Archive for the ‘documentaries’ Tag

Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 2

The tide was wrong in Malahide. Something about the boat was wrong. But the energy and the weather was right. We cast off from a pier in Rush, at the end of the beach I’ve spent years walking on, running round, sometimes meditating on. It was a kick to get the perspective from sea from onboard the Shamrock and then gazes turned to the island, some 20 minutes away across a millpond channel in bright autumn sunshine.

lambay island county dublin ireland

Lambay

As we approached the harbour on Lambay the whitewashed buildings came clearly into view, almost all designed by or renovated by Lutyens. I could see the one person I knew on Lambay, my connection to the place, on the pier and she gave me a warm welcome. Welcome was important in Lutyens’ designs. We were given an orientation talk on a circular patch of lawn near the buildings – the castle, the white house and the workers’ cottages. The architect considered circular forms welcoming by nature.

I was shown my room in the white house – charming, spacious, resonant of its (art deco) times. The house was built in 1932. It is symmetrical as it was built for two daughters with two large (around six children each) families, one wing each. I am writing this at the end of one wing in the library. I use posting on Simple Pleasures part 4 as a warm-up to get the writing juices flowing in the morning, a practice I devised on my sabbatical from Channel 4 in 2013/14.

There is A General Map of Ireland to accompany the report of the Railway Commissioners shewing the Principle Physical Features and Geological Structure of the Country (constructed in 1836, engraved in 1837/38) on the light red brick wall behind me. There are four glass cases of dead birds also displayed against the brick. An upright piano with Scott Joplin sheet music. A small case of books old and young, some old Penguins among some more vintage volumes. I’m sitting at a very solid wooden table, oak, which contrasts well with this old MacBook Air with a green sticker of the map of Ireland on the other side of it at the heart of other stickers including a Mod target, a Mexican skull in an American Football helmet (San Francisco 49ers colors) and the latest, from a surfing place, which says Shoot Rainbows into Fascists. I bought it in Milton Keynes when out with my brothers (alongside a quite loud summery shirt) because it reminded me of Woody Guthrie’s “This Machine Kills Fascists” written on his tool of choice, his guitar. On my iPad, which I rarely use, is a quotation from the Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov, famed for his Man with a Movie Camera (1929, within spitting distance of the construction of this house) which I first studied at University on a European Avant-Garde Comparative Literature, Art & Film module, on which I also first encountered Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). The quote is:

“I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see”

as mentioned recently in my list of My Favourite Documentaries.

Woody_Guthrie singer songwriter guitarist this machine kills fascists

I was told last night after dinner in the drawing room which marks the centre of the house, along with the kitchen, about a set of documentaries made on another island, Fogo Island, off Newfoundland, Canada. They were made (as the writing mentor, Jonathan Gosling, on this retreat detailed) by a group of Toronto film students in 1967. They now reside online with the Film Board of Canada set up by Brit documentarist John Grierson. I knew its head for several years, Tom Perlmutter.

Commercial Break: Coincidence No. 476

When I just went to check when Tom left the NFBC I noticed his birthday:

Born: September 6, 1948 (age 71 years), Hungary

Today is September 6. A 1 in 365 chance I guess.

The series of short docs depicted life on the island. They were sent to politicians in Ottawa who were on the point of giving up on the sparsely populated island and winding down its public services. On seeing the documentaries they changed their minds and the island population also got to see that the remote politicians they despised did actually care about them. Care is a very important thing in life, I have decided, whether you are a teacher, a psychiatrist, a film-maker, or whatever. It becomes even more important in the age of AI and automation, as depicted very well in Netflix’s recently released doc American Factory. Care distinguishes us from the machines. (By the way, the new Terminator film (Dark Fate) is due out soon and it looks like it’s worth the watch, check out the new trailer.)

Once installed in the (other) white house – talking of which check out Netflix’s excellent Knocking Down the House, a documentary following grassroots Democrats taking on incumbent Senators in the recent mid-terms to try to reconnect the House with its people (I saw it the other night on the big screen, at Soho House, a few doors down from the building where my fascination with film was born, but that’s another story…)  – once installed, we soon began writing work reflecting on Beginning Writing.

