Archive for the ‘Adam Gee’ Category

The Empathy Podcast with Oisin Lunny

the empathy podcast oisin lunny adam gee

I can’t recall exactly how or when I first met Oisin Lunny – it was through digital media/multiplatform circles. But I do clearly (that is, as clearly as was possible in the circumstances) recall listening to his band in a rowdy basement in Watermint Quay, Hackney on big nights among the London Irish Murphia – they were called Marxman, a pioneering Celtic hip-hop band that used the bodhran, the traditional Irish drum, for their beats. The band was on Gilles Peterson’s Talkin’ Loud label (alongside the great Young Disciples among other footstomping acts which defined the 90s). They had the distinction of having their first single banned by the BBC and their third one performed on Top of the Pops. Oisin making his marx in music is no surprise given his heritage – his da is Donal Lunny, Irish producer extraordinaire and member of seminal bands Planxty and Moving Hearts (with the likes of Christy Moore). Oisin has moved the family on from the bouzouki to all things digital and mobile (but with a healthy respect for the bodhran and the Irish songbook).

marxman Oisin Lunny

Oisin in Marxman (left)

Among his digital marketing related activities Oisin produces a podcast about Empathy called The Empathy Podcast. He recently recorded an episode with me in which we discussed the relationship between Empathy, Creativity, Connection and Networks. Here is the programme [Running Time: 22 mins].

oisin lunny

Another Marxman on Simple Pleasures.

Marxman with Sinead O’Connor:

“Ship Ahoy” by Marxman from Oisin Lunny on Vimeo.

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Square Root of Instagram

In 2006 at Channel 4 (London) I commissioned a mobile-centred website called Big Art Mob. It enabled users to publish photos of Public Art (from sculptures to graffiti) from their mobile phones. In other words, it was basically Instagram 4 years before Instagram was invented. It was created with digital all-rounder Alfie Dennen (father of We Are Not Afraid) using a photo-publishing platform he had developed with partners named Moblog. I had been experimenting with Moblog for 18 months when a TV project about Public Art (The Big Art Project) came over the horizon and it struck me as an ideal place to apply Moblog technology.

The main difference from Instagram is that Big Art Mob’s photos were not in square format.

Today I went to see the Klimt / Schiele exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. I have been a big admirer of Schiele since I heard about him from David Bowie on a radio programme around the time Lodger was released (1979). At the time the Austrian painter was little known outside cognoscenti circles (eg the Marlborough Gallery in London). I was taught a little by Frank Whitford at Cambridge who wrote the Phaidon monograph on Schiele. And I won a travel scholarship at Girton to go study his work in Vienna around 1984. Last year while working at ORF in Vienna I got to do a bit of a self-shaped Schiele tour to mark the centenary of his death which I wrote about in On The Trail of Egon Schiele. I even had a stab at a Schiele in a painting class I recently attended locally:

adam gee copy of egon schiele painting

The exhibition was excellent, bringing out the contrast between how and why Schiele and his mentor Klimt drew. Along the way it reminded me of Klimt’s distinctive adoption of the square format in his portrait painting. Which got me thinking about which other artists went square.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is a painting by Gustav Klimt, completed between 1903 and 1907. The portrait was commissioned by the sitter's husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish banker and sugar producer. The painting was stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt (1903-1907)

Klimt’s famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer is 1.38m by 1.38m. It was commissioned by Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish banker and sugar producer, husband of Adele. The painting was notoriously stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at Schloss Belvedere in Vienna, until being returned by the Austrian courts to Bloch-Bauer’s heirs in 2006 at which point it found a new home in New York. It is considered the zenith of Klimt’s golden period. It uses Klimt’s trademark technique of cropping the figure top and bottom to create a pillar through the canvas, here set slightly right to allow the bulk of the patterned dress or aura to balance the composition.

Square and portraits reminded me of the excellent Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain last year. The square format works particularly well in the double portraits which were the beating heart of that show.

My Parents 1977 by David Hockney born 1937

My Parents by David Hockney (1977)

The emotionally resonant My Parents is 1.83m by 1.83m, even more epic than the Klimt, yet with the most down-to-earth subjects. Each parent occupies their own half in a very different way – attentive mum, square on, in her own space; pre-occupied dad, at an angle, overlapping the furniture – subtly capturing the difference in parent-child relationship.

