September, 2013

The Worst Kind of Film Ads

From the title of this piece, you might already trying to decide whether I’m going to be talking about:
– Trailers that give the entire plot of the film away;
– Trailers that are seemingly more interested in the awards their actors have previously earned than telling us anything about this new film;
– Ads for foreign language films that try desperately to avoid telegraphing that fact by not including any dialogue in the trailer.
But in this instance, I’m talking about none of those things.
Recently at work there was a group email that went around offering a free screening of an upcoming film. All attendees had to agree to was to be filmed and/or recorded afterwards saying what they thought of the film. These would then be used in television and radio ads for the film.
In fairness, the film may be superb.
I don’t know.
And from what I could see in the invitation, you could be as honest about the film as you liked. If you think it’s hopeless, then you can probably say that. But I wouldn’t imagine that your contribution would be used.
But my problem is that, regardless of how good the film is, these are the worst kind of cinema ads.
A trailer may be edited disingenuously, or include the only funny joke in the entire “comedy” film, but you at least stand a chance of making some kind of educated decision about whether you’re interested in the film (e.g. the trailer for Pain and Gain made it very clear that I’d rather chew my own arm off than ever go and see it). Yet these audience reaction ads are worse than useless.
It’s true that recommendation is a great way to get me to see a film. That might be a critic who I regard highly, or just a good friend whose taste I trust. Even someone who I think has an appalling taste in films can give me valuable information about whether or not I want to see a film.
But random people off the street are useless.
So if your movie ad is filled with happy smiling people emerging from a cinema somewhere telling a camera crew how great the film is, that tells me nothing. I’m certain that I could find a grinning fool who’d tell a camera that Sex Lives of the Potato Men was the best thing ever. Indeed wave a camera in someone’s face and they’ll happily lie to that camera as convincingly as they can manage to get screentime.
And the same goes for those print or outdoor ads that instead of using newspaper, magazine or established websites for critical remarks, use random people they’ve found on Twitter. I’m not saying that I implicitly trust anything that Heat, Stylist or the Daily Star says about a film, but I’ve got a better notion of how high they set their bar than I do @crazydavethecinemagoer or @everythingisjustsobrilliant.
While we’re at, horror films that are advertised with night-vision cameras focused on an audience “jumping” does not persuade me that your work is any good either.
Look – I realise it’s not easy being a film marketing company. You’ve essentially got a new “brand” to launch on an unsuspecting public every week. But these lazy advertising tropes fool no-one, and almost certainly don’t work.
And for me, they have the worse effect – I tend to think that you’ve got something to hide and that your film is actually rubbish.

King’s Cross Square Open

King's Cross Square Open
This morning King’s Cross Square was finally open.
King's Cross Square Open 2
For many months now, King’s Cross has been a construction site as first they built the new concourse, and then dismantled the ugly 1970s facade. Now the original frontage has been revealed.
Some Final "Snagging" At King's Cross Square
There’s still a bit of “snagging” to complete – workers rush to finish the last corner before the grand opening.
King's Cross Square Lectern
I’ve no idea who’ll be officially opening the square – but my money’s on Boris. This will be the lectern that they use anyway.
New Healthy Fast Food
They continue to try to make us eat more healthily.
There Are A Couple of Teething Problems
But there’s the odd teething problem.
Coming Live With Living Statues
I’m not sure quite why they hired so many living statues, but I suppose they needed a “thing.”
More Excited To See News Reporter Than New Square
Either way, the living statues alongside an actual news reporter seemed to be the most exciting thing for most commuters/travellers/passers-by.

