Archive for the ‘tv’ Category

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

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

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

4 of the best international dramas

I’m a big fan of Walter Presents, the reservoir of sub-titled drama on Channel 4’s All4 VOD platform. It’s the brainchild of Walter Iuzzolino, a fellow Commissioning Editor at Channel 4 (we did The Sex Education Show/Sexperience together, for example), and it comes from a really genuine place, he loved Italian soaps growing up (watched with his granny) which is the root of his passion to seek out the very best of international TV drama.

Here are the 4 I’ve most enjoyed recently:

Maltese-Ep1-Rike-Shmid-as-ELISA-and-Francesco-Scianna-as-MAURO

Sexy bike, sexy sea, sexy photographer, hairy journo

1) Maltese

The only one in the Walter presents pot from his native Italy. Set in the 70s on Sicily (1976) and created by the team behind ‘Gomorrah’, writers Leonardo Fasoli and Maddalena Ravagli. The scenery was a delightful mind-trip, the language was a joy to listen to, and the story and acting were well up to par. Perfect for dull grey British fag-end of winter.

paris drama sarah-jane sauvegrain actress

Sexy scene-stealer

2) Paris

The show is stolen by Sarah-Jane Sauvegrain playing Alexia, a transgender woman at the heart of a wide cast of characters whose paths are interwoven across the 24 hours of the story (spread across six 45-minute episodes). These characters are from the political realm and the underworld, interconnected in many ways. Seemingly this portrayal of a transwoman was a landmark on French TV (of the kind represented by the first lesbian kiss on Channel 4’s Brookside). Sauvegrain plays the role with a fascinating mix of femininity with the occasional flash of male physicality – mesmerising and moving. The whole thing is a delight.

hotel adlon drama

Unsexy OCD

3) Hotel Adlon

A family saga centred on Berlin’s famous posh hotel beside the Brandenburg Gate. The three 95-minute episodes cover much of the 20th century, starting in 1904. More of an epic feel about it due to the long episodes, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable mix of aspirational luxury and fairly accurate history (culminating with the Nazis of course).

le_mystere-du-lac vanished by the lake drama

Sexy detective, sexy lake

4) Vanished by the Lake (Le Mystère du Lac)

Like Maltese, it’s as good as a holiday hanging out by the lake in the Var department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of southeastern France. A teenage girl goes missing by the lake in a town where two other teenagers had gone missing before, 15 years earlier. A classic whodunit plus Provence landscapes – what’s not to like? How come there are so many sexy French detectivesses? Real-life or just a drama conceit? Who cares – fun to watch.

Real Stories hits 1m subs

real stories one million subscribers documentary channel youtube

Here’s an update by Little Dot Studios Co-Founder, Andy Taylor, of the progress of this online documentary channel for which I have been commissioning the first original content.

This week at Little Dot Studios, we are celebrating a major milestone. Our documentary channel, Real Stories, has hit 1 million subscribers.

Real Stories is only two years old, but is now running at over 700,000 views per day. It’s become a major success in a small window of time, leading to big projects and investments in the brand. But the launch of the channel was not the product of strategy reviews, business cases or investment committees – it was a small number of employees from different departments who developed their insights into ideas, and then had the initiative to see them through.

The history  

Two years ago, our ContentID team – the team overseeing YouTube’s copyright management tool – kept telling us that documentaries were big on YouTube. They were ‘claiming’ over 40,000 television shows for our production, distribution and broadcaster clients and kept finding that full-length documentary content was attracting significant viewing. In came our Insights team, who pulled all our viewing data and put videos into different genres: comedy, kids, entertainment, factual/documentary. The data showed that factual was the second-most viewed genre in our portfolio (after pre-school kids). There was an opportunity to create a genre-specific YouTube channel for full-length documentaries.

This was a novel idea at the time. Most people at this point still viewed YouTube as a short-form platform for ‘viral videos’ – certainly not the home of premium, long-form documentaries. But the data was on our side, so we opened a page called Real Stories, and our partnership managers went to all our clients to see if they would license us full, one-hour documentaries for use on YouTube. Within 3-6 months we had around 1000 documentaries.

