Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Soap On A Phone

The World's longest running soap opera is The Archers, broadcast on BBC Radio 4. According to Wikipedia this was originally produced in 1950 in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture. "The Archers was conceived as a means of disseminating information to farmers and smallholders to help increase productivity in the post-World War II years of rationing and food shortages," Wikipedia adds.
The British pioneered the use of soap as a tool of social policy but this practice is now more or less global. In countries that lack almost any other way to combat the Aids epidemic people have turned to soaps to drive home the message that safe sexual practices save lives, for example.
In South Africa in 2006 script writers announced that one of the lead characters in the country's most watched tv soap Isidingo, was going to struck down by Aids.
The soap, shown by public broadcaster SABC, had an audience of a million. The storyline was designed to strike a chord in a country where something like 16% of adults have HIV or Aids.
Population Media Center (PMC), an American not for profit organisation based in Vermont, has been responsible for radio soaps in America, Africa, Oceania and Asia.
The soaps contain an educational message on subjects as diverse as women's rights, green issues, so called female circumcision, reproductive and children's health, HIV/Aids and rape.
Katie Elmore, director of communications at PMC told the Vermont Woman newspaper: "We start with a feasibility study and identify key stakeholders. We identify if mass media will work in that area. We simultaneously identify funding. We study policies and laws of the country, as well as UN policy on that topic. We gather qualitative information from villagers on a wide range of issues that are important to them. We will find out about the food people have for breakfast, so the soap operas will be realistic."
In Britain, yet another revolution is brewing in the world of Soaps with the world's first soap on a phone, Persona. Right now it has quite a small audience, tens of thousands rather than the millions claimed by Coronation Street or East Enders, but Persona is growing fast.
It has the potential to be a model that will allow almost anyone to set up a tv station. When this baby starts to walk no-one knows where it will go. See http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/persona-drama/id417940950?mt=8 for further information.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Voice in a Million

I got a great job, part of a large team videoing an event at Wembley Arena called Voice In A Million. It's a huge inspirational event and it was fun just being there.
It's also always great to work with a large creative team. There were lots of video makers, all with interesting stories to tell. For example, there was the Italian who when sent to video the Pope's Secretary, ducked the offer to kiss his ring (a sign of great favour amongst Catholics). She'd been brought up a Catholic but even so she couldn't bring herself to kiss the old man's ring.
Clearly the Pope's secretary took it as a snub, because that was her last news assignment. After that she was moved to sport.
Videoing in Wembley Arena is a challenge because the lighting during an event like this is extremely uneven: it's often difficult to see what's going on, let alone capture it on tape.
My approach was to concentrate on the interesting cut aways: a study of an individual child performing amongst a large group on a stage can be fascinating.
The kids had been taught to make a series of hand movements to emphasise the words they were singing and I managed to get several shots of groups of arms in profile. This was not the way the performance had been designed (I was at the side of the stage, not at the front with the audience), but I found the sight quite moving. It was like those speeded up views of plants growing, stretching out, you sometimes see. I can't show you those images (I had to hand in the tapes), but this video shows the set up.
We saw a lot of set up. I got there at 2.30pm and we started work after 7pm!


Friday, 24 February 2012

Vibe: It's art Jim, but not as we know it

There's a new(ish) gallery in Bermondsey called Vibe and it wants to attract video makers. Vibe has the ambition to create talent forums and ultimately even produce new artistic videos.
I'm not at all convinced that the world needs more artistic videos (in an abstract sense anyway). That may sound like a daft thing for a video maker to say, but stick with me for a while. I'll try to develop the argument.
Videos are essentially ephemeral. Art is eternal, or at least some of it is. Hence (at least to a certain extent) there's a conflict between the two.
The videos I'm interested in have a purpose: they're selling something, describing an event or highlighting an evil. Of course some of them, rather like audio history, should be archived since they capture real characters and tell real tales. But is this art? If it is, it's probably the Star Trek version of art: "It's art Jim, but not as we know it."
I showed my promo video about Blake Fielder Civil (former husband of Amy Winehouse) http://shepherdvideos.blogspot.com/2011/12/getting-close-to-amy-winehouse.html but I didn't feel happy about it. There was some stuff in some of the other videos that was genuinely extremely good. The standard that has to be achieved seems to have been lifted. You just have to be about 10% better than five years years ago in order to be adequate.
I'm currently working on my first reasonably serious video using the Canon 7D and a surprisingly wonderful 50mmm lens. This combination and the latest iteration of the editing suite FCP (issued about three weeks ago) offers stunning possibilities.
But it also imposes limitations. You can't really have a one person 7D camera team in the way you could have a single shooter using a Sony Z1. It's also harder, perhaps even impossible, to shoot stuff as it happens. You really need to set up your shot.
It's not the greatest combination if you want to cover a fast moving news event, like a riot, for example. But the quality is simply stunning. Once you've seen what can be achieved, can you ever go back to the Z1?

