Archive for the ‘bafta’ Tag

The Golden Envelope

Exactly this time last week I was at the Festival Hall, London entering the auditorium for the Television BAFTA Awards. Our film ‘Missed Call’ was nominated alongside three BBC productions and, while I had faith in the quality of the film, I didn’t have high hopes of a win. It had been shot entirely on a smartphone. No broadcaster was involved at any point. It was fully funded by a privately-held UK indie (Little Dot Studios).

The team assembled in the afternoon sunshine in an urban garden on top of the adjacent Queen Elizabeth Hall. On the taxi ride in I’d noticed our table number was 007 so I was feeling positively Bond like in my John Pearse jacket. John I suspect is the only Savile Row-trained tailor cum filmmaker in London.

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At the appointed time we dropped down onto the red carpet and shuffled along. Greg Dyke was just in front of me. He soon gave way to Rob Brydon and Lee Mack.

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Once inside I found myself chatting to a man from BAFTA’s marketing company – he proved an important character in the night’s drama. Let’s call him X.

Oiled with champagne, I talked to various colleagues from the industry, many from my alma mater Channel 4. I entered the hall behind David Mitchell (who was talking about how we all pretend not to care about awards – but can’t help but care when we win) and Victoria Coren-Mitchell (who was talking about women not wearing pants). I had a brief exchange with Steve Arnott from ‘Line of Duty’ – he turned out to be Scottish, who knew?

As Graham Norton kicked off the show I felt increasingly like we had no chance. Until the Live Event award was announced and a Remembrance Day programme beat the Royal Wedding – at last, an underdog. I put in a small prayer for help from up there to my dad. I had bought a Farah shirt for the night the day before to invoke his spirit – he used to wear these very conservative Farah “slacks”. Apparently some how (Christ knows how?!) the make is becoming trendy again (again???).

Then it was the moment – Short Form Programme. They showed the clips, including one featuring Jodie Comer, the hottest of properties thanks to ‘Killing Eve’. Then two beautiful young things, boy and girl (still not sure who they were as I’m in my silver fox period and phenomenally out of touch) opened the golden envelope and said the words “Missed” and “Call”. There began a week-long buzz I can still feel. Our director, Victoria Mapplebeck, and me had a moment – made all the more beautiful by the fact that Jim, her son and co-star in the documentary, was on her other side. As we walked down to the stage I passed Andrew (Moriarty) Scott clapping with genuine enthusiasm and in front of him Phoebe Waller-Bridge being equally generous. That moment was both humbling and perhaps the highlight of the night for me. On the stage Victoria did a beautiful speech, Jim getting very well deserved applause, as did the iPhone Victoria brandished as the main tool of her trade. Hearing my name in that context was of course a kick. Victoria and I had started the project as a BBC3 series (which they rejected) just before I started at Little Dot Studios and I took advantage of the new job to realise one episode which became ‘Missed Call’, a high risk 19-minute unscripted piece whose ending we didn’t know when we embarked (would Jim get to meet his long AWOL father?) Watch the film here to find out…

The other thing that really struck me was how enthusiastically our win was greeted. Jim’s 15-year-old presence will have helped a lot. But so to did X because he promised to make a noise if we won and he whistled so loudly his wife smacked him.

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When we shuffled off in a lovely daze we went through an efficient assembly line of photos, signing for the individually numbered BAFTA mask, being interviewed. Victoria, Ananda Murphy (our stalwart producer) and I were the named individuals representing the winning production team. The next day I took the heavy bronze award into the Little Dot offices, holding it aloft like the FA Cup, and these are the massive smiles it lit:

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Eventually we were reinserted into the hall in our original seats and tried our best to concentrate, while texting our mums, spouses, children.

Then a bit of a shock which put it all into perspective. The memorial section in which, to my dark astonishment, the name and face of Anthony Owen appeared. I had no idea he had passed away. I checked after and he had texted me three days before to congratulate me on my new job at Red Bull Media House. Everyone used to envy his job title at Objective – Head of Magic. He got my kids tickets for Derren Brown, always generous and warm. I last saw him at The Story conference in February. A total shock. (You can help his family here.)

After the awards/programme recording concluded, a big photo of all winners was taken on stage. I was standing right behind Benedict Cumberbatch who was clearly very emotional about his first BAFTA win. To my right was Fiona Shaw who is an acting idol of my Mrs and Joan Bakewell. I had a brief exchange with that other underdog Huw Edwards (of the Remembrance programme).

