Missed Call smartphone doc wins AHRC Award

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA

Missed Call, one of my Real Stories Originals commissions, a documentary made entirely on an iPhone X, a story which revolves around smartphones, their media and communications, picked up a distinctive and prestigious award recently. It won the AHRC Research in Film Award for Social Media Short, one of just 5 categories. As veteran documentary-maker (and my mentor) Roger Graef pointed out on the night, it is not often Research gets centre stage and yet it is the vital underpinning of all great docs.

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA Sophie Morgan Channel 4

Channel 4’s Sophie Morgan revealing the winner

The award was presented at BAFTA to director Victoria Mapplebeck and her teenage son Jim, the protagonist of Missed Call, by Channel 4 presenter Sophie Morgan (Rio Paralympics 2016).

The following day Victoria and Jim appeared on ITV News in this item about children reconnecting with their estranged parent – video is at the bottom of this page (click here).

itv news report missed call documentary

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA Sophie Morgan Channel 4

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Another cool million

Besides Real Stories documentary channel hitting 2 million subscribers on YouTube last week, we have recently also reached the 1 million  mark on Facebook from pretty much a standing start last year.

little dot studios 100 Million facebook followers

Coincidences No.s 340-348

No. 340 White Album

beatles white album portraits

I walk into the office of a London production company in Shoreditch to start a new project series-producing a sports documentary series. From a varied playlist, While My Guitar Gently Weeps is playing across the office.

The same night I go to a brilliant gig at the Jazz Cafe, Camden Town. It is a young band called The Midnight Special playing the whole of The Beatles’ White Album (technically called simply The Beatles) from end to end. Today (22nd Nov) is the 50th anniversary of the UK release of the genius double LP.

No. 341 The Cure

the cure boys dont cry

I see a tweet about Brexit which makes me laugh – something along the lines of: Has anyone tried just hitting the UK on/off button? I click through to the tweeter – she describes herself as a Frenchie living in London and a Cure fan (among a couple of other things).

I am in a restaurant in Belfast as I read this tweet, over for a speaking gig at the Belfast Media Festival (about VR and the future of broadcasting). Just as I am reading it The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry comes on the music system.

I have a history of Cure-related coincidences. As a teenager I saved a small black cat from a tied sack and a watery death. The near-perpetrator was Ashley Baron-Cohen, these days a film-maker in LA. Back then a hard-hearted teen. So I offered to take the cat (I’d never had one before). I called her Woof. I took her into my other friend’s car to get her home. As Jon turned the ignition, The Cure’s Love Cats came on the radio.

No. 342 Carlingford

belfast media festival 2018 logo

I am on my way back from Belfast Media Festival. On the plane I am sitting next to two women. I get talking to the one next to me who, contrary to appearances (not the least sharply dressed, relaxed look) turns out to be a barrister from Dublin. She comes from a village called Blackrock which is near where my wife comes from in Co. Louth, Ireland. It turns out she has a property she now rents in my wife’s village, Carlingford.

We both then get talking to the third person in our little EasyJet row. She lives in London, but stems from Liverpool and Strabane. She has an English accent and a striking Irish face (the high cheek-boned type). This second woman has an auntie Rosie living in Carlingford. (I check with my wife when I get home and of course she knows Rosie.)

So that’s one row – three people (two British) connected to a small village in Ireland.

No. 343 Rugby League

david lodge a man of parts novel hg wells cover

My wife asks me if I have ever gone to watch Rugby League.

The same day I pick up a long unfinished novel with a view to finally pushing to the end. It is Man of Parts by David Lodge, about HG Wells. The bookmark marking my place where I stopped a couple of years ago is a ticket from the only Rugby League game I ever went to watch. England vs New Zealand at the 2012 Olympic Stadium in Stratford. I bought the ticket by mistake, thinking it was Rugby Union. It is one of the only sports events I have ever walked out of – take all the good things about Rugby, chuck them away and stick with what’s left – that is Rugby League in my (one-off) experience.

No. 344 The English Patient

the-english-patient movie still

The English Patient (1996) with Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes

I am talking to Channel 4 documentary Comissioning Editor Fozia Khan as we enter Belfast International Airport about Anthony Minghella. She lives in the same street as my best-friend and his house was owned by Minghella just before him. Minghella directed among many other movies The English Patient.

The next day I am talking to my wife and the subject of Sikhs comes up – she mentions in particular the Sikh character in Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, one of her favourite writers.