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Sound of Facebook

Chris Jones, author of The Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook, and a fine video director himself, organised a Guerilla Film Makers Masterclass, at the rather wonderful Regents College, just behind London's Baker Street tube station.

Jones is a great motivational coach and inspirational speaker, but there wasn't much in his presentation about finding an audience or making a real profit out of video making. He taught us how to raise finance, but he didn't offer a clear route to actually making a return on any finance a video maker might get. His rather chilling message was make your life sustainable, presumably get a job on a Tesco check out to pay the rent!

His personal experience has been utterly awful, when it comes to getting returns. Yes he's made quite a few films and his recent stuff is wonderful, but the angels who gave him the money to make those films, or at least the early ones, did not fare well.

From what we heard Chris Jones' experience of dealing with sales agents has been utterly dire. They have almost invariably gone bust, disappeared with all the money or both.

Well, no doubt, if he looked at my track record he'd have some pretty awful things to say about me!

Jones came up with a constant stream of good ideas, including the rather excellent thought that a new video maker wanting to create a break through video (one that would get noticed) could do worse than form a limited company and re-make Jesus Christ, Superstar. Since there would be no intention to make money, the fact that it would have been a flagrant breach of copyright would be of no significance. If the copyright owner decided to sue, this would simply force the company to go bust and there would be a lot more publicity for the project.

Good thinking, though I doubt if anyone would be silly enough to sue.

I was there with Tony Coll, a Bristol based video maker I work with sometimes, and met Richard Woodburn, one of the Rose & Crown (Walthamstow) group of video makers.

Tony suggested that the hubbub of the huge audience when Chris Jones invited them to do some networking by talking to their neighbours, was the sound of Facebook, a great idea I think. Richard got a good laugh when he suggested the principle of crowd funding should be applied to attempting to raise enough money to get a round of drinks for everyone.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Finding the real Amy

A French tv group wants to make a documentary about Amy Winehouse. They got in touch with me because I started to make a video about Blake Fielder Civil, Amy's former husband, see my blog http://shepherdvideos.blogspot.com/2011/12/getting-close-to-amy-winehouse.html

I met a researcher called Emilie Helmbacher, who works for a production company called Ligne de Mire (apparently it's the French version of test card), at the National Film Theatre, on the Southbank.

Apparently they have a deal to broadcast on M6 (the third biggest French channel) some time in the summer, but the video may also go on to be shown in Belgium and Canada.

The idea is to reveal the real Amy, apparently.

I never met Amy, so I may not be the best judge, but from my limited knowledge I'm not altogether sure that even Amy knew who the real Amy was. After all she was only 26 when she died from alcohol poisoning.

Saturday, 14 January 2012


For all sorts of reasons copyright is really the domain of corporations not artists. Taken to extremes it can also make the world mind manglingly complex. Some architects have, for example, been known to say they own the copyright of buildings. What about the telephone box in your shot. That was designed. Shouldn't you pay a fee?

One fascinating example is Woody Guthrie's unofficial American anthem This Land Is Your Land. Guthrie wrote:
"This song is copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."

Guthrie published the song in 1945 and it had been around for several years before that (the music was probably written by somebody else and published earlier anyway). 59 years later JibJab, a studio based in Los Angeles, achieved international acclaim during the 2004 US presidential election when its video of George W. Bush and John Kerry singing "This Land is Your Land" became one of the biggest viral video hits in history up to that time.

What happened next was that a company claiming to own the copyright on Guthrie's song said it was going to take legal action, despite the fact that the cartoon contained a parody of the song. This legal action didn't get far but most companies will reach for their solicitors as soon as there is any mention of possible legal action. Lawyers, unlike many people in the film industry, expect to get paid and paid a lot, so this makes even a threat tiresomely expensive.

As the excellent Steal This Film points out copying in a digital age is frighteningly easy. Just to put something online is to copy it. The only way to preserve traditional copyright is to have an increasingly draconian police state, with snooping on all highways of communication in order to stamp out illegal thought.

Those with business models based on achieving copyright for all displays of their material should ask (a) is this practical? (b) is it moral? The answers to these questions seem obvious to me.