Cycle of Life

Anglia Television TV Norwich

Norwich

I heard one of those stories the day before yesterday that makes you despair of mankind. I was in Norwich to deliver a lecture on online video at NUA (Norwich University of the Arts). Actor John Hurt served proudly as its first Chancellor until his sad passing at the beginning of the year. The course leader (Film & Moving Image Production) who lead me through the charming city was telling me about the new yellow bikes that have appeared in the city recently as one crossed our path outside the lecture hall building. It is a city scheme which the students are testing out enthusiastically. He told me a new bank of bikes had appeared outside his house the day before. But when he came down that morning they were gone. He found them soon submerged in the river, chucked over the wall. Why would anyone do that?

As it happens, I’m working on a documentary about cycling, cyclists & bikes at Little Dot Studios which includes the story of a university cycle scheme. With a bit of luck the tapestry of stories will be nearer the uplifting end of the scale.

I’m writing this at Venue No.2 of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York (a multistorey bar), killing time before Evensong at York Minster. I went yesterday afternoon too – it’s pretty uplifting even if religion is not particularly your bag.

I served on the jury of this year’s festival, judging the Documentary category among others. I’m just out of one of the Docs screenings which concluded with a short entitled Dial-a-Ride about a minibus service for the elderly and remote of Brecon. It was the other side of the human coin, propelled by a caring driver who appreciated the rich mix of stories of his mainly elderly passengers.

And so the wheels of life turn…

York Minster cathedral

York Minster

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Little Dot gears up for SVoD

The latest news about the commissioning of original documentaries I’ve been doing at Little Dot Studios over the last few months – from today’s Broadcast 

by Alex Farber | 26 October 2017

Absent from our Own Wedding video still Little Dot Studios

Absent from our Own Wedding

All3Media-backed firm steps up commissioning and acquisitions in run-up to launch of service

Little Dot Studios has kicked off a commissioning and acquisitions drive as it prepares to launch an SVoD service later this year.

The All3Media-backed business has appointed former Channel 4 multiplatform commissioner Adam Gee and Beyond Distribution head of acquisitions Caitlin Meek-O’Connor to spearhead the push.

Commissioning editor Gee has ordered his first slate of originals, including Underworld TV’s Sorry I Shot You, Big Buddha Films and Medialab UK’s Absent From Our Own Wedding and Showem Entertainment’s In Your Face as part of a £200,000 investment.

The factual films, all of which run to around 15-20 minutes, will feature as part of the Shoreditch-based firm’s Real Stories online channel, which is distributed via YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.

The shows, due to launch in mid-November, will also be used as the bedrock for a forthcoming direct-to-consumer app alongside a host of third-party programming.

Shared profits

Meek-O’Connor has begun striking deals with distributors, with around 2,000 hours of programming licensed to date. Many of these shows are picked up from suppliers for free, with the profits generated shared equally – Little Dot is set to return around £1.5m to distributors this year.

Co-founder Andy Taylor said he is looking to exponentially grow the firm he established in 2013. The business, founded by Taylor and Selma Turajlic, has doubled in size year-on-year. In 2016, it posted a turnover of £9.8m, up from £5.2m the previous year. Operating profits jumped from £300,000 to £1.2m in this period.

“Someone needs to put a stake in the ground and build a premium mid-form destination because the quality of content currently is poor,” said Taylor. “There has been a massive explosion in mobile video but none of the resource or investment from TV has leaked over. In the next three to five years, I need to build channels with massive scale, which house only premium content.”

Taylor added that he is eyeing a direct-to- consumer launch by the end of the year, with platforms under consideration including Amazon Channels, Apple TV and Roku.

“We need to be on those platforms because the monetisation opportunities are so much better. It’s harder to get reach, but they offer much higher advertising rates and we can experiment with SVoD too,” he explained.

Real Stories is being touted as a subscription forerunner, with launches for science and history themed sister channels Spark and Timeline also being weighed up.

