Posts Tagged ‘TV’

Being amused by small things

June 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Sometimes quite minor things can amuse me because of their strange and surreal qualities. One of these is TV subtitling, aka captioning, or closed captions.

You know the button on your TV that turns on subtitles for the hard of hearing? We have that on quite a lot, not because we’re hard of hearing but because it means we don’t need the sound on when we’re trying to be quiet, like enjoying the first coffee of the day. Usually at such times what we’re watching is a breakfast news programme.

Today I saw two news items that attracted my attention.

One was about giving blood. One of the people being interviewed, I think either an official of the NHS blood transfusion service or an award-winning donor, was talking about the process of giving blood and transcribed as saying: ‘It’s just like having an eagle peck in your arm, it’s painless.’ Oh yes?

The other was an item about the reduction in funding to museums and the possibility of  museum closures. One museum slated for possible closure was the ‘National Robbery Museum’ and another was the ‘Liverpool Chakra Museum’. I’ve never been to either, but it sounds like I should visit them both soon… I’d like to see a chakra museum; historical and curious chakras might be very interesting.

Of course the problem arises because of the way subtitling is done. Many dramas are professionally subtitled prior to transmission and what appears on screen is perfectly formed. Some live transmissions are transcribed in real time by someone sitting at a keyboard somewhere. I have a mental image of someone sitting in a darkened cubicle in the lower sub-basement of the TV station, wearing headphones the size of footballs and pounding the keys of a computer that was fresh and shiny in the late 1970s, but that’s just being fanciful. And sometimes the transliteration is done automatically by an audio-to-text programme that mostly gets things right, and maybe there’s someone who can add in corrections if they spot errors.

I have great respect for people who do these transcriptions because at many points in my research career, I’ve been involved in transcribing interview tapes, met court clerks who knock this stuff out at trials, and I know the kind of skill and speed that’s required to do this work in real time. So I think I can be forgiven for the occasional laugh-out-loud moments when either they, or the voice recognition software, gets it wrong.

As far as I know there isn’t a National Robbery Museum – the Met Police have a ‘black museum’ of implements used in famous murders, and the prison service has a museum of implements used in riots, escapes and so on. I’ve seen those (many years ago now), and indeed the Museum of Justice in Nottingham. And there isn’t a chakra museum either, though there is a witchcraft museum in Boscastle, Cornwall, which is interesting for a range of reasons including the social and folk history it reveals, and I’d recommend visiting it if you’re ever in the area.

Meanwhile, and wearing my fiction-writing hat for a moment, if you ever read a story of mine that has a robbery museum or a chakra museum in it, you’ll know where I got the idea from…


What insomnia teaches you

August 25, 2012 2 comments

I’ve been having a spate of waking up at four in the morning, or alternatively not being able to get to sleep when I go to bed. As a result of which, I’ve been exposed to the late-night TV shopping channels. Again.

Presumably people buy stuff from these shows, otherwise they wouldn’t be running them. If they do, I’d guess their insomnia causes even more of a judgement deficit that mine does.

You can buy car cleaning accessories for around £40 on one channel. Assuming you want everything that’s in the package and bought the highest-end such products from a high-street car accessories shop like Halfords, say, you’d end up paying close to that kind of money. But if you bought their own-brand products or the cheaper end of the range you’d pay around half that.

And the bra-like vest thingy with its own programme that seems to run for around three hours at a time… around £40 from the TV shopping channel, but I saw in town yesterday it’s in the shops there at £7. And no, I don’t need one anyway…

Fantasy, all over again

April 12, 2012 2 comments

Call it a reductionist, reified, economic determinist argument if you like. But I find it interesting that a bunch of TV and film productions in the last year or so have featured retellings and reinterpretations of fairy stories and folk tales.

The most obvious ones are Once Upon a Time (currently on UK’s Channel 5, but first broadcast in the US on ABC at the back end of last year); Grimm (police based but drawing on the Grimm fairy tales; currently on a UK satellite channel and first broadcast on NBC in the US late last year); and Mirror Mirror, a comedy fantasy just about to be released and based on Snow White. Several other films including Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and Jack the Giant Killer are scheduled for release later this year, or next year.

Meanwhile, it’s difficult to make a lot of sense of the competing figures for book and ebook sales because categorisations and descriptions of genres are so variable, but I’m willing to speculate that ‘fantasy’ is a fast-growing market especially for ebooks.

