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The Story 2019 – the first decade

On Friday I went to my ninth The Story (I was working abroad one year and reluctantly had to pass on my ticket (though at least it found a good home with Jörg Tittel, producer of the forthcoming Brexit comedy short Nyet) ). It is an annual day-long conference/gathering focused on stories and storytelling – the only such event I go to religiously every year as it is unfailingly a source of inspiration, being a rich mix cutting across mediums and platforms, usually with a good sprinkling of digital. It was initiated by Matt Locke of Storythings when he was working with me at Channel 4, so I was able to get in on the ground floor.
I spoke at The Story No. 9 to introduce a documentary inspired by The Story No. 8 – director Victoria Mapplebeck showed her first smartphone doc at No. 8 and I commissioned a second one, Missed Call, for Real Stories, which was just coming out of the edit at the time of last year’s The Story where we played a teaser clip. So an organically Story project.
This 10th edition had the familiar alchemy, a range of story forms and storytellers which complemented one another beautifully.
2008 / A Gathering Space / Scotland at Venice Biennale of Architecture - curated by Patricia Fleming

2008 / A Gathering Space / Scotland at Venice Biennale of Architecture – curated by Patricia Fleming

First up this year was curator Patricia Fleming, the driving force of the Fuse initiative in Glasgow in the 90s which connected and supported over 500 visual artists, including a good smattering of Turner Prize winners such as Douglas Gordon and Martin Boyce. Patricia is evidently a master of putting empty buildings to constructive use and collaborating not only with the artists but also with the suits, including developers and the suity end of the architect scale.
11-11-memories-retold game still

11/11 Memories Retold

Next up was a Creative Director at Aardman Animation, Finbar Hawkins. He’s been with the Interactive team for the last five years and was one of the prime-movers behind the First World War game 11/11 Memories Retold. I worked with that very talented team at Aardman about a decade ago on an animation hub called 4mations, in a team with the then Channel 4 Arts Commissioning Editor Jan Younghusband and animation veteran Camilla Deakin of Lupus Films. Finbar gave a detailed walk-through of the process of creating the game and the thinking behind many of the creative decisions. The decision to reject proposed Vorticist/Paul Nash-style imagery in favour of Impressionist style and palette was an interesting one – the game does look beautiful [Note to self (inspired by Finbar’s talk): go see the Bonnard exhibition currently showing at Tate Modern].
Morph aardman animation

Keeping it thumby

Particularly interesting was the story structure section where Finbar described how the two writers had to impose structure on the narrative when they were brought on-board. Also the focus on meaningful choices in the game which impact on the story/editorial as the underpinning of the interactivity really spoke to me – much the same principle as informed the multiplatform projects I led at Channel 4. I loved the use of animal characters to provide other perspectives – a cat for exploring, especially confined spaces, and a pigeon for overhead views. But most of all I loved an imperative phrase quoted from Aardman main man Nick Park: “Keep it thumby”  – i.e. not too smooth, retaining the feel of the human creative touch.
on guard world war one postcard august 1914
The narrative of the game was based on letters home from the front. It’s a subject I’ve been immersing myself in recently through found postcards like this one and the one above. Found stories was at the heart of the next session, the highlight of the day for me because of that shared interest, a fabulous presentation by Brooklyn-based multimedia immersive artist Alison Kobayashi. As soon as she showed her collection of old ansaphones with their unerased tapes – in other words, treasure trove of found audio stories – she had me hooked. Then her mention of her collection of eBay-acquired Black & White photos of rainbows was cherry on the cake. The combination of found narrative, collecting and surreal humour is 100% my bag.
Say Something Bunny at UNDO Project Space

Say Something Bunny at UNDO Project Space

The meat of her talk was about her 6-years-in-the-making Say Something Bunny project – a live participative performance centred on a ‘wire recorder’ found recording from 1952. The wire recorder was a short-lived recording device through which sound was recorded on a spool of wire. The performance derived from the recording Alison acquired of a New York family playing with their new machine – singing, kvetching, teasing, joking – involves an audience of 25 seated in the round. To make things even more rich, the found audio is a palimpsest with an old radio show previously recorded bleeding through onto the overdub.
missed call research in film award 2018

Scion of The Story

Missed Call (mentioned near the beginning) recently won a Research in Film Award of which we were all very proud as research is rarely put in the spotlight. Research and Deep Listening is the beating heart of Say Something Bunny. It highlights Connections and Serendipity which are core to Simple Pleasures Part 4, being core to Creative Thinking and Innovation.
I had a serendipitous encounter with Alison in a nearby Korean restaurant at lunchtime after her session and will follow her work closely henceforth as I felt we fish in the same waters in the same spirit.
Alison Kobayashi at the story 2019 conway hall london say something bunny

