Archive for the ‘documentaries’ Tag

Bach in the DDR

[25.X.15]

Been away so long I hardly knew the place
Gee, it’s good to be back home

back in the ussr beatles 45 single cover record

Started the day bright (the clocks went back during the night) and early with a jog in search of a park I knew to be nearby according to my trusty guide ‘Leipzig Highlights’ (which I picked up on my last trip to Leipzig in 2014). p.24 Clara Zetkin Park. I did a bit of a reprise of yesterday running past the Great Synagogue site with its empty bronze chairs, round the corner past my grand-parents’ married home and on down the former Promenadenstrasse, empty in the early morning. I paused at a stretch of canal in some trees (mistaken initially for the lost park) and then carried on, listening all the time to Desert Island Discs on my vintage orange iPod, companion of many runs in many countries. The guest was Stephen Fry and blow me if he didn’t play some Bach as I ran through the park and back towards the Thomaskirche. He said he hadn’t really got Bach until later in life when Glenn Gould’s playing had enabled him to see beyond the clever patterns. My friend Jon Turner gave me a Glenn Gould CD for my birthday many years ago but I’m afraid even that didn’t do the trick for me. Bach just doesn’t move me. The only great Bach experience I ever had was being taken by my mother to hear the Brandenburg Concertos from the gods of the Albert Hall at the Proms. That – as I lay on the high-altitude floor – struck a chord and probably kicked off a liking of baroque music.

Following a hearty breakfast in the shadow of Bach’s church, his statue staring in through the hotel window, I headed up with Oregon-based documentary buyer Louise Rosen to the MDR campus for Day 2 of Documentary Campus. [[ When I type “Oreg…” into Google to check my spelling, weirdly (or maybe not) its first suggestion is “Oregon Bach Festival”. ]] Listened to another morning of documentary pitches, overall a high standard. This batch included one on freeing white slaves in Russia (produced by my Russian pal Vlad’s Mrs) and another fabulous one about a young musician travelling around collecting songs that are dying out in Central Europe (shades of the marvellous 1 Giant Leap).

In the afternoon I wandered off through the allotments adjacent to the MDR, savouring the autumn colours. I ate a pear and an apple. I read ‘The Moor’s Account’ in Connewitz Cemetery. I headed in the direction of the hospital where my father was born, just a kilometre or two from the MDR. I walked past a corner shop with the name Noah on its hoarding. I walked past a car with a number-plate with 4444. Signs. People were with me. I came out suddenly at the back of the hospital and ended my journey under the 1935 clock of the S. Elisabeth Krankenhaus. The leaves were gold. The weather of the first official day of wintertime mild. In a partial way I’d come home.

I was reflecting recently that most people’s lives are in some way a journey home.

screw_you_guys__i_m_going_home south park animation

Get Bach to Where you once belonged

Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)

Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)

Spent the first half of a beautifully golden sunny autumn day out at the MDR (Mitteldeutsch Rundfunk) campus at the edge of Leipzig listening to documentary pitches at Documentary Campus 2015. Included was ‘Craig Barfoot’s Modern Dilemmas’ which is the project I’ve been mentoring – the bastard child of Louis Theroux and Woody Allen. I walked back into town through the autumnal streets – it’s always spectacularly yellow against blue when I’m in town.

I made my pilgrimage to the site of the Great Synagogue, burned down on Kristallnacht in November 1938, the year my grand-parents got the fuck outta here and headed to Highbury. I spent time chatting remotely to Enfant Terrible No. 1 who has been to that place twice with me, chatting from the back row of the ghostly congregation. I wanted to link him to his great-grandparents.

I had a special experience there. I took a moment to say a couple of prayers, the couple of lines I knew. As I finished a small flock of sparrows (my favourite bird) landed on the brass chairs which make up the memorial. Exactly at the moment of finishing the key line from the memorial prayer. They stayed for just a few seconds then flew off again.

Leipzig had 11,000 Jews in 1933. It had 0 in 1945. 14,000 perished in and around the city.

From there I walked – via a cafe moment – to my grandparents apartment of 1938 in Promenadenstrasse (now Kathe Kollwitz Strasse) – it’s just a space now, formerly a car park, soon a new development.

And for the third point of my pilgrim’s triangle I took an imagined walk from their place on a Saturday afternoon three-quarters of a century ago to my grandfather’s favourite sister’s flat in Nordplatz. I stood on the threshold of No. 1 and reflected on his time there as a bachelor and the wider family he lost.

