Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Television quotation

Imitation is the sincerest form of television

Fred Allen, comedian (1894-1956)

Allen’s quip is of course derived from one of Oscar’s:

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”  

or to give it its full run:

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

Oscar Wilde

 

FRED ALLEN with Cigar – performing into an NBC microphone 1948
OSCAR WILDE with Cigarette

That Interview

‘Oprah with Meghan & Harry’ (ITV 8/3/21 Harpo Productions)

I watched the interview in the same room as I watched the Bill Grundy interview with the Sex Pistols. It was one of those landmark TV interviews that come along only every few years. Of course the Diana Panorama with Martin Bashir in 1995 (An Interview with HRH The Princess of Wales) was another such interview, of which Oprah’s is a direct descendent. 

The best piece I’ve read about it was this one by historian David Olusoga in The Guardian – he singles out the wedding of Harry & Meghan and the London 2012 Olympic Games (for which I worked as a volunteer in the media operation, specifically the website – the best summer of my adult life) as two great opportunities to take Britain forwards, two moments when the country projected itself as “effortlessly global and at ease with its multiculturalism” and then argues that the monarchy, Establishment and country have failed to live up to this vision. Frankly the world is better left to the likes of Danny Boyle (creator of the brilliant 2012 Opening Ceremony) when it comes to realising visions.

london 2012 olympics rings

Oprah’s dropped jaw above was in response to the point Meghan Markle made in the interview about race: 

Meghan: “In those months when I was pregnant … we have in tandem the conversation of ‘He won’t be given security. He’s not going to be given a title.’ and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”

Oprah: “Who is having that conversation?”

Meghan: “That was relayed to me from Harry from conversations that family had with him.”
 
It’s the main thing that was picked up from the interview, underscored by Oprah’s jaw-dropping. It is quite a nuanced discussion point, particularly with the limited context. However the broad brush effect is to paint the monarchy and by extension the country as imperial racists to the global audience.
 
So it is important to put some perspective around this. Trevor Phillips, former chairman of the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC), head of the Commission for Racial Equality 2003-2006, deputy chairman of the board of the National Equality Standard, and director of Pepper Productions, did this effectively in a piece in The Times this week.
 
Oprah, who made her name acting in the The Color Purple, would be more aware than most of the fact that she lives in a country essentially built on slavery and genocide. As Islington-born Phillips puts it:
 
“Britain now stands in the dock internationally as a breeding ground for casual racial bigotry. Brits will see some irony here. Most of the finger pointing comes from the United Staes, a country where young black men are frequently gunned down by white police officers; where black families on average have one tenth of the wealth of white households; and where, outside work, people of different colours seldom mix.”
 
He reminds us that:
  • people of colour are more likely to report racial harassment in every other EU country (apart from Malta)
  • rates are twice as high in Ireland, Germany and Italy
  • UK has more people of colour in high ministerial office than the whole of the EU put together
  • The current Cabinet includes Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak & Alok Sharma (making up over 17%) among its number, Sunak being strongly fancied as the next Prime Minister.
Trevor Phillips & his partner Helen Veale of Outline Productions
David Olusoga

Laughter

With Canadian sit-com Schitt’s Creek picking up all 7 of the comedy awards last night at the Emmys in LA, dubbed the ‘Phantemmys’ due to having to go online and virtual due to the pandemic, it is a perfect moment for this Byron quote:

“Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine.”

Byron in 1815
The Rose family from Schitt’s Creek. The sixth and final series has just aired in the US.

On the subject of Byron, the BBC’s new 3-part series on Romanticism fronted by Simon Schama is well worth a watch. The Romantics and Us plays out on BBC2 and was made by Oxford Films

Coincidence No. 488 – Bletchley Park

bletchley park the mansion codebreakers

The Mansion, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

I go to meet my cousin from Melbourne, Australia at my old home tube in Tufnell Park. We have never met before. She has come to London to work as a mathematician at the Alan Turing Institute in King’s Cross. Mention of Turing’s name prompts me to ask whether she has visited Bletchley Park yet? She has. I explain how it was very little known about until Peter Bate, David Darlow & John Smithson made the TV series Station X for my alma mater Channel 4 in 1998. We talk about how the men and women of Bletchley Park did not talk about it for five decades until the interviewees for the programmes got permission from the MoD. We talk about Sue Black who saved Bletchley and who I got to know originally during my time at C4.

