Archive for September, 2010

And The Other Stuff

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on September 9, 2010 by Adam Broome

On the front page of the letter we were given detailing the summer work, we were told to research two media themes: Media Forms and Storytelling. This research is to prepare us for a new module called Placing Your Media Production Into Context. I’m am unsure whether this task relates to my work on the radio shows, but out of sheer boredom I’ve decided to do this post as well.

Judging by my quick scan through the two books we were asked to buy, ‘context’ appears to be the main word that will run throughout the upcoming second year. Context seems to be the ‘thing’ that separates happy-go-lucky A-Level students from professional media producers in the industry. It seems to bridge the gap between our first and our final years. But the word ‘context’ seems to be being used very loosely at this moment in time. It could be used in many different ways.

One way my media is in context: cheap. I’m a student. I have no money. I don’t even drink that much, but I have no money. My media is cheap and cheerful, complete with a ‘reductionism’ attitude that I may pass off as my own artistic intention. The reality – I’m skint.

Thus, in that context, my media is quite low-budget. For many years, this would have been a problem. Only art-house, rich, posh, ‘horsy’-type people would buy into the media art you were creating:

“This film, which as you can see shows an apple rolling around on a table for three minutes, actually represents the isolation we each feel inside of us. It shows the confusion we experience in our lives as we struggle to find the right path. I chose an apple because it seemed so ordinary – yet it also represents the natural sin that is within us, which our society has forced us to repress.”

“Oh yes, yes! I must say, I do see it now!”

Rubiiiiiiiiishhhhhhh.

But we do have a way out nowadays. That is, the media converging on the internet. Professional mass media made by the masses is almost inevitably going to appear within the next ten years. Already we see internet TV shows that have thrived without the help of official broadcasters. It’s not a stretch to think that TV channels made solely for the internet will be appearing soon. I argued the case of TV integrating with the internet many a time last year, so I’ll move swiftly on.

This changes the context of my media, as it is perfectly possible that new talent can be showcased on various online forums. We do it with photography already, thus – make a channel whereby people sign up, and then showcase their videos, and potential employees could see portfolios of people’s work. Something tells my Youtube was originally designed to be just that – evidently something went wrong somewhere. But now we have Youtube, professional equivalents should soon be around somewhere, if they’re not already.

This brings about a lovely idea that has occurred to me over these summer holidays – Pirate Television. They did it to radio when radio waves were handed to the masses. If TV becomes at one with the internet, the resulting ‘rogue revolution’ will be inevitable. Free TV with free shows and movies – all low budget, of course. But not without purpose – either for showcasing talent, or making radical political points. Chances are such pirate channels will be broadcasting more interesting stuff than the official ones.

During the 111MC module last year, we had to think about how we would showcase our media products. The internet is the most obvious way, as detailed above. However, it also runs you head-on into the largest mass of competition. Showcasing your work online pits you up against… well, the world. Thus, old-school showcasing such as at festivals is never a bad idea either.

But we seem to have gone off ‘context’. What I mean to say is that, in the context that my media will be low-budget, distribution can only be achieved in a few ways – such as being taken on by people willing to help you and / or take a gamble on you. Being friendly and a nice person can help. Being equally ruthless can also help. But most of all, making a piece of media that is actually good is your best way in. As I remember thinking when I decided to enrol on this course: talent will out.

My problem is that I’m a bit too radical with my ideas (at least, I think so). I’m sure one such lecturer (no names) would love me to create an artefact of extreme controversy. It can go two ways – you can easily make something cheap that causes a stir (documentary or otherwise). You can get yourself noticed quickly, but you can also make a black mark on your CV before you’ve even found your feet. One person once said it was better to be infamous than not famous at all… no idea who said that, Google’s drawing a blank. But the funny thing is, I think the idea of controversy links to both media forms and storytelling.

As for actually conducting any research… well, it’s an odd thing to ask. Media Forms are all converging on the internet. Storytelling and narrative is largely open to originality and / or controversy. I did see something interesting a few days ago, however… more like a question: What is the oldest form of media?

One could argue that the term ‘media’ came around the 1920’s, along with ‘mass media’, the paparazzi and so forth. But, as we all know, newspapers have been about since the printing press of… the 1500s. Thereabouts. Somewhere. Maybe.