Hockney was born on 9th July 1937, eight days before my dad. Nine days later another German Jew, Gerda Taro, died in Spain. She has the tragic distinction of being the first female photojournalist to have been killed while covering war at the frontline. This evening I started watching My Private War for this year’s BAFTA judging, starring Rosamund Pike as Marie Colvin, a latter day Taro. Recently, also for voting purposes (BAFTA Documentary Film chapter), I watched the feature documentary Under The Wire, likewise about the life and death of Colvin (killed in Homs, Syria by an Assad regime air-strike). Taro was killed during the Spanish Civil War in a tragic accident involving a reversing Republican tank.

republican woman 1936 gerda taro

Republican militiawoman training on the beach outside Barcelona by Gerda Taro (1936)

Taro was another stand-out squarist. She was partner of Magnum photojournalist Robert Capa. (Capa was introduced to the world by Picture Post in 1938, where my maternal grandfather worked. The Hungarian Jew, who famously lived out of a suitcase for most of his adult life, co-founded the Magnum photo agency with Henri Cartier-Bresson and others.) I saw Tara’s first ever US solo show at the International Center of Photography in New York in 2007. Capa picked up the habit from Taro and there are a number of square photographs attributed to Capa which are widely thought to actually be the work of Taro.

These days I find myself photographing square by default. I’ve enjoyed using Instagram for years as a platform for photography only (none of the Stories bollocks or video). Initially it was an excellent way to syndicate your photos across your social accounts (when it was linked to Flickr – the monopolists must have disconnected on account of Yahoo’s ownership of Flickr I guess). Square poses its own compositional challenges which by and large I enjoy rising to – there are not that many shots I take which can’t be accommodated in the stable, equal-sided space. It encourages the use of diagonals which can be dynamic. Here’s one of my favourite of my square compositions:

statue of george orwell outside the BBC (New Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London)

Statue of George Orwell outside the BBC (New Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London) March 2018

The square is stable enough to carry the two dark figures on the right side. Orwell’s statue is characteristically smoking, hence the appeal of the BBC smoker – both are fag in hand. Of course Orwell like Taro was a graduate of the Spanish Civil War but he made it home to the BBC and to die in the relatively civilised surroundings of UCH (University College Hospital, established by two of my distant ancestors on the Picture Post grandfather’s side, and where both my boys were born). Orwell’s house (at 1 South End Road) is along the same road in Hampstead/Parliament Hill where my dad grew up. He was a child of refugees from Nazi Germany.

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear

To round off these square stories, Taro was given a funeral, attended by thousands, by the Communist Party of France. She was buried at Père Lachaise on 1st August 1937 (what would have been her 27th birthday) in a grave designed by Alberto Giacometti. On the tomb is written, in French and Catalan

So nobody will forget your unconditional struggle for a better world

Fast-forward to the summer of 2016 – an open-air display of Taro’s Spanish Civil War photos was included in the f/stop photography festival in Leipzig. Leipzig is where my dad was born in July 1937 in the shadow of the Nazi fascist regime, a swastika and eagle on his birth certificate. When f/stop ended, it was decided that the display would become permanent. This was partly financed through crowdfunding. On the night of 3rd/4th August 2016 (two days after Taro’s 106th birthday), the display was destroyed by being daubed with black tar-like paint. This dark act of destruction was widely suspected to be motivated by anti-semitism or anti-refugee politics. A further crowdfunding campaign more than raised the €4,000 required to restore the vandalised photos. The equal and opposite forces of creativity and destruction, light and dark, squared up to one another.

Be there and be square.

Tampere, Finland

This week I had the pleasure of visiting the first place I’ve been to in Finland outside of Helsinki. I’ve worked with the Finnish state broadcaster YLE for some years now, usually in their offices at Pasila towards the north of the capital. On Wednesday I gave a talk on Short Form Video as part of their FutureZone series at their Tampere offices (Mediapolis). Tampere is 160km north of Helsinki, the second or third largest city in Finland (depending on how you are measuring) and the largest inland urban population in the Nordic countries. It is situated between two large lakes.

The event was delightfully hosted by YLE news anchor/journalist Milla Madetoja who presents the regional news nightly. Finland is divided into 9 regions which become larger and more sparsely populated as you head north.

IMG_9279 selfie by milla madetoja yle tv finland adam gee

Selfie by Milla Madetoja

At lunch I was asked by the Head of Current Affairs to explain what was going on in the UK with Brexit. I couldn’t.

Futurezone_Short_form video adam gee tampere yle

Tervetuloa! / All welcome! poster

milla madetoja yle news anchor studio

Robot camera in news studio

yle news studio tampere finland

No-nonsense regional news studio (one of a pair)

yle tampere auditorium adam gee short form video lecture

Photos of famous old Finnish stars around the Mediapolis auditorium

Vanished – press coverage

Some excellent press coverage in both the tabloids and qualities helped ‘Vanished’, the documentary I recently made with Martin Bright and Ryan Ralph for Real Stories, bring in a very respectable quarter of a million views on YouTube in its opening fortnight.

daily mirror vanished adam gee

The whole point of the coverage

daily mirror 10th May 2018 Could dark family secret hold the key? adam gee

Daily Mirror 10th May 2018 Could dark family secret hold the key?

