Archive for July, 2007|Monthly archive page

Britdoc rocs


On my way home from Oxford and that annual documentaries jamboree that is the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation‘s Britdoc Festival.

I was on the panel of a lively session called Steal This Film about the future of Intellectual Property Rights (if there is one) and the impact of peer-to-peer file-sharing on funding creativity in film and television.

Refereeing was Britdoc meisterin Jess Search of said British Documentary Film Foundation and Shooting People.

In the red corner, Jamie King (Dr JJ King to his friends), a prime-mover of Steal This Film, an internet documentary about sharing films you neither made nor invested in (financially or in kind). I jest, it’s actually a good provocation about very important cultural, creative and business issues – and he is to be admired for taking the brickbats so doggedly for raising perfectly legitimate issues as points of principle. 1.85M people have viewed the film in 12-18 months. It has netted, in JK’s estimate, £16k.

In the blue corner Eddie from FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft) of Knock-off Nigel fame.

Sandwiched between was Guy Avshalom, Head of Legal and Business Affairs at Lionsgate Films (formerly Redbus – a link between our careers as the broadband video outfit I set up with partners before turning gamekeeper at Channel 4 was backed by Redbus Investments too) and Yours Truly.

My main issue with Dr Jamie’s theories about filesharing is that they are a bit on the black and white side – everything should be free vs the corporations rob us all.

As he spoke, he reminded me of Mrs T. Thatcher emptied the mentally ill onto the streets and then tried to put in place ‘care in the community’. Jamie seems to want to dismantle IPR-based business models and then figure out how to finance creativity. Having run 4Talent/Ideasfactory at Channel 4 for four years I’m a bit obsessed with creatives in whatever discipline making a viable living and emerging creative companies thriving.

At the Other Annual Documentary Festival which shall not be named, the day I spoke there last November the front page of the FT announced that Google UK would earn more advertising revenue than Channel 4 in 2007 and than our biggest commercial broadcaster ITV around 2009. So as all that cash gets syphoned off out of the country and the parasitic business models of YouTube and the like invest big fat zero in content, talent nurturing and supplier corporate development, the question is who steps in to fill the gap when the broadcasters can’t afford it any more? Who helps the next Ricky Gervaises get from flawed series 1 of The Office to the classic series 2? I can’t really see why Dr K doesn’t focus his very evident creative thinking and energy on new ways of funding creativity properly rather than on how to take apart the old. There’s room for more than just black and white in a complex world in rapid transition. Guy seemed very open to new commercial models for the film business and even Eddie acknowledged the need for new approaches to IPR in this emerging digital age.

The logic of that diversion of ad revenue coupled with that failure to invest in creative content and talent is that ultimately we all get to watch more cats on skateboards and mentoes in coke bottles. (Top of Google Video as I write: “This is a funny video about a hipo and his dog“.) The irony of Steal This Film is that the only stuff you’d want to steal in a longish 32 minutes is the Hollywood movie clips. It’s a good summary of the issues with not so good narrative skills. It is populated almost exclusively with the type of white 20ish males who would get off on this, like the 7 people who watched it yesterday on YouTube.

In spite of the lively exchanges around all of the above, there seemed a broad optimism in the room – the auditorium of The Phoenix Cinema, which looks like it must be the sister of my beloved Phoenix in East Finchley, the oldest purpose built cinema in the UK (where I do a bit of pro bono work). Optimism about the opportunities networked digital technology and a more creative approach to IPR promise. The Phoenix in East Finchley was built in 1910. Whether I’ll be able to enjoy films there like Guy’s title The Lives of Others in 2010 or 2015 will depend on resurrecting viable business models for rewarding individual creatives from the ashes of the models which no longer compute in this on-demand, networked, two-way era. We’d better sort out our creative community care before we chuck professional creators out on the street or we’ll all be watching more cats and mentoes. What does happen when you put a pussy in pepsi?


Public Art in Canada

When I was over in Canada last month, speaking at the NextMedia interactive media festival and the Banff TV festival, I had the pleasure of chatting with journo Jenn Kuzmyk of C21 about some of the stuff I’ve been working on recently – yesterday the fruits of our convo showed up in Jenn’s C21 Factual weekly bulletin:

C4 factual arm gives power to the people

What does user-generated content (UGC) mean in the factual television space? Sometimes it has very little to do with television at all. Jenn Kuzmyk profiles the Big Art Mob and Hot Shots [Picture This], two new interactive social media projects from Channel 4’s factual unit that are to be fuelled by contributions from people throughout the UK – and perhaps the world.

The Big Art Mob is billed as the first major mobile blogging project to come from a British broadcaster. It’s also the UK’s first comprehensive survey of public art, and will be based entirely on pictures (or audio and video) from the camera phones of art-lovers nationwide. Launched in April 2007, a full year before its TV component will roll out, the project aims to record for posterity the wealth of artworks in public places across the country and serve as the focus of a dynamic national conversation.

The project is a spin-off from the Channel 4 Big Art Project (3 x 60′), a series for the main terrestrial network that will culminate in the commissioning of six large-scale pieces of public art throughout the UK some time next year. The TV portion, to be produced by the UK’s Carbon Media (Jump London), won’t launch until the mobile blogging portion has been running for over a year.

“We can do something that couldn’t have been done before,” says Adam Gee (above), C4’s new media commissioner, noting that the Big Art Mob was in part inspired by the BBC’s mass user-generated climate change studies Springwatch and Autumnwatch. “If people think something is worthwhile, they’re quite willing to put the information up there, and they’re quite assiduous and careful about it, as well,” says Gee, emphasising C4’s belief in UGC.

