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Modern Times

stars of cctv - hard-fi

lonelygirl15

The fellas from LG15 (Greg and Miles, two of the three co-founders) pulled by yesterday on a trip to London. As I’ve made clear earlier on Simple Pleasures, I’m a big fan of LonelyGirl15 as an indicator of what can be done in the realm of interactive drama. I’ve also indicated previously that I’m not quite as convinced by Kate Modern – whilst I like the logo, I’m not crazy about the acting and I’m still confused about the point-of-view (don’t they feel a little socially awkward interacting with others with a camera constantly pointing out from in front of their face? or who is that cameraman following them around? – as the drama moves out of the bedroom, it needs to be recognised that the mobile equivalent of the webcam is CCTV). Now that was a great title – ‘Stars of CCTV’ – by Slough’s finest Hard-Fi. I never got to see that Scottish film Red Road but there’s got to be a great CCTV movie to be made (by all accounts Red Road was a pretty good stab at it). Likewise – thinking about the product placement-driven nature of Kate Modern, there’s got to be a great comedy interactive drama to be made around the sometimes less than subtle weaving of mundane products into the storyline. Of course not all the products punctuating Kate Modern are mundane. FilmFour’s Hallam Foe featuring Jamie Bell got the Modern treatment in an imaginative enough way, including both a cardboard cut-out of the aforementioned star and a live encounter with him in a bar. So it was good yesterday to close the circle and introduce LG15 to the Channel 4 Film & Drama department.

Greg always talks with fabulous energy about LonelyGirl’s narrative, his retelling is always infectious and makes you want to do a box set binge. Equally charming and infectious was Mike Bolland who chaired a panel I was on at the RTS in Birmingham the night before about the first 25 years of Channel 4 with Dorothy Hobson, author of Channel 4 : The Early Years and the Jeremy Isaacs Legacy. Mike was one of the original, first generation Channel 4 Commissioning Editors, responsible for some C4 classics including The Tube and Comic Strip Presents. He recounted with glee the youthful energy around the nascent channel and the latitude Jeremy Isaacs gave him. As we rounded off the evening, I tried to bring out the commonality between then and now – the experimentation that comes with the dawn of a new era – back then the era of independent television production, now the dawning of the digital age, a far more significant revolution with the transition of media to on-demand and two-way/interactive.

And what a lovely example of the experimental and interactive character of our modern media age I had a couple of nights ago, albeit with primarily analogue technology. My older son (10) had to record a piece of his persuasive writing for his homework, to which end be borrowed a crappy old dictaphone from his grandma. The younger one (7) found it around the house and began by recording a spoof interview about his brother. By the end of the evening the pair of them were recording amusing two-hander comedy interviews. By the time I resurfaced the next morning they had recorded a full-on drama with sound effects, initially provided by long abandoned toys and then by GarageBand.

Meanwhile back at LonelyGirl, Greg quit being a lawyer to start the basically homemade webcam show. Miles was a plastic surgeon when he veered off on the new media route. For all the chopping&changing of these fast-moving modern times, one thing is for sure – there’s a wealth of creative opportunities in them thar hills

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25 today

jump london

I can’t let today pass without marking the 25th birthday of Channel 4 which was at 4.45pm this afternoon. Ironically at that time I was entering the BBC (at Bvsh House), albeit with Camilla Deakin of Lupus Films, custodian of Channel 4 animation and a former Commissioning Editor herself in the Arts department. We were meeting Philip Dodd, formerly of the ICA, Sight & Sound and now of Made in China, to talk about exporting British animation to China and a possible broadband animation channel to launch next year – animation being a great example of where the Channel has lead from the front, all the way to the Oscars. So broadband video and China – very now&next.

Also very now is me sitting here watching the Big Fat Anniversary Quiz and writing a blog simultaneously – so 2007. MC Jimmy Carr was in the Channel 4 caff earlier today when I got into work. Coming into 124 Horseferry Road past the Big 4 this morning I couldn’t help but feel a little quiver of pride&joy. Who’d have thought that that day quarter of a century ago when I watched a bloke called Gavin (or was Gavin the actor and Paul or somebody the character?) opening his bedroom curtains to reveal Brookside Close for the very first time that one day I’d be beavering away for the nascent Channel.

That winter I left for a year to live in Chambery in France (Savoie) before going to university – my first time living away from home. To stay in touch with things back in Blighty I had a lively correspondence throughout 2003 with my lovely friend Katherine (now herself abroad long term in Aspen) about Gavin, his missus Petra, Bobby and Sheila, etc. I just got back on Monday from a visit to Paris to my other great mate Marcelino Truong who I first met that winter in Chambery – he was just about to pack up teaching and become a comic book illustrator. So 2002/3 was a very big year in my life as well as for British broadcasting.

That same first night the film ‘Walter‘ was broadcast starring Ian McKellen. That too came to have a personal connection. While I was at college I met a visiting fellow called David Rudkin (Artemis 81, December Bride), an accomplished screenwriter and Hitchcock expert. He brought to the university for a speaking event Alistair Reid (Tales of the City, Traffik – both for C4), original director of ‘Morse’, who showed his home video of the making of the series, an inspiring presentation and one of many things which lead me to leaving university with no more precise an idea that that I wanted to work with moving pictures. David also introduced me to ‘Walter’ producer Nigel Evans and his business partner Simon Mellor who gave me my first job in the biz – a holiday job as a runner at his company AKA in Farringdon Road (now the Guardian Newsroom annex where last year, 20 years on, I found myself presenting my commission Breaking the News).

