Archive for the ‘documentary’ Category

Missed Call smartphone doc wins AHRC Award

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA

Missed Call, one of my Real Stories Originals commissions, a documentary made entirely on an iPhone X, a story which revolves around smartphones, their media and communications, picked up a distinctive and prestigious award recently. It won the AHRC Research in Film Award for Social Media Short, one of just 5 categories. As veteran documentary-maker (and my mentor) Roger Graef pointed out on the night, it is not often Research gets centre stage and yet it is the vital underpinning of all great docs.

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA Sophie Morgan Channel 4

Channel 4’s Sophie Morgan revealing the winner

The award was presented at BAFTA to director Victoria Mapplebeck and her teenage son Jim, the protagonist of Missed Call, by Channel 4 presenter Sophie Morgan (Rio Paralympics 2016).

The following day Victoria and Jim appeared on ITV News in this item about children reconnecting with their estranged parent – video is at the bottom of this page (click here).

itv news report missed call documentary

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA Sophie Morgan Channel 4

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A cool 2 mil

Real Stories (the online documentary channel for which I commission and exec) hit 2 Million subscribers on YouTube today – which is nice…

real stories documentary channel 2 million subscribers youtube

Missed Call in The Sunday Times

From today’s Sunday Times:

2018-11-04 Missed Call Sunday Times Real Stories Little Dot Victoria Mapplebeck

Boy’s search for father shortlisted for film award

Missed Call, an account of a 13-year-old trying to track down his dad via a vintage Nokia handset, has been nominated for a short-film prize

James Gillespie

November 4 2018, 12:01am, The Sunday Times

A teenager’s desperate search for his father

Jim Mapplebeck had no memory of his father. The 13-year-old had not seen him since he was two. All he had to remember him by were the gifts he once bought and the modest digital footprint he left behind: two emails and some texts archived in a vintage Nokia.

It was enough.

Enlisting his mother, Victoria, to help, Jim went through the ancient phone and other digital sources until they had a number and sent a text.

As they were doing this, Victoria was filming the events on her iPhone, and this week the resulting documentary, Missed Call, is shortlisted for a prize at the Arts and Humanities Research Council awards at Bafta.

The touching film, which can be viewed on YouTube, shows the close relationship between Victoria, 53, and Jim, now 14, as they search. The clues were a pair of baby pyjamas, a Christmas card, the two emails and 100 texts.

Their initial attempts to make contact took an agonisingly long time.

Victoria sent a text last year – and there was no response. For 13 days they waited until finally the father came back to them.

“I’d given up. I thought it was not going to happen,” said Victoria. “I was so worried for Jim. I was trying to manage expectations – it might not work out. He [the father] may not respond.”

Jim was the product of a brief, eight-week relationship between Victoria and his father – “It wasn’t the love of our life” – and then she found out she was pregnant.

The first surprise was that his father had a second son by another relationship. After Victoria and Jim made contact, the father talked things through with his current partner.

After exchanging texts a meeting was finally set up in March this year.

Jim did not know what to expect. “I was worried, but I think it was the right thing to do. I had a stereotype view and I dreamt a lot of him. But he wasn’t the stereotype I had imagined. My mum had shown me a picture of him and I thought he looked like a California surfer dude – and he’s the total opposite.

“I missed having a father when I was younger but as I have grown older I don’t seem to miss it as much. When I was growing up, it was on my mind and I was confused by it.

“The first time I met him, I really enjoyed it and got to know him. The second time I felt a bit more discouraged— I don’t know why. I’m hoping to meet him again soon.”

The pair live in Camberwell, south London, and Jim attends school in Croydon. He is thinking of a career either in acting or counselling.

Victoria said she thought it was hard for Jim missing out on a relationship with his father. But now they have met, she added: “It’s tough working out how you build that relationship. There is no easy happy ending.”