(I haven’t thought about The English Patient for many years. I have never read it, think I saw the movie back at the time though not 100% sure.)

No. 345 CUFS

amber reeves

Amber Reeves

I am reading the novel Man of Parts by David Lodge and am intrigued by one of the characters, HG Well’s young lover Amber Reeves. I read that Amber Reeves while at Cambridge set up CUFS – the Cambridge University Fabian Society. This was in 1906 and was the first society at Cambridge to include women from its founding. Female students met on an equal footing with men to discuss a broad range of topics from religion to sex with a freedom not available elsewhere in their lives.

While a Girton girl I set up CUFS – the Cambridge University Film Society. Visitors included Michael Powell, David Puttnam (with an early cut of The Mission), Peter Shaffer (who, unlike me, hated the movie of Equus) and Angela Carter. Sessions ranged from Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia to French-Canadian cinema of the 70s (Les Ordres).

No. 346 Holborn

syracuse university logo

One of my best friends is over from Aspen, Colorado (we were teens together but she moved to the USA when she got married). I arrange to meet her for breakfast before work one day as my diary is rammed with work stuff and she has only a couple of days to play with. She suggests me meet at her hotel – it turns out to be in Kingsway, Holborn. I don’t check the exact address or look on the map until I am leaving the house.

The job I have immediately after the get-together is a guest lecture for Syracuse University. They have a London campus. It is in an obscure small lane behind that self-same hotel.

No. 347 B & K

matzah-balls chicken soup jewish

I have a craving for chicken soup and so go for lunch with my middle brother at a Jewish deli at the far end of Edgware – the delicious irony being that is run by a lovely family of Greeks. It is called B & K Salt Beef Bar.

As I sit looking out the big front window onto the wrong end of Edgware High street a van passes belonging to B & K Plumbing & Heating Engineers from Camberley in deep South London/Surrey.

No. 348 Nick & Nora

the thin man movie poster 1934

(1934)

This morning I get an email notification from the Goodreads website. The subject-line is: Updates from Noora and Nick. Noora is an ex-Channel4 colleague who now lives in Finland. Her name is Arabic, as opposed to the Irish spelling. Nick is another old colleague – we worked together on Embarrassing Bodies among others when he was at Maverick TV.

Nick & Nora are the heroes of Dashiell Hammett’s noir detective stories, both fast livers with bad livers (i.e. hard drinkers). I was going to call my son Noah Nora if he had turned out to be a girl – after Nora from The Thin Man.

A cool 2 mil

Real Stories (the online documentary channel for which I commission and exec) hit 2 Million subscribers on YouTube today – which is nice…

real stories documentary channel 2 million subscribers youtube

A Day to Remember

Things seem to have aligned for the centenary of the Great War Armistice. 11th November fell on a Sunday this year so the focus was not split between two days. The weather was sunny, autumnal, golden (in contrast to the rain in Paris). I began the day with reflections on the song Poppy Day.

Join-Hands siouxsie and the banshees guards memorial record cover LP album

A while later I went to the house of John Parr, the first British soldier killed in action in World War One. He lived down the road from me in North Finchley from 1909 until 1914. He was 17 when he gave his life. I set out from the front path of his family house to walk to the local annual Remembrance Ceremony at Tally Ho Corner (Siegfried Sassoon would have liked that name – Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man [1928]).

John Parr WW1 soldier plaque Finchley London N12

in front of John Parr’s family home

John Parr WW1 soldier family home Finchley London N12

John Parr’s family home at 52 Lodge Lane, North Finchley

What struck me about the ceremony was the diversity of the young cadets who were its focal point. Many girls, many non-white faces, all integrated into the small units of land, sea and air cadets, cub scouts and the marching band. In an age of donkey politicians, that’s where the hope lies.

Finchley War Memorial

Finchley War Memorial commemorating service personnel of the army, navy and nascent air force

Finchley War Memorial remembrance service 2018

Finchley War Memorial remembrance service 2018

Poppy red

Later in the afternoon I visited for the first time the Tree Cathedral in Whipsnade – perfect timing with the autumn golds. It was designed as a memorial for three friends by Edmund Blyth. Arthur Bailey and John Bennett were fellow infantrymen whose lost lives Blyth decided to memorialise in the form of trees laid out in the shape of a natural cathedral. Francis Holland was a third Tommy pal who died in 1930 prompting him to realise his arboreal vision.