On the way down from the hall I bumped into my old Channel 4 colleague, John Yorke, then Head of Drama. We discussed how I apply his book ‘Into The Woods’ (of which I am a huge fan) to documentaries, applying story structures more often discussed in relation to drama and movies.

Next a very nicely presented dinner with my team from Little Dot and ‘Missed Call’ and wafting around in a delightful daze. At one point I was accosted by a charming older couple who wanted to cop a feel of the mask. They did and we got chatting and it turned out they were the parents of Ruth Wilson. ‘Mrs Wilson’ was one of my favourite contenders for this year’s awards and I voted for it for everything possible. The gentleman was one of the son’s (Nigel) of Alexander Wilson featured in the drama. They introduced me to Ruth and we had a long chat, including about the fact I’d made a film about another Ruth Wilson last year ‘Vanished: The Surrey Schoolgirl’.

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A whirlwind of chat and booze until 3am. I bumped into these delightful colleagues from Little Dot who had arrived from BAFTA’s offices at mudnight, having clipped up the broadcast for YouTube – small world.

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After two and a half hours sleep I got up to go deliver a lecture at Ravensbourne film school. “The bad news is this is the first lecture I’ve ever done still a bit drunk. The good news is I have a great excuse…” Pulls out heavy, shiny mask (from the unglamorous plastic bag I was using to take it into the office after).

 

 


Winner’s acceptance speech by Victoria Mapplebeck for Missed Call in the Short Form Programme category

Oh my god!  I just want to say thank you to Adam Gee who commissioned this.  He is at Little Dot Studios, commissioned it for Real Stories. This was a tricky film, as you can see, because I’m both director and parent to the fantastic Jim, and that meant I needed ongoing support from this fantastic dream team of commissioners and editors and producers.

I think it’s proof… I hope the film is proof that small is beautiful, because I shot the whole thing on that phone, and when we needed an end credit composer, Jim took his phone out and composed the end credits, and even better gave me the rights for a pair of trainers.

So, yes, I just want to say — I think you deserve it every bit as much as we do.  Jim is the star of the show.  It’s hard being in a film at 15 and he did brilliantly.  So thank you.

 

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Coincidences No.s 723-729

No. 723 The Music Machine

Music Machine camden town london 19/04/78 Advertisement siouxsie and the banshees

19/04/78

I am walking through Mornington Crescent with my brother and we pass Koko under scaffolding. We discuss what it was called before being Koko. He says Camden Palais. I reckon he is getting mixed up with the Hammersmith Palais and it was the Camden Palace. In my head I am trying to remember what it was called when I saw Siouxsie & The Banshees for the first magnificent time there. I can’t. It was the Electric Ballroom at the other end of the street (where I first saw The Clash). What the hell was this one? Can’t recall…

It was The Music Machine.

The next day I am at the BAFTA Awards Nominees party. I am introduced to a woman called Heather by Alex MacQueen, Neil’s dad from The InBetweeners. Heather explains her production company is based behind Koko and makes a reference to Camden Palais. Palais or Palace? I ask. Whatever.

No. 724 The Slits

the SLITS punk band

I meet my friend Des Shaw from Zinc Media for lunch in Kentish Town. We talk a lot of music as usual and I mention my recent conclusion that The Slits were one of the most significant bands of our times. I have sent Des a podcast early that morning featuring Neneh Cherry in which she discusses living with Ari Up back in the heady punk days. Viv Albertine also gets mentioned.

That evening I am at the BAFTA Awards Nominees party with Victoria Mapplebeck and Debbie Manners, my colleagues on Missed Call which is our nominated film. Victoria mentions that her animators live next door to Viv Albertine of The Slits in a row of houses in Hackney that they somehow managed to acquire cheaply after a fight with the local council.

No. 725 Bros

matt luke goss bros

Matt & Luke Goss then & now

I meet my friend Des Shaw for lunch in Kentish Town. He mentions he has been approached to make a documentary about Bros in the wake of the BBC4 one: After the Screaming Stops.

That evening I am at the BAFTA Awards Nominees party with a woman called Heather from the indie production company that made After the Screaming Stops. We discuss the ethics around the documentary (which Des and I have debated earlier in the day). She explains the advice the company gave the protagonists about how to play things after the broadcast.

No. 726 Rory 

rory sutherland alchemy book

I am out in the garden, stretched out on a picnic rug in the Easter sunshine, reading Rory Sutherland’s new book, Alchemy, about not over-relying on the rational in creativity and innovation.

An email pings in as I open the book. It is from Rory about the Red Bull example which opens the tome. See Alchemy post.