The time machine in your pocket

Real Stories Original Missed Call , shot entirely on an iPhone X, has been nominated in the Social Media Short category at the AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018, which take place on 8th November at BAFTA in London. Extracts from a related article championing smartphone filmmaking in this week’s Broadcast:

2018-11-02 smartphone filmmaking article in broadcast adam gee victoria mapplebeck

The time machine in your pocket

The intimacy and ubiquity of smartphones make them ideal for telling personal stories, argue Victoria Mapplebeck and Adam Gee

Missed Call

Production company Field Day Productions
Commissioner Adam Gee, Little Dot Studios
Length 19 minutes
Producer/director Victoria Mapplebeck
Executive producers Amanda Murphy; Alex Hryniewicz; Andy Taylor

Making the most of the smartphone

Adam Gee
Commissioning editor, Little Dot Studios

I commissioned Missed Call partly because I am a massive advocate of smartphone filmmaking. I also consider Victoria’s 2015 film 160 Characters a pioneering work in this territory.

What’s so special about what is effectively the prequel is that not only was it made largely on mobile phones, but also the narrative is derived from the contents of one old mobile in particular. It contains a resonant text thread that captures the story of a key love affair in the life of the director-cum-protagonist.

Missed Call similarly revolves around mobile phone content – video, photos, emoticons, animations, texts. The aesthetic of the film is rooted in this content, which gives it an original feel.

Between the old Nokia of the first film and the new generation iPhone of this second, the technology has advanced, the details of the graphics evolved, so the look & feel has moved on.

Because the commission coincided with the noisy launch of the iPhone X, I thought we might as well take advantage of the coincidence and be pioneers with the new tech.

I’d seen Michel Gondry’s scripted short Détour, which was shot entirely on iPhone 7. That planted the iPhone seed and I asked Little Dot to buy the then brand-new iPhone X for Victoria to use.

She complemented it with a decent mike (Rode SmartLav+ Lavalier) and a stabiliser (Lanparte 3 Axis Handheld Gimbal) and then got the ball rolling. She started by using it for audio-recording conversations with her son Jim, to make sure he was comfortable, eventually segueing into video recording.

Intimacy and ubiquity

The power of Smartphone filmmaking is intimacy and ubiquity. The kind of intimate conversations Victoria and Jim managed to capture in a natural way were the result of the camera-phone being small and unobtrusive, with no crew attached – part of everyday contemporary life.

And it’s in your pocket all your waking hours (and not uncommonly beside the bed even in your non-waking ones, as we see in Missed Call).

Between this distinctive pairing of characteristics, a whole new highly accessible realm of film-making opens up.

real stories original missed call victoria mapplebeck adam gee jim mapplebeck

Victoria Mapplebeck
Producer/director
Reader in digital arts at Royal Holloway, University of London

How do you reconnect with a father who’s been absent for over a decade? What do you write, what do you say? Add to that dilemma a teenage boy and the realisation that this private journey would very quickly become a public one. There were a lot of sleepless nights on Missed Call, the first commissioned short documentary to be shot on an iPhone X.

The doc is a sequel to 160 Characters, my first smartphone short, which I made for Film London. It brought to life a three-year SMS thread between myself and my son’s father, charting the story of how we met, dated for just a few months, broke up and subsequently dealt with an unplanned pregnancy.

Missed Call explores my relationship with my now fourteen-year-old son Jim. His father came to see Jim a handful of times when he was a baby before deciding that he didn’t want to be involved. Last year, Jim decided he wanted to meet his father and asked if I would make contact with him again.

Executive producer Amanda Murphy helped me navigate the many compliance and ethical issues we faced throughout production. Our aim with Jim’s dad was to preserve his anonymity and to protect Jim in an uncertain unfolding narrative. Squaring the circle of being both filmmaker and parent made this one of the most challenging films I’ve ever made.

For Jim, being filmed by his mum with an iPhone X was no big deal. When he looked into the lens, all he saw was me.

But in my 25 years as a self-shooting director, the camera I film with has gone from needing a bag the size of a small suitcase to one that fits in my back pocket.

