Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Coincidences No.s 355, 356, 357 & 358

No. 355

Graham Norton Channel 4 presenter chat show

In the morning I have a meeting at BAFTA with a director (Peter Demetris) I worked with on ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ to discuss a forthcoming commission I’m doing at Little Dot Studios to do with modern addiction. Peter reminds me he was studio director on Graham Norton’s first chat show ‘So Graham Norton’ on Channel 4.

In the afternoon I get an email from presenter Tim Lovejoy mentioning Graham Norton’s producer at So TV which of course was set up to make ‘So Graham Norton’.

No. 356

bible salesmen salesman

An old friend and gig-mate (another Adam) comes to stay from Amsterdam (aka A’dam). He has been working during the day at a famous University Press and mentions that he reckons a significant proportion of their revenue comes from bible sales.

The next day I am at the University of Surrey in Guildford doing a guest lecture. While I am there my old colleague, Jon Weinbren, Head of Digital Media Arts, out of nowhere mentions bible salesmen.

No. 357

blue star garage finchley road

A blast from the past – now buried under flats

My mum is trying to describe where an office she visits regularly is. She positions it relative to the old Blue Bird garage on the Finchley Road. I further triangulate it relative to an orthodontist’s surgery I went to once or twice as a kid with her. I remember the man telling me I had a “Polish jaw”. She can’t recall it at all.

A couple of days later one of my best friends visits from Aspen, Colorado where she now lives. We go to the National Theatre together and at lunch she mentions the very same orthodontist to whom she went as a girl.

No. 358

mercedes van I A Harris fruit vegetables

My grandfather was a research scientist not a fruit & veg man (he had a secret love of bacon)

I go with Enfant Terrible No.1 to visit the grave of my grandfather Ian Harris on his birthday (the same day JFK was shot – that’s how I know what I was doing on the day, I was at Pop’s tea party in a cradle).

On the drive home, as I’m talking to my son about his great-grandfather, we pass a commercial van parked in a drive in Hendon with the name I. A. Harris emblazoned on the side.

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Little Dot hires Adam Gee for YouTube push

From today’s Broadcast

Broadcast magazine online homepage 2017-07-13

Little Dot hires Adam Gee for YouTube push

13 JULY, 2017 | BY ALEX FARBER

Former C4 commissioner to invest £200,000 in originals

Little Dot Studios has hired former C4 multiplatform commissioner Adam Gee to oversee a £200,000 YouTube commissioning push.

The Shoreditch studio is planning to order 10 films of 15-20 minutes for its Real Stories factual channel, which has built up more than 750,000 subscribers and 175 million views since it launched in 2015.

To date, the channel has been populated with content licensed from backer All3Media, as well as distributors including DRG and ITV Global Studios, but it is now keen to order original programming from producers.

Gee has been drafted in as Real Stories commissioning editor to oversee the portfolio of human interest one-offs.

He promised to make quick decisions, unlike the “glacial progress of broadcasters”, with the slate of projects scheduled to be live by November.

Authentic, shareable, intimate and upbeat stories about overcoming adversity are on the agenda, with those exposing child poverty, ‘out-there’ parenting or extreme medical cases proving popular on the channel.

Topics such as sex, terrorism, racism, suicide or surgery are not of interest.

The first project, Brittle Bone Rapper, is a story set on America’s East Coast. It was ordered from Andy Mundy-Castle’s fledgling firm Doc Hearts last week.

Chief executive Andy Taylor said the move into originations was driven by a need to experiment on the Google-owned platform.

“The budget for this will come out of our innovation pot,” he said. “The data tells us that human interest stories are working and we are always looking at ways to respond to the algorithm.”

He added that while the available data could inform the programming, there is no substitute for the “sheer gut instinct” of a commissioner.

Content lessons

Little Dot, which will retain the rights to the shows, does not expect to turn a profit from YouTube advertising, but Taylor is approaching the project with a longer-term strategy.

“We will learn more about the type of content that works, how to leverage our brand and audience – as well as the commercial opportunities beyond YouTube. We could end up licensing them to a VoD platform or securing a six-part series for Channel 4.”

Gee said it is important to think “holistically” about any projects pitched. “What is the life of these stories beyond a 10 to 20-minute midform show?”