In September, Barcroft Media’s YouTube channel Barcroft TV launched an ad-funded TV app. However, Taylor is not turning his back on the digital giants and is putting particular focus on Facebook. Changes to the Mark Zuckerburg-run platform have meant that Little Dot video viewing has soared, from virtually zero to 150 million monthly views in just three months.

“The new Facebook”

From his 120- strong staff, Taylor has appointed eight Facebook-dedicated editors who are tasked with closely tracking the changes to its algorithm and reactively clipping and posting videos for maximum exposure.

“We are trying to grow the digital brands of the future,” said Taylor. “Our bet is that over time, the platforms have to favour premium content – because that is what advertisers demand.”

While people visit YouTube less frequently than they do Facebook, they tend to stay for longer and are happy to watch 15 to 20-minute videos. Facebook visitors prefer shorter clips. Taylor said that Instagram, which has three Little Dot editors assigned, is fast becoming “the new Facebook”.

Sport is another area of focus, with Sky Sports commercial manager Rory Rigney hired as senior partnerships manager to forge ties with rights holders to manage their channels. With talks under way with major football and cricketing governing bodies, the sports-themed channels will join Little Dot’s network of broadcaster and producer- owned channels, including ITV, Warner Bros, Discovery and Turner, as well as All3Media.

{text courtesy of Broadcast}

Coincidences No.s 270 & 271 – Eat Your Heart Out

11/10/17

I go in to Eat opposite my office to have a coffee with an Irish TV presenter I’m meeting for the first time. We sit at one of the only two tables in the branch, two two-person tables side by side. The presenter asks me early in the conversation where I live. I tell him and mention that Feargal Sharkey (Northern Irish lead singer of The Undertones) also lives there. I am about to mention other music-related people in the neighbourhood, striving for a moment to recall, when I sense the person sitting diagonally opposite me, alone at the other table, perhaps four feet away, has had their attention drawn to our conversation. It turns out he had overheard reference to East Finchley. Because that is indeed where he lives too. And he is the very person I was about to name because he was in the much admired post-punk band Gang of Four. It’s nearly four years since I last saw him (when I was writing my first book). The three of us ended up having a fascinating conversation about Catalunya as the musician splits his time between East Finchley/Fortis Green (home of The Kinks) and Catalonia.

gang of four band

Gang of Four

12/10/17

I go to see the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican. I notice how he uses three parallel horizontal lines for E and think perhaps I’ll adopt that for my own surname.

downtown 81 basquiat E

I walk away from the Barbican and pop into the nearby Eat for a sarnie. As I walk in I notice a prominent display (Grill Club) that uses a three parallel horizontal lines symbol.

Eat Grill Club sign

Creative Accounting No. 265

nick-cave singer

Nick Cave = Dave Vanian + Neil Diamond

david__vanian_by_yaprina singer the damned

plus-sign

neil_diamond_singer hot august night

Coincidences No.s 268 & 269

28 & 29/9/17

cocktail shaker kaleidoscope judyth greenburgh

cocktail shaker kaleidoscope by judyth greenburgh

I meet an old friend of mine near the BBC in White City – she’s an artist from North London who now lives in Darwin, California in the desert. Recently she’s gotten really into making kaleidoscopes. One of the ones that most appealed to me was one made out of a cocktail shaker with pills/capsules providing the coloured pieces. I told her how I’d loved capsules since childhood when I was allowed to play with them in the back of my uncle’s pharmacy in Arnos Grove. I then showed her my capsule bracelet which I was wearing – a red-white capsule on a black band sold to benefit an AIDS charity.

capsule bracelet

I’m having a chat with TV presenter Tim Lovejoy and he tells me about some art he’d seen at a Soho exhibition the night before – it showed the work of an anonymous artist called Chemical X made of pills and capsules.

The Spirit Of Ecstasy by Chemical X

The Spirit Of Ecstasy by Chemical X

 

5/10/17

On my jog this morning I was listening to an episode of ‘Desert Island Discs’ featuring Caitlin Moran. For her final track she chose a song by Anne-Marie. I’d never heard of this singer and wondered who she was.