The Tree Cathedral has the shape of a traditional medieval cathedral, but formed of trees. Although it contains beautiful areas, that is not its primary significance. It is managed to emphasise the vigour and balance of individual plants, in patterns that create an enclosure of worship and meditation, offering heightened awareness of God’s presence and transcendence. (Edmund Blyth 1940)

edmund blyth creator of tree cathedral whipsnade

Edmund Blyth

tree cathedral whipsnade

tree cathedral whipsnade

tree cathedral whipsnade

After my visit I sat on a bench at the end of the hornbeam avenue leading to the Cathedral entrance reading from my trusty old copy of The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (first read at school, this copy from university days, with its familiar poppies against black background photographic cover) – Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, John McCrae, Rupert Brooke and DH Lawrence (with whom I share a birthday).

the penguin book of first world war poetry cover

Poppies in the morning and at the going down of the sun. And to conclude, that local setting son, John Parr, more than merits a brief history of his brief life for the record…

the jam setting sons album LP record vinyl cover

Parr was a long way from the Eton Rifles

John Henry Parr was born on 19th July 1897 in Lichfield Grove, Finchley, son of a milkman, Edward Parr, and his wife Alice. He lived most of his short life at 52 Lodge Lane, North Finchley, London N12. He was the youngest of eleven children – just 5’3″ tall.

He left school and went straight to work, initially as a butcher’s boy, then as a caddie at North Middlesex Golf Club. In 1912 he joined the 4th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment – he was just 15 but claimed to be 18.

He was a Private and became a reconnaissance cyclist, riding ahead in search of useful intelligence to convey back with alacrity to senior officers. In August 1914 his battalion was shipped from Southampton to Boulogne-sur-Mer, and then on to a village, Bettignies, sited on the canal to Mons. On 21st August 1914, just 17 days after the Declaration of War, Parr and a fellow reconnaissance cyclist were dispatched to the village of Obourg, north-east of Mons, just over the Belgian border, on a mission to locate enemy forces. It is believed they ran into a cavalry patrol of the German First Army and Parr was killed in an exchange of fire.

With the British army retreating to the Marne after the first battle of Mons (on 23rd August), Parr’s body was left behind. In October 1914 his mother wrote to the War Office enquiring after him but they were unable to tell her anything certain, they may well have been unsure whether he had been captured or killed.

Parr is buried in St Symphorien Military Cemetery, south-east of Mons. The age on his gravestone is 20 (the army didn’t know he was actually 17).

By coincidence his grave is opposite George Edwin Ellison’s, the last British soldier killed during the First World War.

Private_John_Parr_grave_at_St_Symphorien_cemetery

Private John Parr’s grave

tree cathedral whipsnade

The entrance to the Tree Cathedral, Whipsnade

tree cathedral whipsnade

The going down of the sun on a resonant day

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

For The Fallen – Robert Binyon (September 1914)

 

 

Join Hands 11.11.1918-11.11.2018

In 1979 I went to see Siouxsie & The Banshees playing at Hammersmith Odeon – it remains one of the best gigs of my life. Just before the tour half the band had gone AWOL so new musicians had to be drafted in including Budgie on drums (formerly the token man in The Slits, one of my favourite drummers – Stewart Copeland considers him one of the most interesting drummers for his “very economical and offbeat” playing, that offbeat being what I most like about him) and John McGeoch on guitar (formerly of Magazine). That tour marked the release of the LP ‘Join Hands’. The hands joining are those of four bronze WW1 Tommies on the war memorial between Horseguards Parade and St James’s Park (the Guards Memorial) – I passed it regularly when I was working at Channel 4 and it always brought me back to that music and excitement. The LP opens with the tolling bells of a 2-minute track called Poppy Day.

In the same way that Punk (especially The Clash) introduced me to reggae, through this track it introduced me to the First World War poetry of John McCrae, a typical example of the less known poets who emerged in the Great War, the one-hit wonders and offbeats. McCrae was a high-ranking Canadian army doctor serving on the Western front. In Poppy Day the resonant bells give way to the distinctive driving guitar wailing of The Banshees and then just a few short lines, delivered in a distorted Siouxsie voice:

In Flanders fields
The poppies grow
Between the crosses
Row on row
That mark our place
We are the dead…

I don’t think McCrae is credited for the lyrics which are very close to the opening of his In Flanders Fields, in fact every word is derived from the poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Siouxsie & The Banshees filtered out the patriotic and the warmongering/cheerleading to open their record with the zombie or heroic or haunting dead, we don’t know which. What we do know, two years after the Silver Jubilee and the Pistols’ God Save the Queen (the Fascist regime), with rubbish piling up in the streets of strike-bound London, is that these dead were neither glorious nor patriotic in the establishment way.