Newspapers are media form, and were no doubt subject to opinion leaders and mass media before the terms were actually coined. But then, I get an even more funky idea – what’s the earliest recorded example of opinion leaders or mass media? Look to religion and you have it all over the place. Can word of mouth be considered a form of media? It’s a form of mass-communication. It can be manipulated by opinion leaders (ie: people in power).

I mean, we all know Jesus Christ managed to use word-of-mouth to inspire an entire following. He did this to such an extent, he made a powerful challenge to the current opinion leader, who subsequently had him killed (arguably… I don’t ‘do’ religion, I’ll change topic). Religion goes back much further than Year Zero. Egyptians? Greeks? Did these ancient cultures use primitive forms of media to manipulate the masses? It sounds ludicrous on paper, but the idea is there – people could not always rule countries just because they followed a certain bloodline, or because everyone feared them. Broadcast an idea, religious or otherwise, via mass communication of word of mouth, and you can control and manipulate the masses.

Compare this hypothesis to the mass media of today, and you may notice not a lot has changed. We still have opinion leaders from the government, who use technology to manipulate general word-of-mouth.  I think the word I’m currently looking for is Hegemony, but still, it’s funny to think the idea has been around since the dawn of mankind. Of course, as mentioned, now that the ‘masses’ are gaining more control of the communication lines, things may change. But only to a certain degree – psychologically speaking, we as a species will always need an opinion leader to guide us and direct us. The internet will open up the communication links to the whole world. Opinion leaders will appear, probably in some way or another challenging the governments, preaching anti-NWO tales. Let us just hope it doesn’t turn nasty!

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Radio Shows – The Critical Review

Posted in University Work (Old) with tags , , on September 4, 2010 by Adam Broome

Radio. A lost art. Violently murdered whilst sleeping in it’s bed, by something called ‘video’ in the eighties (much to the amusement of the subsequent ‘MTV’ generation). Now, a strange world, and a funny place to find yourself in.

Radio is a no-man’s land for me. It seems like something that older people would use. The reliance on the imagination, focus and intelligence of the listener also makes today’s radio shows seem like they’re aimed at middle-to-upper class demographics.

Over the summer, I was asked to write a critical review for both a radio comedy (Chain Reaction on BBC Radio 4 – Ronnie Ancona interviews Lee Mack), and a radio drama (John Buchan’s ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps on BBC Radio 7). Chain Reaction is a series, in which comedians interview each other. The Thirty-Nine Steps was a two-part drama, featuring Tom Baker in the lead role.

Both were recent productions, and both shows were introduced verbally by the radio presenter. The publicity for both shows was only ever aimed at radio listeners, however. With only a few exceptions, I never hear radio shows being advertised on TV or in the cinemas. There are only a few advertisements online, despite the audience the internet allows for. This suggests that perhaps radio is considered a detached medium of media, which you as a media consumer will either use, or won’t.

Once introduced, Chain Reaction went straight into cheesy music, and an applause from a live audience. The cheesy music was in similar vein to that of The One Show, setting the tone for a nice, gentle, good-humoured show. A voice over (not the radio presenter) introduced the interviewee and the recipient. After the clapping had died down, the interview commenced in earnest.

The language used was informal, friendly, and sometimes comedic. The questions that Lee Mack was asked at first appeared random, but as the interview proceeded, it was clear the questions had been constructed in a biography-style structure (ie: questions about Mack’s childhood were asked first).

Each question lead to an answer which told a story, often with Lee Mack’s usual tint of humour being used to make his answers more entertaining. Every joke was greeted by laughter from the live audience, which helped to a picture a TV show studio in the mind’s eye, and made me wonder why they hadn’t just made this series for TV in the first place.

The personalities were likable, with Lee Mack often communicating with the audience to add extra humour to his one-liners. These were in the forms of comments, or rhetorical questions. Both parties spoke clearly, and I also noted that the questions and topics were simple, and were answered with relatively simple words.  The show picked up more after the first ten minutes, as the duo seemed to relax into their roles a little more, and there was more ‘bounce’ in the two-way conversation.