Lambay Island Whitehouse edwin lutyens

I did my first session out in the late afternoon sunshine in the grassed yard formed by the three sides of the house. The open side looks up to the small chapel on a hill. This morning I walked around the headland, where to my pantheistic delight I saw numerous seals both on land and poking their heads out of the waves, up to the chapel. I took advantage of the Catholic space to meditate to the music of three sounds – the wind, the sea and the rain on the wood-lined roof. I doubt it was an accident that Michael Powell’s Black Narcissus (as mentioned yesterday) ramps up the overwrought erotic tension of the film with an accompaniment of ceaseless moaning wind.

After the first writing session, we had drinks in the central lounge early evening before dinner in the mirror room of this library, the dining room at the other end of the house looking onto the sea near where we landed.

Earlyish night, bit of Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend (which I’ve been reading since 2001(!), have been thoroughly enjoying, but am still miles from the end), frapped le sac. Dreamt of the house. Up early, out for that walk and the seal watching.

After breakfast, straight into this second writing session and now my juices are flowing…

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My Favourite Documentaries – Take 2

see My Favourite Documentaries for the background to this list

being blacker molly dineen adam gee

Being with Blacker

  • Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929) – I came across it while studying Avant Garde literature, painting & film as part of my Modern Languages degree – my iPad is engraved on the back “I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see”, a quotation from Vertov
  • German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (Sidney Bernstein & Alfred Hitchcock, 1945) – perhaps the most important documentary ever made
  • Up (Michael Apted, Paul Almond 1963>) – what I learnt from Michael Apted in Rome
  • Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) – my visit to the location of the Subterranean Homesick Blues promo
  • Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970) – last watched it (in part, on multiple screens) at the brilliant You Say You Want a Revolution exhibition at the V&A
  • Meeting the Man (Terence Dixon, 1970) – James Baldwin at his best, shot by my first boss Jack Hazan
  • A Bigger Splash (Jack Hazan, 1973) – British vérité; still hoping to do a James Baldwin doc with Jack
  • World At War (Jeremy Isaacs, 1973 – esp. Holocaust episode) – I found out about the Holocaust from this series when I was 15 or 16; I briefly met Jeremy Isaacs at Channel 4, in whose founding he was instrumental, and we discussed multiplatform TV
  • Rude Boy (Jack Hazan & David Mingay, 1980) – my first employers
  • Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985) – the great directorial lesson in the use of detail to prompt memory
  • Hearts of Darkness (Werner Herzog, 1991) – spinning out my favourite movie made in my lifetime
  • When We Were Kings (Leon Gast, 1996) – captured the legend of Ali perfectly, above all in the shot of the dented punch-bag
  • One Day in September (Kevin MacDonald, 1999) – distributed by Redbus who funded my dot com start-up
  • Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002) – he sent an email to my book group at my prompting when we read his Stupid White Men
  • Clowns in the Hood (David LaChapelle, 2003) Jess Search gave me this one – still have the VHS
  • Jump London (Mike Christie, 2003) – the 2nd best thing made at Channel 4 during my 13 years there (Cost of Living, with DV8 was the best)
  • The Future is Unwritten (Julian Temple, 2007) – made at Film4 during my time at C4
  • Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008) – the most convincing, organic use of animation in documentary
  • Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008) – had dinner with James in Brussels in 2008 with my friend Jan Younghusband, then Arts Commissioning Editor at C4
  • Oil City Confidential (Julian Temple, 2009) – captured the legend of Wilko Johnson perfectly, above all playing Roxette
  • Requiem for Detroit? (Julian Temple, 2010) – execed by my mentor, Roger Graef
  • Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, 2012) – saw Malik and Rodriguez (performing) at Sheffield Doc Fest in 2012
  • Night Will Fall (Andre Singer, 2014) – was with André when he went to Yad Vashem during the making of this; have been working on a spin-off project related to this on and off over the last 5 years
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Stanley Nelson, 2015) – discussed the film with Stanley in Sheffield in 2015: I said things hadn’t improved much for African Americans since the Panthers, he thought they had
  • After The Dance (Daisy Asquith, 2015) – first encountered Daisy in 2006 working on My New Home at Channel 4
  • 13th (Ava DuVernay, 2016) – a heart-rendingly powerful argument (that slavery was morphed into the penitentiary)
  • Faces Places (Agnes Varda & JR, 2017) – a perfect blend of still and moving pictures
  • Minding the Gap (Bing Liu, 2018) – I saw Bing present the film at Doc Fest; I use it often when lecturing as an example of iterative development (it started life as a skating short)
  • Being Blacker (Molly Dineen, 2018) – met Blacker at the premiere [see photo above]
  • Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle, 2018) – crossed paths with the Producer, Becky Read, at C4
  • RBG (Julie Cohen & Betsy West, 2018) – a fascinating protagonist
  • Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love (Nick Broomfield, 2019) – had a brief email correspondence with Nick about the film after the Sheffield DocFest screening in June (2019)
  • Rolling Thunder Review: A Bob Dylan Story (Martin Scorsese, 2019) – was high for four days after watching this, it was so good
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