Separately, Little Dot has hired former Liberty Global exec Kevin Gibbons as chief financial officer and brought in Maria Fernando as director of partnerships, based in LA, to grow its West Coast offices.

Broadcast magazine 14 july 2017 cover

{text courtesy of Broadcast magazine}

 

The Black Lesbian Handbook

This is a documentary project I’m really proud of. I recently commissioned the 2nd series this time set in Atlanta, Georgia but featuring some of the people who appeared in the London-based 1st series.

Channel 4 has really got behind it promotion-wise and it’s doing really well, finding a significant audience on All 4.

What’s particularly pleasing is the warm reception online like these:

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 16.27.28

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 16.28.32

The films were directed by Andy Mundy-Castle and produced by Rukhsana Mosam at Ten66 in Sussex.

Trains, Planes and Canes – Sheffield DocFest Day 4

Was involved in two contrasting panels on my last DocFest day. In the morning the panel I’d pitched to the festival about docs with a lighter touch. It was produced by Documentary Campus, Berlin-based partners of DocFest, the outfit behind the Leipzig documentary festival. Because it’s the birthplace of my late father I’ve a soft spot for it and have been working with them for the last few years, helping nurture emerging documentary talent. On our Seriously Funny panel was Mark Lewis, venerated creator of the landmark ‘Cane Toads: An Unnatural History’, much admired by Brett Morgen (Cobain: Montage of Heck – see Day 1 below); Rudolf Herzog, the man behind ‘Ve Have Vays of Making You Laugh’ about jokes in the Third Reich and ‘The Paedophile Next Door’ made with Steve Humphreys for Channel 4; Heydon Prowse, one of the prime-movers of ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ (Jolyon Rubinstein, his comedy partner was in the audience), whom I worked with on ‘X’, our recent election project at C4 for under 25s involving the shutting down of E4 for the day of the election (leaving just Darren on screen, the man responsible for E4’s On/Off switch).

Last but by no means least, my brother KG who fronts the short form video series I commissioned about West Coast tech and social trends and whether they will make it to Blighty – ‘Futurgasm’ (mainly to be found on All 4).

It was a fun panel, punctuated with loads of amusing clips, including dog and rat humour from Mark and hoodie humour from KG:

We chatted about the advantages of using humour in documentaries – from access to co-operation (see the police in the last clip above), from non-cynical warmth to asking the unaskable.

In the afternoon I did a session on using drones in documentaries, The Sky’s the Limit, led by Brian Woods of True Vision, in the beautiful Chapel building. I showed my Drones in Forbidden Zones project (which also lives mainly on All 4)

and, to balance out the largely techie panel such as Emma Boswell of The Helicopter Girls, took on the subject largely from an editorial point of view, focusing on how to shoot ‘native’ drone films as opposed to using this exciting new tech simply as a cheap helicopter.

Once I was done with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles I boarded a Manned Rail-bound Vehicle and headed South with pleasant memories of one of my best ever DocFests. Proud to have been on the Advisory Board of this particular one which marks the close of Heather Croll’s brilliant expansive tenure, the sure-footed interim leadership of my friend Mark Atkin, and the opening of Elizabeth McIntyre‘s regime, my former colleague from Documentary Campus. Four fine days fabulously finished.

Tears through the Years – Sheffield DocFest Day 3

Fred Hampton Black Panther

Started the day with the best documentary I’ve seen so far – The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the revolution.  I was introduced to its talented, measured director Stanley Nelson as I entered Showroom 3 cinema. I told him about some footage we found in the attic of Solus, my first job, of James Baldwin with two Panthers in London (with Huw Wheldon for BBC’s Monitor shot by Jack Hazan).

It’s a masterful historical doc, the story told perfectly in a clear, disciplined and balanced way. Huey Newton’s story is plain tragic. The women protagonists are powerful and impressive. The stand-out character is Fred Hampton, a captivating orator assassinated by the Chicago pigs.

The story couldn’t be more resonant than now with the chain of events unravelling recently like this:

I chatted after with Stanley and Dick Fontaine (of the National Film & TV School) about the trustworthiness of police testimony then and now, and the power of the US authorities through the last 50 years.