Two years later, we have a phenomenal success story, all born from data, insights and people not being afraid to put ideas forward. A brand that didn’t exist two years ago and a channel for which we haven’t yet produced an original video now has 1 million subscribers. And we’ll pay out c.$1m to our partners this year. The prospects for 2018 are exceptional.

The evolution:

In August, we committed to two initiatives. First, to launch Real Stories on Facebook. It was always going to be tough because the brand is unknown on the platform and we have long-form content, while the platform demands short, snappy videos. 4 months later, Real Stories has over 200k Likes and achieves 200k views almost daily. On good days, it hits 1m views and has hit highs of 10m a day. We re-edit and repurpose one-hour docs for the Facebook audience and have licensed content from Vimeo and other platforms to bolster the content output. One of those videos has done 6m views. We’ve also run competitions and ‘live’ broadcasts to experiment with the Facebook algorithm. 

Second, we’ve been commissioning Real Stories ‘Originals’. We’ve brought in Adam Gee from Channel 4 (where he headed Factual Commissioning for All4) and within 4 weeks he’d signed off nine commissions. These commissions have gone to a range of new, emerging talent – different voices to the usual with a huge platform on which to tell their stories. We’ve subsequently signed off a further two and they’re all now in production. They’ll go live on Real Stories in January and, with a bit of luck, we’ll then be able to sign off more films.

Looking forward:

Looking even further forward, in Q1 2018 we’ll be launching Real Stories as an app on iOS, Android, Amazon Fire, Roku and other devices in the UK, US, Australia and Canada. It’ll be a ‘beta’ launch to learn about these new platforms and to continue to build the brand beyond YouTube. For us, it’s another step into the unknown for a brand that keeps pushing us out of our comfort zone.

Little Dot gears up for SVoD

The latest news about the commissioning of original documentaries I’ve been doing at Little Dot Studios over the last few months – from today’s Broadcast 

by Alex Farber | 26 October 2017

Absent from our Own Wedding video still Little Dot Studios

Absent from our Own Wedding

All3Media-backed firm steps up commissioning and acquisitions in run-up to launch of service

Little Dot Studios has kicked off a commissioning and acquisitions drive as it prepares to launch an SVoD service later this year.

The All3Media-backed business has appointed former Channel 4 multiplatform commissioner Adam Gee and Beyond Distribution head of acquisitions Caitlin Meek-O’Connor to spearhead the push.

Commissioning editor Gee has ordered his first slate of originals, including Underworld TV’s Sorry I Shot You, Big Buddha Films and Medialab UK’s Absent From Our Own Wedding and Showem Entertainment’s In Your Face as part of a £200,000 investment.

The factual films, all of which run to around 15-20 minutes, will feature as part of the Shoreditch-based firm’s Real Stories online channel, which is distributed via YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.

The shows, due to launch in mid-November, will also be used as the bedrock for a forthcoming direct-to-consumer app alongside a host of third-party programming.

Shared profits

Meek-O’Connor has begun striking deals with distributors, with around 2,000 hours of programming licensed to date. Many of these shows are picked up from suppliers for free, with the profits generated shared equally – Little Dot is set to return around £1.5m to distributors this year.

Co-founder Andy Taylor said he is looking to exponentially grow the firm he established in 2013. The business, founded by Taylor and Selma Turajlic, has doubled in size year-on-year. In 2016, it posted a turnover of £9.8m, up from £5.2m the previous year. Operating profits jumped from £300,000 to £1.2m in this period.

“Someone needs to put a stake in the ground and build a premium mid-form destination because the quality of content currently is poor,” said Taylor. “There has been a massive explosion in mobile video but none of the resource or investment from TV has leaked over. In the next three to five years, I need to build channels with massive scale, which house only premium content.”

Taylor added that he is eyeing a direct-to- consumer launch by the end of the year, with platforms under consideration including Amazon Channels, Apple TV and Roku.

“We need to be on those platforms because the monetisation opportunities are so much better. It’s harder to get reach, but they offer much higher advertising rates and we can experiment with SVoD too,” he explained.