Being with Joan

 

My Favourite Documentaries

faces places agnes-varda-et-jr-en-tournage documentary

Faces Places – JR & Agnès

My first meeting tomorrow is with Brendan Byrne, director of ‘Bobby Sands: 66 Days‘ among many other excellent documentary films. His latest is about poverty and alienation in New York City – ‘One Million American Dreams‘. On the way to our breakfast I will be carrying on reading ‘Say What Happened‘. Its author, Nick Fraser, kindly gave me a copy a few days ago before I went on a short holiday and I am just on the home straight with it now, a very entertaining and thought-provoking read. As a result of reading it I have watched numerous docs these last few days, including the first three episodes of ‘7 Up‘ by Michael Apted. (I met Michael in Rome last year, at the MIA film festival/market, as recorded in this post.)

Reading Nick’s book has prompted me to post a list of my favourite documentaries here on Simple Pleasures. I’d love to hear your suggestions for your favourite docs.

  • Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929) – I came across it while studying Avant Garde literature, painting & film as part of my Modern Languages degree – my iPad is engraved on the back “I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see”, a quotation from Vertov
  • Up (Michael Apted, Paul Almond 1963>) – what I learnt from Michael Apted in Rome
  • Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) – my visit to the location of the Subterranean Homesick Blues promo
  • Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970) – last watched it (in part, on multiple screens) at the brilliant You Say You Want a Revolution exhibition at the V&A
  • A Bigger Splash (Jack Hazan, 1973) – British vérité; still hoping to do a James Baldwin doc with Jack
  • World At War (Jeremy Isaacs, 1973 – esp. Holocaust episode) – I found out about the Holocaust from this series when I was 15 or 16; I briefly met Jeremy Isaacs at Channel 4, in whose founding he was instrumental, and we discussed multiplatform TV
  • Rude Boy (Jack Hazan & David Mingay, 1980) – my first employers
  • Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985) – the great directorial lesson in the use of detail to prompt memory
  • Hearts of Darkness (Werner Herzog, 1991) – spinning out my favourite movie made in my lifetime
  • When We Were Kings (Leon Gast, 1996) – captured the legend of Ali perfectly, above all in the shot of the dented punch-bag
  • One Day in September (Kevin MacDonald, 1999) – distributed by Redbus who funded my dot com start-up
  • Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002) – he sent an email to my book group at my prompting when we read his Stupid White Men
  • The Future is Unwritten (Julian Temple, 2007) – made at Film4 during my time at C4
  • Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008) – the most convincing, organic use of animation in documentary
  • Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008) – had dinner with James in Brussels in 2008 with my friend Jan Younghusband, then Arts Commissioning Editor at C4
  • Oil City Confidential (Julian Temple, 2009) – captured the legend of Wilko Johnson perfectly, above all playing Roxette
  • Requiem for Detroit? (Julian Temple, 2010) – execed by my mentor, Roger Graef
  • Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, 2012) – saw Malik and Rodriguez (performing) at Sheffield Doc Fest in 2012
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Stanley Nelson, 2015) – discussed the film with Stanley in Sheffield in 2015: I said things hadn’t improved much for African Americans since the Panthers, he thought they had
  • Faces Places (Agnes Varda & JR, 2017) – a perfect blend of still and moving pictures
  • Minding the Gap (Bing Liu, 2018) – I saw Bing present the film at Doc Fest; I use it often when lecturing as an example of iterative development (it started life as a skating short)

