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Fighting a losing battle against copyright

Fighting a losing battle against copyright

Sarah Cameron not quite standing by her man, David Cameron

So… on the night when David Cameron finally became Prime Minister, HyperHam and I had the following conversation:

HH: “Why is Mrs Cameron standing at the back, pregnant and far away from her husband?”
AW: “Well, we’re living in Tory times now.”

To me, this was so amazingly funny and of-the-moment, that I immediately posted it on Twitter and Facebook. After all, what’s a joke if it’s not instantly shared to as many people as possible?

While a couple of friends graciously shared the joke with credit, another friend of mine reposted the joke without attributing it towards me. Indeed, when I pointed out that I wrote the joke, she deleted the comment, and then we had a slight disagreement before she decided to delete the joke to begin with. But she genuinely thought she was in the right to just copy a joke without any form of attribution.

Record companies and artists everywhere bemoan how we now live in an age where people copy works without even thinking of paying for it. But at least we all know a song by Lady GaGa is by Lady GaGa. How soon is it going to be before people can’t even be bothered to acknowledge that someone else wrote that song or book or joke?

The best game EVER … is now free. Till May 24th.

The best game EVER … is now free. Till May 24th.

Seriously, run – don’t walk – and download Portal for free.

It’s the game that burns twice as bright but half as long as most games. It’s the game that gives a 3D shine to essentially a fiendishly clever mind-blowing puzzle game. It’s got more character than most Hollywood films, it brizzles with tension, and it’s more hilarious than Matrix: Revolutions.

Go. Download. It. Now.

McSpace revealed…

McSpace revealed…

So, it has come to pass that four minutes of the failed US version of that seminal British classic sitcom Spaced has made it onto YouTube:

It’s amazing how the mere addition of American accents and standing studio sets make it seem more polished, more ‘other’ and more glamorous. Which takes away the original charm of Spaced in that it was rooted in an earthly reality we could all recognise.

Worst of all – the American version of tortured artist Brian has somehow become Jim Belushi with an easel. It’s pretty much the same dialogue, but he seems less of a sweet, likeable tortured artist and more of an escapee from a fraternity who’s convinced himself that being arty with an easel will get him ladies. Though all he’s gotten so far is Marcia (at least that plotline stayed).

The interludes also seem bizarre to the point of pointlessness. Why have a disappearing tram?

On the plus side, Daisy somehow seems more real with an American accent, because in my head a flighty not-sure-what-to-do young woman seems more real with an American accent. Having said that, it’s very hard to see her miming a gunfight with such fabulous gusto as what happens later in Spaced…

Oh no! They killed (EastEnders)! You swines!

Oh no! They killed (EastEnders)! You swines!

About six months ago, when Torchwood: Children of Earth killed off a key character, it created a bit of a mini-dramastorm.

Fast-forward to tonight, and I ended up watching the live episode of EastEnders. Bear in mind I haven’t watched an episode of EastEnders since 2006, during my Year of Hell (the Evil Ex loved watching any soap opera) Within ten minutes, I was hooked again, against my will.

Spoilers lie deep within…

The Internet. It's full of chimpanzees.

The Internet. It's full of chimpanzees.

It’s amazing what you can cut together with rushes of interviews…

(The BBC documentary that was actually made partly from these rushes is The Virtual Revolution, presented by the divine Dr. Aleks Krotoski, Saturdays at 8.30pm on BBC Two)

Incidentally, it’s nice to know that I have finally achieved my ambition to have my name listed on a BBC network programme’s credits. Even if it’s only my netname, and it’s only listed on the website…

The rise of Chinese pop culture…

The rise of Chinese pop culture…

When my sisters and I were growing up (younger than ten), we were somewhat discouraged from consuming Western pop culture, ie music and films, by our parents. (Can’t you tell?) Thus, while my schoolfriends were (perhaps) reading Smash Hits et. al., we were listening to Cantopop and comedy films from Hong Kong, procured at great expense and effort from Chinese shops in Liverpool.