I get on the bus to come home. I open my novel, Old Filth by Jane Gardam, which we are reading for my book group. (I’ve just looked it up because I suspected as much… Jane Gardam is the mother of Tim Gardam, now Principle of St Anne’s College, Oxford, in 2003 Director of Television at Channel 4 when I joined.) This was on the page I was up to and started reading on the top front tourist seat on the 263:

But they had me later in the War at Bletchley Park and there we met again. [NB Bletchley had not been mentioned in the novel before or had any role in the story] Bletchley Park was full of innocent, nice girls (not me) who had a very particular aptitude (crosswords) for solving cyphers and things, as you will be hearing in a year or two when ALL IS TOLD (the fifty year revelation).

The Mansion, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

The Mansion, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

Hut 1, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

Hut 1, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

The Lake, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

The Lake, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

4 highlights from Duluth

adam gee speaker catalyst content festival deluth 2019

Not The Usual Suspects

I gave a talk this week as part of the Catalyst Content Festival (formerly the ITVFest) in Duluth, Minnesota. All I knew about the town (which is actually a city) before I heard about the festival moving here from Vermont is that Bob Dylan was born here (and at six moved just north of the town to Hibbing). That’s why on the plane over I was listening to Blood on the Tracks, getting in the groove for a semi-mythical place. At sunset yesterday a train whistle worthy of Slow Train Coming cut through the freezing air and a four-coach train appeared on the lakeside tracks just below me as I returned from a long walk around the edge of Lake Superior. The lake, the best part of 400 miles lengthwise and 200 widthwise, contains 10% of the world’s accessible/surface fresh water. The coaches included a silver 50s-vintage one with bubble windows along the roof of AirStream-style silver panelling, matching the sides; two classic red carriages, and at the back a black Victorian-type one with one of those doors and platforms with railings from every Western ever.

1. Bob Dylan’s childhood home

On my first day I walked up the hill behind the hotel for a few blocks to an innocuous suburban duplex house – 519 North Third Avenue E – where Bob, who was born in 1941, lived on the 1st floor (UK; 2nd US) as an infant. The pilgrimage was done. There’s little to mark Duluth’s most famous son – a highway named Bob Dylan Way which I walked by chance the first evening at sundown and the air where a statue doesn’t stand, as the recent crowdfunding attempt failed. I understand there’s a small music festival annually. The city can certainly make more of their legend.

bob dylans childhood home duluth

You can see Highway 61 from the porch

2. The journey over

My talk was entitled: Not The Usual Suspects and looked at getting competitive edge in TV and film through diversity of all kinds. It seems to have gone down well as people have been stopping me in the street and giving me lovely feedback. They say stuff like “your talk made me cry” and I have to check “For the right reasons I hope!” – I showed a couple of moving documentary clips including Mushi’s King’s Speech triumph in Educating Yorkshire, made at Channel 4 (UK) during my time there.

bob dylan duluth

Bob’s next-door neighbor

“The Usual Suspects” phrase comes from Casablanca (made the year after Dylan’s birth). In the talk I showed the diversity of the people who made this ‘American classic’, from the Swede Ingrid Bergman to the Jewish scriptwriters, the Epstein brothers. By chance the movie was available on the plane over so I watched it for the first time in about five years. It brought me back of course to Robert McKee’s long-running Story course which includes a day dissecting the film from a story structure perspective. I remember that being riveting at the time, this was in the late 80s near the start of my career. John Cleese, sci-fi writer Brian Aldiss and nascent director Joanna Hogg were among my cohort of fellow students.