The band were inspired not only by the chaos and crapitude of the late 70s Home Front but also by conflict witnessed on their suburban Kent TVs, particularly in Iran. (Plus ça change).

siouxsie and the banshees join hands vinyl record album LP cover design

Siouxsie_and_the_banshees_Join_Hands_war guards memorial

The LP cover was extracted from this shot – L to R Steve Severin (bass), John McKay (guitar), Siouxsie Sioux (vocals), Kenny Morris (drums) – before McKay and Morris went AWOL

Banshee stalwart, bassist Steven Severin in the wake of watching the two minutes of silence in memory of the war dead on TV on Sunday 12th November 1978 explained about Poppy Day: “We wanted to write a song that would fittingly fill that gap”. On the inner sleeve of the record (which sits still in the room just below me, alongside its vinyl sisters The Scream, Kaleidoscope, Juju and A Kiss in the Dreamhouse) beside the lyrics of the song is specified (with echoes of John Cage): “2 minutes of silence”.

So here we are on Sunday 11th November 2018, 40 years after Severin watched that broadcast, 100 years after the world watched that bloodbath, that futile wiping out of a generation, and we are still all struggling to join hands. The irony of The Banshees brooding in the studio while recording this masterpiece of an LP and splitting up in its aftermath is as nothing to the irony that we mark this centenary at a time when the world’s international institutions are being deliberately dismantled, Europe re-fracturing and the zombie voices of patriotism, nationalism and fascism wailing more discordantly than John McKay’s guitar. We are the Dead. We are turning in our graves row on row between the poppies.

siouxsie and the banshees paris 1980

Reinforcements arrive: L to R John McGeoch (guitar), Budgie (drums), Siouxsie & Steve – Paris (1980) where 70 world leaders are arriving this morning to mark the centenary of the Armistice including Macron (accordion), Merkel (tuba), Trump (mouth organ) and Putin (triangle)

 

Back to Becontree (Thurston Hopkins)

This week I did another talk at a secondary school for Robert Peston’s charitySpeakers for Schools‘ – the subject was careers in TV/media, the school was Dagenham Park C of E School in East London (probably the politest school I’ve ever been to). This was off my manor and brought me out to Barking station and then three short tube stops to Dagenham Heath at the eastern end of the District line, where I’d never before ventured. The penultimate stop was Becontree which is where my maternal grandfather came from. A place I’d never visited or even travelled through.

I marked this connection with the locality by putting a photo of my grandfather as my first slide in the talk entitled ‘A Media Career in 21 Pictures’, delivered to 60 energetic and enthusiastic Year 7s (a tough prospect which turned out to be a delight – they particularly picked up on the video game I made, ‘MindGym’). I asked them if they knew what a typewriter was, that machine he’s leaning on – a bright boy with an ear stud near the back explained to his classmates “it’s a keyboard but the writing goes straight onto paper”.

Ian Harris at Picture Post by Thurston Hopkins photographer photograph

Ian Harris at Picture Post by Thurston Hopkins

I keep the photo by my desk (I can reach out and touch it now from where I sit). It was taken when my grandfather, Ian Harris, was working at ‘Picture Post’ magazine as a scientist specialising in printing technology. I decided to Post this Picture (above) because it is not yet on the internet.

1946_Picture_Post_Magazine 1946 Picture Post Magazine cover - April 27, 1946

27th April 1946

I’ve always liked the Hopkins picture because I never ever saw my grandfather smoke but in this the saucer is filled with fag-ends while he’s taking a deep drag. My old next-door-neighbour from childhood years, Michelle Haberl, noticed that the headline on the top newspaper in the pile includes the word “tobacco” and says he was just doing some research (which made me laugh). My younger brother posted this photo in response and captured the essence of the man by saying: “best person i ever knew”:

Ian Harris

Ian Harris

I hardly recognise him in this picture because of the hat which places him in a film noir – along with yet another cigarette. I don’t know who took this photograph, perhaps Hopkins or another Picture Post staffer.