C4 devised the Big Art Mob with moblog:tech, a UK mobile blogging facilitator that has worked with the likes of Universal Music, Greenpeace and Warner Music. Essentially, a user takes a picture (or video) of some public-domain art that they love, they MMS it to a number and it drops straight into an online map (below) that tracks contributions from across the nation. C4 first contacted niche groups that already have an interest in public art, and is now going out to people whose parts of the map are under-represented, to encourage those regions to submit.

Contributors can add any information they have about a specific piece of art that they have submitted, but the opportunity is open for others to tag someone else’s image and complete information such as title, important dates and the history of the artist or piece. “It’s like a simple Wikipedia, really,” describes Gee. “It has the same openness as a Wiki, in that the person who submits the picture can have a right of veto over what is put up about the picture. It also protects against abuse,” he says, noting that people can also see who has last visited their picture, which encourages connection among users.

Gee’s remit is to focus on pop factual projects with a tendency towards public service, and for the Big Art Mob there is, of course, an underlying learning element, and something Gee classes as an “interpretative” function: something that can spark debate and conversation. “You have to decide what public art is. I could put a bronze statue up there but I could also put up the piece of graffiti around the corner as well,” he says, noting that at the moment the balance is probably around 60/40 in favour of street art (below).

Now that the infrastructure for the initial UK effort is complete, it is transportable to other territories, and a few possible spin-offs are already being thought of. “It’s designed to have legs before and after the broadcast, and the overheads are relatively low. Now that we’ve done it once and know how to do it, we can replicate it for next to no money. We’d like to roll out to New York and Paris next, making the ‘Big Art’ map really big,” says Gee. “If C4 ever pulls out of supporting it, which is not really on the cards because it has very minimal overhead, then we could give it to a public institution and they could carry it on and keep it, but it is being established for the long run.”

The Big Art Mob and other projects in the works are part of a push to experiment with C4’s public service and how that role can be carried into the interactive space.

Next up is Hot Shots, an integrated TV/web project being produced in association with online photo-sharing outfit Flickr, which is involved via an ‘in-kind’ exchange. “They are very supportive of the project. They’ll [Yahoo!] promote it, and we’ve traded the TV sponsorship for that, really. It helps us to do a project that has some serious scale,” says Gee.

The rest of this article is available at C21.

Me New China

view from ICA

Hooked up with Philip Dodd (of BBC Radio 3 arts and Made in China) fresh from an appointment with posh dim sum – that fella is seriously immersing himself in the culture. He spends about a third of his life these days on planes to and from Shanghai – his carbon footprint must be of Charlie Caroli proportions.

We were talking about taking the Big Art Mob to China which would be a real kick. I hope I can interest Buddy Ling Ye of Wang You Media in the initiative (Philip connected us last year) as the reach of his outfit is way beyond lil’ ol’ British dreams.

Alfie Dennen over at Moblog was up for the challenge of tinkering under the bonnet of Big Art Mob to take the baby on the road to China. (Which reminds me, I must ask Philip what it signifies that Made in China is based on Burma Road.)

Philip of course was formerly Director of the ICA which brings me neatly on to another highlight of the week – the Petcha Kutcha which launched the Cultural and Creative Leadership Mentoring Programme at the ICA on Tuesday evening. The programme is DCMS backed with Arts Council England, MLA (Museums Libraries and Archives) and London Development Agency support. I met my mentee for the first time, Caroline Bottomley of the Radar Festival, an annual competition and allied activities for emerging film-making talent centred on music promos (4Talent, by chance, features among their partners). I’ve only ever mentored very tall Afro-Caribbean 16 year olds before, at a comprehensive school round the corner from Channel 4, so this will be an interesting contrast.

Petcha Kutcha is a speaking format originated in Tokyo by Klein Dytham architecture. 20 speakers with 20 pictures each speak for 20 seconds per slide. It seems consistently to produce inspiring events. As a speaker, the parlour game aspect was highly enjoyable, encouraging a loose, free-flowing approach.

The people who charged my batteries this time included Sydney Levinson, a Creative Accountant, the first of this breed I’ve come across I could really call inspiring. He is Chair of Cockpit Arts and supports young creatives at the RCA, Crafts Council, etc. He seems to have had a left-field brush with punk (in the form of Generation X) and to love spreadsheets and music with equal passion, which can’t be a bad thing.

One of the speakers works out of Cockpit (and obviously loves her subsidised studio space there) – Annette Bugansky radiated the commitment of a genuine artist/craftswoman, explaining a lifetime of mastering her disciplines. She has melded an early career in tailoring and wardrobe (including cutting for Jean Muir) to a later flourishing in ceramics, in the form of white porcelain pots and other exquisitely pure pieces whose surface textures are created by literally dressing the moulds in fabric clothes before casting and painstakingly hand-finishing.

Contrasting masterly experience with youthful energy, Claire Louise Staunton was very endearing. She is the dynamo behind the Late Night Programmes at the Whitechapel Gallery, which appears to have been a hub in her lively career to date. She is interested in bringing sonic arts to museums, especially lesser known ones. (Note to self: hook Claire up with Martyn Ware if they aren’t already in touch).

Other colourful speakers included Victoria Bean with her art typographical books created at Arc, a collective of similarly oriented artists; Mark Downs of adult puppet theatre specialists Blind Summit; John Newbigin, formerly a colleague at Channel 4 and now co-trustee at 24 Hour Museum; Trudie Stephenson of Emineo Fine Art who was MD at County Hall Gallery and has evidently helped a lot of fine artists make the money they deserve.

To round off, the ever amiable Paul Bennun of Somethin’ Else took us through a day in his life – his 20th slide bringing us right up to the moment as he photographed the audience from the stage. Among the audience was Philip’s successor Ekow Eshun. And so the circle is closed.

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