I’ve left out loads which I’ll add over time as they occur to me.

joe strummer mick jones the clash rude boy documentary

Rude Boy – Joe & Mick

Coincidences No.s 277-284

No. 277 Re-righting

weebles wobble but they don't fall down

6/4/19 (Norway)

I am listening to an episode of the BBC podcast ‘Only Artists’ featuring the film composer Debbie Wiseman and the TV director Peter Kosminsky. Peter (who I knew a little at Channel 4 but I think I cheesed off because I disagreed with a cultural boycott he put his name behind) talks about how he guided Mark Rylance to play Thomas Cromwell in ‘Wolf Hall’ – “low centre of gravity” – and mentions those toys that bounce back up.

Six days ago (London)

I am watching a TED talk on YouTube featuring a consultant who lives in my neighbourhood and is currently close to death. A few months ago he did this talk, knowing that he had a terminal cancer diagnosis. He and his speaking partner – it is a two-hander, both psychologists – present 8 tips for being resilient. In one he links the tip to the toys with weighted bottoms that re-right themselves always. He reminds us of the name (Weebles) and the strapline from the TV ads (which I still remember without prompting) “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down”. He champions the idea that we should recognise the wobbling as a part of our condition and allow ourselves to experience it without shame or guilt. I haven’t thought about Weebles for years and only knew them from the telly.

 

No. 278 Dried Cod

dried cod

4/4/19 (Trondheim)

Straight after a workshop on Short Form Video I am doing at the ISAK cultural centre in Trondheim, Norway for the MidtNorsk Filmsenter (a regional film fund) I walk down to the nearby fish market, the start of a guided tour of the city by my host, Line. She points out, for some reason, on the fish stall the dried cod.

1/4/19 (Trondheim- Oslo)

I get a message from my Norwegian friend, Hanna (who works at NRK, the public service broadcaster of Norway), which suggests what we might do on Sunday afternoon when I will be staying with her in Oslo, where she lives. “me and two friends Bente and Jan are having our first ‘spring meeting’ Sunday afternoon, planting a few seeds, drinking some wine, and me: making a nice bacalao (one of my specialities, with Norwegian dried cod).” I have never come across dried cod before.

 

No. 279 M&S

open city documentary festival poster

30/1/19

An email comes in reminding me about an MA Graduate Screening I am due to attend at Bertha Dochouse/Curzon Bloomsbury, London from the Open City Docs team at UCL. It includes a timetable item: 10.30 – Screening starts, introduced by Open City Docs Director Michael Stewart.

 

The next email that comes in is from (a different) Michael Stewart, an old friend of mine from Toronto, wishing me a belated Happy New Year. We exchange emails very sporadically.

 

No. 280 Golders Green

golders green clock tower

13/3/19

I drop my wife at our nieces’ place in Trellick Tower and drive home via Golders Green to post some VAT documents into my accountant’s closed offices around 11pm. As I walk away from the offices I notice various notifications on my phone and decide just to return one call – the one from my younger son. I normally might not have bothered calling back immediately but he’s been on a trip to Prague with his girlfriend so my instinct was to respond despite the late hour.

 

My younger son picks up my call. He says he is in Golders Green, just off a coach from Luton Airport and has ordered an Uber home. I ask him exactly where he is right now. I let him know that if I had a handy stone I could hit him from where I am currently standing. He cancels the Uber and I drive them home.

 

No. 281 Joy Division

unknown pleasures LP record vinyl cover

24/3/19 (Copenhagen)

I am having breakfast in Copenhagen with Mike Christie, director, who I became friends with while at Channel 4 (he directed ‘Jump London’, one of my two favourite things made at C4 during my 13 years there), and Bernard Sumner, guitarist of Joy Division and singer of New Order – as one does. Bernard is in town, like Mike, for a screening of ‘Decades: New Order’, Mike’s excellent film for Sky Arts about a brilliant show the band created for the Manchester International Festival and a subsequent short European tour. Suede’s Brett Anderson, star of another of Mike’s films playing at the CPH:DOX film festival, comes by to bid farewell and we shake hands. Not your average breakfast. I say to Bernard that the last time I saw him in the flesh was at the Lyceum, London when Joy Division were supporting Buzzcocks. “You’re a big fan then” he responds with dry Mancunian style. “He really is a big fan” my son pipes up “he’s always wearing his Unknown Pleasures T-shirt”. This shifts the conversation onto that design and I confirm “You found that image didn’t you?” He explains how he found it in a library book about astronomy and after a while tells me about a related coincidence. I didn’t fully grasp the science but the gist was that by chance the frequency illustrated in that famous graph (reversed out of black by Peter Saville, originally black on a white background in the book) is the same as a 45 rpm vinyl single. This is something Bernard found out a good while after the release of ‘Unknown Pleasures’.