Middle of the day was Roast Beef’s curious The Russian Woodpecker – an oblique route in to capturing the looming resurgence of the Cold War. It takes an artist, Fedor Alexandrovich, to know which way the wind blows in Russia/Ukraine and to become as much an over-the-horizon radar as the mysterious Duga early-warning system he discovers in the shadow of Chernobyl. Conspiracy theory, Cold War paranoia, arty kookiness and Soviet spookiness make a heady brew. Fedor and director Chad Garcia attended the screening in Sheffield’s library.

Rounded off the day at a session on Long Lost Family chaired in his usual ebullient way by ITV’s Simon Dickson (a former colleague at Channel 4) and featuring Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell. It is quite the most emotional show on TV and beautifully made (bar the music). The high production values and excellent direction mark it out from its roots in a Dutch format and a US version. Captures exactly the strengths of UK factual TV. Constructing the format on the official social worker process of adoption reunion was clever thinking. Davina and Nicky are both total pros with real heart. I’ve just watched the latest episode and there was not a dry eye in the hotel room.

Long Lost Family davina mccall nicky campbell

Don’t Stop the Music on Newsround

I loved Newsround as a kid. And now after all these years a bit of me gets on it – in the form of Don’t Stop the Music, the multiplatform project I’ve been working on all summer with pianist James Rhodes and Jamie Oliver’s production company, Fresh One.

Over 7,000 instruments were collected in the Don’t Stop the Music Instrument Amnesty thanks to the huge generosity of the British public and their care about music education. That makes it the biggest UK instrument amnesty ever.

Here’s the Newsround item which shows the last step in the journey as the instruments reach the kids…

Screen Shot BBC Newsround

South America Day 7 – Uruguay, Montevideo: On The Town

film movie projector shadow

Argentina is separated from Uruguay by the River Plate, which from the shore looks like a sea. On the Argentina side it is muddy brown. On the Uruguay side, a bit bluer. It takes around two hours to cross by boat. Valeria, Damian and I boarded from the modern passenger terminal in Buenos Aires, built only two years ago, complete with a wall of falling water.

I spent much of the journey doing my Spanish lessons on Duolinguo. Lo siento, no hablo Espagnol. Funnily enough, I got to use that phrase on Uruguayan television later in the day.

uruguay navy in port montevideo

The journey is a flat expanse of calm river, punctuated with the odd vessel but otherwise without features. Eventually the Uruguayan mainland looms into view, and then Montevideo, a largely low-rise city. On disembarking we passed pretty much the whole of the country’s navy in port, grey hulks labelled 1 to 24 under huge yellow cranes.

makeup room studio 10 montevideo uruguay damian kirzner

We were picked up by a colleague of Damian’s from TV station Estudio 9. She drove us along the coastal road, the Ramblas, a crescent promenade bordering the river-sea. We went first to Channel 10 where Damian did an interview on a daytime show. He was preceeded by Chico Novarro, a famous Argentine romantic singer of boleros, and his leather-trousered son, a well-known actor. The two presenters and crew were really welcoming and friendly, especially the older host who couldn’t have been warmer.

studio set studio 10 montevideo uruguay damian kirzner

Everyone in the crew, cameramen, sound, the works, were on their phones the whole time they were shooting. I watched a voice-over artist at the side of the set do the sponsor presentation live, delivering each bit perfectly and on time then returning to his magazine the second the mike went off.

The set was a comfortable house with living room, kitchen and (fake) garden beyond the French doors. Damian chatted in the kitchen with the younger host (with whom he made the multiplatform show Conectados a couple of years ago) and efficiently got across his activities with Mediamorfosis.

montevideo uruguay

We left the beautiful shade-dappled side street where Channel 10’s studio is located for a hotel in the city centre, not far away, it’s a bijou city. After dumping our stuff, the three of us walked ten blocks to the old city centred on Independence Square (this is Uruguay independence from Argentina). It is defined by the old theatre Solis, a strange masonic tower and a stone arch – very atmospheric and typically hispanic.

We had a late lunch outdoors (a lovely fresh white sea fish steamed with carrots and onions). Then I dragged them in to a beautiful late 19C book shop with high shelves, a book-lined balcony, a stained glass window half-way up the stairs and a café up above. If I lived in Montevideo, this would be my HQ.

