Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

Something Is Happening

highway 61 revisited photo session bob dylan bobby neuwirth LP cover

Highway 61 Revisited photo session (New York 1965)

Just listened to a music podcast called ‘Is It Rolling, Bob? (talking Dylan)’ in which two actor blokes (Kerry Shale and Lucas Hare) talk to a journo bloke (David Hepworth) about a song & dance man, Bob Dylan.

It is a lot better than ‘Stalking Time for the Moon Boys’ in which two TV blokes (David Baddiel and Tim Hincks) talk to various other blokes and each other about a song & dance man, David Bowie. But it’s still not great. Entertaining enough if you’re keen on your Dylan.

One interesting fact I picked up was that Dylan named himself not after Welsh poet D. Thomas (which I’d believed) but after Marshall Dillon in some TV cowboy show (‘Gunsmoke’). Dylan as lifelong cowboy makes a lot of sense.

A question they asked David was how did you first come across Dylan. Got me thinking.

As a six year-old, just allowed to go by myself across one road to the newsagent (Eric & Mavis’s or perhaps it was the previous incarnation), I bought myself a fold-out poster magazine. I got it home expecting it to fold out to reveal a hippy rabbit (Dylan of ‘Magic Roundabout’ fame). Instead it was an unprepossessing bearded bloke with a guitar. A disappointing first encounter.

When I first fell under Dylan’s spell was having one of those Moments listening to ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’. I’d heard bits & pieces of Dylan during my childhood, listened to him a bit at uni through friends who were advocates (but I still had my Punk head on). But it was listening to this track on ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ when the light went on. It was the Surrealism of the lyrics that really grabbed me – I’m not really a lyrics man but the words made their impact, above all the non-rational, dream-like nature of them. I was in.

This moment lead directly to my ending up with a son called Dylan (who looks at times a little like the Big Man of this vintage).

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highway 61 revisited bob dylan bobby neuwirth LP cover

You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked and you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard but you don’t understand
Just what you will say when you get home
Because something is happening here but you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
You raise up your head and you ask, “Is this where it is?”
And somebody points to you and says, “It’s his”
And you say, “What’s mine?” and somebody else says, “Well, what is?”
And you say, “Oh my God, am I here all alone?”
But something is happening and you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
Sometimes it’s really good not to know what it is – just let it sink in and brew up.
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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

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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 435 & 436

No. 435 Shrouded in mystery

Turin Shroud Face

I am on the Eurostar to Paris sitting next to a group of men travelling together who turn out to be tax inspectors (I get talking to them through the bloke next to me reading Dante’s Divine Comedy). They are off to Italy, to Florence, via Turin where they are due to overnight this evening. I ask them if they will have time to see the Turin Shroud.

I am in the Sacre Coeur this same evening. I stop to light a candle in one of the side chapels. On the wall for some reason is an image of the Turin Shroud.

No. 436 Chicago

360-chicago-observation

I am on the phone on the street in Passy, Paris 16e, greenlighting the latest Real Stories Original, a documentary set in Chicago.

I come off the phone and glance across the road – there’s a vintage clothing store called Chicago.

 

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.

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Courtney, Leo, mum & friend

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leo noakes violet vixen brighton

Triangulating History

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This I reckon is the spot (River Ouse, Rodmell)

I went to visit Monk’s House, Virginia & Leonard Woolf’s cottage in the quiet East Sussex village of Rodmell. I was here years ago with Una and it left an impression, I was happy to return. Because I arrived before opening time (the cottage is now looked after by the National Trust) I sat reading for an hour in the nearby local churchyard, St Peter’s. At noon I had a look around the gardens with its view of the South Downs and then had a look around Virginia’s bedroom, with its monk-like single bed and set of Shakespeare beautifully bound by her, and a wander through the ground floor rooms of the cottage, with paintings by Leonard’s shared woman (post-Virginia), Trekkie Parsons, who split her week between Leonard and her husband at the marital home nearby. All par for the Bloomsbury course.

st peters church rodmell east sussex

St Peter’s churchyard, Rodmell

Of course Bloomsbury is rich in colourful tales, none less fascinating than the one the National Trust volunteer at the entrance to the cottage reminded me of, the way she eventually killed herself by walking from the cottage to the river Ouse, just beyond Monk’s House’s grounds, put stones in her pockets and walked in, drowning in what a local told me is a river with strong tidal currents. Not that day – in the midst of a heatwave there was barely enough water to immerse yourself in, the level less than half-way to the line marked by green vestiges of the high water mark.

