Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Beachcombing: Getting creative ideas and making them work...

Over the next few weeks I will be posting blogs about practical production, designed to help you get the most out of your work. These will be specific to popular projects like the music magazine and film opening which lots of students do at AS level, and the music video, short film and trailer which are popular at A2. This week’s post is about some techniques and ideas which can help you generate creative work of your own.

At the weekend, I was lucky enough to be at a talk given by Tim Clague, a BAFTA nominated screenwriter and film-maker who describes himself as “a storyteller for the google generation”. I have heard Tim speak before and if you ever get the chance to see him in action, you should take it, as he is extremely entertaining and has lots of good tips for ‘thawing’ what he calls the ‘creative freeze’ that often happens when people are trying to come up with ideas and be creative.

In this video which introduces his work, Tim talks about how he uses story charts and visual tools to help him to put stories together.

Tim's blog at Projector Films is packed with useful resources and ideas. In the post called beachcombing, Tim discusses how gathering together fragments of ideas from which you might eventually make something is a process that doesn't happen instantly and needs to be worked through.

Uploaded by martonhouse. - Explore lifestyle, fashion, and DIY videos.

Tim's ideas are aimed at helping people get the most out of their jobs, notably media creatives, but they could apply equally to media students. In future weeks we will look more closely at the precise needs of particular assignments, but you should have a look at Tim's videos and other resources to get thinking about ideas and planning for your work.

A useful resource on his blog is his storyboard template for word which you can find here.

Tim likes to gather stuff together and store up ideas which eventually come together in his projects; this is a technique which is not unique to him. His storycards, where he literally pins up little cards with fragments of ideas on and then re-organises them into the shape of his overall project, is a good way of working.

He notes that this collecting of ideas was the way H.G. Wells worked. In his case, he used to write things on scraps of paper, screw them up and pop them in a jamjar. When the jar was full, he would empty them out and start to put together his stories. imagine, this may have been how 'The Time Machine' and 'War of the Worlds' were written. Tim recommends that you collect ideas from everywhere- the world around you is a good place to start. Snap pictures on your phone of anything interesting that you see; keep fragments of text messages or facebook updates- you never know when they might come in handy. A good source of powerful ideas that Tim mentioned is post secret.com which describes itself as " an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard". Imagine these tiny secrets becoming the starting point for a story.

Some years ago, director Mark Adcock whose showreel can be found here, did a talk for my students where he told us that he used to put together a 'steal-o-matic' before making a music video, which consisted of ideas from films that he wanted to use. In his case, the one he showed us was a VHS tape with clips from old silent movies and surrealist films, for a music video he made for an artist called White Town. These days, with so much stuff on the web, it is much easier to get these ideas together and make your blog your 'steal-o-matic'. the key for Mark, as for Tim, was not to steal just from one place but to get ideas from everywhere.

So start beachcombing!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

9/11 Controversy and news coverage

"Is the Terry Jones who's going to burn the Koran the one from Monty Python? Because if so he's a very naughty boy." tweet by David Schneider last week. When I read this and various more sick jokes that were floating around online, it did make me think about how the threats of an eccentric bigot from a little known sect had gathered such momentum to become a major talking point.

A few weeks ago, no-one had ever heard of Pastor Terry Jones from the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida, yet towards the end of last week as the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America approached, he became the top story on TV, Radio and online (though not in the English tabloids, where it was still Wayne Rooney). Listening to radio coverage on Friday, the day before the anniversary, I noticed that the emphasis was starting to shift to commentators asking the same question. How did this get so out of hand that someone whose views should have very little credibility and who represents a group of people that you could fit onto a bus, is being pleaded with by the President of the USA and the UN Secretary General and invited onto every US network to speak live to the nation? And can this story tell us anything about the way news is distributed in the current media landscape?

