Farrah and Masood are going to need all the help they can get… If you know an Osama or can help them on their travels in any way please do let them know via the site’s blog comments.

The question came up while we were developing the Ed Spec, what if they find That Osama (the cliche one)? We wrote into the Specification that if that were to happen Mint definitely get a second series with a decent budget ;-)

Another important question is why are our young travelers bothering to cross continents in search of names and faces? Let me briefly tell you Farrah’s story. She was doing her medical training in East London when one day she finds herself in an operating theatre into which is wheeled a patient for an amputation. It struck her as odd how young this patient was – usually there are years of artery furring abuse behind an amputation like this. To cut a long and sad story short, the patient that day was one of the victims of the 7/7 bombings in London. Suddenly the reality of that outrage, committed by men with very similar backgrounds to Farrah herself (a fact that quickly struck her), that outrage shook her identity to the core. Now she’s on a mission and this time it’s personal: to prove that That Osama does not represent her community, to explore what Islamic culture and belief really means to her, and to provide insight into the day-to-day realities of Muslim communities, their concerns and hopes, their perspectives and loves. “Osama” and “Loves” are not two words you often hear together, or expect to. This initiative is yoking them together whether That Osama likes it or not.

Talking of Thes and Thats, for now I’ll leave the last words to Matt Johnson of The The. I met him once when I was working with Tim Pope and Pete Goddard who made some of their best promos – Matt made me a cup of tea the first time he came into the office in Marshall Street – tea-making was my realm at that point in my first job so it was a generous gesture which hasn’t been forgotten. Writing the last paragraph punctuated with “Loves” reminded me of this song of his about two people walking away from death and conquering with love:

Me and my friend were walking
In the cold light of mourning.
Tears may blind the eyes but the soul is not deceived
In this world even winter ain’t what it seems.

Here come the blue skies, here comes springtime.
When the rivers run high and the tears run dry.
When everything that dies
Shall rise

Love love love is stronger than death
Love love love is stronger than death

In our lives we hunger for those we cannot touch.
All the thoughts unuttered and all the feelings unexpressed
Play upon our hearts like the mist upon our breath.
But, awoken by grief, our spirits speak
How could you believe that the life within the seed
That grew arms that reached
And a heart that beat
And lips that smiled
And eyes that cried
Could ever die?

Love love love is stronger than death
Love love love is stronger than death

Shall rise, shall rise
Shall rise, shall rise.

What’s pumping the nads of the telly industry?

Here’s a nice little piece from the new issue of the cracking 4Talent magazine. It’s come along way over the 9 issues to date, evolving out of Ten4 magazine based in the West Midlands to become the nationwide contender it is now. This issue’s gorgeous cover in Burne-Jones colours is designed by London-based Slovakian designer Petra Stefankova, one of the winners of last year’s 4Talent Awards (for which I had the honour of presenting the New Media award).

cover of 4Talent magazine

Adam Gee: New Media Factual

“I have an upcoming project, codename Sam I Am. I’m busting to tell you about it but I can’t yet [Update SP4 readers: it soft launched today, hence the link]; it’s necessarily under wraps. It’s a very entertaining concept and interactive experience which still manages to convey a substantial meaning – in this case about the diversity of Islamic culture, and the narrowness of most of our experience and understanding of it.

The commission I’m most proud of: The Big Art Mob. It applies new technology and media behaviours to a worthwhile public task: mapping the best of Public Art (from bronze geezers on horses to Banksys) across the UK. Interested people from all around the country and beyond (we’re big in Brazil) are photographing artworks on their mobiles and uploading them to the map, having a good online natter about arty stuff along the way. You can interact wherever you are – I’m particularly proud of the WAP (mobile) site at bigartmob.com/mobile. It’s been nominated for 3 Baftas alongside the likes of the iPlayer and Dr Who, so it’s punching above its weight in true C4 stylee.

In the way that Big Art Mob finds a worthwhile purpose for moblogging (mobile blogging) I want to find missions and purposes for other emerging interactive tools and technologies like, say, Twitter – in itself geek masturbation and possibly the end of civilisation as we know it, with a creatively conceived context perhaps something exceedingly good.

I’ve spent the last 5 years at Channel 4 exploring what public service means in a digital world – from Big Dig to Big Art Project, and one or two projects that don’t even have ‘Big’ in the title like Picture This and Empire’s Children. But Big is important: ambition, scale and impact are all vital.

Cross-platform and interactive media is what’s pumping the nads* of the telly industry right now, and it’s vital to its future. All the creative and entrepreneurial energy is welling up in these areas and Channel 4 is ready for action.”

* [John Bender is absently tearing up books]
Andrew Clark: That’s real intelligent.
John Bender: You’re right. It’s wrong to destroy literature. It’s such fun to read. And…
[examines title] …Moe-Lay really pumps my nads.
Claire Standish: Moliere!

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