It feels good coming back here and reclaiming our stake in the place. And to reclaim my steak in the place I went for a traditional German meatfest in Auerbach Keller, closing the day’s circle from Craig’s Meat v Veg dilemma, and adding to Bach the Romantic figures of Goethe (who set the first written scene of Faust in that cellar) and Schiller as other resonant ghosts in this city.

city full of ghosts

city full of ghosts

Kansas Girl

{22/7/15}

O

Kicked off the day at 06:45 in my office (third booth to right) at Mel’s Diner on Sunset, ready for a shoot north of LA [see LA Woman]. Nothing like a good diner omelette to get you fuelled up for porno production. The PA, Beatrice, picked me up and took a cool route out past Laurel Canyon onto the freeway. We picked up the producer-director, Ronan McCloskey, on the way.

We drove back to the gated community, the big innocuous house, and waited for the arrival of the ‘new girl’. She came through the white picket garden gate carrying her cloth bag of costumes which included an electric blue bra and various short dresses – none were used in the end, everything was selected for her by the boss-woman. Shortly after the boss-man arrived, casual in his jeans and T-shirt, looking relaxed, not at all thrown by the fact he was going to be nailing this 22 year old on camera within the hour.

We began shooting. As the producer-director was a bit short-handed and was self-shooting he asked me to do sound and then that morphed into doing the interviews. I had a ball – it’s been a while.

The wife&husband dynamic duo who were making this porno explained this was a very straight-forward kind – the Interview Video. The new girl gets interviewed, has some photos taken, does a “tease” (ie takes off her clothes) and then gets screwed on the couch (only two weeks old, shouldn’t we get some more easy to change covers?) The couch ends up getting covered in fake tan. The New Girl is wearing fake tan because she’s trying to cover up an injury from her first porno which was only 18 days ago. This is her fourth. Her knees are scabbed because she was doing a reverse cowgirl and got really bad friction burn off a rug. She’s done her best to disguise the wounds.

I get a chance to chat a bit by the pool before things start. She’s from the middle of the country and has flown to LA (her first visit) to do her debut five sessions of porn. She is using the money to pay her way through university. She wants to become a psychiatric nurse. She earns enough in this hour and a bit to outstrip two weeks normal work on double shifts.

Interesting details come out of the convo. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a stripper when I was quite fucked-up (in a good way) on my stag night, upstairs at El Parador. I can’t recall a word of that exchange (I couldn’t within two hours of it) but the vibe was similar to this. This New Girl has had body confidence issues. She doesn’t seem to see the probable connection with this new activity of taking all your clothes off, though I try to see if she’ll acknowledge the link.

She takes all her clothes off. Good body, even prettier face. The whole thing’s interesting to see – once. But somehow sad.

The stills are incredible – the boss-man/male performer is so close he must have the widest lens ever. From two inches from her arse how the hell is he getting her smiling face in?

When the time for sex arrives we withdraw to the other side of the white garage where the horses are. I read my book about Bob Dylan and Blood on the Tracks in the bright California sun, relieved to have a bit of another world and culture.

After the scene the boss-couple strip off the couch cover and I interview them. He has a natural gift for getting hard on camera and has a big dick. That’s how he got into porn while still a student in his native Europe. (She referred to this capability as “strong / strength” during our intro chat the day before.). She modelled, lost her clothes along the way, then felt the urge to have sex with guys like this on camera. She reads avidly and has a fine collection of books lying around the room in whose corner the fucking took place. She’s got a signed Richard Dawkins book of which she’s proud.

He is charming and friendly, animated and very helpful. She is pretty and practical, cares about story-telling and delights in her young family. I learnt a good lesson a while ago during my sabbatical about books and covers. This experience is related. I don’t feel compelled to make judgments moral or otherwise. These are decent people and they have a very professional attitude and pride. The same is true of the New Girl – she really wants to do a good job.