A bit of background. Jones' church has apparently existed for about a quarter of a century, like many 'born again' sects in the USA, not picking up many members. He has campaigned against Islam and homosexuality for quite some while, and recently published a book called 'Islam is of the Devil'. For the past few months, his youtube channel has featured videos attacking Islam and in July he announced 'International Burn a Koran Day'. In mid-July he began to put out messages on twitter, accusing Islam of being like fascism and announcing "9/11/2010 International Burn a Koran Day."

He started a Facebook group and picked up several hundred 'fans' and by the end of the month some anti-Jones facebook groups had started up. The mainstream media started picking up the story and on 29 July he did this interview on CNN, which was circulated internationally.

Given the huge amount of video contributions on youtube and the range of eccentric minority interest websites around, this would still have little significance, but as is often the case in our media-saturated world, news channels are desperate for material to fill airtime and Jones began to be featured by a range of media outlets. By the beginning of September, this mixture of his use of social media (youtube, twitter, facebook) and opposition to his ideas popping up online led to an absolute scramble to speak to him.

The combination of the annual remembrance of 9/11, which always gets some media coverage, stories about an Islamic cultural centre to be built in New York and the continuing presence of US troops in Afghanistan contributed to Jones' views being given prominence. Though the fire department in the town of Gainesville, where the 'church' is based refused to grant a permit to hold a bonfire, the media effectively 'fanned the flames' before they were lit in giving him such coverage.

The cultural centre had been the subject of scare stories whipped up by some right wing bloggers earlier in the year so that many people believed it was a mosque to be built 'on the graves of those who died on Ground Zero', whereas it was actually some streets away and includes includes 'a theatre, performing arts centre, fitness centre, swimming pool, basketball court, childcare area, bookstore, culinary school, art studio, food court, September 11 memorial, and prayer space'. This of course in the most multicultural city on the planet, so really ought to be no big deal. In the minds of many people, fuelled by the media coverage, it became an insult to those who died, with Islam taking the blame. So Jones' statements dropped neatly into a pre-existing news story.

As the anniversary approached, so he got more coverage, much of it live, with his every pronouncement given the status of something between a plane hijacker and a world leader. His demands for a showdown with an 'Iman'(actually Imam, but he knows so little about Islam that he got the name wrong) to get them to back down on the 'plans for the mosque' and then finally his decision not to carry out the book burning gained him access to live broadcasts around the world. Meanwhile all manner of public figures lined up to pass comment and in Muslim countries there were protests which led to some people dying.

Many commentators have suggested that this was an example of news coverage getting out of hand and creating a story which caused an awful lot of damage. I agree. It's one of the big dangers of social media, that the extreme views of a minority expressed to a minority online get whipped up by broadcast media- which still reach a far bigger audience- and these views gain undue credence and respectability in order to fill airtime and provide 'a good story'.

On Saturday morning, I heard an interview on Radio 5 with the British mother of someone who died in the tower on 9/11. It was heartbreaking and poignant as she told of how she saw the coverage live that day and tried to ring her son but knew that he was dead. But what made it worse was when the interviewer then went on to ask what did she think about the threatened book burning and the proposed mosque, each of which she angrily condemned as just as bad as each other. It was lazy and intrusive journalism; it should have ended with her recounting her grief, but it ended up once again reinforcing the myths and opening up division.

Normally I'd try to put some lighthearted clips in my blog, maybe response videos from youtube, but it wouldn't be appropriate for this topic (plus I couldn't find any!). Instead, I found this clip from a month ago from a little known US radio politics show, where the excellent host lets the Rev Jones explain all his views. If the mainstream media had been sensible, they'd have listened to this and just said, "ignore him, the man's a bigot and ignorant" But they had to have a story...