 

No. 282 Time

nick drake singer

20/3/19 (Copenhagen)

I am putting the finishing touches to my PowerPoint presentation for Documentary Campus Masterschool I am due to deliver the next day in Copenhagen. It doesn’t have that many words, being composed mainly of pictures as is my wont, but I am adding the word “Time” to a list.

 

As I type the word “Time” Nick Drake sings “Time”. I am listening to Spotify, returning to Nick Drake because I have been reminded of him by Jamaican writer Marlon James on his Desert Island Discs earlier today. The song is ‘Time Has Told Me’.

Time has told me

You’re a rare, rare find

A troubled cure

For a troubled mind

 

No. 283 Polar Bears

polar-bear

21/3/19 (Copenhagen)

I wake up early and listen to the radio. On Radio 4 is ‘IPM’ in which a mother describes her teenage son and then how she lost him suddenly. The story of his death comes out of the blue, shockingly. He is on an adventurous camping trip with a group of friends somewhere frozen, I forget exactly where, Greenland or similar, and he gets attacked in the early morning by a polar bear while sleeping in his tent, mauled, killed.

 

Later in the day I am listening to a feature documentary pitch at Documentary Campus Masterschool in a community/youth centre in a Copenhagen backstreet. The pitch mentions being eaten by polar bears.

 

No. 284 Presqu’ile

Peninsula-Papagayo-wide-aerial-shot

6/4/19 (Oslo)

I am walking through Oslo city centre with my friend Hanna Førland and we are discussing the geography of the city’s coastline. We are talking about a peninsula but neither of us can think of the word however I can recall the French word for the geographic feature, “presqu’île”. We met 36 years ago studying French in Savoy/Savoie, South-East France.

7/4/19

Hanna and I meet up with a third friend from Chambéry, Marit Kolberg (also of NRK). We have brunch at Marit’s house in the suburbs just west of Oslo and we are discussing Cuba and a peninsula Marit visited there recently. She can’t think of the word in Norwegian or English but uses “presqu’île” in lieu.

Missed Call smartphone doc wins AHRC Award

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA

Missed Call, one of my Real Stories Originals commissions, a documentary made entirely on an iPhone X, a story which revolves around smartphones, their media and communications, picked up a distinctive and prestigious award recently. It won the AHRC Research in Film Award for Social Media Short, one of just 5 categories. As veteran documentary-maker (and my mentor) Roger Graef pointed out on the night, it is not often Research gets centre stage and yet it is the vital underpinning of all great docs.

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA Sophie Morgan Channel 4

Channel 4’s Sophie Morgan revealing the winner

The award was presented at BAFTA to director Victoria Mapplebeck and her teenage son Jim, the protagonist of Missed Call, by Channel 4 presenter Sophie Morgan (Rio Paralympics 2016).

The following day Victoria and Jim appeared on ITV News in this item about children reconnecting with their estranged parent – video is at the bottom of this page (click here).

itv news report missed call documentary

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA Sophie Morgan Channel 4

Another cool million

Besides Real Stories documentary channel hitting 2 million subscribers on YouTube last week, we have recently also reached the 1 million  mark on Facebook from pretty much a standing start last year.

little dot studios 100 Million facebook followers

A cool 2 mil

Real Stories (the online documentary channel for which I commission and exec) hit 2 Million subscribers on YouTube today – which is nice…

real stories documentary channel 2 million subscribers youtube

Coincidences No.s 348, 349 & 350

Wild wild country documentary

No. 348 Springfield

23.10.18 I am having a pre-shoot meeting about a documentary to be shot next week in the USA. There are two main characters and the director is staying in the house of one of them. I ask her where this is. She says Springfield, Missouri. It’s not a place I have ever visited or thought about – I thought it was where The Simpsons lived.

