Archive for March, 2018|Monthly archive page

Social Media Addicts Anonymous

social media addicts anonymous documentary film Poster real stories

The fourth of my documentaries commissioned for Real Stories (Little Dot Studios) went live last night. The full film is here for free [26 minute watch]. I collaborated with director/producer Simon Goodman of Showem Entertainment on this light, entertaining doc – we’ve been working on it since late 2016 so it emerges at an interesting moment in the evolution of Facebook and social media (Cambridge Analytica, betrayal of trust, abuse of personal data, #deletefacebook, etc.) It is our third collaboration after ‘Naked & Invisible’ and ‘Young Swingers’. All have a light surface but carry substance. This one plays out thus:

Six social media junkies put themselves in the hands of a psychologist specialising in digital addiction to try to break free of the clutches of social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. As a first step, they agree to have their accounts frozen and go cold turkey for a week. How long can they survive without their fix? What difference does this forced abstinence make to their lives?

These self-confessed addicts agree to ditch their virtual lives for some real-world truths by participating in a course of ‘shock treatment’ under the guidance of Harley Street counselling psychologist and cognitive behavioural therapist Dr. Becky Spelman.

The addicts range from 39-year-old Jill who says her social media usage is a marriage wrecker (“I use Facebook to avoid having sex with my husband”) through 20-year-old Freddie whose addiction to Snapchat has landed him three written warnings from work and who admits his smartphone usage makes him “become a bit of a psycho” to 30-year-old fitness model Tracy Kiss (2.6M Facebook followers) who says that her online activities are affecting her relationship with her kids to the point where if she doesn’t change soon “things will probably implode”.

The initial week-long programme raises all sorts of questions: What will they discover about themselves by going offline? How will they fill the online void in their lives and will the process create rewarding experiences for them? Can they find ways to stay connected to their friends and the world at large?

Through this group’s stories the film explores the wider issues for the generation now living in a world where they gauge their self-worth by the number of likes, favorites, or retweets they receive.

The final film was influenced by a comment made publicly by Sean Parker, the first President of Facebook, late last year: [about Facebook]

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop… exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

As the film entered the edit in February 2018, James Steyer, CEO & Founder of Common Sense, launched the Truth About Tech campaign, driven by the employees of social media platforms and other big players in Silicon Valley:

“We are into the appropriate and balanced use of technology. We are calling out the industry for their excesses and their intentional effects to manipulate and addict.”

120M Views 2017-05-24 Naked and Invisible video facebook

‘Naked & Invisible’ – 120M views in 10 days on Facebook

 

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Story Snippet No. 401 – books and covers

I got on the tube at East Finchley heading into town, sitting in a corner seat by the glass. Opposite me was a woman in her late fifties or sixties, loud, stocky and short. To my left was an elderly man with a proper voice, who just added in the odd question or remark to keep the conversation going. Because she was performing diagonally across the carriage the woman’s monologue was audible and, in some way, for public consumption.

She works on the Underground, on the other branch between Edgware and Golders Green, but lives on this branch because she likes the separation. She was highlighting the amassing problems on the Underground – lack of staff leading to lack of team work; well meaning, personable managers who are clueless; growing discontent that she predicts will spill over in the next two years as the individual lines are teed up for privitisation. Watch this space, she warns.

She recounted the lack of demand for the night services, which she saw as mainly politically motivated. She said she mainly sees drunks and stoners, people pissing and shitting on the platforms, which her and her colleagues have to clean up. A man comes in, asks if there are public toilets in the Tube (there aren’t any inside or out in the streets these days), is drunk, is spotted moments later on CCTV urinating on the platform. That’s typical on these night shifts she now has to do. She mentions she has a chronic medical condition which accounts for her short stature. She was not supposed to live into adulthood. She now has grandchildren.

She likes to do art with her grandkids, as doesn’t allow them on phones when they visit. They like this. She does talks in schools and opens with two questions: Who’s got a phone, tablet or similar? (Most of them, even in primary classes.) Who knows how to sew on a button? (None of them.) She recounts the story of a man she met on holiday somewhere in Britain who paid £5 to have a button sewed on by a dry cleaner. Can’t you sew a button on? She was appalled.

She mentioned her A Level achievements, including in Biology. (I’ve a vague memory she wanted to follow a particular course of further study but was somehow thwarted.) She explained how she and her colleagues have to go on many courses each year to retain their licences (many to do with health & safety and emergency procedures), that it is actually a skilled and technical job.