Real Stories is being touted as a subscription forerunner, with launches for science and history themed sister channels Spark and Timeline also being weighed up.

In September, Barcroft Media’s YouTube channel Barcroft TV launched an ad-funded TV app. However, Taylor is not turning his back on the digital giants and is putting particular focus on Facebook. Changes to the Mark Zuckerburg-run platform have meant that Little Dot video viewing has soared, from virtually zero to 150 million monthly views in just three months.

“The new Facebook”

From his 120- strong staff, Taylor has appointed eight Facebook-dedicated editors who are tasked with closely tracking the changes to its algorithm and reactively clipping and posting videos for maximum exposure.

“We are trying to grow the digital brands of the future,” said Taylor. “Our bet is that over time, the platforms have to favour premium content – because that is what advertisers demand.”

While people visit YouTube less frequently than they do Facebook, they tend to stay for longer and are happy to watch 15 to 20-minute videos. Facebook visitors prefer shorter clips. Taylor said that Instagram, which has three Little Dot editors assigned, is fast becoming “the new Facebook”.

Sport is another area of focus, with Sky Sports commercial manager Rory Rigney hired as senior partnerships manager to forge ties with rights holders to manage their channels. With talks under way with major football and cricketing governing bodies, the sports-themed channels will join Little Dot’s network of broadcaster and producer- owned channels, including ITV, Warner Bros, Discovery and Turner, as well as All3Media.

{text courtesy of Broadcast}

The Next Day: fragments of Bowie

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Outside 155 Hauptstrasse Schoeneberg Berlin – Bowie’s apartment – 17 Jan 2016

So today is The Next Day – the day after Bowie’s birthday, after the anniversary of the release of Blackstar, the day before the anniversary of his death, the middle day, the limbo day.

As promised in yesterday’s birthday post, The Man Who Rose from Earth, in this one I’m going to gather some of the Bowie posts from across the years of Simple Pleasures part 4. As a blog about Creativity and the quest for Happiness through the Simple Pleasures of life Bowie was always bound to feature as a great creator, an outstanding innovator and a man who worked hard to know himself and find Peace.

So adding to the photo album of my Bowie’s Berlin trip last January and my post on hearing of his death (Blackstar Rising) from yesterday’s post are:

Bowie: The Next Day [11 January, 2016] My reflections on his death

The Berlin Trilogy 1 [16 January, 2016] the first day oy my trip to Berlin in the days after his death

The Berlin Trilogy 2: Where Are We Now? [17 January, 2016]

The Berlin Trilogy 3: Goodbye to Berlin  [19 January, 2016]

Heroes Mystery Solved [27 January, 2016]

David Bowie locations in Berlin [22 January, 2016] a ready-made tour

Heddonism [11 April, 2012] a first-hand account of the unveiling of his plaque in Heddon St.

A Bowie Moment [13 January, 2016] Ziggy Stardust plaque unveiling video

4 for 66 (Happy Birthday David Bowie) [9 January, 2013] 4 of his best songs

Sound & Vision [12 November, 2016] the best of Bowie’s art collection

Cut up by Bowie’s Black-out [20 January, 2016] a Bowie-style cut-up

Where Are We Now? [11 January, 2016] an animation

100 Greatest Songs [12 January, 2008]

***

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Outside 155 Hauptstrasse Schoeneberg Berlin – Bowie’s apartment – 17 Jan 2016

Celebrated The Big Man’s birthday yesterday evening by watching David Bowie: The Last Five Years, a new BBC feature documentary commissioned by my friend and former Channel 4 colleague Jan Younghusband. It is an excellent watch, breaking new ground with its focus on his last half decade and last two LPs in an intelligent and insightful way. It was directed by Francis Whately. There are various clips here.

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:

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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.

Live Long & Prosper

Live Long & Prosper – the most famous half-Vulcan, half-Jew sadly is beamed up

A hand gesture inspired by the traditional Jewish blessing

A hand gesture inspired by the traditional Jewish blessing

Jewish priestly blessing Synagoge,_Enschede,_Mozaiek

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