The microphone had it’s ambience turned up to pick up the words clearly, but as a result, often picked up unwanted background noise as well (eg: a cup falling on the floor). Technically, the design was fairly simple, as it focused around two people talking.

I made an interesting observation in the way the interview was conducted. Lee Mack often went off on tangents in his responses. Being a stand-up, he is used to ad-libbing new material on the spot based on what he’s previously said. This meant that his answers probably often out-ran their original time. To combat this, the interviewee had to take control of the conversation back to keep it to the running order. She did this by simply stating the next subject area, and then elaborated on the topic by way of questions or commands. “eg. ‘ “Right, now. ‘Not Going Out’. Tell me about it.”

The contrast, ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’, was a drama and thus altogether different. There was a verbal introduction by the radio presenter, who warned of some of the content material (this was at 10:00am in the morning). The drama began straight away, with no introductory music or narration.

Immediately, you can hear the various sound effects being used. As this artefact is designed to tell a story that immerses the listener, sound effects are used in a different way to that of the interview. Sounds were used to ‘create’ the locations where the scenes took place – for example, a creaky old house or a bustling London street. In some ways, the sound effects acted as narration for the listener, as they informed the listener that the story was proceeding to a different location.

The vocal acting was very theatrical, and lacked the sincerity of the voices of the comedians in Chain Reaction. Accents were exaggerated almost to the point of comedic, somewhat taking the edge off what is usually a serious story. The theatrics were there to add life and emotion to the characters portrayed. Coupled with this was background music, which was used to add tension, or promote other emotions, dependant upon what the characters were saying.

An actual introduction to the drama occurred about seven minutes into the story. This helped me a lot as a listener – I felt that the drama had started so suddenly I was out of my depth. Despite knowing fully what the story is about (having seen three adaptations of the story myself), I still had difficulty differentiating who was who (another reason for the theatrical, over-the-top voice acting).

Narration then begun from the lead character (here played by the distinctive Tom Baker). I noted that occasionally there were pauses in the story, when there was nothing other than perhaps a continuation of background music. The pauses (sounds faded out and then faded back in) indicated a passage of time, meaning that the change of location was not a necessity to inform the listener that we were now further on in the narrative.

An observation here is that the conversations largely occurred between only two people at any one time, probably to avoid confusion. This also gave a rather by-the-motions mechanical feel to the drama, as two people would talk about stuff, the location would change, two people would talk about more stuff, there’d by some music and some sound effects, and then there’d be another two people.

This review teeters very close on becoming an essay on English Language, as I can comment on the vocabulary being more complex in the drama than it was during the interview (but keep in mind The Thirty-Nine Steps was first published in 1915). I chose not to do English Studies at degree level for a reason, so I’ll try to avoid any further elaboration here, although language is pivotal in both of these radio productions, as the spoken word is at the centre of both pieces.

Both artefacts featured some form of narrative, although looking around the BBC Radio websites, I found programmes that were merely topical shows (such as Stephen Fry’s English Delight). I would imagine the flexibility of radio shows is somewhat less than that of television shows, as it’s only really your ears and your imagination being used.

Dylan Moran opens ‘Just The Tonic’ Comedy Club in Nottingham 31/08/10

Posted in Film Reviews And Conversations with tags , on September 1, 2010 by Adam Broome

The crowd sit, several feet underground in the vaults of Nottingham’s cornerhouse. What was once Jumpin’ Jacks turned into a nightlcub called E.Q. Now it is a comedy club… well, sort of. You’d have difficulty finding it, as there’s no evidence outside that E.Q. has been closed for a while now. The audience edged steadily down some stairs, with alcohol advertisements all down the walls.

The reason? Johnny Vegas was meant to open Just The Tonic about a month from now, but Irish comedian Dylan Moran has decided to rain on the parade. So, the audience sits. Little metal chairs with the built-in cushions, arching around a small stage that reminds me of the assemblies we used to have at secondary school. Ever-punctual (I didn’t think I’d be able to find the place), I’m sat one row from the front. After an hour, bang on time, Dylan Moran stumbles onto the stage in his classic attire, as if pretending to be slightly drunk.

“Hello, how are we all?”

The crowd cheers.