At 17:33 an email arrived from TicketWeb. It advertised an imminent concert by Anne-Marie.

anne-marie concert advertisement

 

 

Coincidences No.s 266 and 267

8/9/17

I am walking down to the bus stop to go to a meeting in Camden Town. The meeting is about a website I commissioned some  years ago on behalf of Channel 4 and the Arts Council called Quotables. This prompted me to think about the colleague I worked with at the Arts Council who I haven’t been in touch with for over a year, wondering how she was.

I’m in the meeting at Camden Town about an hour later and an alert comes up on my phone screen – an incoming email from that very person.

Derek Hill by Cecil Beaton photograph

Derek Hill by Cecil Beaton (courtesy of Glebe House & Gallery, Co. Donegal, Ireland)

10/9/17

I am working on a documentary at the moment to do with the Mitford sisters, in particular Unity.

I stayed in Donegal during August beside the house of English artist, the late Derek Hill.

I read today that Derek Hill was the person who introduced Unity to Hitler. (I had no idea he had any connections with the Mitfords.)

A late realisation

As the annual Hajj comes to an end, here’s a quote from ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’ which would seem to reflect a significant realisation:

“I remember one night at Muzdalifa with nothing but the sky overhead I lay awake amid sleeping Muslim brothers and I learned that pilgrims from every land — every color, and class, and rank; high officials and the beggar alike — all snored in the same language.”

 

Although I’d take the liberty of remixing it…

“I remember one night at Muzdalifa with nothing but the sky overhead I lay awake amid sleeping brothers and I learned that people from every land — every colour, and class, and rank; high officials and the beggar alike — all snored in the same language.”

 

sleeping under the stars tent night sky

Loss of Good

Today 20 years ago I entered the day at a party in Tufnell Park (where we lived then) hosted by journalist Maggie O’Kane and her husband John, a Guardian editor. Despite the late night I found myself waking early with the radio on quietly on which I heard first about the accident of Diana, Princess of Wales, then early reports of her death. I told my Other Half when she woke. Despite being not in the least royalist and not particularly interested in Lady Di during her lifetime, I felt a sadness at the loss of someone who was so evidently kind-hearted and fundamentally good.

princess diana mario testino photograph

by Mario Testino

My Mrs had left something at the party and asked me to go get it once the time was decent – it was a Sunday morning. When I was back at Maggie’s flat, John already had a conspiracy theory worked out for the ‘murder’. Occupational hazard of being a journo I guess.

Later in the day we went into town and had lunch al fresco in Covent Garden. There was a copy of the Sunday Mail at the restaurant. On the last-minute-changed front page was wailing about the tragic loss of the people’s princess: inside, too late to change, was an ugly, snidey piece with a photo taken secretly in a gym from above of her. Caught out in their rank hypocrisy.

princess di josef locke hear my song premiere

3.3.92

I crossed paths with Diana only once. It was at the premiere of the movie ‘Hear My Song’ at the Odeon Marble Arch (formerly the Disney cinema). I had a seat by the aisle and she walked close, breezed blondely by. The Irish singer Josef Locke, the main character of the film (played by Adrian Dunbar who had invited us along), attended that night and sang her Danny Boy. I still have a white kerchief with embroidered text they gave away to mark the occasion at the back of my sock drawer. (I’ll add a photo when I get back to within reach of my socks. – done)

handkerchief Hear My Song film movie premiere 3 july 1992

To mark today I bought, in semi-ironic spirit, a small Charles & Di wedding dish in a junk shop in Carlingford, Republic of Ireland a few weeks ago. It cost 3 euros. They are pretty much ten a penny (plus Brexit currency rate) over there.

 

prince charles lady diana spencer marriage 29 july 1981 dish

bought in Carlingford, Co. Louth – August 2017

More Egon Schiele

egon_schiele_wilted_sunflowers painting 1914

1914 – on the eve of war

Following on from the last post, I’m now enjoying a weissbier and melange (white coffee) after sausages and sauerkraut in the central square of Tulln. It turned out the railway station was actually Schiele’s birthplace – his father was station master and Egon was born in the apartment that came with the job on the first floor. His earliest subjects as a budding artist of 6 or 7 were the trains.