One of the tapes we used to constantly listen to on those long drives to Liverpool were albums by Sam Hui, who along with his brothers also used to make knock-about comedy capers like Security Unlimited. They were simple, but had catchy tunes and comedy routines – in the back of my head, I can probably still recall the Security Unlimited way of learning how to drive. Think of a working class Nolan Sisters branching into Carry On films, with no innuendo.

Then we got a radio, I discovered how to control the television set, and I threw myself into UK pop culture (Smash Hits! Neneh Cherry! Doctor Who!) while my parents wondered where exactly they had gone wrong.

Fast-forward 25 years, and a chance Googling reveals that American casinos are so keen to get Chinese gamblers coming in, they book Sam Hui to perform at Las Vegas, and casinos in Connecticut have Chinese-language websites where lots of Asian pop stars perform, for the cash. I’ve seen casinos put up Chinese-language signs in London and Manchester to compel Chinese gamblers to come in, but this takes it to a whole new level.

As for that Security Unlimited – the film my sisters and I must have watched hundreds of times on repeat on a dodgy VHS – is now on YouTube, and also available via video-on-demand. Technology, eh?

Now if only I could speak Chinese.

The difference between making a short film in 1995 and 2010

The difference between making a short film in 1995 and 2010

I was recently given the opportunity to produce a short film for work about a new website, coming soon for internal workers. Since I hadn’t really made a short film since my student efforts with Stephen Fry in 1995 – when we were outputting to VHS! – I thought it’d be a great chance to learn what had changed in the last 15 years. A lot.

Whereas before we literally pointed and shot the camera at our interviewees, this time we also had a lighting kit to contend with. A huge lighting kit on a trolley that came in a flight case – and I was told this was the portable version. It did make a difference in terms of the visual image, but I’m not sure it was worth the effort of rigging everything up and blinding our interviewees. But if that’s the professional way to do it …

Of course, I was the one asking the questions, although it took me a while to master my brief, as they are wont to say in the civil service. But by the time I’d recorded and logged all the interviews, I had enough soundbites to put something together, although it then became a bit of a mad dash to try and find alternative footage to pep up the visuals – and amazingly, if you want to film at the place you work, you need a permit. Plus there’s so much footage in the archives that it’s actually very difficult to try and find the footage you want, that somebody else MUST have surely filmed.

All in all, we spent a day and a half filming, and got about 90 minutes of raw footage out of eight quick interviews, most of them lasting less than ten minutes. It took me a couple of hours to transcribe the interviews to create a rough “script” to take to the edit suite.

Having spent most of my working life vainly trying to get work computers to do basic video editing, it was a real blessing to walk into a properly maintained edit suite running Final Cut Pro, being run by an editor who knew what he was doing. Even if it didn’t seem that different from Adobe Premiere Pro. We even managed to add in a couple of graphical flourishes and a visual gag. I did miss the physicality of doing it myself though – of pressing the buttons, using the jog wheel etc.

So two meetings, 14 hours of filming, 2 hours of logging, a couple of spare tapes for extra shots, and 8 hours of editing later, I can say that I’ve managed to help produce a 4 minute internal film that five key stakeholders seem reasonably happy with. Which is an innovation in itself. But then, Geoff managed to make this video in 5 hours…

Now I’ve got a vague hunger to see what else I can film and edit. Of course, that would mean finding a subject, the time, the motivation – oh, and the equipment as well.

Why I don't (usually) ask celebrities for autographs or photographs

Why I don't (usually) ask celebrities for autographs or photographs

Ever since I started working properly in the media business, well-meaning friends and family will often ponder if I can get them an autograph for someone. This is a little tricky because:

  • I don’t generally meet celebrities any more in my line of work anyway!
  • Even if I did, it’d be very hard to interrupt an interview or a meeting with a “Oh by the way, can you sign this for my grandma?” or “Can we just pose for a photograph?”
  • I’m terrible at asking anything of strangers. Unless I have to.
  • How many journalists do you know who interrupt press conferences to ask for an autograph? It’s just not done.
  • Most importantly, I’m usually the only Chinese person in the room. Which means:
    • They’re far more likely to notice me – I tend to stick out like a sore form even when I don’t say anything – and thus, form an opinion, good or bad.
    • The last thing I want to do is enhance the racist assumption that Japanese/foreign journalists are idiotic and don’t know the ‘rules’

Having said all that, outside of work, it seems to be OK. During one birthday celebration in a Soho pub, June Whitfield came into the pub. Before you know it, my then evil scum of workmates had corralled her into posing for a pic next to me – I’m not too sure where that picture has gone, but it’s around here somewhere, with the odd sock. And somewhere in my archives, I also have Woody Allen’s autograph.