‘Picture Post’ ran from just before the war (1938) to 1957 and was the equivalent of ‘Life’ magazine in the USA, a popular magazine centred on excellent photo-journalism and visually led. Its photographers included Bert Hardy, Thurston Hopkins, Grace Robertson, Kurt Hutton, Felix H. Man/Hans Baumann, Francis Reiss, Humphrey Spender, John Chillingworth and Leonard McCombe. Its editorial perspective was liberal and anti-Fascist, campaigning from its launch against the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany.

Thurston Hopkins passed away only four years ago. I regret now not having thought to look him up and go visit. He was born on 16th April 1913 (two years before my grandfather) and lived to 101.

He studied graphic art at Brighton College of Art and was a self-taught photographer. He started out by joining the PhotoPress Agency, reflecting the shift in newspapers from illustration to photography (the kind of printing technology advance which was at the heart of my grandfather’s scientific career).  During the Second World War he served in the RAF Photographic Unit in Italy and the Middle East (my grandfather by contrast served in the Navy, based in Portsmouth, in some kind of secret scientific capacity he never spoke of in any detail). That’s where Hopkins took up his trusty Leica which was his weapon of choice throughout his career (apart from the odd occasional use of a Rolleiflex). It’s also where he saw Picture Post, at military posts everywhere. After the war he worked for new London agency Camera Press.

Hopkins put together a dummy issue of Picture Post made up entirely of his own photos and features to get him the gig as a freelancer. He went onto the staff in 1950, working exclusively for PP.

One of his first stories was centred on stray cats living in London’s many bomb sites and alleys, ‘Cats of London’ (24th Feb 1951).

Thurston Hopkins La Dolce Vita, Knightsbridge, London, 1953 photograph

La Dolce Vita, Knightsbridge, London, 1953

This was one of his best known and most commercially successful photographs (the driver is a West End chauffeur).

Hopkins did stories about children playing on urban streets to highlight the need for playground provision. In 1956 he photographed a story on the slums of Liverpool which ended up being spiked when city officials complained to the magazine’s proprietor, Edward Hulton, about its negative portrayal of the city. Yesterday afternoon I was helping judge the Popular Factual category of the Broadcast Awards. I noticed that one of the programmes entered, ‘The £1 Houses’ (Channel 4/Topical), set in Liverpool drew similar flack (unconvincing) from the municipal authorities. Photographers as messengers at risk of being on the receiving end of the proverbial shooting.

Hopkins met his wife, a fellow photographer, at Picture Post, marrying in 1955. She was  Grace Robertson. She also published under the name Dick Muir in order to secure work at the Report agency at a time when prejudice against women photographers was still rife in the industry.

photographers Thurston Hopkins and Grace Robertson by harry borden

Thurston Hopkins and Grace Robertson by Harry Borden

After the closure of Picture Post in 1957 Hopkins went into advertising photography, based in his Chiswick studio. He taught on the highly reputed photography course at Guildford School of Art. In his later years he returned to an early love, painting.

thurston hopkins photographer picture post

thurston-hopkins-lipstick-check_thurston hopkins photographer picture post

thurston-hopkins-lipstick-check_thurston hopkins photographer picture post

 

Missed Call in The Sunday Times

From today’s Sunday Times:

2018-11-04 Missed Call Sunday Times Real Stories Little Dot Victoria Mapplebeck

Boy’s search for father shortlisted for film award

Missed Call, an account of a 13-year-old trying to track down his dad via a vintage Nokia handset, has been nominated for a short-film prize

James Gillespie

November 4 2018, 12:01am, The Sunday Times

A teenager’s desperate search for his father

Jim Mapplebeck had no memory of his father. The 13-year-old had not seen him since he was two. All he had to remember him by were the gifts he once bought and the modest digital footprint he left behind: two emails and some texts archived in a vintage Nokia.

It was enough.

Enlisting his mother, Victoria, to help, Jim went through the ancient phone and other digital sources until they had a number and sent a text.

As they were doing this, Victoria was filming the events on her iPhone, and this week the resulting documentary, Missed Call, is shortlisted for a prize at the Arts and Humanities Research Council awards at Bafta.

The touching film, which can be viewed on YouTube, shows the close relationship between Victoria, 53, and Jim, now 14, as they search. The clues were a pair of baby pyjamas, a Christmas card, the two emails and 100 texts.

Their initial attempts to make contact took an agonisingly long time.

Victoria sent a text last year – and there was no response. For 13 days they waited until finally the father came back to them.

