Archive for the ‘My Commissions’ Category

Surf Girls Jamaica – out tomorrow

My latest commission for Real Stories is released tomorrow (6pm GMT).

 

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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.

Come Trip with Me

Mind-Explorers-Poster real stories little dot studios documentary

My latest commission for Real Stories channel is The Mind Explorers: a psychedelic weekend . This half-hour observational documentary follows ordinary people on an extraordinary trip, centring around a 4-day psychedelic retreat in the Netherlands, where psilocybin-containing ‘magic truffles’ are legal. With new research suggesting that psychedelics can effectively treat depression, accessible retreats abroad are appealing to a new wave of curious ‘psychonauts’.

Following participants before, during and after the experience, the film explores the potential of psychedelics to transform people’s lives in the long term when taken in a therapeutic setting.

The participants range from a marketing manager on a self-improvement quest who grew up in Soviet-controlled Kazakhstan, to an IT specialist from Chicago who is a big fan of psychedelics of all types. Grandmother Mary hasn’t told her husband she is going on the retreat, and 30-year-old business owner Lucy wants to know how taking psychedelics recreationally differs from this more therapeutic experience. After delving into the unknown, we follow how the experience changes their minds – for better or worse.

After many refusals to other producers, this is the first time filming access has been granted to one of these retreats.

In the last month psilocybin has been granted ‘Breakthrough Therapy’ status by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The designation was given to London-based COMPASS Pathways’ psilocybin-based therapy for treatment-resistant depression. The UK life sciences company is backed among others by PayPal co-founder, entrepreneur/venture capitalist Peter Thiel.

The Mind Explorers: a psychedelic weekend is an original production from Real Stories. It was directed and produced by Rebecca Coxon and executive produced by Anna Hall of Leeds-based True Vision Yorkshire for Little Dot Studios. You can watch it for free here.

The director’s experiences making the film were featured recently on the homepage of the Huffington Post.

Huffington Post Screenshot 2018-12-14 17.14.36

Huffington Post 14/12/2018 I Took Psychedelic Drugs on a Self-help Retreat

huffington post Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 17.28.54

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

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.

Read More

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}

 

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

In Your Face hits 1 Million mark

in your face documentary real stories 1 million youtube views

In Your Face (a film I conceived and commissioned for Real Stories) hit 1 million views on YouTube this weekend, a month after going live. It received 2 million views on its opening weekend on Facebook and a cut-down received a whopping 10 million Facebook views in that same period but the million on the more deliberate viewing platform that is YouTube is nonetheless a significant landmark in the 21-minute film’s life.

In Your Face Real Stories Original documentary confronting tattoo prejudice

In Your Face: confronting tattoo prejudice

Are facial tattoos the final frontier?

To what extent do face and neck tattoos shape your opinion of someone? Three heavily tattooed people have their facial tattoos covered up by an expert make-up artist as part of a social experiment to compare how they are treated with and without ink, and to explore whether tattoos on the face are the final frontier of self-decoration. In this age of mainstream tattoo acceptance, what’s the social price you pay for inking your face? And what motivates people to do it?

Skat Dagger is named after the dagger tattoo that used to pierce his face from above the left eye to the cheek. He first inked his face at the age of 21. He now has “Winter” written on one cheek and the image of a rose on the other. He lost a daughter at 14 months – her name was Winter Rose. The stories of Skat, Becky and Jason (the three people featured in the film) give insights into why individuals step over the border into having tattoos on their face.

As their tattoos are carefully removed by world double body-painting champion Carolyn Roper using specialist make-up and they look into the mirror for the first time at their ‘clean’ faces, we get to see their emotional reactions. We also see them undertaking various everyday activities first with their tattoos, then with their tattoos ‘removed’. From asking for change of a five pound note for a parking meter to going for a low-skilled job, we get to see the contrast between how they are treated ‘before’ and ‘after’.

As a climax, they enter Harrods, the famous up-market department store, which has a no tattoo policy not only for staff but even for customers! They go in with make-up covering their tats, wash it off in the washrooms, then see what happens when they engage with staff from the cosmetics counter to the watch department.

‘In Your Face’ was produced by Showem Entertainment for Little Dot Studios. You can watch it here:

 

In Your Face – Week 1

A cool 9 million views for this cut-down from the documentary ‘In Your Face’ in its first week, with high engagement – 5,500 comments; 65,000 shares; 52,000 reactions. Part of this success we have concluded is down to the likeability and charm of the protagonist, Jason – (it has outperformed other similar videos and the casting seems to provide the explanation).

In Your Face real stories facebook 2018-05-18

The full film of ‘In Your Face’ is here. The full film on Facebook/Facebook Watch has netted 1.8M views this week which is also a very decent performance and underlined that this is very much a Facebook rather than a YouTube subject, benefitting from viewers engaged through sharing and commenting and happy to pick the videos up in their stream rather than deliberately seeking it out in some way.

in your face real stories facebook 2018-05-18

I have now made 40 documentaries on tattoos including these series for Channel 4:

tattoo twists channel 4 all4

Tattoo Twists – my first tattoo series, inspired Channel 4’s Tattoo Fixers

my secret tattoo channel 4 all4

My Secret Tattoo – this man works with the Minister of Defence (with this hidden under his shirt & tie)

tattoo fails channel 4 all4

A random still from Tattoo Fails

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]

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