“Good. So. New material. NEW JOKES!”

The crowd cheers louder.

“Great, that means I probably wont remember half of them, and the ones I do remember wont be funny.”

The crowd cheers even louder, albeit unsteadily. Dylan Moran stops, eyeing up the audience. There is a pause, and a nervous giggle echoes around the room.

“One will come along… ANY minute now.”

More laughter. Dylan Moran shakes his head jokingly.

“No… but seriously. Squirrels…”

Thus begins the strange comedian’s new stand-up routine. He starts off with some words about global warming, and then quickly makes the transition to politics, poking fun at the conservatives. He stops briefly to slag off some of the competition.

“Comedians like Russel Howard – all young, with their helmet-like haircuts. Who do they think they are? ‘Urr, you know when you put trousers on… urr, you’re in them!’ Jesus, why do tossers like him get to play arenas, when I’m stuck doing gigs in sh*tholes like this?”

The crowd reasonates one of the biggest cheers of the night. After only a forty minute set, an interval is called. A cockleman comes round, following an old Nottingham tradition. The underground gets hot with all 450 of us down here, so everyone hits the bar. The beer is cheap – I bagged two half pints of cider for a little over the two pound mark. But there’s nowhere to put the drinks – eventually the club will have tables. But there are no tables tonight.

The commentator calls the comic back onto the stage. For a moment, nothing happens. People continue clapping, wondering where our host has disappeared to. Then, Dylan Moran stumbles back on stage, only one arm in the sleeve of his jacket, clutching a piece of paper.

“Sorry… I wasn’t… quite ready…”

As Dylan Moran returns to a darker second-half, glasses of booze can be heard being accidentally kicked over by people with aggitated legs, the beer flowing freely under the metal seats, and silent curses being whispered at the back.

“So you drag your middle-aged body outside into the air, and you walk down your road and you see… a tree. You think to yourself – ‘I’ve lived here twelve years… I’ve never noticed how beautiful that tree really is when it blossoms.’ But then, somebody gives you a long wolf whistle from behind. You think it’s your wife at the front door, making a sarcastic statement about how your sex life has turned into a nuclear winter. So you turn around to return the sentiment. But it’s not your wife. Oh no… it’s Death.”

Much laughter.

“Congratulations, you a now PRIME mortuary material!”

The subjects of death gives an edge to the second half of the set. Eventually, the subjects leads onto Dylan Moran’s wry observations of heavy metal culture:

“You all know something’s gone to sh*t when ‘sub-cultures’ start popping up.”

This was much to my delight, and the delight of some fellow metal heads sitting on the front row in front. From heavy metal, we move to Jason Statham. From action movies, we move to national pride, and how the Midlands isn’t really a national identity. We appreciate the jokes being about us.

Then, all of a sudden, Moran seems to hit a wall. He forgets the last part of the new material, and asks the metallers in front of me to help him out by handing them his piece of paper, supposedly with his routine written on it. Even I have a go at trying to decipher the squiggles, but to no avail. He chats with members of the audience, and verbally attacks a man taking a photo of him. Ironically, he then poses for the camera, his foot aimed right at the lens.

Subsequently, the night ended with a small amount of older jokes, which were nevertheless funny to the uninitiated. Moran took a graceful bow, and left. No encore. This meant that, for me, the night seemed to end with a whimper rather than a bang. But for £15, you could do a lot worse. Moran’s eyes scouted constantly, finding everyone in the front half more than once, checking which jokes hit the mark the most. His work was done, and he’d got what he needed.

Unlike movies or concerts, I don’t feel I should rate this numerically. The club was unfinished anyway, and Dylan Moran’s style is largely open to your own interpretations. Instead, all I can say is it was a thoroughly enjoyable night and a rare experience. Dylan Moran is only the second comedian I’ve ever seen (the first being Lee Evans, when he broke the record for sell-out arenas in Nottingham in 2008). It was great to see him so close, and a great (and cheap) night was had by all.

“I know something nobody likes… seriously. Anywhere in the world, no matter where you are nobody likes it. I’ve never met anyone who does like it. Anywhere. Even when you’re having sex, shouting out ‘WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!’ – No, nobody likes it… even though it’s true…”