Jools Holland has just popped up to ask a question on the Big Fat Quiz about the Tube. The AKA experience helped me land my first proper job at Solus Enterprises, the co-operative of Jack Hazan & David Mingay (makers of British cinema verite landmarks like ‘A Bigger Splash‘ and ‘Rude Boy‘ with The Clash), Roger Deakins (Sid & Nancy, Shawshank Redemption, O Brother Where art Thou?, etc.) and Dick Pope (Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake). The cutting room upstairs at 35 Marshall Street was usually occupied by promo director Tim Pope and editor Pete Goddard. In there was made the series Groovy Fellas for Channel 4, commissioned by Seamus Cassidy. The title graphics were deliberately difficult to read and looked as much like Groovy Fuckers as Groovy Fellas, derived from Jools’s legendary Freudian slit of the tongue. The graphics, from memory, were designed by Andy who used to do all The Cure’s covers. Alongside Jools, it starred Roland Rivron as an alien who dapper Jools was guiding around contemporary Britain. These days Roland and I cross paths in the local schoolyard rather than the cutting room.

My path also crossed Channel 4 in the next phase of my career in another edit suite – that of the very talented Jan Hallett, the Harrymeister with the legendary ‘trouser tape’. Jan is married to Niamh Byrne who has been doing Presentation at Channel 4 for a dog’s age, one of the longest serving staff members. Jan did all the graphics for Chris Morris’s shows (Channel 4’s ‘Brass Eye’ and the fabulous ‘Day Today’). The ‘Day Today’ gig landed partly because it was done out of IDF (later Jump Design, the graphics outfit which emerged from ITN under the direction of the one&only Richard Norley, who had designed the titles for Channel 4 News). We worked out of the Quantel edit suites of ITN in the downtime between the end of Channel 4 News and the start of Big Breakfast News at dawn. Fueled by adrenaline, beer and curry they were golden days which landed us the Grand Award at the New York International Film & Television Festival and a bunch of other gongs from around the world. And the over-night working combined with inability to sleep in the daytime, frankly, was better than drugs.

So, like the Northern Line, the Channel has been a thread through my life from way back when. Since I started working at C4 early in 2003 my personal favourites include DV8’s ‘Cost of Living’, ‘Shameless’ and ‘Jump Britain’.

So we’re in an ad break now. The ads? Apple iPhone. Nintendo DS. What a different world the Channel’s in 25 years on. A huge challenge. Huge opportunities. The important thing is to stay in touch with our values – well expressed, in the Mark Thompson regime under which I started, as: Do It First, Make Trouble, Inspire Change. And also to have a vision going forward as bold as our heritage – one which refreshes and redefines the broad social purpose of the organisation within UK society on a grand scale, as public service media moves into the digital age.

Ives of March

iPhone

Great article in Ten4 magazine from Channel 4’s 4Talent about Brit product designer Jonathan Ives of Apple fame. Written by Nick Carson from 4Talent West Midlands based at Maverick TV and designed by Jonny Costello of Fluid Design in Brum (you need to see the hard copy mag for Jonny’s response to a ‘challenging’ design task). As I write this on my britewhite new iMac (just across the room from my old Bondi iMac) I send out vibes of love&thanks to Jonathan and put him up there in my Hall of Design Fame with Richard Seymour & Dick Powell, Eric Gill and Abram Games.

****

“The design we practice isn’t about self expression. I don’t want to see a designer wagging his tail in my face. I want to see a problem solved, and in a way that acknowledges its context,” states the man behind some of the most understated yet revered designs of the last decade – from iMac to iPod to iPhone, his mass-market consumer products are as sculptural as they are purposeful.

Gentle curves and translucent fruity shades may have made his name, but it’s the technical minutiae that really animate Jonathan Ive. Hours of sweat and head-scratching are channeled into the finest of functional details – innovations that could set the tail of the most reserved designer flapping furiously. But instead they’re carefully smoothed over in soothing white for that cool and effortless je ne sais quoi.

Reaching for one of any number of examples at his fingertips, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Industrial Design turns to the latest iMac. “The stand is a simple piece of aluminium which has been stamped and then rolled,” he begins, allowing himself a chuckle that – refreshingly – his British pronunciation of ‘aluminum’ isn’t met by raised eyebrows. “One of the problems we encountered was that you could adjust it, but the screen would wobble slightly. It was really frustrating.”

“We architected an entire system to try and iron this wobble out.” Ive’s notoriously self-effacing nature allows a flicker of pride to shine through. “We developed a horseshoe foot that went below the stand. In between that and the stand was a cunning material designed to absorb the energy of the wobble.”

“We try to solve very complicated problems without letting people know how complicated the problem was,” he shrugs. “That’s the appropriate thing.” And this deep-rooted – and very British – notion of what is right and proper carries through into his resolute refusal to bask in individual glory. Rather like that horseshoe foot, he sees himself as one of many essential components meshed together beneath a polished and professional exterior.”

Bask in the rest here

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