Saturday, 4 September 2010

We English- Simon Roberts, photographer and Shane Meadows, film-maker. Collective Identity

During the summer holiday, I had the pleasure of visiting the National Media Museum in Bradford, which I had not looked round for many years. If you get the chance to go, you should, as there are some really interesting exhibitions about the history of the media and some interactive features you can play around with, like a bluescreen TV studio and operate some large TV cameras on a set. While there I heard a boy arguing with his parents that the museum wasn't anything to do with his course (which I assumed must be GCSE Media Studies) because it wasn't very up to date (they were in the Photography gallery which traces the history of photography sinvce about 1820). His mother was (angrily) pointing out that to understand the present it is important to know something about the past, and I'd definitely agree! The TV gallery in particular was fascinating for this, with a feature where you could select a video of any one of 1000 classic british programmes and go to a booth to watch it- a bit like live youtube! It also contains loads of old TV sets, dating back to the 1930s, many of which look amazing (and amazingly small!)

Anyway, one of the seasonal exhibitions, which came to an end this weekend, particularly caught my interest as it was not only visually intriguing but also tapped into the argument being made above and could be a really interesting case study for the Collective Identity topic in the A2 exam. The exhibition and lots of useful background material actually continues permanently online, so everything you need would be there.

Simon Roberts' exhibition and book 'We English' looks at the English at leisure; he travelled across the country in a motorhome from 2007-8 taking photographs of English people at sporting events, in the countryside, at the seaside and in a range of outdoor leisure activities. Having previously done a book of photographs about Russia, he was keen to investigate a topic closer to home:

"Initially, I was simply thinking about Englishness and how my upbringing had been quintessentially English. How much of this was an intrinsic part of my identity? In what ways was my idea of what constitutes an 'English life' or English pastimes (if there are such things) different to those of others'? My own memories of holidays, for example, were infused with very particular landscapes; the lush green-ness around Derwent Water or the flinty grey skies - and pebbles - of Angmering's beaches. It seemed to me that these landscapes formed an important part of my consciousness of who I am and how I 'remember' England."

Part of the exhibition featured photos which inspired his work for the project, many from the late 19th and early part of the 20th Century, such as this one of Margate beach(1890s)

His pictures, like this one of Skegness beach, go against a prevailing tradition of landscape photos without people to show a sense of the collective in their landscape.

Simon discusses his work in the project on Russia and the ideas behind 'We English' in this really interesting video interview

Simon Roberts: Lens Culture Conversations with Photographers from Jim Casper on Vimeo.

On his extensive blog about the project, there is a lot more background information and thoughtful discussion of the idea of Englishness, as well as links to other viewpoints. This would be a fantastic starting point for a study of englishness for the A2 exam, given the range of material available on the blog.

As the exhibition ends, so another text focussing on this collective identity begins, as channel 4 begin their four part series This is England 1986, in which director Shane Meadows takes the characters from his film set in 1982 and updates us on what has happened to them four years on. The trailer gives a bit away, but it looks 'not to be missed'!

The ShaneMeadows fansite gives you a lot more information and links to a good overview interview with Shane from The Independent.Lots of people used the original 'This is England' as a source text for the Collective Identity question in the June exam. I'd expect to see many more using the Tv series next summer, but it would be nice if some of them used simon Roberts' photos as a comparison.

This is England 86 is on tuesdays at 10 pm on Channel 4 from september 7th

Friday, 3 September 2010

Welcome to the new academic year

Whether you are a new student of Media Studies at AS or someone coming back to start A2, welcome to the blog and good luck with your studies over the coming year. Each week this year, I shall try to post something of interest and potential relevance to your studies. I hope to meet some of you at the one day Media Magazine student conference on October 21 in London, where I shall be presenting a session on student production work and giving you some tips on how to get the most out of it. I shall also be chairing a session where creative media practitioners will be talking about and showing some of their work. Main speakers on the day include the distinguished writer and researcher David Buckingham, from the London Knowledge Lab, who will discuss the representation of Media Studies in the media, Annette Hill, professor from the University of Lund in Sweden, who will be talking about the TV audience's interest in the supernatural and Julian McDougall, who wrote the A level textbooks and will be presenting on the idea of convergenece between 'old' and 'new' media. We all look forward to seeing you there!