Monday, February 15, 2016

The Thirty (untold movement): the Soderbergh, Von Triers and Lees of new cinema journalism.


  • There are no rules, just guidelines.
  • Different cultures interpret stories differently: know your audience.
  • Storytelling is an art and science — study it
  • Respect the giants whose shoulders you’re standing on, and let others one day stand on yours.
  • Sod everything else.
[roll on reality]

For the best part of 50 years in broadcast and hundreds of years in newsprint, the establishment pretty much had the field to itself. Businesses supplying hardware locked their clients into long term deals, so they could future proof their profits and the chief executive could afford that St Tropez yacht, without risking the mortgage payments.
When the sails came down, new astute, more nimble entrepreneurs surfaced. Who can blame them? Drone journalism, mobile journalism, citizen journalism, long journalism, solution journalism, data journalism, video journalism, laptop journalism, indifferent journalism, and the rest…
Some of these new niche genres were genuine byproducts of traditional journalism’s inertia. Others would give love-handles to characters from Mad Men proud, a sleight of PR hand reworking new business opportunities.
Take mobile (phone) journalism. Yes, it’s been transformative to social media, but in video production please don’t be fooled, it’s just another camera competing amongst a panoply of others. Some talent would sell off previous gear to go mobile purchasing an array of lenses and accessories. That makes little sense creatively, unless budget is the key reason.
Ultimately, it’s about using the most appropriate gear for the job. By the way, mobile journalism was the term to label 1960s Direct Cinema when cameras and synch sound gear could for the first time go mobile.
There’s more than enough material on digital’s impact on storytelling. InKeanu Reeve’s documentary Side by Side and equally exemplary Mark Cousin’s The Story of Film these visionaries provide a teleogical impact of digital: Reeve’s on the format over film and Cousins a lengthier expansive look at cinema’s development over a hundred years that ends with ones and zeros.
Digital in the 90s aligned with one of the more significant contemporary movements (Danish) in film called Dogme 95. Celebration directed by Thomas Vinteberg and DoP’d by Anthony Dod Mantle spearheaded Dogme’s intent. The film’s visual language, aided by smaller cameras, is more immediate; whip pans, super close-ups, and distinctive angular framings fill the screen.
But just as Dogme was baring its teeth in fictional film, alongside a revivalist indie market in the US, another revolutionary change was occurring in the world of journalism in the UK — a profound creative movement setting off teutonic ripples, but which little is known about.
Digital provided an impetus to a form of journalism known as videojournalism: journalists who authored their own stories; saw no need for editors in newsroom; became jack of all trades in video styles and master of all, from presenting, creating reality shows to making programmes online and could when pushed knock off four, 2 minute interview-reportage in a day.
But there was one feature that has been continually overlooked, which 20 years on is only now slowly being appreciated. Like the Dogme 95 movement making fictional cinema, this group of videojournalists, referred to asThe Thirty were creating factual cinema — cinema journalism.
The wider perception is that cinema journalism is linked to DSLR cameras circa 2008, but that’s another myth. DSLRs provided a sharper (cinematic) image, but the perceptual qualities of cinema that derive from structure, plot, composition, art, narrative qualities and philosophy was cracked by The Thirty movement in the 1990s. It so riled the establishment it was pilloried, derided and dismissed by industry, and only now are experts reflecting on its impact.
History provides a number of salutary lessons to learn from and in the next post I’ll explain how this movement and their working methods are a model for creativity. How cinema journalism envelopes an amazing breadth of styles illustrating the Soderbergh, Von Triers and Lees of new journalism, and why it will undoubtedly become a defining feature for non-fiction storytelling embracing all other forms.

How US politicians play the media with ‘dead cats’.

 In the run up to the UK General Election in 2015, with the Labour party gaining head steam, the chips looked like falling for its leader Ed Milliband — a doppler-type figure aiming to be somewhere between Bernie Sanders and Roger Ramjet — edging into Downing Street.

Labour’s advisors, following a series of political Harry Houdinis — 100 business leaders were rubbishing Milliband in the conservative-partisan Telegraph — were to play an ace card.
Anyone living abroad, the wealthy and tax evaders, were about to be carpeted. Milliband announced he was scrapping a loophole in the law that enabled “non-domiciled” UK residents to avoid paying any tax on foreign income.
Canny political calculations, his advisors noted, would give Labour at least three days of headlines, effectively controlling the news agenda and picking up more steam amongst the electorate.
The Conservative party knew it too and played one of their most dastardly campaign strategies. One of the conservative’s more respected politicians, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, presented in the media as a mild mannered person, did a Trump. Sorry mate the Brits got their first.
In PR terms it’s called a ‘Dead Cat’, a strategy coined by Australian strategist Lynton Crosby, who was hired to be the Conservative’s campaign director. Simply put, imagine you’re at a dinner with your family. You’re winning the argument about why Bobby, your brother should not be going out with friends in Mum’s car when he’s five times over the drinking limit. Then Bobby puts his hand under the table and the next thing places a dead cat on the table. What happens next?
Everybody stops talking about Bobby’s traits and screams, ‘There’s a dead cat on the table’. For the forseaable future it’s all about the dead moggy.
For Labour, Fallon crowed to the media that Milliband was unfit to be Prime Minister because he had stabbed his brother in the back in winning the party leadership. He couldn’t be trusted.
It was an outrageous comment axiomatic with Trumpisms. Labour knew it. Some advisors, it’s said, even quietly admired the chutzpah. The Conservative’s knew it. And the media knew it too. But the collegiate village-environment of mainstream media couldn’t resist the bait.
Milliband’s initiative had been pole-axed and the media led for a series of days with the Labour leader’s lack of integrity and Fallon’s bromide comments. For as long as Trump’s campaign has been running, the reality TV star who knows how the media function has been placing one dead cat on the table after another. And the media has proved inept to see through them.
Being out of the limelight has its draw backs, so Trump’s dead cats serve to re-orientate the media’s gaze on him, providing him with the oxygen to be nicey-nicey with his audience, play the media victim, shape-shift to his audience’s preferences, before teeing up the next cat.