4 things I noticed this time out:

(i) the symbol of drinking/wine glasses knocked over and righted again
(ii) the ironic reference to how fast Nazis can kill

Victor Laszlo:

And what if you track down these men and kill them, what if you killed all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise up to take our places. Even Nazis can’t kill that fast.

That was 1941-42 (when the Epstein brothers wrote the script) – little did they know of what would come to pass in the wake of the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, seven months after the birth of little Jewish Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota (aka Bob Dylan). The Final Solution set in motion there could manage hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, millions.

(iii) the images of stripes in the film – on Bogart’s tie, on Bergman’s dress, the blinds in Rick’s office, all seem to suggest that life requires a choice between the black and white options before us. It’s resonant watching the film in a week where Trump’s isolationist withdrawal from Northern Syria has precipitated the attack of the Kurds by the Turks, sowing more chaos in the Middle East.

(iv) the theme of race and interracial relationships – the friendship and partnership between Rick and Sam must have been unusual and progressive in 1942. Sam gets 25% of the profits of Rick’s American Bar. There is a real, tangible mutual affection between the two which flies in the face of the Charlottesville era.

As I was watching the film, ironically I was filling in a form to get a German passport (my father and grandfather were born in Leipzig, German like Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser) and Ingrid Bergman’s mother). The movie is full of people seeking paperwork to escape oppressive regimes, nationalism, divisive ideas and narrow minds. There was a real resonance in the coincidence of art and life in this aeroplane seat.

casablanca-plane movie 1942

Planes are central to ‘Casablanca’

3. Sight restored

One of my fellow speakers on the Storyworld part of the conference had a small eye treatment just under two weeks ago. It involved flashing lights, no surgery, took around 15 minutes. As a result the sight was restored to one of his eyes that had not seen in the half-century of his life – he had been living with monocular vision which was blurry and 2D. His bad eye it turned out was physically OK but not wired in right to the brain. This quick intervention, a doctor’s hunch,  jump-started the connection. The real highlight of this trip was to see this New Yorker revel in his new-found vision like a child. After the morning of our talks, we went out back of the old brewery which was the venue and he was struggling with the richness and dynamism of the scene – the expanse of Lake Superior, the biggest of the five Great Lakes, was too much to take in: the bright colours under the sun, the ever-moving waves, were making the ground beneath his feet move and blowing his mind. His brain is clearly still making adjustments to having two working eyes. Since the change, his lifelong OCD tendencies have disappeared overnight. The joy of his rediscovery of how the world looks, experiencing life anew in this way was an absolute privilege to witness. Like the innocent joy of infancy.

lake superior duluth minnesota by adam gee

a superior lake for sure

4. Lake walks

I went for a long walk on Friday afternoon along the shore. Lake Superior appears more like a sea than a lake, it is so huge. First along the red stone beach, to the 1909 iron lighthouse on a long concrete jetty by the port entrance, over the massive metal lifting-bridge which is the emblem of the city, to the narrow white beaches beyond, which a fellow conference participant told me are the longest in the world for an inland body of water. It takes a freighter seven days to get from this most westerly port city to the Atlantic via the St Lawrence Seaway. I sat on a beach dune reading a Lew Archer and listening to the rhythm of the small lapping shoreline waves, grateful for such opportunities to travel and see the world afresh.

lifting bridge lake superior duluth minnesota by adam gee

bridges not walls

David v Goliath

adam gee victoria mapplebeck bafta awards nominees party april 2019

This is Victoria Mapplebeck, director, and me tanked up on free Taittinger above the Thames, overlooking the dome of St Paul’s, the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheesegrater and other great London landmarks. It is the Nominees Party for the BAFTA TV Awards which this year are in at least one respect a landmark in themselves thanks to a new award being presented in two weeks’ time.

It is significant that the newest category for the TV BAFTA Awards is Short Form Programme, marking the passage of online digital video into the mainstream of television. This year is the second year of the category and the first year Little Dot has entered. (Last year I was involved in the judging of the inaugural awards because I knew I might well have conflicts of interest thereafter).