The double-page spread from the newspaper appeared in the 3rd slot on the mighty Daily Mail website just below Trump welcoming home prisoners from North Korea and Barbara Windsor getting Altzheimer’s.

Daily Mail Vanished

The story was then picked up by The Sun…

sun vanished

…and The  Mirror

mirror vanished

As well as being covered in The Observer/The Guardian

Ruth Wilson, the schoolgirl who caught a cab to oblivion The Observer martin bright 2018-04-29

…and The Belfast Telegraph (home town of one of the two protagonists, ex-counter-terrorism cop, Liam McAuley).

ex-met officer from ni and his search for missing teen belfast telegraphy 8th may 2018

The Belfast Telegraph 8th May 2018

The coverage has helped progress the case bringing forward new witnesses and information which is being shared with Surrey Police, who brought on a new officer to take charge of the 23-year-old missing person investigation in March when the ‘Vanished’ team were firing a lot of questions their way. Martin Bright and I went in for an initial meeting with the investigating officers and their boss on Monday after struggling to get input from the police throughout the filming. They did show up at the screening and Q&A we ran for the community at Dorking Halls Cinema on the eve of the film going live but chose to remain incognito.

Lead Story at the scene of the mystery

This morning journalist Martin Bright and I were interviewed on the BBC Radio Surrey breakfast show about our documentary ‘Vanished’. The documentary was the lead story on the station’s news this morning, pipping MI5 and Putin to the top spot. It has now accumulated 0.25M views on the Real Stories YouTube channel in its opening days.

[11 minutes listen]

Not the Usual Suspects

Social Media Addicts Anonymous still poster documentary film

Social Media Addicts Anonymous

Carol Nahra interviewed me last week for her documentary film-making blog Docs on Screens

Carol is an American journalist and documentary producer, who since moving to London in 1996 has worked as a producer, and as a consultant & writer for Sheffield Doc/Fest. She also teaches documentary film and digital media for Syracuse University’s London program and the Foundation for International Education. She regularly moderates Q&As and special events at London documentary screenings.

Taster of the interview

Little Dot’s Adam Gee: “I have made a real effort not to commission the usual suspects.”

 

In more than a decade at Channel 4 heading up factual multiplatform content, Adam Gee commissioned many multi-award winning productions, including Embarrassing Bodies and the Big Fish Fight. After a stint launching All 4’s short form video service, he is now commissioning for Little Dot Studios, who have earned astonishing viewing numbers with their flagship Real Stories documentary channel. A regular guest speaker for my digital engagement class, Adam excels at spotting trends and keeping ahead of the game in a dizzying, fast-changing media landscape. I chatted with him about his work finding new pathways for documentary filmmakers.

Carol Nahra: Can you tell me about your role at Little Dot?

Adam Gee: I was brought in last summer to commission the first original content for Little Dot’s Real Stories, their documentary channel, which is the biggest of their portfolio of channels. It’s a very pure form of commissioning in that I was given a blank sheet, a pot of money and instructions to fill up the blank sheet with stuff that would fit properly onto the channel. So I set about basing the brief on the data underlying the channel. The data makes it really clear both who your audience is and what they actually like. This does not constrict your commissioning, it just shows where the most fertile territory lies.

CN: What kind of films do you commission?

AG: One of the things that characterises Real Stories is by and large they are uplifting and inspirational and have a feel-good vibe about them. And that is probably to some degree a product of the time – I think people are quite up for hearing things which are uplifting about humanity. So I commissioned eleven documentaries in the second half of 2017. I’ve just started on the next five. They are very varied subjects which range from restorative justice to proxy marriage to social media addiction and all things in between. They also range from traditional observational documentary to things that are much closer to the border of factual entertainment. And to some degree they have been done in the spirit of experimentation, to see what fits happily onto the channel which has been built up on acquisitions, what people find an easy transition to if they’re watching the 60 minute, relatively high budget documentaries which are the foundations of the channel.

CN: What don’t you commission?

AG: YouTube is the core online presence of Real Stories and there are certain subject areas which are vulnerable on YouTube to being demonetised or slapped with an 18 certificate – in other words, are vulnerable to being made invisible. So I was careful to stay a long way inland from those borders so the investment wasn’t at risk in that way. There are plenty of places you can go to make documentaries about ISIS or fetishes and this doesn’t need to be one of them. My favourite part of the brief is the slide that says what we don’t want at the moment. And that reads pretty much like my Channel 4 job description – sex, drugs and rock and roll. I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt and am happy to move on.

CN: Who have made the films?