22.10.18 I am watching the last episode of the documentary series ‘Wild Wild Country’. When the cult leader is returned by the police to Portland, Oregon they take two or three weeks to fly him cross-country to break him down. One of the stops mentioned and shown on the journey map is Springfield, Missouri.

Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons)  based Springfield (a fictional town) on a town near where he grew up in Portland, Oregon:

“Springfield was named after Springfield, Oregon. The only reason is that when I was a kid, the TV show ‘Father Knows Best’ took place in the town of Springfield, and I was thrilled because I imagined that it was the town next to Portland, my hometown. When I grew up, I realized it was just a fictitious name. I also figured out that Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the U.S. In anticipation of the success of the show, I thought, ‘This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield.’ And they do.”

thompson twins pop group 80s

No. 349 Thompson Twins

21.10.18 I am chatting to the Programmer of HotDocs, Toronto in a square in Rome (we are both speaking at the MIA film market). He mentions an 80s gig he went to recently at which the Thompson Twins performed (or perhaps just Tom Bailey). I haven’t played or thought about the Thompson Twins for some time – probably since seeing the delightful  ‘Sing Street’.

15.10.18 I go to see Paul Brady and Andy Irvine performing with Donal Lunny at The Barbican. This is all courtesy of my friend Oisin Lunny, Donal’s son. In our party is an Indian percussionist. He talks a little about some of the bands he has played with. After Blancmange the next band he mentions is Thompson Twins.

kingdom of us documentary

No. 350 Kingdom of Us

23.10.18 At the same meeting as in No. 348 me and the director of our forthcoming Springfield-related documentary are discussing some of the companies and people she works with. In that exchange the producer Julia Nottingham (formerly of Pulse) comes up (she works with one of the director’s business partners). I know Julia from my chairing a session on Music Documentaries at Sheffield DocFest a couple of years ago when ‘The Possibilities Are Endless’ was just out, Julia’s film about Edwyn Collins of Orange Juice. The director also mentions Julia’s documentary ‘Kingdom of Us’.

23.10.18 That morning I am clearing up stray DVDs from around the house. A small stash of them I find under a pile of paper on my desk. I flick through them – they are old BAFTA screeners. I recognise them all except one which I read the blurb on the back of to remind me what it was – I make a mental note to watch it again soon. It is ‘Kingdom of Us‘. Produced by Julia, directed by Lucy Cohen.

Let people talk about what they want (Michael Apted)

Michael_Apted young director

Michael Apted back in the day

Yesterday evening I went to see documentary & movie/drama director Michael Apted speaking at MIA (Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo) in Rome – where I have been speaking on short-form video. He was in conversation on stage with an Italian journalist, Marco Spagnoli. A big focus of the interview was the Up series, the longitudinal documentary series from Granada which started with 7 Up in 1964 and gets to 63 Up in May next year on ITV. He has been filming with the same cohort (and largely the same crew) for 54 years – shooting with them once every 7 years. It is unique in the history of documentary film, enabled by starting in the right place (Granada in the era of World In Action) at the right time (a golden age for British factual TV). It couldn’t happen now. It was actually a World In Action colleague who had the idea to revisit what was originally a single doc 7 years later and then the snowball got rolling…

michael apted up series documentary 7 up

The Up series

Michael Apted director

Michael Apted now

The most important thing he has learned over the years is to go into the interviews, not with a list of questions, but ready to talk about what the contributors want to talk about. He does jot down his key questions but he leaves them back at home and just as a rough mental checklist against the free-flowing conversations.

Stardust 1974 Still david essex

Stardust (1974)

I asked a question about Stardust, as I remember it making a big impact on me as a teenager, a really freaky strange world (and I always liked David Essex as both an actor and singer).