The thing is, so much fantasy chimes with the current social climate. A sinister world manipulated by strange beings who hold questionable values and don’t care about ‘ordinary people’? Threats lurking in unexpected places? Well, that would be the recession-hit world we actually live in. And if you look back at the roots of fantasy and folk tales, they constitute a body of warnings, parables and moral stories that encapsulate advice about how to survive in uncertain times. Watch out for seductive monsters with big teeth; for deals that appear to be too good to be true; for those who offer to fulfill your desires in exchange for your immortal soul, and so on. Yes, I know ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ can be deconstructed as a story about sexuality, but you get the idea…

So all the old folk tales are suddenly relevant all over again, because they respond to our current perceptions of the world, our concerns, and maybe even offer advice on how to battle ‘monsters’, however you might want to define them – demons, bankers, demon bankers or whoever. It’s unsurprising that TV and film production companies would catch on to that; it’s equally unsurprising that several competing series/films would go into production and onto our screens at around the same time.

The kind of argument I’m advancing here is hardly original: it’s been around for a long while. Try Lucien Goldmann’s Towards a Sociology of the Novel (originally published in French in 1964, in English in 1975, since reissued in different editions); or the more explicitly Marxist analysis of Georg Lukacs (the introductory book on Lukacs by George Lichtheim is a good starting point).

But I guess the interesting question is: what new stories, fantasies and moralities will come out of the current situation? Are we all condemned to our own personal Hunger Games? Or can there be a less horrific route to a happy ending?

Vikings and sagas – an appreciation

May 10, 2011 2 comments

Just caught the BBC programme The Viking Sagas, which is now available on the BBC iPlayer, and will be there until 17 May.

Some of the stuff I knew, actually, but a lot I didn’t despite having read different sagas at various times. I knew for example that many of them relate the stories of actual people and real historical events. But I didn’t know that many of the places mentioned are still identifiable, so a farmer can easily point to a bend in a fjord and say ‘Oh yes, Gudrun’s house was just there – 1000 years ago. And the valley where her husband killed his brother is a short walk away and the dip in the ridge that he hid in while waiting to ambush his brother is still there.’

I also found the attitude to language inspirational. There are obvious close links between language and magic, because saying words can put chains of events into effect and change the way we define and even perceive things. And this comes out in the sagas. Plus, when you hear extracts, as offered in this programme, the rhythm and rhyme and power of the sagas becomes far more evident than it is if you’re simply reading them in translation.

I also didn’t know, and find it amazing, that about 10% of the Icelandic adult population are published authors, the highest figure anywhere in the world.

On a side note – there was an event outside my house yesterday that might yet turn into a saga. Two guys having an argument, and when I heard the shouting and began to pay attention, the words I heard one say to the other were ‘And you shouldn’t ever forget that when we were inside [i.e. prison], you were my bitch!’ The power of words, eh? Don’t be surprised to see me use that line sometime in a story… I might add that thankfully this kind of thing is not common where I live…

On watching TV

February 27, 2011 2 comments

Mostly, this last week I’ve been perfecting the fine art of coughing. My doctor diagnosed a touch of asthma following a chest infection in January. Fair enough, but the timing of it and the way it developed didn’t seem to fit properly. In the last few days, though, I’ve had a remarkable turnaround in health having worked out that the asthma was caused by an allergy of which I was previously unaware. House free of allergy-causing items: no asthma. Items reintroduced: instant return of asthma. And so forth. So having worked out what was going on, I’m now pretty much returned to full health, feeling better and stronger and with a sense of humour returned.

Meanwhile, I’ve been watching TV and surfing the internet looking at stuff on Tunisia, then Egypt, then in correspondence with someone who’s just returned from Yemen, and then watching developments in Libya.

I’ve been to various Middle Eastern countries for varying amounts of time and at various times, and noted that pretty much all of them have had some level of political repression for decades. And it extended beyond their boundaries. When I was a student, which was back in the 1970s, I can remember knowing both Iranian and Libyan students in the UK who were very closely monitored by their countries’ respective secret services, just in case they engaged in anything subversive or unpatriotic. Indeed once we knew what was happening it was fairly obvious that there were guys around who were (a) not students and (b) following our friends. (It also wouldn’t surprise me if they’d recruited informants, etc., but I can’t vouch for that.)