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Our phones are like time machines

There’s a great scene in Mad Men when Don Draper is meeting with the team who invented Kodak’s Carousel. As he clicks through his own family album in a darkened boardroom, he begins his pitch:

“In Greek, ‘Nostalgia’ literally means the pain from an old wound, it’s a twinge in your heart… It’s a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards, it takes us to a place where we ache to go again…”

Our mobile phones have become our time machines. My vintage Nokia lies at the back of my kitchen drawer, holding that all-important first text message from Jim’s dad. My new iPhone X can access that devastating last email from him before he cut all contact a decade ago. It also contains the first text I sent him after 12 years of radio silence – and 13 days later, his reply.

My phone contains good memories too: 26,000 photos; 3,000 videos; and the jokey texts Jim sends me from bedroom to living room, requesting another five minutes on the Xbox.

You may love your phone, you may hate it, probably both, but hold it close. It’s your own personal time machine – it connects you with your past, your present and your future. It holds the traces of all your time travel, all the stories that shape you, the good and the bad… forever.

real stories original missed call victoria mapplebeck adam gee jim mapplebeck

{extracts courtesy of Broadcast – full article is here}

 

Oh Geno (Gee Knows)

screening of oh geno at curzon bloomsbury 23 october 2018

Curzon Bloomsbury 23 October 2018 – Dalton Deverell (Prod) Sophie Shad (Wr/actress) Onyinye Egenti (Dir) GENO Washington ??? (Ram Jam Band bass player)

On arrival at the Curzon Bloomsbury on Tuesday evening to see a drama-doc short ‘Oh Geno!’ I was greeted with a lovely surprise – the director Sophie Shad welcomed me and explained that the film had come about because of me. I had no idea. But was delighted. Here’s how it happened…

I was introduced to Sophie through a fellow trustee at the Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley, the oldest purpose-built cinema in the country (which is about to join the Curzon group – there’s a Company Members’ meeting going on as I write but I’m 8,000 feet above Finland so unfortunately can’t be there).

Sophie had just produced her first scripted short ‘Kitty’s Fortune‘ (2016), a story set in Auschwitz, and came to see me at Channel 4 about next moves with her producing partner Dalton Deverell. They were thinking of following up with another holocaust story. During the course of the chat it came to light that Sophie’s grandfather is none other than Geno Washington, the soul singer (who I first came across through Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ eponymous song).

That man took the stage, his towel was swingin’ high
(Oh Geno!)
This man was my bombers, my dexys, my high
(Oh Geno!)
How the crowd, they all hailed you, and chanted your name

I gave the opinion that at that particular juncture a holocaust story might be especially challenging to get off the ground and perhaps the Geno connection was a more joyful route for the times and a better use of weapons in their young armoury.

We discussed a short form documentary series in the wake of that meeting but it never quite came together, I left Channel 4 and our ways parted (largely because their focus was on scripted).

geno washington ram jam band my bombers lp cover design

A few weeks ago an invitation arrives for the screening and I am surprised and delighted the Geno project came off. What I hadn’t realised was that it was on leaving that initial meeting at Horseferry Road that the pair of them determined on making a film about Geno.

Sophie kindly explained my role in the genesis of the film in the Q&A after the screening to 150 delighted audience members. Besides her and Dalton on the panel was the director,Onyinye Egenti, and the great man himself, Geno. Geno bantered with me in the audience, saying I was to blame, with his crazy infectious laugh.

Oh Geno short film poster geno washington

The film is to debut at Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York next month. It is a really well scripted piece focused on the meeting of Geno and his wife-to-be, Frenchy (Sophie’s grandmother) in a London club in the mid-60s. He was just out the US Air Force, getting to love Britain. She was a Jewish refugee from France, a single mum and feisty club manageress. Sophie plays her own grandmother – which has a certain resonance – with a beautiful stylishness (the camera loves her). The moment zoomed in on is just right to capture the essence of an extraordinary couple. And the ending is pulled off with aplomb – avoiding the common pitfall of the punchline-type ending of short dramas (it has the punch-line dynamic but it is subtle and judged just right).

sophie shad plays frenchy in oh geno short film

Sophie Shad plays Frenchy

At the screening I found myself sitting beside the young actor who portrayed Geno, Edward Nkom. He captures the physical charm of Geno well.