No. 727 Fulwell

alex macqueen inbetweeners neils dad

I am at the BAFTA Awards Nominees party where I am introduced to a woman called Heather by Alex MacQueen. She is a Senior Executive from the indie TV production company called Fulwell 73. (Her and Alex were at the National Youth Theatre together.)

The next day I meet producer Matt Diegan in Camden Town (within a stone’s throw of the Electric Ballroom). He mentions that he has taken his football documentary project to Fulwell to make. He was the first person to ever mention the name Fulwell to me a few months back.

No. 728 Handmade

email about handmade films documentary bt amc

Before meeting Matt I meet the producer Kim Leggatt (in the same place at the same table from which you can almost see the Electric Ballroom). Kim tells me about the feature doc she has just made about Handmade Films and George Harrison for AMC which is carried in the UK on BT TV.

That evening an email comes in from BT TV offering advanced access to an “exclusive HandMade films documentary”.

accidental studio email about handmade films documentary bt amc

No. 729 Anni

I meet a distant cousin of mine, Josh, at a closer cousin’s house round the corner from me. He is an American film-maker over from Berlin where he now lives. We talk about the fact that our only surviving relatives in Germany live in Hamburg, the eldest of which is Anni, not sure exactly how old but must be really getting on some.

The next morning Facebook pings up a notification – it is Anni’s birthday, her 95th.

Aerial view of the bomb shattered ruins of Hamburg 1945

Hamburg 1945

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.

Coincidence No. 394 – DRG TCB

16/3/17

I am at a meeting in BAFTA with an old colleague of mine. He mentions his films are distributed by a company called DRG. I said I think I met a bloke from there a couple of years ago at a documentary festival in La Rochelle. It was the company name with three letters which made me make the connection. (We had dinner together in a group one evening, nice fella, but I haven’t seen or thought about him since.)

About an hour later, thirty feet from that spot, I go to the loo and bump into that very man. It’s turns out his company is not DRG but TCB.

So two years on, based on an incorrect connection, the same man is in the same place. Now that’s what I call a Coincidence (No. 394)!

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Film Critic Sandwich (Day 84)

Linder Sterling collage

Linder Sterling collage

A big BAFTA day today – not so much for the film award nominations which were announced this morning, which were pretty predictable, although why American Hustle is doing so well baffles me (and I’m a big fan of Silver Linings Playbook), but for the fact I had a very interesting and enjoyable day working there. On arrival at 195 Piccadilly I had a lovely chat with Mark Kermode – we know one another from school but haven’t met properly for ages, since I was doing some film reviewing after leaving university and we crossed paths at movie screenings. He was sympathetically encouraging as he explained how long it took him to write his three books in terms of words per month, which went over my head a bit as I haven’t been thinking in those terms (deliberately).

From the off I ran across a variety of colleagues, some ex-Channel 4, most C4 related, from the producer of Fresh Meat to a former Head of Interactive at the Channel who kindly offered an intro to a literary agent. So a jolly time all round.

Work began with an interview of the super-talented designer Malcolm Garrett, close friend of Peter Saville and fellow graduate of the Manchester Post-Punk scene, who came to prominence through his fresh designs for the Buzzcocks record sleeves. The record that got me into Punk was the Buzzcocks What Do I Get? single (which sadly did not have Malcolm’s sleeve on it when I bought a copy at Smiths in Chichester, but which lead me to his beautiful silver and day-glo orange cover for their Another Music in a Different Kitchen LP which I got given that Christmas). We talked about Tony Wilson and Factory, with whom he worked and hung out a bit, and about the prospects for creatives from the North and regions, a lovely wide-ranging interview-cum-chat.

Then back to the writing where, having taken my only working day away from it since starting on 1st September yesterday to do some personal admin etc., I had a bit of a break-through in terms of structure. Material I had been planning to integrate into the case studies I now realise would be better and more easily included interleaved between the chapters. I came to this realisation when I went back to add to the short intro I wrote a while back. The argument of the intro was tight and didn’t allow for any insertion without breaking the flow so I tried the additional material I wanted to insert as a short piece between Chapters 1 and 2 and that worked, so I am now going to site all the contemporary and personal reflections between chapters not woven into them. This will keep the narrative flowing and clear and avoid any confusion of timeline.

Next up was a meeting about one of the spin-off projects and then I headed for home. As I walked down the stairs I passed Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) on the landing and then Mrs Hudson herself (Una Stubbs), who was so polite that she was worried she had pushed in front of me when I was having a quick conversation with one of the receptionists. The days of Alf Garnett and Rita Rawlins are clearly long gone as she appears very much like Mrs H incarnate. I deduce some Sherlock event was going on.