Also at my request we popped into the Torres Garcia museum next door in a tall old townhouse, five or six narrow floors high. Joaquin Torres Garcia is Uruguay’s most famous Modernist artist. The early work on display (like Adam & Eve) shows the influence of Cezanne, Picasso and Gauguin. He lived in Paris, Barcelona and New York. Other roots seem to be Klee (searching for a symbolic universal picture language) and native South American Indian art (flat hieroglyphic planes). He was clearly both a restless experimenter and a relentless theorist. Note to self: pick up a book about him on my return.

el observador newspaper montevideo uruguay

We then headed off to El Observador newspaper in a quiet, more industrial quarter, beautifully designed offices in black and white, stylish. I had a look around the newsroom, then got roped into an interview despite my Duolinguo Spanish. That’s when I got to say “Lo siento, no hablo Espagnol” on air. We talked about the future of TV and media with a similarly stylish young journalist with blue glasses (Dame Edna Everage-style but dialed down and cool).

estudio 9 studio montevideo uruguay

Off for a siesta listening to Kind of Blue (= perfect siesta length, finishing on flamenco vibe) then over to Estudio 9 where Damian and I were doing a two-hander evangelising transmedia. The venue was a black-curtained studio, subtly lit in the beautifully lit and decorated former dance hall. We had fun doing it, it seemed to go down very well.

tango montevideo uruguay

From the studio we headed out for a suitably late a l’Espagnol supper in a former market with various folk from the British Council Uruguay office. In the corner of the open-to-the-air market (a bit like Spitalfields market) was an enclosed space with windows housing a tango school. Tonight was tango night so I got a chance to watch some regular couples at work. I liked their ambition. When I eventually got back to my 8th floor room I realised what I was looking down on was the corrugated iron roof of the mercado. So I fell asleep in Montevideo listening to the sounds of tango from below.

All 4 one

goggle box tv series channel 4

Was up at the Edinburgh TV Festival at the end of last week – very much a Channel 4 flavoured one. Channel 4 was named Channel of the Year 2014.

C4’s Chief executive David Abraham gave the opening MacTaggart lecture (the first one by a C4 chief exec in a dozen years and it’s been four years since any UK broadcaster has been invited to speak). It centred on championing British creativity and the unique climate of creative freedom and risk-taking that we have in UK public service broadcasting. He highlighted how important it is for the broadcasting and media industry, politicians, regulators and the public to robustly defend and build this outstanding public service system at this particular juncture, when it is under assault from without (especially US multinational corporations) and within (short-term thinkers and profit-takers). He concluded with a call to action for the next generation of media creatives. It was a generous speech, acknowledging both BBC and ITV’s role in the very special TV ecology of this country.

At the Festival awards, Channel 4 also picked up the award for TV Moment of the Year for Mushi’s speech in Educating Yorkshire and won the Programme Innovation category with The Murder Trial. There was further recognition for C4’s current affairs film Children on the Frontline, with Marcel Mettelsiefen picking up the Debut Producer/Director Award.

Such a whitewash of the awards is almost without precedent at Edinburgh and reflects a revived creative spirit at Horseferry Road after the annus horribilis that was 2013 both for C4 and the BBC. For me personally, the new focus on short form video which has come about this year enables the happy surfing of this wave of new energy. Here’s one of my first commissions in that area from a young British director, Umut Gunduz, who I met at Google HQ in St Giles a few months ago – the series is called Double Vision and the first episode is Cycle of Love.

double vision first date cycle of love

History Boy

the dawn of time universe sun big bang

I’ve been coming to DocFest (formerly the Sheffield International Documentary Festival) since the dawn of time. I’m sitting cross-legged on the hill of Howard Street, on a black marble seaty-thing, as I write this, buddha-like. The hill runs up from the station towards the city centre and is one of the best bits of urban regeneration I’ve seen in this country. Overlooking this spot is an Andrew Motion poem written on the side of a Sheffield Hallam University tower block addressing travellers arriving in the city (Andrew Motion in part inspired Simple Pleasures part 4). After my many years coming to the festival I came up with a good strategy involving this hill yesterday. Instead of relentless regular blocks of formalised meetings crowding out the day I arranged no meetings – just sat on one of these black marble blocks and waited for people I knew and wanted to see pass by me. It worked very well – I got to chat with more people and the chats were the lengths they needed to be.