And after the session I got to have a chat with him. He had talked about how he once, as a young director, saw Pasolini in a hotel lobby in Rome and froze, didn’t exchange a word. So I wasn’t going to do a Pasolini – we spoke a little about Charles Furneaux who was a 7-year-old contributor in 7 Up and a fellow Commissioning Editor with me at Channel 4 when I started (he must have been 46 at the time). He talked about his generation at Cambridge, which included Stephen Frears and the Pythons, and how motivating it was to feel part of that movement.

thunderheart movie 1992

Thunderheart (1992)

Whether he’ll make it to shoot 70 Up is probably a bit touch & go but for all his extensive filmography from Bond to Thunderheart (which was shot by my ex-boss Roger Deakins) without a shadow of a doubt his legacy will be Up. In 2005 the Up series topped the list of the 50 Greatest Documentaries in a Channel 4 programme.

I walked to the Apted session along the Via Veneto from the Villa Borghese gardens. I was sitting on a marble bench there dealing on the phone with a casting problem on a documentary I am currently working on on prejudice against facial and neck tattoos. It is a follow-up to In Your Face which did very well on Real Stories channel earlier this year (over 50 Million views). While I was on the call, which was addressing the fact that one of our contributors had gone AWOL, a heavily tattooed couple sat down beside me. I took a surreptitious picture of them and sent it to the producer on the other end of the line saying as a joke “Shall I book these two?”

Jessica Rebell tattooist Melbourne

Jessica Rebell of Melbourne

After the call, as the couple got up to go, I decided not to do a Pasolini and asked the woman if she got any gip over her neck tattoo, a high collar of leaves. She said in Rome yes, noticeably, whereas it was all par for the course in Melbourne where she lives. Rudeness, aggression and dismissiveness have all been visited on her in the Eternal City. London and Paris nothing worse than a bit of staring. Both Jess and Stephane are tattoo artists working at the same Melbourne tattoo. We had a long chat during which I flagged up a few of my 50+ tattoo docs for their viewing pleasure.

It was one of those chance encounters which makes la vita dolce.

Via Veneto in La Dolce Vita (1960)

Via Veneto in La Dolce Vita (1960) – Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimee (Dir: Federico Fellini) [Photo courtesy of The Kobal Collection]

***

Some of my tattoo films/series (over 40 films just here):

 

Little Dot Studios activities in the USA

Increasingly over the last few months I have been working and commissioning at Little Dot Studios with more than half an eye on the USA. To that end I have been working closely with Paul Woolf, formerly of Barcroft and Maverick, and my old colleagues Dan Jones and Alex Hryniewicz of Little Dot. Here is a piece about it from today’s Broadcast

poster real stories absent from our own wedding documentary film montana marriage

A mid-form online Original documentary I commissioned for Real Stories – shot in Montana by Debbie Howard

Little Dot taps up Barcroft exec for US unscripted role

Paul Woolf will supercharge development of indie’s factual strand

Little Dot Studios is ramping up its Real Stories doc strand across the Atlantic with the appointment of its first US head of unscripted development.

Barcroft head of development Paul Woolf has been hired to supercharge the development of the All3Media-backed indie’s factual brand, as it aims to commission more long-form docs and series for US networks and platforms.

Woolf has already commenced in the East Coast-based role, reporting into Little Dot director of content Dan Jones.

The former Maverick TV development director said he was delighted to join a team that with “an incredibly broad and deep understanding of both TV and social platforms”.

Jones added: “Paul is a fantastic development talent and his arrival allows us to make a sustained push in the US, which is hugely exciting.”

During his time with Barcroft, Woolf was behind Netflix format Amazing Interiors and worked on a range of short-form projects for the outfit’s in-house digital platforms.

He joined fellow All3Media indie Maverick TV as US development exec in 2008, relocating to the UK in 2010 to work on BBC2 social experiment Old School and Billy Connolly’s Route 66 for ITV.

Real Stories, which includes the likes of My Son the Jihadi and America’s Poor Kids, is headed up by former Channel 4 multiplatform commissioner Adam Gee.

Little Dot said it generates around 1 million cross-platform views a day on sites such as YouTube. The vast majority of viewers are aged 16-34 and more than 71% of its audience hail from the UK, North America and Australasia.

Shows from the strand are also available via a $3.99 (£3) per month SVoD app, which launched earlier this year.

Little Dot has been busy hiring this year, having already appointed Holly Graham as its inaugural head of US partnerships, while it picked up former C4 group partnership manager Jade Raad as head of brand partnerships for its newly-formed media division.

[text courtesy of Broadcast]

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