Sunday, 29 September 2013

Breaking Bad comes to an end

If you haven't seen it, you must, and when you do, you are in for a treat! The final episode of the US TV Drama, Breaking Bad, went out on sunday night in the USA and is available in the UK via Netflix on monday evening. The deal to get it on Netflix so quickly was done to stop piracy, but according to reports, more than half a million torrents of each episode are downloaded every week, within 12 hours of the US broadcast- which is pretty remarkable!  The programme is also available as an ever growing box set, which is of course one of the main ways in which people now consume TV series, enabling them to watch as many episodes as they like at whatever pace they want.

So there are many ways to watch, and, if you are on twitter, many ways for the latest twist in the story to be revealed before you get the chance to see it. My advice- don't follow any of the actors on twitter and don't click on the trending hashtag- that way you won't hear anything you don't want to hear.

I won't give away anything here, but suffice to say that I think it is one more in a line of very inventive, well-written American TV shows that play around with our expectations and with genre in interesting ways. It is also extremely gripping, with some shocking moments and some dark humour. No wonder it swept the board at the Emmys last week. In this way, it is in the tradition of The Sopranos, Mad Men and The Wire, though in terms of content, its not really like any of them.

The basic story is that middle-aged chemistry teacher, Walter White, discovers that he has cancer and is given only a few months to live. When his brother-in-law, wise-cracking drug enforcement cop, Hank, takes him out to watch a drugs bust, he accidentally bumps into one of his former pupils, Jesse, escaping the scene. This leads to Walter checking out the crystal meth recipe and deciding that he could do far better. He quickly leaves the straight life behind and plunges into a secret double life which leads to all manner of complications and mayhem. The programme is set in Albuqurque, New Mexico, a town in the desert, which looks like the setting for a Western. Indeed, in many episodes there are scenes reminiscent of classic Western confrontations. But the structure is like that of a Gangster film, with circumstance plunging our central characters into a criminal world, which escalates beyond their control and ultimately leads to their downfall.

But it is much more than this- there is some social commentary on the USA today: the absurd costs of medical care, which is Walter's reason for taking up the drug trade, immigration- poor central Americans crossing the border to be exploited as illegal immigrants and the crystal meth trade itself almost a parallel for Capitalism's ruthless legal forms of money making. But it's not like The Wire, where American society is the focus; here, a small group of characters are the focus and it is clear that every little thing that they do will have consequences, even when those consequences don't come up for several weeks (or even sometimes not till a later series). It is also a programme which does some interesting things with form and structure of storytelling. Episodes often begin with flashbacks or flash forwards, so that the audience is piecing together both a backstory and what they think will happen. But it is rarely predictable. As I wait for the final episode, I have no idea what will happen, even though I have seen a flash forward to it. I can guess, but I'm usually wrong!

If you haven't seen it, start catching up now!

Don't forget...loads of great resources for subscribers to Media Magazine website here

MediaMag A level conference December 13 book here

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Sunday, 22 September 2013

Fantastic Resources!

In this week's post, I shall highlight some sites that have some really useful suff but also talk about some of the amazing resources which subscribers to Media magazine can access.

Campaigning documentaries to watch

Documentary is an area that is often covered at A level but usually with reference to a very small range of examples. This site is an incredible resource, since it features direct links to over 350 documentaries that you can watch! Really useful and really excellent! Each film has a little pop-up description when you click on the picture, giving you the year, running time and some details about the film. Then you click through and you can be watching within seconds! A great resource for teachers and for students. is an excellent site for film openings (and TV) with lots of examples and detail on how they have been made. Anyone doing the OCR A level Media film opening task should definitely go here to learn about the conventions of titling. But for making your own film or analysing how narratives are set up, its really useful too.

Latest state of the music video industry- very interesting stuff! This is the first in a series from the Videographers, interviewing up and coming film-makers about their work. It gives a pretty good overview of where things are at in the industry and some real insights into music video as an art form.

The Videographers Guide Ep. 1 - The Music Video from Hypebeast on Vimeo.

Media Magazine resources

If you are not yet a subscriber to Media Magazine- why not? It's great value for money and a beautiful addition to your bookshelf! Details of how to subscribe are here:  If a school subscribes to the website, you get access to an amazing array of extra resources and the whole archive of Media Magazines from the past 11 years. This includes downloadable PDFs of the last twenty copies of the magazine (5 years worth) and an index you can search for articles about all kinds of topics useful to your studies. There are also a number of web-only 'extras', articles which didn't make the main magazine, but which are produced in the same format for subscribers.