Anyway, in pursuit of information I’ve been looking not just at the BBC but also Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya English language news feeds. I don’t know why they should have surprised me – they’re regionally based so don’t have the full span of international coverage you find on the BBC, but what they do, they appear to do extremely well and professionally. In terms of political commentary they look to be moderate/liberal. However, while many Western commentators note that Western countries have facilitated various dictatorships and accepted that hypocrisy has some place in realpolitik, the Arabic news sources rather refreshingly recognise hypocrisy for what it is.

If you haven’t yet looked at these Arabic stations’ coverage of events, I’d recommend it. An hour checking over those sites is an instructive and educational experience.


Pitching for TV – a call for advice!

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

For once I have a question, not an observation or argument.

I have a treatment for a possible TV documentary and want to pitch it to production companies (I’m based in the UK). Apart from the treatment itself I see my role as possibly comprising being involved in the pre-production planning (I have relevant knowledge and contacts), maybe some script writing, but that’s about it.

I have no prior history of or knowledge about working for TV.

I’m reasonably adept at networking and have contacts with possible independent producers. The one thing I can’t ask them, since I’ll be on the other side of the table from thiem, is this: were a company to take up the idea and get it commissioned by a TV channel, what sort of range of payment might I be likely to expect? Is this something they pay a flat fee for, or a percentage royalty?

Comments below, please, or if you want to stay private, mail me via the ‘contact’ link on the blog!


Edit: one answer I had (I’ve asked this question in several places) was 5% of production costs plus a royalty on broadcast and any other exploitation but on mainstream TV production costs that sounds huge, as in tens of thousands of pounds. Another answer was a flat fee of a few hundred pounds, though that was for radio for a one-off documentary. That’s a pretty wide margin…

Time for some old news

November 21, 2010 1 comment
The way ahead - murky and poorly lit,with an uncertain destination?

The way ahead - murky and poorly lit,with an uncertain destination?

Time for some old news.

Nostalgia in the new big thing.

Wikipedia defines it as a yearning for the past, often in idealized form. Feeling nostalgic implies a longing for the ‘good old days’, a period when life was simpler, easier, happier and more prosperous.

What period that might be, exactly, is something that probably varies depending on one’s age and life history. Maybe, for most people, nostalgia harks back to a period when we didn’t have feelings of nostalgia because we hadn’t suffered many of life’s downturns.

Feelings of nostalgia often come when times are hard, and because a lot of people are experiencing hard times right now, there seems to be a lot of nostalgia about.

I’ve been poking about in retail industry publications and it seems nostalgia is big business right now. In fact, by mid-2008 many of those publications were screaming that in order to survive the recession, companies should anticipate and ride the wave of nostalgia they saw coming.

Many of them have done precisely that. A lot of 1970s foods, from steak and kidney pies to baked beans, have come back into fashion, a lot of companies have returned to or recreated the look of labels and advertising from the seventies and earlier. The new (old) look is intended to imply that these are long-term, trusted brands that offer some emotional security. Apparently the best-selling toy game of 2009 wasn’t a Wii or Xbox or computer game, but Scrabble.

The same thing’s been happening with advertising, of course, with the return of the Milky Bar Kid among many others.

In music, I’ve noted increased interest in folk music. Presumably the folk musicians have been there all along, playing in small pubs and clubs, but now they have a larger stage and more media exposure. Not that folk was a 1970s thing, particularly, but it meshes with the retro ethos going around.

On TV, there’s been a sudden increase in programmes about the past, from attempts to recreate period shops to revitalise a high street, to ‘thrift’ programmes about how to get a period look in your house by buying second-hand or developing craft skills.

Also on TV, and maybe a little more difficult to understand, I’ve been noticing a lot of old science fiction and horror making a return. Is that just a function of where my own attention has been going? Is it reminding us that thirty years ago, we expected the future to be better than it is? Or that thirty years ago, the dystopian views of broken societies we had then are finally coming to pass? I’ll have to ponder that one.

Conclusions? Well, none very startling. To repurpose that famous quote by Baudrillard, when society is looking broken, what we can do is play with the pieces – in this case, pieces from our past that we want to recreate and cast somehow, like runes or dice, into new patterns that will offer new solutions.

A couple of the resources I used – Talking Retail and Reuters.

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