When I got off the tube I bumped into Bob McCabe, author of Harry Potter: Page to Screen, co-writer of The Python’s Autobiography and a bunch of Monty Python related titles. He’s just launched a new movie-related site The Last Word on Earth. So the day has a pleasing circularity.

design by Malcolm Garrett

design by Malcolm Garrett

Content incubation (Days 67 and 68)

I started Day 67 on non-book business in Marylebone to do with my main non-exec directorship – it was a nice change to be immersed in a thoroughly commercial world. I moseyed on though Mayfair in the direction of BAFTA in Piccadilly and briefly immersed myself in the art world courtesy of the Halcyon Gallery which has a big show of Bob Dylan’s iron sculptures and paintings which was fun. Once I got to BAFTA I dived back in to the Music chapter happily. Bumped into a couple of people who were helpful in making connections to interviewees (both for Music chapter). And set up some more interviews. Wandered across St James’s and through the dark park to Channel 4 HQ for Xmas drinks, my first visit to the building in several weeks, only my second since 1st September kick-off day, refreshing.

Day 68 began in the British Library with more tapping away about Tony Wilson. Had a lovely lunch round the corner in St Chad’s Place with Jesse Cleverly of the newly established Wildseed Studios, which he describes as “a content incubator looking to invest in great new ideas”. We talked Book, multiplatform, Royal Court (where he used to work), Nigella, creative process, etc.

good vibrations record shop belfast

Then bee-line home for more writing and to speak to the other protagonist of my Music chapter – Terri Hooley of Good Vibrations. He was totally charming and warm, and I really look forward to heading over to Belfast to hang with him in the next few days. He offered me a tour of Van’s East Belfast which will be a real kick.

And the day ends here in the Adam & Eve on Mill Hill’s Ridgeway – as much my home turf as Cyprus Avenue is Van’s. I’ve got mulled wine, crisps, seat by fire, Sinatra on the pub stereo, and my fresh little Air. Happy days.

Adam And Eve pub Mill Hill London NW7

Sound of the Suburbs

gene kelly in singing-in-the-rain

100% pure enjoyment

100 years ago the Phoenix rose from  the ashes. It wasn’t called the Phoenix then – it was The Picturedrome. Then later The Coliseum and then, in my mum’s time, when she was growing up down the road in Church End, the Rex. On 9th May 1912, The Picturedrome opened for business, two years after it was actually built, in the North London suburb of East Finchley. The first company, taking a big risk with this new technology of the cinematograph, went bankrupt, although had, through jumping early, secured the Phoenix’s place as the oldest purpose-built cinema in the country. The opening film was about the sinking of the Titanic.

On Sunday afternoon 13th May 2012 I walked down our high street with wife, son, neighbour and a couple of kids from our street to a special centenary screening of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, this being ironically the first sunny day after weeks of ceaseless precipitation. The theme of the short three-film programme was the transition to sound as the Phoenix was the first cinema in the area to show a sound film. On 22nd July 1929 the Phoenix screened ‘The Jazz Singer’ (made in 1927, premiered in London’s West End in September 1928) the first movie to feature synchronised song performances and a sequence with synch dialogue including the famous, self-referential line: You ain’t heard nothing yet!

The centenary programme therefore opened with a trailer for ‘The Jazz Singer’. It was a very different kind of trailer from what we’re now used to – a presenter in full evening dress addresses us to camera, a barely supressed smile on his face, amazed himself that this new fangled invention of sound cinema actually works.

Look what I’m doing, can you bloody believe it?! He introduces scenes from the movie’s New York premiere, not dissimilar from the opening scene of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ when on-screen partners Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) attend the opening of their new movie at Graumann’s Chinese Theatre.

That was one of my most memorable sound cinema experiences – being taken to Graumann’s by my best-friend’s family to see a new movie called ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ with the best of Dolby Surroundsound blowing my teenage ears and mind. That was the same trip I bought myself a new fangled machine called a WM1 – the first model of Sony Walkman, basically a brick, I still have it as a reminder of how technology evolves. In a while I’ll be off for a jog with my electric blue iPod Shuffle, about the size of a badge. Watching the scene of Al Jolson blacking up minstrel style, my 12 year old leaned over and whispered “That’s racist …isn’t it?” “Yes, it is really. Things change.”

