Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

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

Top Documentaries on UK TV 2017

BBC Ambulance documentary series

My favourite documentary series of the year

Title Channel Share % Viewers ‘000s
         
1 Blue Planet II BBC 1 45.8 14,011
2 Diana, Our Mother: Her life + Legacy ITV 36.7 9,390
3 Diana, Seven Days BBC 1 32.9 6,425
4 Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum + Dad BBC 1 26.2 6,345
5 Spy In The Wild BBC 1 25.7 6,218
6 The Real Marigold Hotel BBC 1 23.3 5,999
7 Wild Alaska Live BBC 1 31.9 5,998
8 Attenborough and the Giant Elephant BBC 1 20.3 5,378
9 The Real Full Monty ITV 24.2 5,362
10 Fake Or Fortune? BBC 1 26.0 5,127
11 Snow Bears BBC 1 23.6 4,969
12 Paul O’Grady For the love of Dogs ITV 21.1 4,960
13 Diana: In Her Own Words CH4 20.6 4,923
14 The Truth About… Sleep BBC 1 20.3 4,704
15 Ambulance BBC 1 21.1 4,660
16 Police Tapes ITV 20.5 4,522
17 Easyjet: Inside The Cockpit ITV 20.2 4,488
18 The Real Marigold On Tour BBC 1 18.3 4,411
19 An Hour To Catch A Killer ITV 18.1 4,362
20 Inside London Fire Brigade ITV 18.7 4,317
21 Britain’s Busiest Airport – Heathrow ITV 18.5 4,309
22 The Met: Policing London BBC 1 19.5 4,224
23 Martin Clunes: Islands Of Australia ITV 19.4 4,222
24 The Cruise : Mediterranean ITV 17.3 4,216
25 Galapagos BBC 1 16.9 4,173
26 Elizabeth And Philip: Love & Duty BBC 1 14.6 4,149
27 Sir Bruce Forsyth: Mr Entertainment BBC 1 21.7 4,094
28 Reported Missing BBC 1 16.6 4,051
29 Prince Harry & Meghan ITV 16.8 4,034
30 Joanna Lumley’s India ITV 18.3 4,025
31 The Week The Landlords Moved In BBC 1 18.2 3,982
32 The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway BBC 2 17.4 3,908
33 Italy’s Invisible Cities BBC 1 14.6 3,859
34 Ross Kemp Behind Bars ITV 17.1 3,848
35 Sugar Free Farm ITV 16.3 3,840
36 Gordon Ramsay On Cocaine ITV 16.4 3,839
37 Diana: The Day Britain Cried ITV 14.6 3,817
38 Spy in the Wild: Meet the Spies BBC 1 17.6 3,784
39 Serial Killer with Piers Morgan ITV 15.9 3,683
40 The Ganges with Sue Perkins BBC 1 15.9 3,671
41 How To Stay Young BBC 1 15.9 3,648
42 Britain’s Best Walks with Julia Bradbury ITV 17.1 3,619
43 A Very Royal Wedding ITV 14.9 3,588
44 Gone To Pot: American Road Trip ITV 13.5 3,585
45 Killer Women with Piers Morgan ITV 15.7 3,553
46 Britain On The Fiddle BBC 1 14.1 3,459
47 The Truth About Stress BBC 1 14.7 3,451
48 The Harbour ITV 14.4 3,431
49 I Am Bolt BBC 1 15.8 3,409
50 The Sheriffs Are Coming BBC 1 14.1 3,400
51 Orkney: When The Boat Comes BBC 1 17.0 3,380
52 Winterwatch BBC 2 14.0 3,378
53 Harry & Meghan: Royal Engagement BBC 1 16.0 3,377
54 Russia With Simon Reeve BBC 2 14.0 3,287
55 Call The Midwife: The Casebook BBC 1 17.0 3,234
56 Devon & Cornwall Cops ITV 14.6 3,206
57 Planet Earth II: A World Of Wonder BBC 1 19.6 3,174

blue planet II natural history documentary series BBC

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.

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}

 

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