Also significant is the nomination we were delighted to receive at the end of last month in this category for our Real Stories Original ‘Missed Call’. The rest of the nominations list is filled entirely with BBC productions. So that’s a broadcasting Goliath up, not against another broadcaster, large media owner or brand, but a privately held UK indie which invested its hard-earned cash in original unscripted content.

missed call real stories documentary video poster

To date Little Dot has commissioned two dozen factual originals (that was the task I was brought in to do) and they are starting to make their mark in a rich mix of ways.

As well the BAFTA recognition, ‘Missed Call’ won the Social Media category of the AHRC Research in Film awards, one of only five categories. These spotlit the critical role of research in film-making, a vital aspect which rarely gets the limelight. The 19-minute documentary premiered in London’s West End at Open City Docs where it was nominated for Best UK Short Film. It was selected as a Finalist at the iPhone Film Festival, reflecting the fact it was shot entirely on an iPhone X, the first professional documentary made on the device. It won the Best UK Film Award at the Super Shorts London Film Festival, and has shown at a variety of film festivals.

Some of the Real Stories Originals have played well in online realms, such as ‘Sorry I Shot You’, a documentary on restorative justice in action, which was in the Official Selection of the Webdance Film Festival; ‘Finding Fukue’, a co-commission with CBC in Toronto, which won Best Film at the National Screen Institute of Canada Online Short Film Festival; and ‘Travelling on Trash’ which won a Gold Award at the Spotlight Documentary Film Festival.

Others have enjoyed an on-the-ground life across the globe in festivals from Queensland, Australia (‘Through the Eyes of Children’) via Oakland, California (‘Black Star’ at Black Arts Movement (BAM!) Film Festival) to Sheffield, England (‘Surf Girls Jamaica’, which picked up a Best Women in Adventure Film award).

One of the most pleasing pieces of Real Stories Original silverware was winning the Best British Film gong at the London Surf Film Festival. Who knew? London’s got plenty going for it but the pounding of the waves is but a distant dream. Now that BAFTA is a not so distant dream – the ceremony is on Sunday 12th May (on BBC1 hosted by Graham Norton) and whether it’s David or Goliath’s night the Real Stories team will enjoy the ride…

bafta tv awards 2019 short form programme nominations missed call

Missed Call was directed by Victoria Mapplebeck and produced by Amanda Murphy (Field Day) :: Sorry I Shot You was directed by Andy Mundy-Castle (DocHearts) :: Travelling on Trash was produced by Deborah Charles (The Distillery London) :: Through the Eyes of Children was directed & produced by James Lingwood (Big Pond) :: Surf Girls Jamaica was directed & produced by Joya Berrow & Lucy Jane (Right to Roam) :: Black Star was directed and produced by Sameer Patel :: Finding Fukue was directed by Daniel Roher & Edmund Stenson and produced by Felicity Justrabo.

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

Tampere, Finland

This week I had the pleasure of visiting the first place I’ve been to in Finland outside of Helsinki. I’ve worked with the Finnish state broadcaster YLE for some years now, usually in their offices at Pasila towards the north of the capital. On Wednesday I gave a talk on Short Form Video as part of their FutureZone series at their Tampere offices (Mediapolis). Tampere is 160km north of Helsinki, the second or third largest city in Finland (depending on how you are measuring) and the largest inland urban population in the Nordic countries. It is situated between two large lakes.

The event was delightfully hosted by YLE news anchor/journalist Milla Madetoja who presents the regional news nightly. Finland is divided into 9 regions which become larger and more sparsely populated as you head north.

IMG_9279 selfie by milla madetoja yle tv finland adam gee

Selfie by Milla Madetoja

At lunch I was asked by the Head of Current Affairs to explain what was going on in the UK with Brexit. I couldn’t.

Futurezone_Short_form video adam gee tampere yle

Tervetuloa! / All welcome! poster

milla madetoja yle news anchor studio

Robot camera in news studio

yle news studio tampere finland

No-nonsense regional news studio (one of a pair)

yle tampere auditorium adam gee short form video lecture

Photos of famous old Finnish stars around the Mediapolis auditorium

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]

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

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