The second film on the programme was the first ever sound animated film, ‘Steamboat Willie’ starring Mickey Mouse. The audio was mainly spot effects, animal sounds and the like. Mainly animals in pain, tortured and terrorised by a soon to be famous rodent on a Southern steamboat. “They can’t do that, can they?” whispered the 21st Century boy. “Not really, you’re right, animal cruelty. Things change.”

Disney’s cartoons had not really stood out from the competition until Walt took a chance on sound. Like Premier Electric Theatres (who had the Phoenix built in 1910) he had been facing bankruptcy – in the wake of seeing ‘The Jazz Singer’ he staked all on the new invention and an empire was born. It opened in New York’s Colony Theater on 18th November 1928, now Mickey’s official birthday.

The main feature for the Phoenix centenary celebration was the 1952 classic MGM musical co-directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, about the tricky transition to sound.

I was particularly looking forward to the film after having thoroughly enjoyed, a couple of weeks earlier,  the excellent (highly recommended) West End stage version that opened earlier this year at the Palace Theatre, starring Adam Cooper, who played adult Billy in the final scene of ‘Billy  Eliott’, as he launches himself into the world of ballet dance.

The parenthetical Broadway Melody ballet sequence in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, showcasing Kelly in partnership with Cyd Charisse (who passed away relatively recently in 2008) is still emblematic of the boldness and innovation of this golden era of musicals. Kelly and Donen, alongside Vincente Minnelli and producer Arthur Freed, constituted the Freed Unit at MGM who also collaborated on ‘Meet Me in St Louis’ (1944), ‘The Pirate’ (1948), ‘On the Town’ (1949), the magical  ‘An American in Paris’ (1951), ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ (1954) and ‘Gigi’ (1958). Unlike the later lazier approach of adapting Broadway musicals, this was an original story suggested by the song Singin’ in the Rain, written by Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, a song-writing team established in the 20s and 30s, around when this film is set. From that span off the script by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who also wrote ‘On the Town’. Surprisingly, given the coherence of the story, most of the other songs (bar two) were originally composed by Freed & Brown for different Hollywood movies before Freed set himself up as a producer. Astonishingly the film made only moderate returns at the time of release, won big fat zero Oscars and received little critical attention. Well, what did they know, what’s not to like? Exquisite dancing by Gene Kelly, not just in the eponymous central scene (to the 1950s what Walking on the Moon was to the late 70s), but in all his performances from the romantic empty studio duet with Debbie Reynolds to the jokey stuff with Danny Kaye lookalike/actalike Donald O’Connor; gorgeous Technicolor costumes and sets; beautiful singing, not least by Reynolds; ensemble acting with real chemistry in its core trio; and a witty, tight script with some really original, organic comedy like the out-of-sync film gag and the scene where the actions of the silent stars are totally at odds with what they are saying unrecorded. The Enfant Terrible and his little chums found further (unintended) comedy in the back-projected driving scenes (“Things change.”)

I hurried off at the end of the afternoon’s good clean family fun to get changed and off to the TV BAFTAs part 1: the TV Craft Awards. I had that post-Musical feeling of expecting vaguely for people to break out in song at any moment around me. By the end of the evening the Live from the Clinic team and I were on the point of song with a win in the Digital Creativity category. The British Film Academy was set up way later than its American cousin. The first Oscars were awarded in 1929, two years after ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is set. David Lean and Powell & Pressberger (whose ‘The Red Shoes’ I suspect is part of the Technicolor race-memory of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’) helped establish our Academy in 1947.

It’s been interesting to see the early history of cinema high in the collective consciousness this last year with ‘The Artist’ (not entirely deservedly, in spite of its bold timing and originality) sweeping the awards and ‘Hugo’, so lovingly made (in the UK) by one of the world’s great cinephiles (and a huge fan and champion of ‘The Red Shoes’ team). Then on stage at the National Theatre in London (in the auditorium named after that great bridge of theatre-cinema, Laurence Olivier) I took the older Enfant Terrible earlier in the year to his first proper play, which against the odds given his teenage phillistinism, he really enjoyed, ‘Travelling Light’ by Nicholas Wright. It looks at the emergence of cinema in Poland and the journey from the stetl to Hollywoodland of the founding fathers of the movie business. It featured Anthony Sher, who has never happily crossed from stage to screen – I saw him recently hamming it up in ‘Three and Out’, which was shot in large part opposite The Phoenix in East Finchley’s sister Art Deco tube station (The Phoenix featuring fine gilded Art Deco reliefs along the walls of its barrel-vaulted auditorium). The Art Deco archer adorning East Finchley station was sculpted by the man who created the stairway to heaven in Powell & Pressburger’s ‘A Matter of Life of Death’ (Eric Aumonier). Back from the sublime to the ridiculous, ‘Three and Out’ stars East Finchley local, Mackenzie Crook opposite Colm Meaney and Gemma Arterton – when I occasionally see Crook getting on or off the tube with me what springs to mind is never ‘Pirates of the Carribean’, but always that astonishing play ‘Jerusalem’, carried by  Mark Rylance’s barn-storming performance, an actor who in another way seems indifferent to the silver screen. There’s a great scene in Singin’ in the Rain where Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) mocks the mugging and crude acting of the silent stars by comparison with the luminaries of the East Coast stage. “What do you have to be so conceited about? You’re nothing but a shadow on film… just a shadow. You’re not flesh and blood.”