Edward_Nkom_actor HSA_associates

Edward Nkom plays Geno

It will be interesting to see if this nugget develops further and into what – scripted, drama-doc, it could go in various directions. I’d love to see it evolve into an iterative project centred on this fascinating couple.

Geno_Sheet_Muisc_1 dexys midnight runners

Coincidences No.s 348, 349 & 350

Wild wild country documentary

No. 348 Springfield

23.10.18 I am having a pre-shoot meeting about a documentary to be shot next week in the USA. There are two main characters and the director is staying in the house of one of them. I ask her where this is. She says Springfield, Missouri. It’s not a place I have ever visited or thought about – I thought it was where The Simpsons lived.

22.10.18 I am watching the last episode of the documentary series ‘Wild Wild Country’. When the cult leader is returned by the police to Portland, Oregon they take two or three weeks to fly him cross-country to break him down. One of the stops mentioned and shown on the journey map is Springfield, Missouri.

Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons)  based Springfield (a fictional town) on a town near where he grew up in Portland, Oregon:

“Springfield was named after Springfield, Oregon. The only reason is that when I was a kid, the TV show ‘Father Knows Best’ took place in the town of Springfield, and I was thrilled because I imagined that it was the town next to Portland, my hometown. When I grew up, I realized it was just a fictitious name. I also figured out that Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the U.S. In anticipation of the success of the show, I thought, ‘This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield.’ And they do.”

thompson twins pop group 80s

No. 349 Thompson Twins

21.10.18 I am chatting to the Programmer of HotDocs, Toronto in a square in Rome (we are both speaking at the MIA film market). He mentions an 80s gig he went to recently at which the Thompson Twins performed (or perhaps just Tom Bailey). I haven’t played or thought about the Thompson Twins for some time – probably since seeing the delightful  ‘Sing Street’.

15.10.18 I go to see Paul Brady and Andy Irvine performing with Donal Lunny at The Barbican. This is all courtesy of my friend Oisin Lunny, Donal’s son. In our party is an Indian percussionist. He talks a little about some of the bands he has played with. After Blancmange the next band he mentions is Thompson Twins.

kingdom of us documentary

No. 350 Kingdom of Us

23.10.18 At the same meeting as in No. 348 me and the director of our forthcoming Springfield-related documentary are discussing some of the companies and people she works with. In that exchange the producer Julia Nottingham (formerly of Pulse) comes up (she works with one of the director’s business partners). I know Julia from my chairing a session on Music Documentaries at Sheffield DocFest a couple of years ago when ‘The Possibilities Are Endless’ was just out, Julia’s film about Edwyn Collins of Orange Juice. The director also mentions Julia’s documentary ‘Kingdom of Us’.

23.10.18 That morning I am clearing up stray DVDs from around the house. A small stash of them I find under a pile of paper on my desk. I flick through them – they are old BAFTA screeners. I recognise them all except one which I read the blurb on the back of to remind me what it was – I make a mental note to watch it again soon. It is ‘Kingdom of Us‘. Produced by Julia, directed by Lucy Cohen.

Let people talk about what they want (Michael Apted)

Michael_Apted young director

Michael Apted back in the day

Yesterday evening I went to see documentary & movie/drama director Michael Apted speaking at MIA (Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo) in Rome – where I have been speaking on short-form video. He was in conversation on stage with an Italian journalist, Marco Spagnoli. A big focus of the interview was the Up series, the longitudinal documentary series from Granada which started with 7 Up in 1964 and gets to 63 Up in May next year on ITV. He has been filming with the same cohort (and largely the same crew) for 54 years – shooting with them once every 7 years. It is unique in the history of documentary film, enabled by starting in the right place (Granada in the era of World In Action) at the right time (a golden age for British factual TV). It couldn’t happen now. It was actually a World In Action colleague who had the idea to revisit what was originally a single doc 7 years later and then the snowball got rolling…

michael apted up series documentary 7 up

The Up series

Michael Apted director

Michael Apted now

The most important thing he has learned over the years is to go into the interviews, not with a list of questions, but ready to talk about what the contributors want to talk about. He does jot down his key questions but he leaves them back at home and just as a rough mental checklist against the free-flowing conversations.