Alison Kobayashi being true to herself

Alison spoke about how important it is to…
alison kobayashi at the story 2019
This was a theme echoed by comedy writing partners Joel Morris & Jason Hazeley – veterans of Viz and Charlie Brooker telly stuff (incl. Philomena Cunk) as well as the wags behind the adult Ladybird Books (like the one I was given by my other half at Christmas: ‘How It Works’ the Husband) – in their closing session (slight time warp here).
How it Works: The Husband

How it Works: The Husband

Their talk about Big Laughs in Small Spaces analysed the art of ultra-short stories and jokes. Like Alison, they highlighted the role of the audience in filling out the spaces and used this story to illustrate their point:
Joel Morris & Jason Hazeley at The Story 2019 conway hall london
Seemingly, although often attributed to Hemingway, it dates from some less famous source in 1906. It is a great example of a story that bursts into bloom as soon as it touches your imagination like one of those Japanese paper flowers hitting water.
chalk_outline bullets cartridges
Joel summarised short jokes as “the chalk outline & spent cartridges” – all that’s needed to set off the audience’s imaginations and creativity.
Knights Of founders Aimée Felone and David Stevens

A sparky double act: Knights Of founders Aimée Felone and David Stevens

A lovely touch of dynamic, young entrepreneurial creativity showed up in the form of hot-off-the-press new publishing venture Knights Of. Aimée Felone and David Stevens have launched their enterprise from a pop-up in Brixton followed by a crowd-funding campaign which attracted the attention of some of the big boys, including Penguin who match-funded their fundraising efforts. Their enthusiasm and energy was infectious.
Videogames- Design : Play : Disrupt Victoria and Albert Museum, London
As was curator Marie Foulston’s for all things video game, including her Wild Rumpus Collective pioneering new ways to bring games to public spaces and in particular her exhibition at the V&A (which closed today after a six-month run, though it is moving on to V&A Dundee) Design/Play/Disrupt. It strives to present the video game as a design object with an associated design process. She used a glittering quote from Frank Lantz
Games are operas made out of bridges
to capture the combination of artistic emotion and technical craft. I heard someone else today use the phrase “poetry and pipes” to describe the same concept (but I’m darned if I can recall who it was talking about exactly what).
It was great to see physical notebooks as design artefacts. I’m a great believer in notebooks and in pencils. There’s no digital way of reproducing quite the thumbiness of these tools.
Spider-man- Into the Spider-verse 

Spider-man: Into the Spider-verseMore gorgeous colours

Bringing some Hollywood glam to the afternoon Justin K Thompson Production Designer of Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse talked us through the making of the animated movie, which may well win the Oscar as I am writing this post (having already won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA, for which I voted it), using fascinating layered moving picture illustrations to show how shots and sequences were conceived and built up. I was particularly taken by the colour palette and mood board illustrations and the ‘colour script’ which captures the colour and lighting across the whole movie. Justin, with whom I had a brief chat on leaving Conway Hall, captured the driving concern to get back the tactile quality into animation, the qualities which made us fall in love with comic books, the line work, the imperfect printing – in other words, Nick Park’s thumby qualities which bring the humanity to animation and other artistic disciplines.
Justin highlighted a couple of key aspects of creativity – the permission to try & fail (in an intelligent, progressive way) and perhaps above all the ludic quality (which Marie Foulston also touched on) – the best creative projects are made fun as the team are empowered to try new things.
Justin K Thompson Production Designer of Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse 
For pure speaking-verve, it was hard to beat the very engaging Head of Engagement at the Museum of London Sara Wajid. She brought us back in touch with those childhood experiences of museums as playgrounds (again that ludic dimension of the creative experience).  Having highlighted the nadir of “book on the wall” museum experiences (I have a strong fairly recent memory of that in the British Museum where my MA had not equipped me with the wherewithal to understand the labels by the permanent exhibits). Sara drew attention to the quality of “bounce” – the word of the day – gritty energy to debate and then get shit done. She advocated bringing the vibe and dynamics of the TV comedy writers’ room to museum design and curation. She discussed all this in the frame of diversity – one of the first talks on that dimension of creative enterprise I’ve heard that captured the true energy and advantage of mixing things up, of bringing together talents and ways of thinking from all quarters.
Museum of London moves to Smithfield Market

New Museum of London space in old Smithfield market

She gave us a sneaky peak of the new Museum of London space in Smithfield market. Conway Hall, the home of The Story, is another great London space. It opened in 1929 as the base of what is considered the oldest surviving free-thought organisation in the world, established on 14th February 1793, 226 years to the week before The Story No.10. (My first visit to the Hall was a creative one – my first commissioned photo shoot, around 1987 – to photograph Gerry Adams and Ken Livingstone for Sinn Fein’s An Phoblacht magazine.) With its legend (one of Shakey’s, from Hamlet)
To Thine Own Self Be True
high above the speakers, it is the perfect reflective, ethical, free-thinking place to learn from and delight in stories.
Conway Hall to thine own self be true hamlet
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Previous The Story posts (with pics) include:
2014
2012
2010
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