The second New Girl is postponed because the boss-man was feeling light-headed towards the end of the scene. The New Girl had talked during her interview for us about how she has clear boundaries about what she won’t do and she listed them – cream-pies (she politely explains what that is), group sex, ‘torture’, anal, etc. “Do you do anal in your own sex life?” asks the boss-man with disingenuous charm and out of the blue. She confirms she does. “I thought so.” “How did you know?” I asked with disingenuous charm. “I licked her ass-hole during the scene.” It was a point-of-view scene so he was filming it and licking away at the same time. It must be a bit like playing Twister. His question coming out of nowhere somehow punctured a veil of politeness or euphemism which us outsiders maintained. Anyhow, the second New Girl is coming tomorrow. Just as well, reckon I’d had enough for one day.

Watching and filming him saying goodbye to ‘Olivia’ was fascinating – slightly awkward given what they’d just been up to. We too took our leave and headed back to cold beer and guacamole out back of a Mexican on Sunset. An all-round exotic day…

LA Woman

{21/7/15}

Five Leaves Left : Nick Drake - back cover photo by Keith Morris

Five Leaves Left : Nick Drake – back cover photo by Keith Morris

Well, that was an interesting day. Got weirder and weirder. Started out from the rock-steeped Sunset Marquis hotel (shades of Joe Strummer and The Stones) past the Hockneyesque pool with my colleague Jody to explore the Sunset Strip. (Had already done half a day’s work in the overlap zone between PST and BST.) We checked out the Viper Room (I watched Running On Empty two nights ago and was reflecting on River Phoenix’s premature passing) and Whiskey-a-Go-Go (shades of Jim & The Doors). Pulled into an old-school bookstore and picked up some vinyl including Five Leaves Left, featuring a photo on the back by Keith Morris whose original hangs on our stairs at home.

[I’m writing this post at the junction of Mulholland Drive and Laurel Canyon (shades of Crosby and Young), driving out to a film shoot in Hidden Hills.]

Peeled off into Beverly Hills where we checked out residential LA with its fake-grass and fanciful flowers. Short pit-stop for an iced coffee where we people-watched – a male jogger with no top and tight lycra bottoms leaving nothing to the imagination, jogging being the operative word; a woman all in black with her friend all in white, Spy vs Spy, too old for their Porsche, faces distorted through Beverly Hills surgery. Then on to Melrose where we landed in the middle of a paparazzi ambush of Hollywood actress Hilary Duff, in a sheer shirt, carefully showing off her black lacy bra to the media collaborators (in this Princess Di style ‘accidental’ encounter going about her everyday business).

Hilary Duff photographed on Melrose Beverly Hills

So far so LA LA. Then we hook up with the director and PA of a short form series I’ve got shooting out here about the LA underworld. The PA can’t start her car without breathing into a breathalyzer device (very Lynchian) due to a past DUI. Every time she does a sharp manoeuvre, like rounding a tight bend, the thing goes off and she has to do a test on the fly. All a bit Blue Velvet.

[Now on Ventura Freeway, shades of America (the US band that made it big from Kentish Town). She’s sitting beside me now as I write, device across her lap.]

We head out for a meeting with our key interviewee, a porn star made good through the family-run porn business she’s set up  – both she and her hubby are leading stars. She’s pretty and delightful, lives in a gated community north of the city, loves reading and horses. She showed us around the house and facilities, all set up to be optimized for porn shooting – the pool, the living room, the out-buildings. Up in the office were the costumes – tiny skirts and huge heels. She shows us an 11-page script for a two and a half hour movie – the sex only takes up a line, the actors aren’t great with dialogue she explains. She opens the porn cupboard under the stairs – baby oil, condoms, hard drives, medication.

Back in the house we have a flowing chat which ranges from the impact of having a porn-star husband on their sex life (don’t ask if he’s done two scenes that day) to the two-weekly blood and urine tests (darn, there goes my hopes of a porn-star career, phobic about blood tests), from the reaction of her family to her vocation to her preference for working with only the four or five stars she actually fancies, from the rise of a Viagra generation of stars without the “strength” of the previous generation like her husband to her passage from nudie pics to porn films which she really felt a pull to do. She revealed that that cliché of young girl shows up in LA to became a starlet and drifts into porn is the wrong way round – girls with a bit of porn experience suddenly take up acting lessons and think why not take a crack at it. She described the experience of working with newbies who show up with a yeast infection, not fit for action, and little knowledge of their own bodies or sexual hygiene due to their roots in low socio-economic groups. All this over coffee at the dining table, not your everyday convo but a suitably weird adventure.