The interior of the Phoenix, including its Jazz Singer era decor like the bas-reliefs, was restored to mark the centenary of the building in 2010. As part of the fundraising I put on a screening of Sam Taylor-Wood’s ‘Nowhere Boy’ with the kind help of colleagues in Film 4. I also bought the Enfants Terribles an illuminated plaque on the timeline in the upper foyer representing the 100 years of Cinema in its lifetime to date. For a donation you could buy a year and movie. I went for 9 years later – ‘Modern Times’ and 1936, by the greatest exponent of cinema of all time, Charlie Chaplin (whose name the younger ET bears) – one who never really needed to make the leap from silent to sound, who struggled with the transition, sounded suitably strange in his first spoken words on film (the wonderful humanist speech at the end of ‘The Great Dictator’) and who embodies the truth that even if things change you don’t always have to change with them to be able to capture the things that don’t change in 100 years, 1,000 years, ever.

gene kelly and cyd charisse in singing-in-the-rain broadway melody ballet sequence

High life

I’m Feeling Lucky – The Story 3

tom watson mp on the phone hacking scandal at The Story 2012

To Thine Own Self Be True (Tom Watson)

I was in Rottingdean the other day with the Enfants Terribles when we passed a small shop called Serendipity. I asked them whether they knew what it meant and I ended up explaining it in terms of the Google ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button (which I have to admit I’ve never quite got and always struck me as a bit of a lack of imagination on the part of the presser – it really isn’t difficult in the era of the Web to go on your own random or serendipitous journey).

The Wikipedia entry for Serendipity (which Google freakily informs me Aleks Krotoski shared on tumblr.com on 29 Apr 2011, Aleks having appeared at The Story #1 in February 2010) is one of its more charming entries:

Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. The word has been voted one of the ten English words hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company. [prime wikispam] However, due to its sociological use, the word has been exported into many other languages. Julius H. Comroe once described serendipity as : to look for a needle in a haystack and get out of it with the farmer’s daughter.”

Meanwhile, over on the other side of Brighton… towards Hove/Portslade my former colleague at Channel 4, Matt Locke, was busy putting the finishing touches to his The Story conference, like the programme for the day which was etched into bars of dark chocolate. When Matt started this one day gathering in 2010 it was a labour of love alongside his day job at C4. I thoroughly enjoyed that first iteration and recorded 4 things I learned from it on Simple Pleasures part 4. It’s interesting looking back at that entry today: the first thing I learnt was:

1) The best conferences (like this one) have only two outputs – Inspiration and catalysing Connections between people.

The same held good for #2 last year featuring the likes of a controversial Adam Curtis, writer Graham Linehan and photographer Martin Parr. I think I was too indolent to write up last year’s.

Connections, inspiration and creativity are the meat and two veg of this blog and what the Web is wonderful at catalysing. Straight after exiting Conway Hall yesterday I met up with Karyn Reeves who was waiting just outside, a statistician from Perth, Australia who specialises in analysing mathematical patterns around AIDS infection. Karyn is only the second person I’ve met in real life through having made contact online. The first was Sandra, a street art aficionado from Jaffa. Karyn writes a lovely blog about vintage Penguin books, which she collects and reads weekly, and I came across her in the wake of reading an old Penguin I picked up at random in my local bookshop, Black Gull, about the trial of Roger Casement. By chance Casement’s defence lawyer, I read, had his chambers at 4 Raymond Buildings from where my best friend now operates. What a tangled Web we weave. So Karyn and I headed back from The Story 3 to Black Gull where she picked up a few more P-p-p-enguins.