Stardust 1974 Still david essex

Stardust (1974)

I asked a question about Stardust, as I remember it making a big impact on me as a teenager, a really freaky strange world (and I always liked David Essex as both an actor and singer).

And after the session I got to have a chat with him. He had talked about how he once, as a young director, saw Pasolini in a hotel lobby in Rome and froze, didn’t exchange a word. So I wasn’t going to do a Pasolini – we spoke a little about Charles Furneaux who was a 7-year-old contributor in 7 Up and a fellow Commissioning Editor with me at Channel 4 when I started (he must have been 46 at the time). He talked about his generation at Cambridge, which included Stephen Frears and the Pythons, and how motivating it was to feel part of that movement.

thunderheart movie 1992

Thunderheart (1992)

Whether he’ll make it to shoot 70 Up is probably a bit touch & go but for all his extensive filmography from Bond to Thunderheart (which was shot by my ex-boss Roger Deakins) without a shadow of a doubt his legacy will be Up. In 2005 the Up series topped the list of the 50 Greatest Documentaries in a Channel 4 programme.

I walked to the Apted session along the Via Veneto from the Villa Borghese gardens. I was sitting on a marble bench there dealing on the phone with a casting problem on a documentary I am currently working on on prejudice against facial and neck tattoos. It is a follow-up to In Your Face which did very well on Real Stories channel earlier this year (over 50 Million views). While I was on the call, which was addressing the fact that one of our contributors had gone AWOL, a heavily tattooed couple sat down beside me. I took a surreptitious picture of them and sent it to the producer on the other end of the line saying as a joke “Shall I book these two?”

Jessica Rebell tattooist Melbourne

Jessica Rebell of Melbourne

After the call, as the couple got up to go, I decided not to do a Pasolini and asked the woman if she got any gip over her neck tattoo, a high collar of leaves. She said in Rome yes, noticeably, whereas it was all par for the course in Melbourne where she lives. Rudeness, aggression and dismissiveness have all been visited on her in the Eternal City. London and Paris nothing worse than a bit of staring. Both Jess and Stephane are tattoo artists working at the same Melbourne tattoo. We had a long chat during which I flagged up a few of my 50+ tattoo docs for their viewing pleasure.

It was one of those chance encounters which makes la vita dolce.

Via Veneto in La Dolce Vita (1960)

Via Veneto in La Dolce Vita (1960) – Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimee (Dir: Federico Fellini) [Photo courtesy of The Kobal Collection]

***

Some of my tattoo films/series (over 40 films just here):

 

Little Dot Studios activities in the USA

Increasingly over the last few months I have been working and commissioning at Little Dot Studios with more than half an eye on the USA. To that end I have been working closely with Paul Woolf, formerly of Barcroft and Maverick, and my old colleagues Dan Jones and Alex Hryniewicz of Little Dot. Here is a piece about it from today’s Broadcast

poster real stories absent from our own wedding documentary film montana marriage

A mid-form online Original documentary I commissioned for Real Stories – shot in Montana by Debbie Howard

Little Dot taps up Barcroft exec for US unscripted role

Paul Woolf will supercharge development of indie’s factual strand

Little Dot Studios is ramping up its Real Stories doc strand across the Atlantic with the appointment of its first US head of unscripted development.

Barcroft head of development Paul Woolf has been hired to supercharge the development of the All3Media-backed indie’s factual brand, as it aims to commission more long-form docs and series for US networks and platforms.

Woolf has already commenced in the East Coast-based role, reporting into Little Dot director of content Dan Jones.

The former Maverick TV development director said he was delighted to join a team that with “an incredibly broad and deep understanding of both TV and social platforms”.

Jones added: “Paul is a fantastic development talent and his arrival allows us to make a sustained push in the US, which is hugely exciting.”

During his time with Barcroft, Woolf was behind Netflix format Amazing Interiors and worked on a range of short-form projects for the outfit’s in-house digital platforms.