I had a look at the two most recent supplements or 'Media Magazine extras' and found some incredibly useful stuff that i'd want to use as a teacher and that would be really helpful for students: textual analysis examples to accompany the latest MM45 on 'Primeval', 'Game of Thrones' and 'Big bang theory'. I also found to go alongside MM42 on 'icons' excellent material on the crisis at the BBC, Women in Danish dramas- The Killing, The Bridge, Borgen- an analysis of 'Four Lions' and an article about the coverage of the death of Bin Laden.

This is just scratching the surface! In later blogs, I'll let you know about more stuff that's there- meantime get subscribing!

REMINDER: Media Magazine Student Conference 13 December- bookings now open!  I'll be there- will you?

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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Educating Yorkshire

I really liked Educating Essex as it seemed to represent a positive view of schools for a change, with its emphasis upon a sense of 3 C's- caring, community and commitment. Of course it was a very partial view- we never really saw any lessons going on, as it was pretty much all about what went on in the corridors and how it all got dealt with by a small number of staff, particularly the Head, Mr Goddard and his Deputy, Mr Drew. The pettiness of school routines was all there, with Mr Drew endlessly going on about uniforms, and much of the focus was on the problems of a few students and how the school tried to solve them.

Educating Yorkshire, made by the same company, attempts to tread the same territory, and its structure repeats that of its predecessor, even down to the opening sequences of stairwells and corridors and fragments of dialogue which will be picked up in later episodes (Blonde girl: 'What is Pi? Where did it come from?' of Educating Essex has been replaced by Blonde girl:  'I don't have all them numbers at the bottom' Teacher: 'they're letters, not numbers' Girl: 'same thing' in Yorkshire). In the first two episodes, the focus has been on a Year 8 boy, Kamremm who keeps getting into trouble, a Year 10 girl, Bailey, who is trying to reform but keeps getting done for her makeup and Year 11s Georgia, who ends up missing the school prom after a series of exclusions, and the hardworking Jac-Henry who loses his temper a couple of times and ends up excluded and going to anger management counselling.

As a fly-on-the-wall documentary (with 64 cameras, that's 64 flies on the walls), it appears to offer up 'truth' to the audience. But with 750 students and a fair number of teachers and a year's footage, that 'truth' will inevitably be extremely selective. The incidents we have seen so far have made for riveting TV. Georgia 'may have' 'stamped on Jac-Henry's head' after she asked him whether he called her a slag last friday. He appears to have acknowledged that he did, but claims that she insulted his mum. She denies the latter to the Head, who seems to believe it, but then we are shown a scene where she admits that to her mate. This puts the audience in a position of greater knowledge than other characters- a familiar fictional device- especially in Soaps- and contributes to a growing sense of outrage in the viewer as the programme unfolds. This is compounded later, when we see Jac-Henry, who has been shown to be a really good lad who keeps getting teased for being a 'boff', suddenly loses it and thumps another boy in the corridor for taunting him. Jac-Henry is excluded which leads to a deputation of his friends going to protest to the Head. Meanwhile, Georgia is shown in a series of confrontations with teachers and being given lots of second chances before the Head finally says she can't go to the prom.

Having watched the episode on 4OD, I looked on twitter to see how the audience had reacted when the programme was on live. Using  #educatingyorkshire, as I had suspected, the moral outrage of the audience was played out with a lot of offensive comments directed at Georgia. And of course, people had found the girl herself on twitter and facebook and were sending @ messages to vent their anger. Her account now appears to have been deleted, but there were messages asking her how she liked it now that she was being bullied. Other kids from the programme pop up on there, with the feisty Bailey from episode 1 responding to lots of individual tweets, sticking up for herself and others in the programme, but the dominant 'reading' that came across to me was lots of people sneering at 'chavs'.

The production company claim that the first two episodes generated over a quarter of a million tweets; I don't know if this is true, but there were a lot. It's worth watching, but remember, what you see has been selected from an awful lot of footage, and like Educating Essex, it's real focus is the work of a few teachers, notably the Head, who, I would argue, is represented as a kind of 'commonsense' heroic superman. The Daily Mail wrote that he resembled a bouncer- I can see what they mean. And like fictional representations of school, it has stories to tell and will narrow those down to feature a small set of characters, who are maybe not that representative of the school as a whole. And though I'll watch the whole series, to be honest, however gripping fly-on-the wall programmes about school are, I'd rather have the slapstick stereotyping of Bad Education which is so outrageous that you know it's not real.