Meanwhile back at the start of the day… Meg Pickard of The Guardian, with whom I got into a lively online discussion at one of the earlier two The Story s about where The Guardian should gather their user-generated photos of Antony Gormley’s One and Other  (which we were discussing here and he was explaining here), kicked off the proceedings with a quick update from The Ministry of Stories, the excellent local children’s literacy project based in a Monsters Supplies shop in Hoxton and championed by the likes of Nick Hornby. Part of the ticket price for The Story goes to the now thriving, volunteer-driven project. It’s great to see such a thing burgeoning in Hoxton – when I was a teenager my step-dad would drive me past there on the way to Petticoat Lane where I worked on the market stall outside his shop, he’d point past some grim Victorian estate and say ” ‘Oxton, arse-hole of the universe, never go there, son.” How it has come on over the years…

Next up was Matt Sheret of LastFM in discussion with producer Simon Thornton of Fat Boy Slim fame about telling stories through the album form. Simon was the fella behind the brilliant remix of Brimful of Asha (way better than the original) as well as the marvelous Turn On Tune In Cop Out by Freakpower. The whole debate about the patterns of music consumption in the Web/On Demand age and the relationship between albums and single tracks is a fascinating one still, and particularly for me at the moment as I’m working on a development to do with a classic album with Bob Geldof’s gang at Ten Alps and Universal Music, very much shaped around a carefully constructed sequence of 9 great songs which may or may not now be a thing of the past (I take Simon’s side, but I would wouldn’t I).

At this point Channel 4 wove back in in the form of artist Jeremy Deller, currently setting up his one-man show at the Hayward on the South Bank and the prime mover of Artangel’s The Battle of Orgreave, commissioned and funded by C4. He sees the ’84-’85 miners’ strike as a critical moment in British history (it gets  its own room in his soon-to-open retrospective) and that programme/artistic re-enactment as a way of “exhuming a corpse to give it a proper post-mortem”. He spoke about how everyone of our generation remembers where they were when the miners took on ‘The Iron Lady’ (in spite of the fact I’d voted for her [Streep not Thatch] Meryl Streep’s apology [in the Miltonian sense of explanation/justification] for the strange politics of that movie at the BAFTAs the other night is still bugging me)  – my other half was up in Ayrshire making her graduation film about the miners’ wives with a dodgy old University of Ulster camera, while I was visiting my oldest friend at Baliol where a furious debate about how to support the strike was erupting in their common room, featuring toffs in donkey jackets as well as more grown-up, committed people than me, who was still relying on the likes of Joe Strummer and Elvis Costello to give me some political insight). Deller’s still- image only presentation was one of the highlights of the day for me, centred on one iconic photograph of a miner father and his glam rock showbiz son.

Next up, blogger Liz Henry who told the fascinating story of A Gay Girl in Damascus, a murky tale of hoaxing and fictional blogging (an area I find fascinating as an emerging writing form and which formed a substantial part of the now traditional annual Story lunch with Tim Wright and Rob Bevan, the former in particular much interested in this territory [and the person who taught me the value of the image-only presentation when I helped host the launch of his outstanding In Search of Oldton project at Channel 4 HQ a few years ago]).  I learnt a lovely new word too ‘Sockpuppeting’ – to comment on your own blog both positively and negatively as a way of stimulating interest/activity. One of the interesting facts that emerged was that The Guardian published the initial story without establishing proper (off-line) sources based on people who had actually met the Gay Girl in question in real life (shades of Karyn above and Tom/Emily below).

Late on Thursday afternoon, the eve of The Story, I met for the first time Anthony Owen, Head of Magic (arguably the best job-title in the business) at Objective TV, home of Derren Brown. We were kicking off a project to do with consumerism. Lo and behold within 18 hours he’s up on stage before me doing a magic trick and explaining the role of narrative within that art/entertainment form. Particularly interesting for me as the youngest Enfant Terrible has recently become obsessed with performing magic, daily learning tricks off of YouTube and practising them with his chums over Skype (before posting them back on YouTube and Facebook). Anthony singled out the quality of encapsulating “something we’d love to have happen” (e.g. being psychic, becoming immortal, etc.) as the defining characteristic of a great trick – so sawing a woman in half only to reunite the two still living ends is a story about immortality which also has the key quality of being sum-upable in a sentence.