AG: By and large these commissions have been done with small indies and individual filmmakers. I have made a real effort that they not be the usual suspects. So when I read down a list of the commissions to date, the first ones were directed by the founder of a new BAME-owned company (Andy Mundy Castle, Brittle Bone Rapper); a woman returner who’s coming back from a career break (Debbie Howard, Absent From Our Own Wedding); a woman who has been in Holloway prison twice for gang-related offences but is now on the straight and narrow (Nicole Stanbury, Sorry I Shot You).

A number are first-time commissions. Taken as a whole, they are quite a weird and wonderful bunch that are really talented and have delivered without exception. At a tight tariff like the UK online video one, if you’re not going to take a risk on emerging talent then, when will you ever?

Sorry I Shot You documentary film thumbnail poster Real Stories Little Dot Studios

Sorry I Shot You

FULL INTERVIEW can be read on Carol’s blog here

Travelling on Trash

My fifth commission for Real Stories is ‘Travelling on Trash‘. You can watch it here (14 mins). It was made by The Distillery London.

travelling on Trash Poster real stories little dot studios

An epic adventure sailing down the Mississippi on a raft of plastic bottles

Six friends sail down the Mississippi, one of the most polluted rivers in the world, on a raft made of plastic bottles, to explore how plastic and other pollution is affecting America’s iconic river.

The raft, constructed from used bottles and other repurposed materials, travels down the second longest river in the USA for 56 days. Enthusiastic but inexperienced, the crew of young friends are battered by extreme weather changes, an infestation of bugs, boat breakages and the realities of finding shelter every evening in time for nightfall.

Their epic journey takes them from Minneapolis, through the confluence with the Wisconsin river and then the Ohio. They stop in Baton Rouge to have their river water samples tested in the labs of Louisiana State University. They carry on past New Orleans to finally reach the sea at the Gulf of Mexico. But the destination is not as important as the friends’ experiences along the way, above all their contact with the locals who share their first-hand accounts of how pollution and plastic is affecting one of the world’s great rivers.

My earliest films on BFI Database

The-Green-Movie adam gee short film

The Green Movie

While I’m making lists I thought I’d add this one. I stumbled across a British Film Institute database which has a list of my first dozen or so films as director, writer and/or producer. Some of these are fading from my memory so glad to be able to save them for easy reference here:

Filmography

  • 2003 The Right Stuff (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 2000 E.asywriter (Co-Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1998 Live & Learn (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1998 Sounding the Alarm (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1997 The Red Movie (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1997 MindGym: Fit Thinking for Fast Times (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1996 Days of Change (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1994 The Green Movie (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1994 The Blue Movie (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1994 TTT (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1994 Conflict! (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1994 Memories Are Made of This (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1993 To Boldly Go (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1993 Ideas into Action (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1993 Budgeting Basics (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1992 The Good Old Days (Director/Producer/Scriptwriter)
  • 1992 The Best (Director/Producer/Co-Scriptwriter)

 

live and learn video adam gee

Live & Learn

 

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

 

Sorry I Shot You

Sorry I Shot You Real Stories Original documentary stana grime rapper

‘Sorry I Shot You’, the second of my commissions for Real Stories, Little Dot Studios‘ documentary channel, went live last night. You can watch it here. It’s a fresh, moving look at Restorative Justice.

He shot a cop. Did his time. And now wants to make amends.

Dean Stanbury aka Stana was a bad-boy gangster and grime rapper growing up in East London. Then one fateful day in 2006 he shot and wounded a police officer. Dean was running away and fired over his shoulder. He did 8 years in jail, coming out a changed man. He now wants to track down the officer he shot and express his remorse and regret, check he is OK, and apologise to him face to face for what he did. Will Dean be able to find him after all these years? What will the policeman say, how will he react? In the process Dean re-visits his past to work out how he became the man capable of pulling the trigger that day.

Dean now has young children of his own. He has changed his lyrics, which were shockingly violent, to reflect his new values and discourage young men like he once was from glamorising guns, crime and life on the street.

What makes this film stand out is that it is a tale of Restorative Justice told from the inside (as opposed to TV people pitching up and looking in on this world). The director of ‘Sorry I Shot You’ (Nicole Stanbury) was involved in gang-related and organised crime which lead to her serving time in Holloway and other women’s prisons before finding her way back to the straight and narrow, including directing this her first film. Because she is a close relative of Dean Stanbury and has his full trust, the film is astonishingly intimate.

‘Sorry I Shot You’ is an uplifting documentary about redemption and second chances gratefully seized. Its protagonist is unusually honest and open, making this a very revealing and insightful film.

It is one of the first original productions from Real Stories (and the first ever commission for Underworld.TV) and has the feelgood vibe and overcoming of adversity which is part of what characterises this fast-growing documentary channel. ‘Sorry I Shot You’ [a 29 minute watch] went live on 2nd March 2018 on the Real Stories YouTube channel.

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