The crew and I repair to the bar of the Sunset Marquis to plan the shoot the next day. Two casting couch films. New girls. How LALA is that going to be …?

 neon sign man woman

Trains, Planes and Canes – Sheffield DocFest Day 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tears through the Years – Sheffield DocFest Day 3

Fred Hampton Black Panther

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Lost Family davina mccall nicky campbell

Rock docs knock off socks – Sheffield DocFest Day 1

kurt-cobain-montage-of-heck brett morgen

Today’s first day for me at DocFest 2015 has been dominated by music which is at it should be in the home of Joe Cocker, Comsat Angels, Heaven 17 and The Human League. I headed North in time to chair a lunchtime session in the uber-Victorian town hall on the current state of play of music films and rock docs. We had something of a supergroup on the panel, the Cream of the cream, including:

  • Brett Morgen, director of Cobain: Montage of Heck and the Stones documentary Crossfire Hurricane
  • Paul Viragh, writer of the Ian Dury movie Sex & Drugs & Rock’n’Roll
  • Jessica Edwards, director of Mavis, a new documentary about Mavis Staples
  • Julia Nottingham, producer of the surprisingly romantic The Possibilities Are Endless about Edwyn Collins and his wife, representing Pulse Films who made my favourite film (scripted or unscripted) of last year, Film4’s 20,000 Days on Earth, featuring Nick Cave
  • Chris Wilson, producer of Hotel California, centred on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the rest of the 70s Laurel Canyon set

We covered a fair bit of ground including the reimagining of music docs in the form of films like Pulse’s The Possibilities Are Endless; Brett’s technique of cutting and designing the audio track first (particularly evident in his The Kid Stays In The Picture film about Robert Evans); films inspired by magical live experiences and made by fans; the commonalities between scripted drama about musicians and music docs; the opportunities in theatrical releases with a cinematic approach versus those in TV.

I had a good chat with Brett and Chris outside a cafe in the afternoon about music and film geekery from 12 Years a Slave (Brett went to film school in New York with Steve McQueen and thought there was a massive leap forward from Shame to 12 Years) to Fiddler on the Roof.

Paul, Chris and Brett plus Leslie Lee who produced our session wended our way to a slightly bizarre karaoke bar to watch the Champions League final at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin before heading over to the Showroom cinema to watch the Cobain film nice&loud.

My favourite scene is when Kurt plays the master tape of Nevermind to his mother and she realises the implications of how scarily brilliant it is and tries to warn him.

What the Cobain film leaves me with are these keys to Kurt’s life:

  • fear of humiliation
  • sense of shame
  • love of playing live

mavis documentary jessica edwards

History Boy

the dawn of time universe sun big bang

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

howard street sheffield docfest 2014

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

robert capa d-day landings

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

Andre Singer

Andre Singer

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

So a day steeped in History.

Brilliant creatures rebels of oz documentary howard jacobson germaine greer

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

Howard Jacobson, Greg Sanderson (BBC), Germaine Greer

Howard Jacobson, Greg Sanderson (BBC), Germaine Greer

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

germaine_greer 60s

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

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

evolution denied ape to man

 

Seven Days in the press

Here’s a couple of articles about Seven Days from this week – one from Broadcast, the other from New Media Age…

C4 to use ‘Chat Nav’ on Seven Days doc {courtesy of Broadcast}

9 September, 2010 | By Robin Parker

Channel 4 is to launch a ‘ChatNav’ website for upcoming documentary series Seven Days, which will collate social media conversations about the show and help determine which of the on-screen characters the producers prioritise.

The initiative aims to influence the show, which is filmed in Notting Hill in the week prior to transmission, by illustrating which of its characters the viewers are engaging with. The site will represent this by giving the people who generate the most buzz the biggest image.

Contributors, who remain under wraps until its launch on 22 September, could be scaled back or even dropped during the series’ eight-week run if audiences do not seem to be engaging with them.

As well as feeding in comments from Twitter and Facebook, the site will encourage users to help the characters make personal, social and work decisions, with their involvement ranging from yes/no answers to direct advice.

C4 new media factual commissioning editor Adam Gee said that rather than applying a ruthless “Truman Show approach”, the aim was to establish a “collective wisdom”.

“For the first time, it will enable the audience to have an influence in a documentary context, not by giving them editorial control, but by establishing a constructive exchange with contributors,” he said.

Viewers will also be able to ask a team of reporters based in Notting Hill to go deeper into stories.