howard street sheffield docfest 2014

I am now on the train pulling out of Sheffield. I leave behind a very satisfying couple of days’ experience. It began as I got off the other train the other way on Sunday evening. I dumped my stuff at the hotel and went out for dinner just out of town with Colm O’Callaghan, a colleague from RTE in Dublin. We chatted about all manner of stuff, centred on Ireland and music, and most excitingly discussed the possibility of doing a collaborative historical project next year. We headed back to town to meet  at a bar the speakers in the session I was to chair the next day. We did a judicious amount of preparation (mainly a quick chat to reassure them we’d be talking about stuff they know well and don’t have to think much about and ascertaining what video material they’d brought with) then oiled the getting-to-know-you wheels with alcohol.

robert capa d-day landings

The session the next morning entitled ‘Interacting with the Past’ focused on interactive and multiplatform TV in the History genre. Joe Myerscough, Producer/Director from the excellent Windfall Films, represented the superb D-Day: As It Happens project from Channel 4 in 2013. The delightful Elizabeth Klinck, a super-expert Canadian visual/archive researcher, added an interesting perspective. And my Channel 4 colleague, Online Producer Marie James, focused on The Mill, a historically accurate drama set in 1831. We managed to range across a lot of territory around what interactivity brings to History TV and from a lot of perspectives (indy producer, broadcaster, support services, commissioner), driven by questions from the audience, so it felt free-flowing, flexible and practically useful. Went down well, felt good.

Andre Singer

Andre Singer

At the other end of the day I went to see a new history documentary, Night Will Fall, directed by Andre Singer. I can’t write about it yet beyond what’s already in the public domain but suffice it to say it’s a very impactful film about the filming of the Holocaust. It will be showing on Channel 4 in January coming. One unexpected aspect of the story is that Alfred Hitchcock was involved in this filmic recording of the Holocaust by Allied troops. I chatted with Andre and his wife Lynette, who wrote the commentary for the film, on the way out. Also the producer Sally Angel, who I first met last year through an online project via my friend Steve Moore. We had a lively discussion about what age is best to first introduce young people to the imagery of the Holocaust. I believe it should be 16+. The person from the BFI thought younger was OK on the basis that kids get to see horror films (not an argument I buy – the documentary footage in Night Will Fall is another world from scripted drama).  I first crossed paths with Andre and Lynette when I was starting out on my career and they ran an outfit in Covent Garden called Cafe Productions (that name’s just come back to me after all these years). I went on a bus ride with Andre last May (2013) to Yad Vashem when he first told me about the film. It’s been nestling in the back of my mind since then.

So a day steeped in History.

Brilliant creatures rebels of oz documentary howard jacobson germaine greer

And today started out in similar vein. I went to see Brilliant Creatures: Rebels of Oz, a 2-part BBC/ABC documentary about 4 Australians who made good in London in the 60s, bringing a fresh perspective to a country only just emerging from the War. The Creatures in question are Germaine Greer, writer Clive James, art critic Robert Hughes and comedian Barry Humphreys. Jacobson considers Germaine Greer the most rebellious and radical of these. It’s a fabulous story – woven together by novelist Howard Jacobson (who himself wrote startlingly about the Holocaust in the brilliant Kalooki Nights, which sits on my Shelf of Honour).  I had a brief chat with him after, mainly congratulating him on pulling together such an illuminating story. He said he was in search of the secret to the Oz “zest for life”.

Howard Jacobson, Greg Sanderson (BBC), Germaine Greer

Howard Jacobson, Greg Sanderson (BBC), Germaine Greer

I got close to having a chat with Germaine Greer but it didn’t quite happen. I wanted to talk Frank Zappa with her as the BBC recently released a wonderful radio documentary she made about him. There was a great clip in the film of her hanging with Robert Plant and Led Zep.

germaine_greer 60s

Over breakfast this morning I had a great plan-hatching session with a couple of documentary makers (one from Leipzig where my dad was born) which was also a kick.

So it’s been a couple of days with a heartbeat of History. I had to give it up as a subject in formal education after O Level (apart from a small burst of it as part of my German/Modern Languages degree) but at heart I’m still a History Boy.

evolution denied ape to man

 

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