“I’d given up. I thought it was not going to happen,” said Victoria. “I was so worried for Jim. I was trying to manage expectations – it might not work out. He [the father] may not respond.”

Jim was the product of a brief, eight-week relationship between Victoria and his father – “It wasn’t the love of our life” – and then she found out she was pregnant.

The first surprise was that his father had a second son by another relationship. After Victoria and Jim made contact, the father talked things through with his current partner.

After exchanging texts a meeting was finally set up in March this year.

Jim did not know what to expect. “I was worried, but I think it was the right thing to do. I had a stereotype view and I dreamt a lot of him. But he wasn’t the stereotype I had imagined. My mum had shown me a picture of him and I thought he looked like a California surfer dude – and he’s the total opposite.

“I missed having a father when I was younger but as I have grown older I don’t seem to miss it as much. When I was growing up, it was on my mind and I was confused by it.

“The first time I met him, I really enjoyed it and got to know him. The second time I felt a bit more discouraged— I don’t know why. I’m hoping to meet him again soon.”

The pair live in Camberwell, south London, and Jim attends school in Croydon. He is thinking of a career either in acting or counselling.

Victoria said she thought it was hard for Jim missing out on a relationship with his father. But now they have met, she added: “It’s tough working out how you build that relationship. There is no easy happy ending.”

Something Is Happening

highway 61 revisited photo session bob dylan bobby neuwirth LP cover

Highway 61 Revisited photo session (New York 1965)

Just listened to a music podcast called ‘Is It Rolling, Bob? (talking Dylan)’ in which two actor blokes (Kerry Shale and Lucas Hare) talk to a journo bloke (David Hepworth) about a song & dance man, Bob Dylan.

It is a lot better than ‘Stalking Time for the Moon Boys’ in which two TV blokes (David Baddiel and Tim Hincks) talk to various other blokes and each other about a song & dance man, David Bowie. But it’s still not great. Entertaining enough if you’re keen on your Dylan.

One interesting fact I picked up was that Dylan named himself not after Welsh poet D. Thomas (which I’d believed) but after Marshall Dillon in some TV cowboy show (‘Gunsmoke’). Dylan as lifelong cowboy makes a lot of sense.

A question they asked David was how did you first come across Dylan. Got me thinking.

As a six year-old, just allowed to go by myself across one road to the newsagent (Eric & Mavis’s or perhaps it was the previous incarnation), I bought myself a fold-out poster magazine. I got it home expecting it to fold out to reveal a hippy rabbit (Dylan of ‘Magic Roundabout’ fame). Instead it was an unprepossessing bearded bloke with a guitar. A disappointing first encounter.

When I first fell under Dylan’s spell was having one of those Moments listening to ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’. I’d heard bits & pieces of Dylan during my childhood, listened to him a bit at uni through friends who were advocates (but I still had my Punk head on). But it was listening to this track on ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ when the light went on. It was the Surrealism of the lyrics that really grabbed me – I’m not really a lyrics man but the words made their impact, above all the non-rational, dream-like nature of them. I was in.

This moment lead directly to my ending up with a son called Dylan (who looks at times a little like the Big Man of this vintage).

IMG_2051

highway 61 revisited bob dylan bobby neuwirth LP cover

You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked and you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard but you don’t understand
Just what you will say when you get home
Because something is happening here but you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
You raise up your head and you ask, “Is this where it is?”
And somebody points to you and says, “It’s his”
And you say, “What’s mine?” and somebody else says, “Well, what is?”
And you say, “Oh my God, am I here all alone?”
But something is happening and you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
Sometimes it’s really good not to know what it is – just let it sink in and brew up.

The time machine in your pocket

Real Stories Original Missed Call , shot entirely on an iPhone X, has been nominated in the Social Media Short category at the AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018, which take place on 8th November at BAFTA in London. Extracts from a related article championing smartphone filmmaking in this week’s Broadcast:

2018-11-02 smartphone filmmaking article in broadcast adam gee victoria mapplebeck

The time machine in your pocket

The intimacy and ubiquity of smartphones make them ideal for telling personal stories, argue Victoria Mapplebeck and Adam Gee

Missed Call

Production company Field Day Productions
Commissioner Adam Gee, Little Dot Studios
Length 19 minutes
Producer/director Victoria Mapplebeck
Executive producers Amanda Murphy; Alex Hryniewicz; Andy Taylor

Making the most of the smartphone

Adam Gee
Commissioning editor, Little Dot Studios

I commissioned Missed Call partly because I am a massive advocate of smartphone filmmaking. I also consider Victoria’s 2015 film 160 Characters a pioneering work in this territory.