He joined fellow All3Media indie Maverick TV as US development exec in 2008, relocating to the UK in 2010 to work on BBC2 social experiment Old School and Billy Connolly’s Route 66 for ITV.

Real Stories, which includes the likes of My Son the Jihadi and America’s Poor Kids, is headed up by former Channel 4 multiplatform commissioner Adam Gee.

Little Dot said it generates around 1 million cross-platform views a day on sites such as YouTube. The vast majority of viewers are aged 16-34 and more than 71% of its audience hail from the UK, North America and Australasia.

Shows from the strand are also available via a $3.99 (£3) per month SVoD app, which launched earlier this year.

Little Dot has been busy hiring this year, having already appointed Holly Graham as its inaugural head of US partnerships, while it picked up former C4 group partnership manager Jade Raad as head of brand partnerships for its newly-formed media division.

[text courtesy of Broadcast]

Coincidences No.s 433 & 434

small talk taiwan documentary 2016

No. 434 Small Talk

I have a conversation with my wife about someone close to us who was saying that they struggle with small talk.

I go into the kitchen and on the worktop is a leaflet from the NSPCC entitled Small Talk.

I head upstairs and flick through last year’s programme for Open City Docs festival (at which I spoke on short form documentaries) – in it is a Taiwanese film called Small Talk.

Sir John Rothenstein C.B.E. [1938] by Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945)

Sir John Rothenstein C.B.E. [1938] by Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945)

No. 435 Rothenstein

I go to an exhibition at the Wiener Library called London 1938: Defending German ‘Degenerate’ Art. On one of the display boards the these days not particularly well known English art world mover&shaker (longest-serving Director of the Tate) John Rothenstein gets a mention.

I am reading my book group book later in the afternoon, The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst, and John Rothenstein gets a mention as a couple of the characters are more or less in the London art world.

*** 434 meets 435

Just before writing this I was reading more of The Sparsholt Affair to try to get finished in time for the book group post-summer gathering tomorrow night. One of the first sentences I read:

She was aware of the light burden it put on any adult seated next to her, to keep one ear on the real conversation while they turned to make small talk with her.

Violet Vixen

My latest Real Stories Original commission to go live is Violet Vixen. In the wake of the documentary‘s launch, its protagonist, Leo Noakes aka Violet Vixen, appeared this week on ‘Loose Women’ (ITV). I went to the live studio transmission at the BBC Studios at Television Centre, Shepherd’s Bush with the director, Leanne Rogers. Leo did a good job in a high pressure situation, wittily taking up Stacey Solomon’s  offer to have him become her make-up artist.

violet vixen poster real stories original documentary

Leo is an articulate, sassy, amazingly mature 11 year old boy who loves doing make-up, dressing up and playing with his identity. He doesn’t want to be a girl but he does want the liberty to do ‘girlish’ things and above all to be who he is.

“I love dressing up. I don’t particularly see the clothes and make-up I wear as belonging to girls, or even to boys. I hate the fact that society labels stuff.” says Leo.

His mother surprises him with a trip to Brighton to meet his hero, drag artist Courtney Act, who Leo first came across on US reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race. The contrast between conventional Corby where his home is and progressive Brighton blows his young mind.

Leo runs a very successful Instagram channel, overseen by his mother, Lauren. She has to protect him from trolls but by and large people are positive about his alter ego, Violet Vixen. He uses his social media channels to spread the age-old message: Be true to who you are!

Leo’s know-how about make-up is particularly striking. He taught himself as Lauren is not really into cosmetics or clothes. He has ambitions to move to the USA and become a TV drag artist. But above all he wants the freedom to be himself.

courtney act tweet about leo violet vixen

Courtney Act aka Shane Gilberto Jenek, winner of Celebrity Big Brother 2018, was delightful in his interactions with Leo and proved a huge inspiration.

Courtney Act drag queen

Courtney Act

One of my favourite aspects of the film is the way Leo cannot compute that a place like Brighton (where he meets Courtney) actually exists – a place where he wouldn’t stand out for being who he is.

courtney act leo noakes violet vixen

Courtney, Leo, mum & friend

courtney act leo noakes violet vixen

leo noakes violet vixen brighton

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