She moves on to talk about how many of the staff are talented amateur artists. (We’ve seen this at East Finchley where for a while, before they pulled out the ticket office and most of the staff, we had an enthusiastic painter decorating the entrance with his framed pieces.) She mentioned a display at the back of Southwark station organised by staff (and where all costs are borne by the staff). She had a shopping carrier which turned out to contain some of her works. She buys high quality sheets from charity shops and uses them as the base of her embroidery. She described three pieces she’d done to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War. Then she pulled them out. (She knew I was watching too over my book.) They were very detailed depictions, interestingly composed. One had a soldier writing home to his loved one in a trench enclosure. Another had a soldier silhouetted against a golden sunset in a cornfield. A great deal of work in both, both framed, both a little surprising in contrast to her weighty hands and projecting voice. She rammed them back into the tightly packed shopping trolley as I got off at Euston. She mentioned she had done her own version of the Bayeux Tapestry over many years, 55 feet long.

[This last fact enabled me to find her story online and discover her name, Annette Banks. She is one of eleven children from Canning Town.]

east finchley underground tube station

Coincidences No.s 212 & 213

No. 212  (27.03.18)

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn

26th March 2018

I am working with a fellow producer in Covent Garden in his office. We are talking to a colleague from Glasgow-based Finestripe Productions who attended the Labour Anti-semitism rally outside Parliament last night. This prompts my co-producer to mention who his MP is (as he was prominent at the event).  “Where is the constituency?” Harrow he tells me.

I go round to my mum’s for dinner with my step-dad. We have arranged to go for a Chinese somewhere in Colindale. When I arrive the plan has changed. It is more of a family affair and we are going to a different Chinese. We drive through Harrow, on to Hatch End. (Not sure I’ve ever been here before.) I decide to phone my co-producer from outside the Chinese: “I think I may be in your manor.” I tell him the name of the restaurant. “Look opposite, slightly to the right. Can you see Wellington Road?” I can. “That’s where we live.”

No. 213 (26 & 27.3.18)

1962 lawrence of arabia movie film poster

1962

I am watching a movie from the 80s, ‘Winter Kills’ starring Jeff Bridges. It strikes me that Jeff looks a lot like my old friend Adam D.

I get an email from Adam D for the first time in ages, about 70mm screenings of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in his home town of Amsterdam – do I fancy flying over?

Absent from Our Own Wedding – The Observer / The Guardian

An article about my latest commission on Real Stories by Vanessa Thorpe of The Observer. {text courtesy of The Observer – Film/Documentary}

No bride no groom I do Montana's proxy weddings on film article 24 march 2018 The Observer The Guardian

24.iii.18

No bride, no groom, I do: Montana’s proxy weddings on film

 

US state allows marriages in which neither party is actually there, explored in documentary Absent from Our Own Wedding

 

For some nervous betrothed couples a proxy marriage might sound too good to be true: if there really were such an easy way to avoid the stress and fuss of a wedding ceremony, surely everyone would do it?

But marriages in which neither the bride nor groom are present happen all the time, and not only in countries with very different customs and laws to Britain.

The award-winning British documentary maker and former actor Debbie Howard recently released the first film about a US duo who run a thriving proxy marriage business from their rural home in Flathead county, Montana.

Her film Absent from Our Own Wedding tells the remarkable story of the retired husband and wife team Tom and Teresa Kennedy, who conduct about 500 weddings a year for a fee of $750 (£530), without ever meeting a blushing bride or a gallant groom.

Montana is the only US state where double proxy weddings are legal and the Kennedys believe their business, Armed Forces Proxy Marriages, offers a useful service to couples who cannot arrange to be together on their big day.

Tom Kennedy said: “I stumbled on this law and now we just love doing it and we want to carry on. We are not doing it for the money. We are fine, because Teresa was a stockbroker and I worked in public service for around 25 years, including a long time in the fire department.”

The obscure Montana law dates back to the 1860s, Tom explained, and was initially a way to help out male miners. “All the women were on the east coast and it was not seen as proper to bring them to tough all-male mining communities to get married,” he said.

Teresa, 56, regularly stands in for either the bride or the groom, who can be same-sex, while a colleague steps up to play their intended. Tom will often conduct the ceremony.

In the past double, proxy marriage was possible in Montana for anyone who applied from anywhere in the world, but 10 years ago the law was changed. Now one of the two getting married must be a resident of Montana – or on active duty in the armed services.

