Sunday, 16 February 2014

Midsomer Murders meets Borgen and The Killing!

I was astonished to see trailers last weekend for a midweek edition of cosy British detective drama, Midsomer Murders' 100th edition, as it was to be at least partially set in Copenhagen, taking it out of its traditional world of the English home counties. Of course, for a centenary episode, just like a 'holiday edition' or a Christmas special, going to another more exotic location is not that unusual, but the surprise element was that the programme would feature several actors who had become familiar to the UK audience through Danish dramas on BBC4.
Birgitte Hjort Sorenson, on the left, who played a Danish detective in episode, also plays the TV journalist and political spindoctor, Katrine Fonsmark in Borgen, while Ann Eleonora Jorgenson (right) plays the mother of the murder victim in the first series of The Killing. The reason for this choice of location seems to be the popularity of Midsomer Murders internationally- it is apparently the most popular British series on Danish TV!

Audiences here have taken to the more gory Danish dramas, with the first series of The Killing averaging around 500,000 viewers per episode on BBC4, climbing by the third series to more than a million. At home in Denmark, a country with a population of about 5.5 million, the programme regularly attracted more than 1.5million per episode, peaking at 2.1 million for the final episode of series 1- the equivalent, in percentage terms, of 20 million watching a programme in the UK- which hasn't happened for years.

Borgen, a drama about politics, had similar viewing figures, which is remarkable for both countries, given the 'unwritten rules of TV commissioning' that Michael Grade recently described- never make a drama about politics or a backstage programme about television, given that Borgen is pretty much about both! The remarkable success of the series certainly indicates that it struck a chord with audiences. In a talk that I heard Grade give recently at the National Film and Television School, he argued that the programme was much more about principles and how they have to be compromised, rather than about gender politics. I am not sure that I would agree. One of the key features of the three big successes of Danish TV recently, Borgen , the Killing and The Bridge, has been the centrality of female characters and their experiences. Sara Lund, in The Killing, is our tortured and flawed heroine; Katrine is a campaigning journalist and Birgitte Nyborg the Prime Minister in Borgen, while The Bridge has Saga Noren as it's co-star Swedish detective. In each case, I would argue that the central female breaks many conventional media stereotypes- they are rarely an unproblematic 'object of the male gaze', the complex dynamic between their home lives and their work is foregrounded, but not in a way that puts them down, and they are certainly not female victims to be rescued by male heroes.

The viewer- male or female- is invited into a complex identification structure with them, admiring their skill but also being aware of their flaws, and certainly sharing their anxieties across the series. The male characters, by contrast, although sometimes justified in their actions, are often shown as weak or duplicitous, and though their stories may run across a number of episodes or come to the fore in individual episodes, with the possible exception of the equal billing of lead Danish detective Martin Rhode, in The Bridge, they are always secondary to the lead females.

Of course, if you get a successful series (or film) that is not in the English language, everyone thinks they are ripe for a re-make. The Killing was re-made in the US (I must get round to seeing it) and The Bridge (originally Swedish/Danish) re-made as a UK/French co-production as The Tunnel. Having watched it before seeing the first series of The Bridge, I find myself comparing elements all the time, but that's for another blog maybe- adaptations. The Americans are apparently going to re-make Borgen, but it is hard to imagine how it will translate...

Anyway, if you haven't seen them, give them a try- all are available on DVD, some on Netflix.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

apps and tools you may not know...

Thanks to my friends @NYPotamitis and @dave_w_harrison, who use some of these tools on their diploma course and are able to recommend them for media projects. Some you may know, some you may use already, some you may find just do the same thing as other apps you use, but they are all free and online and relatively easy to use.

1. Padlet: this app allows you to put together a 'wall' of stuff. It looks a bit like Pinterest but is probably best used as a way of everyone in class putting up their ideas on a whiteboard, so it becomes like a 'live team wall' for sharing ideas and work done. Here's an example from a lower school english lesson:

2. Trello: this is effectively a 'digital to do list' and is ideal for long term group projects like coursework. You can organise things into three columns, for example, with 'to do', 'doing' and 'done' and gradually tasks shift to the third column, giving a sense of completion. Here's one from a diploma project:

3. Piktochart is an excellent tool for making infographics, which can look pretty good and express your information in really clear, visual terms. When you login, it even has fellow members online to help you with problems! Here's one on computer programming:
4. Simplebooklet allows you to create attractive booklets from otherwise dull material and stick them online. It is a bit like templates for desktop publishing, but can certainly liven up your material:

If you click on the image above, you can go into any of the booklets and see what is possible. It would be a good way of producing a summary of your research and planning work from your blog, for example.

5. Pixlr is a cut-down online picture editing tool. It doesn't do as much as Photoshop, but it is free and accessible anywhere. Give it a try.
6. Animoto: You may be familiar with this video editor, but if not, give it a try. It allows you to make up to 30 second videos out of stills, so is ideal for presenting bits of research as slightly more sophisticated slideshows.

Christina's video above shows her storyboard. 

7. Finally, Kickstarter- why not think about using it in combination with some of these apps and tools to make your project that little more 'real'? really helps you to get to grips with issues of audience and institution!