Coincidence and serendipity came to the fore again in the afternoon when Emily Bell, formerly of The Guardian online and now teaching at Columbia (who I first had the pleasure of hanging out with on the panel of judges she lead at The Guardian Student Journalism Awards a few years ago, in The Ivy so clearly a former era) interviewed Tom Watson MP about the phone-hacking scandal whilst: Meanwhile across town… in Wapping Rupert Murdoch was entering the newsroom of the Currant Bun and sticking two Aussie fingers up at the British establishment and public, who momentarily humiliated him last summer, by announcing the impending launch of The Sun on Sunday. The audience was riveted by the recounting of events from both the MP and Guardian perspectives, and the interview typified the rich and perfectly balanced mix of contributions making up the day’s programme. Watson predicted that there was a massive PC/Data hacking dimension to the scandal still to break.

Vying with Deller for highlight of the day was Scott Burnham. The last time I met Scott was in the back of a Nissan Cube in which he was filming me spouting on about why I love London. At this year’s The Story he spoke vibrantly about design in the city and urban play through a classic tale of 7 Coins, the last vestiges of a beautiful public art project in Amsterdam. He told of the construction of a Stefan Sagmeister piece made up of 250,000 one cent pieces and its subsequent thoughtless destruction by dumb cops who were trying to protect the raw cash (still held as evidence in the police station). His conclusion was that we’ll always have Paris… I mean, we’ll always have Amsterdam… he means, we always have the story if not the creation itself. He took the 7 coins, painted blue on one side, out of his pocket to show me and the Royal College of Art’s Bronac Ferran as we chatted outside the hall during the tea break.

Also up in contention as a highlight was artist Ellie Harrison, author of Confessions of a Recovering Data Collector. She started her work focused on gathering everyday data on her life or ‘life tracking’ at Nottingham Trent university art school and then later at  Glasgow School of Art (where our host Matt once studied). An early such work was ‘Eat 22’ in which she recorded everything she ate for a year  in 1,560 photos. At the start of her talk she positioned herself firmly as a Thatcher’s Child (a resonant link back to Deller’s earlier session) and was sporting a Bring Back British Rail T-shirt (a campaign she champions, also resonant as my aforementioned best-friend above worked on that Kafkaesque privitisation). So food and beyond, Ellie’s obsession and the thread through her work seems to be with Consumption – she spoke about her development with great humour and insight (including into her own compulsions). From ‘Eat 22’ she went on to record all her everyday actions in a spreadsheet, in turn converted to colour-coded graphs, which is when the addiction kicked in. I was sitting in a brainstorm at an indie production company a couple of weeks ago discussing mental health and happiness when a colleague I have know a long time revealed he’s been keeping a numerical record of his mood on a precise scale of 1 to 100 every day for well over a decade, with the last five years available likewise in Excel form. So art/fiction are no stranger than life.

Preloaded I have known since they were born, as I worked with founder Paul Canty, as well as Rob Bevan and Tim Wright, on a game called MindGym way back when. Paul’s colleague,  Phil Stuart, and writer Tom Chatfield talked us through the game of self-discovery, death and philosophy they made for Channel 4 Education – The End.  This rounded off a fine day, alongside Karen Lubbock and Jeremy Leslie on mags and Karen magazine in paricular, ‘a magazine made out of the ordinary’, and a lively turn from Danny O’Brien on josticks, hacking, anarchy and the universe. And where can you go from there…

Stefan Sagmeister installation 250,000 coins

Among these 250,000 are 7 coins with a story

Cameo appearances

Me

Me

VIDEO: of extract of  the acceptance speech from BBC coverage

McNulty

McNulty

Bubbles

Bubbles

Jesus

Jesus (pink velvet)

The 2009 British Academy Television Awards at the Royal Festival Hall, London.

UPDATE 28.iv.09:

Just arrived from BAFTA (official pic) – red lining courtesy of my old pal John (Granny Takes A Trip) Pearse, maker of the Gee wedding garb

Much smileage

Much smileage

Update 12.v.09:

VIDEO of the full monty – the opening of the golden envelope and the acceptance speech, with Graham Norton and the fellas from Masterchef

I got biorhythm

bafta awardThe old biorhythms seem to be zinging a bit this week. Nice Kiss & Tell piece in the Guardian yesterday about a new commercially-oriented dimension to my work, to complement the public service projects I mainly commission at C4. Hot Cherry are a cool outfit when it comes to getting the dirty job done in digital PR and marketing.

And the day got off to a fine start with a TV BAFTA Nomination for Embarrassing Bodies Online for the one&only interactive category – imaginatively entitled Interactivity. The other nominations are all BBC, but our odds have improved. Last year little old Big Art Mob was up against iPlayer which cost more in millions than BAM cost in thousands. This year we’re only up against Olympics 08. And Merlin. Let’s see if they can spot real magic…

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