On leaving the station up the cobbled lane you start to come across notices on the ground marked: Egon Schiele Weg (ES Way). This is in marked contrast to my 1984 visit to Neulengbach (where Schiele kept a studio in his key years with his lover Wally (Walburga Neuzil) and where his guardian had a summer house). On arrival I asked a man in the main street if he knew where Schiele’s studio was. He told me urgently that you can’t talk about that round here and hussled me off to a nearby bar. He bought me a white wine before launching into an apology (in the original sense – explanation) for Austria’s role in WW2 – they were poor being the crux of it. I failed to find the studio which I knew had been in a small country lane. I may try again tomorrow.

Following the Weg I came across a junior school named after Schiele in 2015 on the 125 anniversary of the birth of who is now recognised as ‘the most famous son’ of Tulln. Quite a turnaround since his still underground status in the 80s.

By the Danube is a small museum dedicated to Schiele’s early years which was established in 1990, on his centenary, just over 5 years after my scholarship visit. None of the paintings I saw there today in the Frühe Gemälde (Early Paintings) exhibition betray his genius or originality except one. He was only 17/18, not yet finding his voice, but a painting of sunflowers (a field of which I saw from the train at Klosterneuburg where Schiele went to secondary school and first exhibited (in the monastery)) showed the advent of a design sensibility which shaped his future work.

1908-sunflower-egon-schiele painting

1908 – on the eve of adulthood (aged 18)

Triple Coincidence No. 416 – Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele painting Sitting Woman with Legs Drawn Up, 1917

The picture on our bedroom wall – Schiele’s wife, Edith (1917)

I’m in Vienna for the first time in over 30 years for Doc Campus documentary workshop at ORF (Austrian TV). The last time I was here was on a scholarship from Girton College, Cambridge for research on the Austrian painter Egon Schiele.

I’d first heard about Schiele in a radio interview of David Bowie. At the time (mid-late 70s) Schiele was not well known outside of the Euro art cognoscenti. His description caught my imagination and I became a teen devotee, having always favoured a graphic approach to figurative art. At school I used to deliver drawings of, say, a glass of water that looked more like cut diamond.

So today I decided to go on a Schiele pilgrimage either to the site of his studio (Neulengbach, just outside of Vienna, where I had a memorable visit in around 1984) or his birthplace (Tulln). I’m writing this on an S-bahn to Tulln.

As I was reading Schiele stuff online this morning in my pension room near Schwedenplatz I noticed for the first time ever that he shares a birthday with my wife. (Along with Anne Frank and Robert Elms.) There is a reproduction of a painting by Schiele in the corner of our bedroom which my wife bought me years ago: it is inscribed “thanks for always bringing pictures”.

I left the room to go to the hotel for the workshop. As the taxi ride dragged on I felt irritated by how far out of the city centre the hotel they had chosen was, out near Schloss Schönbrunn at Hietzing. Never heard of the place. Not much zing. Burbs.

I dumped my stuff and got on the U-bahn to go to to Franz Josef station for the train to Tulln.

I have just set foot in Tulln, sitting on the platform to finish this. Schiele’s father was an official at this station.

On the underground to the train station I was reading the Wikipedia entry on Schiele. Lo & behold there is a mention of sleepy old Hietzing! Schiele had a studio at 101 of the Hauptstrasse I just walked down. (I’ll go check out the site later.) It is here he met his wife Edith Harms, who lived opposite and features in many of his later paintings. She died three days before him in the Spanish flu epidemic in the wake of WW1. He was just 28 but had brought a new modern expressionist vision to painting.

Update, 5pm:

On the way back from Tulln I’m reading my book on the train – The Travelling Hornplayer by Barbara Trapido, a novel with nothing to do with painters – at least it hadn’t had until I got to the shores of the Danube at Tulln where, as I was reading, one of the main characters meets a student painter at college in Edinburgh. On the train back I got to a passage where this student painter’s style is described: “Stella thinks they [the student painter’s paintings] are maybe just a bit like Auerbach; maybe just slightly like Auerbach crossed with Egon Schiele.”

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