The show’s site will also offer unedited rushes and cut sequences. Digital agency Holler is producing the web content with series producer Studio Lambert.

* * *

Mock-up of ChatNav screen

Mock-up of Seven Days ChatNav screen

Channel 4 gives viewers a say in how new reality show develops {courtesy of New Media Age}

Wed, 8 Sep 2010 | By Jessica Davies

Channel 4 is launching a major cross-platform initiative for new reality show Seven Days, with the storyline influenced by its online audience.

The show will follow the lives of around two dozen people living in Notting Hill, and will be shot and edited in the week of transmission.

Adam Gee, commissioning editor of cross-platform at Channel 4, said the show’s format indicates the kind of projects Channel 4 is likely to develop post-Big Brother, and represents a new approach for documentary and reality programming.

“That gap left by Big Brother gives Channel 4 the opportunity to rethink its whole approach and try out new things,” he said, adding that the show is “in the spirit of experimentation”.

The show’s format supports the broadcaster’s strategy of rewarding its audience for engaging.

“As a broadcaster, one of the main things you can give your audience as a payoff that no one else can is an impact on editorial,” said Gee.

A site, channel4.com/sevendays, will go live on 22 September to coincide with the TV broadcast. It will feature a function called Seven Days ChatNav, which lets viewers interact directly with the cast members, giving them advice and answering questions posed by the latter.

Channel 4 will monitor which characters prompt the most interest and discussion online, and this will influence which stories will be focused on in the subsequent episode.

People can use the site to catch up with what’s happening with the characters who aren’t featured in the TV show, along with videos of the show’s rushes. The site will also include full scenes which may have been dropped from the linear broadcast at the last minute.

A team of three called Eyes on the Ground will be on site and will post videos and blogs. Gee said, “They’re available for the online audience, who can ask them to fill in the gaps between shows, following up storylines that aren’t covered on TV.”

He also said the show and site have been designed for sponsorship, and Channel 4 is in advanced talks with brands over sponsorship tie-ups.

It worked with agency Holler on the cross-platform format, and Studio Lambert on the TV production.

What’s up doc?

 

kurt & courtney

Enjoyed the afternoon helping judge a Mediabox/FourDocs short documentaries competition. Also on the panel were Nick Broomfield (The Leader, His Driver & the Driver’s Wife; Kurt & Courtney; Biggie & Tupac), Molly Dineen (Heart of the Angel; The Pick, the Shovel & the Open Road; Geri), Peter Dale – Head of More4, and Patrick Uden (The Apprentice).

Media Box is a DCSF fund to enable 13 to 19 year old disadvantaged young people to use creative media to express their ideas and views, gain new skills and get their voices heard.

The winner was a real stand-out piece but I can’t reveal it right now as the film-maker hasn’t yet been informed. [I’ll come back here and update this once it’s officially announced.]

Nick was very generous in his appraisal of the films, spotting the seeds of talent in the smallest details. Molly was incredibly thorough and assiduous. Patrick chaired with his usual purist standards (thank God there are still some around). Peter also enjoyed the viewings, impressed by the finalists’ get-up&go. He set less store by the presence of narrative than me – he reckons that will come in due course.

I suggested that the briefing should consist simply of two bits of advice:

  • tell a story that matters to you
  • and that said, for the most part, show – don’t tell

Patrick sets great store on deconstructing other people’s films, especially really good ones.

It was a good fun, good will-filled couple of hours and, of course, a privilege to kick thoughts around with such seasoned documentary makers.

I first came across Nick Broomfield when he was making ‘Driving Me Crazy’ (1988). I was working at Solus Productions, a co-op whose partners included Roger Deakins (Sid & Nancy, The Shawshank Redemption, Brother Where Art Thou, etc.)). Nick knew Roger from the National Film School and wanted him to shoot the film (he didn’t in the end, Robert Levi did). ‘Driving Me Crazy’ is about a film project going tits up – a theme/device Nick has used throughout his career. Hearing some behind-the-scenes stories from a couple of the mentors on the Mediabox competition, it was evident some of the entrants had experienced that sort of documentary trial&tribulation. A film about a neo-nazi about to enter the British army turned into a parody wildlife film on chavs when he pulled out. A young woman’s film about the joy dancing brings her got hijacked by a specialist dance director. That’s the great thing about documentary film-making – the development and production is often a story in itself.

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