Of course, it seems to be just me who has a problem with asking celebrities for autographs where I work. My friend Shari in New York, who’s a radio engineer, had her pic taken with Hugh Jackman and was very proud of it. Stephen Fry, as ever, is the realist and has the do’s and don’ts of approaching a celebrity.

Do you work in the biz, as pretentious people like to call it? Do you collect autographs or photographs, or just get on with it and work with them as colleagues?

The day I met David Tennant…

The day I met David Tennant…

Geoff Marshall with some dude

Geoff Marshall with some dude

It was all Geoff‘s idea, Yer Honour…

Y’see, he’d recently come back to the BBC after two years in America fraternising with our American cousins – and even worse, American ACTORS. And it had all rubbed off a bit on him. The endless video posts, the sheer confidence in walking up to strangers – and yet still enthusing about Doctor Who, music and the Pet Shop Boys.

He then told me that he knew that David Tennant was going to be on BBC Breakfast on 31 December, and he was determined to get an autograph with him – by essentially lurking down the labyrinthe corridors of BBC Television Centre until he bumped into him. But he needed some help. A wingman, to help pass the time. Did I want to do it?

Strange as it may seem, I didn’t jump at the chance. Ever since I started working professionally within the media industry I’ve never asked for an autograph – mostly because you can’t interrupt an interview with Ben Elton, Alicia Silverstone or Glenn Close to ask for an autograph. That just wouldn’t do. Plus, I’m usually hyperaware that in the highly unlikely event of any problems, my face will be the ones that the security guards remember for reasons I’ll go into in another post … Although when I was younger, I’d hang around stage doors (well, it was double Physical Education on Wednesdays) and I managed to co-opt Stephen Fry into saving my University projects. Twice.

This time, I reasoned, I wouldn’t be there for work, and besides, it’s David Tennant. The night before he hands over the TARDIS keys. So I brushed up on the do’s and don’t of approaching a celebrity and waited…

The next morning, I arrived at the ye early time of 8am, and joined Geoff thereafter as we kept moving from point to point on the hear-out for a Scottish accent, while trying to avoid the cleaners who kept asking if we knew where we were going.

And then we went back into main reception – where usually only taxi drivers and runners are – and there he was. Already patiently signing autographs for a few kids, while a harassed BBC runner hovered behind him, eager to move him into his warm dressing room. But oh no, we were between him and the main doors. Geoff asked him whether he could stop now or on the way back, and David, being the understanding man he is, said he’d be a while in the studio and best to do it now.

Geoff managed to persuade him for a photograph. Unfortunately, it was an iPhone – and have you ever tried taking a pic on an iPhone in a hurry when you’ve never used one before? Your fingers are everywhere except where they need to be! So after three blurred shots of Geoff with David Tennant, he made his apologies and ran into the studio.

Throughout it all, David seemed slightly stressed – well, you would be if you’re dashing into a TV studio to address the nation – but a thoroughly decent chap nice enough to stop for autographs on a cold Thursday morning when he didn’t have to.

Anyway, that’s enough from me. Watch Geoff’s video of this momentous occasion (via Facebook alas!)…

This is pathetic. Truly pathetic.

This is pathetic. Truly pathetic.

The fab EPIC trailer for the new series of Doctor Who, Spring 2010.

The trailer’s not pathetic. I am. because:

  • There were tears in my eye at the LOGO. The fricking LOGO.
  • Thanks to new BBC technologies, I can now finally embed a bit of Doctor Who content on my website. There’s absolutely no need to – after all, every Doctor Who fan knows where to go to get the new trailer. Or I could just send you a link. Instead, I am making a post simply to embed a piece of content that’s avaialble everywhere else. Go me.

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