“Outside of Montana very few people have heard of this,” said Tom, 66. “It is very obscure and even federal officials know nothing about it. The fact is, in Montana you do not even need to be a magistrate or a judge to marry people. You just have to appear to be of sound mind to those who are present at the time. You could even marry yourselves.”

Howard’s documentary, made by Big Buddha Films, was shot in Montana last year and is now showing as part of the Real Stories strand on YouTube.

Coincidences No.s 210 & 211 – Radio radio

22.iii.18

It is 4.30 in the morning. I hear the cat out on the landing. I come out of the bedroom and it seems a bit frantic. I shoo it downstairs and as I follow it to lock it in the kitchen I notice movement in the downstairs hall. A mouse. I chase the mouse into the kitchen, close the door, open the back door and shoo it out with a brush.

I go back to bed and turn on the radio to lull me back to sleep. The programme on BBC World Service that comes on is talking about getting rid of mice and how do you know that you’ve got rid of them all.

24.iii.18

Jeff Bridges as Nick Kegan in Winter Kills movie 1979

Nick Kegan / Jeff Bridges 1979

I decide to watch a slightly obscure 70s movie on Saturday night – ‘Winter Kills’. It is about the aftermath of the assassination of a popular young US president and the conspiracy theories which follow his shooting. The main character, Nick Kegan, bears more than a passing resemblance to Robert Kennedy.

I stop the movie to go into the kitchen to turn off the dinner. On the radio, which has been left on, is Robert Kennedy in an archive programme on BBC Radio 4 about the killings of both Kennedy (RFK) and Martin Luther King (MLK).

RFK Robert Kennedy attorney general may 1961

Robert Kennedy 1961

 

The Casting Game No. 367

Joe Pesci

joe-pesci-actor

AS

Eli Wallach

eli wallach actor book cover the good the bad and me

joe pesci actor

Pesci

eli wallach actor tuco the good the bad and the ugly

Wallach

Absent from Our Own Wedding

Absent from our Own Wedding poster marriage documentary Little Dot Studios

My third commission for Little Dot Studios’ Real Stories channel went live this weekend. You can see it here. It is an exploration of what matters in marriage through the quirky story of a Proxy Marriage in Montana.

It was directed & produced by Debbie Howard and executive produced by Gillian Mosely.

Absent from our Own Wedding

What really matters in weddings and marriage?

Jasmin is in Southern Italy. Aaron is in Wiesbaden, Germany. They’ve just been married. Even though they are 863 miles apart. And the wedding was in Montana, USA. Montana is a state where ‘proxy weddings’ are legal. You can get married without your spouse being in the room. In fact neither of you need to be there and that’s what ‘Absent from Our Own Wedding’ revolves around – a ‘double proxy wedding’ where both the bride and groom have proxies standing in for them as the ceremony is performed.

The observational documentary, shot on location in Montana by an all-female creative team,  features the stories behind a number of proxy weddings carried out by the fascinating husband and wife team at Armed Forces Proxy Marriages, who have the process down to a T. We see it from the first incoming call to the mailing of the fancy marriage certificate.

Because the proxy ceremonies are batched and not scheduled with the couples, often the bride and groom only realise they are actually married when the email comes in. Sometimes therefore they can’t even say exactly where they were at the moment they tied the knot.

Many proxy marriages involve people in the armed forces who need to get married swiftly to secure their rights as a military couple (to housing etc.) But just because they are sometimes functional doesn’t mean the love and commitment aren’t there.

The roots of the proxy marriage laws in Montana are back in the days of the Wild West and these are explained by Tom, who officiates at the ceremonies, which often involve his own wife, Teresa, as a proxy. That’s why Teresa, technically, has been married thousands of times!

absent from our own wedding real stories thumbnail

Jasmin & Aaron

 

Coincidences No.s 208 & 209

13.ii.18 Theatre503

I meet the Creative Accountant, Sydney Levinson, for tea in Mayfair (Little House). At the end of the meeting he has to head for home to get ready to see the play of a friend of his at a small theatre in Battersea – Theatre503. I’ve never heard of the place.

I leave the tea with Sydney to go to a special preview screening of a documentary I’d recently commissioned, Sorry I Shot You. The screening is in Bermondsey in a back-street cafe run by an ex-offender. The director of the film, the protagonist, and various people at the gathering are also ex-cons. I meet an interesting and pleasant man called John who has done time in Liverpool for armed robbery. He is smartly dressed and articulate. He has recently written a play about his time inside which is about to be put on …at Theatre503.