What’s so special about what is effectively the prequel is that not only was it made largely on mobile phones, but also the narrative is derived from the contents of one old mobile in particular. It contains a resonant text thread that captures the story of a key love affair in the life of the director-cum-protagonist.

Missed Call similarly revolves around mobile phone content – video, photos, emoticons, animations, texts. The aesthetic of the film is rooted in this content, which gives it an original feel.

Between the old Nokia of the first film and the new generation iPhone of this second, the technology has advanced, the details of the graphics evolved, so the look & feel has moved on.

Because the commission coincided with the noisy launch of the iPhone X, I thought we might as well take advantage of the coincidence and be pioneers with the new tech.

I’d seen Michel Gondry’s scripted short Détour, which was shot entirely on iPhone 7. That planted the iPhone seed and I asked Little Dot to buy the then brand-new iPhone X for Victoria to use.

She complemented it with a decent mike (Rode SmartLav+ Lavalier) and a stabiliser (Lanparte 3 Axis Handheld Gimbal) and then got the ball rolling. She started by using it for audio-recording conversations with her son Jim, to make sure he was comfortable, eventually segueing into video recording.

Intimacy and ubiquity

The power of Smartphone filmmaking is intimacy and ubiquity. The kind of intimate conversations Victoria and Jim managed to capture in a natural way were the result of the camera-phone being small and unobtrusive, with no crew attached – part of everyday contemporary life.

And it’s in your pocket all your waking hours (and not uncommonly beside the bed even in your non-waking ones, as we see in Missed Call).

Between this distinctive pairing of characteristics, a whole new highly accessible realm of film-making opens up.

real stories original missed call victoria mapplebeck adam gee jim mapplebeck

Victoria Mapplebeck
Producer/director
Reader in digital arts at Royal Holloway, University of London

How do you reconnect with a father who’s been absent for over a decade? What do you write, what do you say? Add to that dilemma a teenage boy and the realisation that this private journey would very quickly become a public one. There were a lot of sleepless nights on Missed Call, the first commissioned short documentary to be shot on an iPhone X.

The doc is a sequel to 160 Characters, my first smartphone short, which I made for Film London. It brought to life a three-year SMS thread between myself and my son’s father, charting the story of how we met, dated for just a few months, broke up and subsequently dealt with an unplanned pregnancy.

Missed Call explores my relationship with my now fourteen-year-old son Jim. His father came to see Jim a handful of times when he was a baby before deciding that he didn’t want to be involved. Last year, Jim decided he wanted to meet his father and asked if I would make contact with him again.

Executive producer Amanda Murphy helped me navigate the many compliance and ethical issues we faced throughout production. Our aim with Jim’s dad was to preserve his anonymity and to protect Jim in an uncertain unfolding narrative. Squaring the circle of being both filmmaker and parent made this one of the most challenging films I’ve ever made.

For Jim, being filmed by his mum with an iPhone X was no big deal. When he looked into the lens, all he saw was me.

But in my 25 years as a self-shooting director, the camera I film with has gone from needing a bag the size of a small suitcase to one that fits in my back pocket.

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Our phones are like time machines

There’s a great scene in Mad Men when Don Draper is meeting with the team who invented Kodak’s Carousel. As he clicks through his own family album in a darkened boardroom, he begins his pitch:

“In Greek, ‘Nostalgia’ literally means the pain from an old wound, it’s a twinge in your heart… It’s a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards, it takes us to a place where we ache to go again…”

Our mobile phones have become our time machines. My vintage Nokia lies at the back of my kitchen drawer, holding that all-important first text message from Jim’s dad. My new iPhone X can access that devastating last email from him before he cut all contact a decade ago. It also contains the first text I sent him after 12 years of radio silence – and 13 days later, his reply.

My phone contains good memories too: 26,000 photos; 3,000 videos; and the jokey texts Jim sends me from bedroom to living room, requesting another five minutes on the Xbox.

You may love your phone, you may hate it, probably both, but hold it close. It’s your own personal time machine – it connects you with your past, your present and your future. It holds the traces of all your time travel, all the stories that shape you, the good and the bad… forever.

real stories original missed call victoria mapplebeck adam gee jim mapplebeck

{extracts courtesy of Broadcast – full article is here}

 

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