Educating Yorkshire is on Channel 4 on Thursdays at 9pm
Bad Education is on BBC3
A really good blog on representations of school in TV and film here from  Chris Hildrew

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Sunday, 8 September 2013

fancy a spot of film-making?

If you are a Media Magazine subscriber (and if you're not, you should be!), you'l have seen in the latest edition (MM45) a double page feature on the Media Magazine video awards which took place in July. All the videos are now online via the subscriber site, but I am featuring the winners here as an act of inspiration!

Here's what the judges said about them:

Film Openings categoryPretty Popular, from Zenia Khajotia, Emily Grant, Olivia Downes, and Ariana Tipper, Latymer School. A light-touch 21st-century Clueless, featuring two girls with opposing life-styles preparing for school – great use of cool interactive title graphics, split-screen editing, character set-ups, and a highly ‘sellable’ concept. This could go far! 

BFI Gothic Horror award: The Closet, from Kaya Sumbland and Rahel Fusil, Convent of Jesus and Mary College. A ghost story daringly shot in full daylight, which literally made us jump into the cupboard with its combination of whip-pan edits, subtle effects, and mounting atmosphere.

Shorts and trailers category: Capture, from Ollie Bradley-Baker, Harry McSwain, Ed Saunders, Jorge Challinor and Sam Gallacher, Calday Grange Grammar School. Less is more: simple, surreal and atmospheric, using camerawork and colour saturation to exploit rain and autumnal landscape for a dreamlike vision.

Music video category: Do My Thing, from Natasha Kashi Jalonen, Latymer School. Superbly confident choreography, sassy performance, split-screen edits and great camerawork made this the winner by a hair’s breadth.

and here they are:

The standard of entries was very high and over 20 videos were selected for the screening. Next year, we'd like to see a whole load more entries, so there is an added incentive to do well for your coursework.

Also featured in MM45 is an article by Luke Robson, one of the first group of participants in the inaugural BFI Film Academy residential held at the National film and Television school in April. Luke tells the story of the whole process and ends by encouraging anyone passionate about film-making to apply, for what he describes as 'the best two weeks of my life'. I was there as one of the organisers and it was a pretty special experience. I am very pleased to be able to tell you though, that the experience is going to be repeated! 

The BFI has just announced its network of 32  film academies all over the UK, to which you can apply, as well as five specialist residentials and the craft residential to take place next April at the NFTS.

If you want to have the chance to participate in a local network (the best starting point, as around 50 of the national participants will come from a local group) scroll down for a  list of where they are with links to more information about them.

If you'd like to go for one of the specialist residentials (as well!) , the link is below

Last year's participants after a masterclass with Eran Creevy, director of 'Welcome to the Punch' and 'Shifty'

And here is the link to the national residential that Luke describes:

These are great opportunities and they only charge a nominal fee- and if you can't afford that, there are bursaries to help you out!

Regional academies: UK network programme
Specialist residentials

ALSO: Coming soon.... the Media Magazine student conference in December- places available for school/college trips and a great line-up of speakers, several relating to film! Info here

To subscribe to Media Magazine, ask your teacher, who can organise a school subscriber rate here 

In coming weeks, I will be featuring archive material from the magazine, which is available to subscribers to the site- a school subscription gives access to ALL your students! see here

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Sunday, 1 September 2013

Film-making: some interesting questions and tips!

Welcome to the new term and a new post from me. I haven't blogged for ages, so it's like a new year resolution to get some done...

Eight things you may not have seen before which might prove useful to you...

1. Is there any such thing as originality? It's a question posed in this video, which is well worth watching and should enable you to put aside any guilt about borrowing ideas:

and here's TomSka's take on it!

2. The originality question is also posed at the top of this web article, which features a collection of movie posters to reveal to us all that there seems to be a very limited amount of ideas out there!

3. If you are making a film, maybe for your coursework, and you really like that font that you saw in some movie and would like to replicate it in your film, maybe you'll find it here:

Well worth a look to see if you can re-mix someone else's text!

4. Want to know how to make a soundtrack out of everyday 'stuff'? A good person to listen to is Nathan Johnson, composer of the music for Brick and Looper. Here he talks about how he did the score for Looper:

5. Want to make a movie trailer? here are some great tips in this amusing article from The Guardian:

6. Making an opening sequence with titles this year?

This is really good- all about the history of titles sequences

THE FILM before THE FILM from ntsdpz on Vimeo.

7. Want to know about the history of colour in films? This site is good

8. And want some top tips for your screenplay? Here's some from one of the writers of Fresh Meat and Peep Show; and they don't just apply to comedy!

I'll try to put together more things I find from around the web that might be useful to you in the weeks to come.

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