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Leonard & Virginia’s beloved garden, Monk’s House, Rodmell – St Peter’s in the background

I decided to go find the spot, mainly because I wanted to walk by the river which I really love, rather than for ghoulish motivations. That no-one seemed to know where the actual spot was was more of a prompt.

view from St Peters church rodmell sussex

view from Rodmell (St Peter’s churchyard)

I’ve done this kind of triangulation of history before. Two memorable ones include figuring out where Patrick Pearse read the Proclamation of Irish Independence in 1916 and standing there exactly 100 years to the minute after that momentous event. And working out where Tony Visconti and his lover kissed by the Berlin Wall, a moment immortalised in David Bowie’s Heroes. In the latter case, my estimation was subsequently confirmed as correct.

thistles at southease east sussex by river ouse

The start of the river path at Southease

For this one I went down to Southease, the adjacent hamlet, and walked down to the river under the blazing summer sun. I walked along the raised embankment back in the direction of Rodmell. By using the spire of St Peter’s I was able to align myself with the garden of Monk’s House and there is only one natural path to that spot along the edge of a field which must have been pretty much adjoining the Woolf’s land. On the basis that Virginia would have wanted to just get to the river and do the deed the place where she walked into the river is the spot shown in the first picture above.

A very resonant and tragic act in a very beautiful and peaceful place.

river ouse at rodmell sussex southease

Coincidence No. 460

I am watching ‘Othello’ at The Globe with Enfant Terrible No.2. I notice the line, when The Moor has killed Desdemona:

“Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse
Of sun and moon”
The same night there is a lunar eclipse which turns the moon red. It is known as a Blood Moon.
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27th July 2018

The longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st Century took place on 27th July 2018. It lasted 103 minutes (the entire celestial event lasted nearly 4 hours).

Coincidences No.s 455, 456, 457, 458 & 459

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Dorothea Lange’s iconic ‘Migrant Mother’ (1936)

No. 455 Oakland

I am in the Barbican Art Gallery looking at an exhibition of photographer Dorothea Lange and notice that many of the prints are from the Oakland Museum of California. This reminds me of my friend Richard who lives in Oakland. I send him an email there and then asking if he has seen the exhibition which has or will also be shown in that museum.

I get an email back a few minutes later saying that it is good that I emailed as he happens to be home in London for a funeral. (As a result, we get to meet up a bit later at the Clissold Arms for a drink.)

(I have a documentary shooting at the moment in Oakland – Back to Black.)

sick puppy carl hiaasen book cover design

No.456 Black dogs

I am reading Sick Puppy by Carl Hiaasen. The puppy in question is a black Labrador.

I keep seeing black Labradors everywhere. I saw one on Ness Island yesterday. I saw one in Coldfall Wood a couple of days ago. Since then I saw one at the bow of a small boat in Ullapool. One at Seafood Shack, the award-winning street food outfit in the same town. And someone shared a video on Facebook showing a black lab falling into a river rapid while going after a stick and a golden lab subsequently saving it by grabbing the stick and pulling it out of the fast-running water.

The island that is about to be spoiled through property development in Sick Puppy is being renamed Shearwater Island. The boat that I take to explore the waters around Ullapool is called the Shearwater.

On the way to Ullapool I hear about a shooting at a newspaper office in Maryland, USA, the Capital Gazette. One of the victims is Rob Hiaasen. An unusual surname – it turns out he is related to author Carl, his brother.

The night before I meet a man named Olaf at a dinner given by Scottish Enterprise at Xpo North in Inverness. It is the second time that fairly unusual first name came up in the day. Earlier I meet a Norwegian actress and film-maker who mentions that one of the times you can see there are plenty of Norwegians in London is on Norway Day when they gather at the Norwegian Church in London, St Olav’s (church and seamen’s mission).

the 39 steps john buchan book cover design pan

My first copy (from my dad)

No. 457 Portland Place

I buy a copy of The 39 Steps in Leakey’s bookshop in Inverness. I start reading it by the Moray Firth and on the first couple of pages there is a reference to Portland Place where Richard Hannay rents a flat.

I am walking through Inverness when I find myself in Portland Place (1828). (It contains the most northerly mosque in the UK.)

Naked & Invisible Nude in Newington Channel 4 short form video still

‘Naked & Invisible: Nude in Newington’ (Channel 4)

No. 458 Newington Green

I am sitting next to the chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise at dinner. She tells me that her daughter has moved to London – to Newington Green.

I am talking to the chair of the panel I have just done at Xpo North. He tells me his office is in North London. Camden Town? I ask. No, Newington Green.

In my talk for an earlier panel for Skills Development Scotland I refer to a film I commissioned at Channel 4 and there is a still from it in my presentation. It is a scene shot in a greengrocer’s on Newington Green and the title of the episode is Nude in Newington.

Xpo North inverness creative industries scotland

No. 459 Independent filmmakers

Google Alerts points me to an article in a magazine called Filmmaker. I check it out and it is run by an organisation called IFP. This stands for independent filmmakers.

I meet one of the fellow panellists for the session I am doing at Xpo North in Inverness about 21st-century storytelling. Nick is from Brooklyn. His games company is part of IFP (which I’ve never heard of before that article shows up).

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

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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]

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