10.iii.18 & 14.iii.18 Wildwood

I am walking from home to Crouch End through a string of woods. When I get to Queen’s Wood I read the information board at the entrance which explains that the woodland which covered England until 5,000 years ago was known as ‘Wildwood’. Not a term I have ever heard but I know a road called Wildwood near where I live, beside an island of woodland. I explain all this to my friend Roddy over breakfast at Banners.

An email comes through this evening about a newish band I’ve never heard of: Wildwood Kin.
A family trio – two sisters and their cousin – Wildwood Kin formed four years ago while in their mid to late teens. Their extraordinary debut album Turning Tides entered the UK charts in the top 40 and whilst it borrows from early folk influences, not least in their hypnotic three-part harmonies, it delves deeply into other genres, featuring both electric and acoustic instruments and boasts inventive electronics and spectral atmospherics.”

I’m listening to their inventive electronics and spectral atmospherics (out of Exeter) as I write this and it’s not unpleasant. Though I’d sooner have the band I saw last Monday (5th March) at the Imagining Ireland gig at The Barby, Saint Sister, a harp-keyboards duo (out of Derry & Belfast), not actual sisters but with a sisterly vibe. 

saint sister irish band

Gemma Doherty (Derry) & Morgan MacIntyre (Belfast)

Here’s a really striking song they performed, Corpses:

 

The State of NME

joy division nme newspaper magazine cover 1980 ian curtis tribute

Ian Curtis tribute edition (1980)

You never listened to a word that I said
You only seen me from the clothes that I wear
Or did the interest go so much deeper
It must have been to the colour of my hair

Public image you got what you wanted
The public image belongs to me
It’s my entrance my own creation
My grand finale, my goodbye

Public image
Public image
Goodbye

NEW

Today the last printed edition of NME is being published. It played a vital role in many British teens’ lives at a certain point, especially during the dynamic days of Punk and Post-Punk. In many ways it was our internet.

MUSICAL

It was the place to find out about gigs, get the latest band news, find upcoming talent, get hold of the most desirable records, get insights into the musicians that mattered.

EXPRESS

It also nurtured a generation of writers from Paul Morley to Danny Baker, from Julie Burchill to Nick Kent. My friend & former colleague from Channel 4, Stuart Cosgrove, was among their ranks. His latest book ‘Memphis 68: The Tragedy of Southern Soul‘ has just this week been shortlisted for the Penderyn Prize for Music Book of the Year, which the NME dubbed “The Mercury Prize of Books”. It’s the second book in the trilogy that began with ‘Detroit 67’ – he’s currently writing the third, ‘Harlem 69‘. It’s up against Cosey Fanni Tutti’s ‘Art Sex Music‘ which looks like formidable competition (though I haven’t read it yet).

Cosey Fanni Tutti was in Throbbing Gristle. I saw a then unknown Marc Almond perform a 15-minute version of the Throbbing Gristle song ‘Discipline’ at Hammersmith Odeon, supporting an emerging band called The Cure and headliners Siouxsie & The Banshees. Years later, down the road at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, I saw Marc Almond (son of Leeds) perform Wendy Rene’s ‘After Laughter Comes Tears’, a Northern Soul classic. Stuart is an aficionado of Northern Soul, it’s from that passion that ‘The Soul Trilogy‘ springs. These are the threads that made up the text and texture of NME in its heyday when it was ENeMy of the state and friend of new musical expression.

NME
NME
Goodbye

NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS (NME) Music Paper 28th MAY 1977 SEX PISTOLS GRATEFUL DEAD JOHNNY THUNDERS (NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS NME)

Changing of the Guards: The Pistols meet The Dead – May 1977

The original NME Cover of the Clash from April 1977 By Chalkie Davies

The Crossroads: The Clash meet Fleetwood Mac – April 1977

keith levine guitarist public image limited PIL NME cover

The Tangled Web: Keith Levine of Public Image and The Clash – 1980

undertones nme cover

The Threads: The Undertones meet Siouxsie meets PiL

nme cover the slits

The Slits – September 1979 (one was married to PiL’s John Lydon)

the specials nme cover two tone

Two Tone: The Specials – August 1979

The Casting Game No. 366

Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator

The Emperor

as

Elvis Presley

elvis presley singer young

The King

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