The Future of The Sky at Night

In the last day or so, there’s suddenly been a bit of press speculation about the future of The Sky at Night – the BBC’s long running monthly astronomy programme. And when I say long running, I mean it. It’s been going since 1957.
In some ways this isn’t surprising. It always felt to me that the BBC didn’t really have much love for the programme, but while Sir Patrick Moore was still alive, there was no way they were going to cancel it. Sadly Moore died at the end of last year, and the easy thing to do was to continue the programme with the group of presenters who’d been assisting him in the previous years anyway. It was probably put into a box marked “difficult” – to come back to you later.
The programme has, in my memory at least, always been a mixture of hard science about space, mixed with regular routes into the subject for those who are beginners. I strongly suspect that if you ask any British astronomer aged under 60, they’ll tell you that they were inspired by The Sky at Night. I’ve watched it year in, year out, for as long as I can remember.
The programme stands apart from just about everything else the BBC puts out. It’s a science programme that has not been “relegated” to BBC 2 or BBC 4. Natural history and Bang Goes the Theory aside, this makes it a rare exception to BBC 1’s regular output. It airs monthly which is not how we “do” TV these days. But of course that allows the programme to highlight the different things we can see in our night skies across the year. It’s erratically scheduled late at night on BBC 1, with a weekend daytime repeat the following week on BBC 2, and with BBC 4 prime-time repeats. So lots of opportunities to watch, but with Sky+, the country’s most popular DVR being unable to correctly series link it, you have to keep your eyes open to catch it! And it’s made very cheaply. I’ve no actual idea of the production budget, but it must surely give daytime TV shows that are ordered by the yard a run for their money in cost terms with no studio, and presenters who work in the area rather than just being professional TV presenters.
At this point in time, I think the BBC could go one of three ways:
– It could scrap the show, ending one of it’s longest running franchises.
– It could continue the show in the same way as it is now. The New Broadcasting House Post-It note budget probably dwarfs it.
– It could “reinvent” the programme – updating it and investing in making it bigger.
I suspect a lot of hardcore fans would say the second option is the best. But I don’t think that we should completely ignore the third. While I wouldn’t want to see the science parts of the programme needlessly diluted to make it “accessible” to a mainstream audience (as I say, it already is), that doesn’t necessarily mean that a refresh wouldn’t be appropriate.
Stargazing Live has shown that there remains a strong interest in astronomy. That programme – which curiously sat alongside The Sky at Night while the two programmes essentially ignored one another – shows what’s possible. Although I wouldn’t want to use that as a template for how a refreshed Sky at Night should be automatically envisaged.
I recently went to a great talk from Helen Czerski at Soho Skeptics, and there was the inevitable question about TV dumbing down science. Czerski said – and I paraphrase – that for every episode Horizon about cats that seem a bit simplistic, there’s another that gets much deeper into its subject. I do sort of agree with that, although I’d argue that most science TV comes to us with the assumption that we, the viewers, know nothing about the subject in advance. Whereas if you watch a programme about, say, the history of a certain school of art, it would expect that you’re vaguely familiar with the subject. We don’t start from first principles every time.
What I’m trying to say is that you can make a programme accessible without making it simplistic or covering hard science. And whatever route the BBC goes with The Sky at Night, I hope that this is considered.
One way or another, we need Sky at Night to continue. That’s why I’ve signed this online petition.

A Moody Night

A Moody Night
This was taken some time ago near the coast in the middle of the night, with a sea mist coming in. But it was in colour with horrible tungsten lights. It looks much nicer once it’s been taken through Silver Efex Pro.
Also, Flickr chose it for their Explore section, which has led to many more views and favourites compared with what I’d normally get. Lovely of them!

Note on Comments

Unfortunately I’m currently being deluged by comment spam on this blog – many hundreds of comments a day. While most of the comments aren’t getting through, I thought the best thing to do for the time being was switch them off for a bit. It’s the most hassle-free solution for me. In any case, I get about one proper comment a month these days, with most feedback coming via Twitter or Facebook.
At some point I do need to move this blog over onto a newer platform, and put a more full-featured commenting mechanism in place. But I’m not in a position to do that right now. So hopefully leaving comments off for a few days will get this blog removed from some of the active blog-spam lists and we can get back to normal.
There have been discussions elsewhere about switching off comments altogether, but I’d rather not leave them off permanently.
Anyway, if you feel a pressing need to respond to something I’ve written in the meantime, drop me a note via a blindingly obvious email address or via Twitter, and I can publish your comment.

Ministry of Sound v Spotify – What Does This Mean For Radio?

I find the story of Ministry of Sound taking legal action against Spotify absolutely fascinating, and potentially troubling, as it potentially opens up many cans of worms.
As I understand it, it goes something like this. Ministry of Sound has a very profitable business releasing compilation albums. They licence tracks from various labels which they compile into a compilation album – usually following some kind of theme. Often, these tracks are also mixed using beat and key matching to produce a continuous piece of music.
Spotify represents a threat to this business because users can make and share playlists on the service. In particular, Ministry of Sound is upset that users have been replicating their compilation albums (which as I understand it, are not available on Spotify) by building playlists that contain the Ministry of Sound compilations’ tracks in the same order. It would seem likely that users are naming these playlists after their respective Ministry of Sound albums.
Ministry of Sound is arguing that it has copyright on the track selection and order, and that therefore users/Spotify are in breach of its copyright.
To be clear – the tracks are legitimately available on Spotify. It’s the order that they’re being collated or curated in that’s being questioned.
Ministry of Sound claims that it takes a lot of work curating their compilations as well as the skill of their producers in determining the order.
So is this copyrightable?
Media Guardian draws an analogy with football fixtures, which are deemed to be copyright. If I wanted to put Arsenal’s fixture list on this website, I legally need to pay a fee to do so. I don’t believe that’s the case in retrospect. I can report on all the fixtures that have taken place this season to date. But I wonder how useful an analogy this is? Only a very select number of bodies determine the fixture list (The Premier League, the Football League, the FA, Police etc.), whereas anyone can sequence some pre-existing songs.
And this could conceivably extend to radio. Is the order that your station plays songs copyrightable? Because if Ministry of Sound wins its case, then that would seem to be the corollary. Indeed I know that not all stations were completely happy when One Golden Square launched its Compare My Radio website. In that instance, the site replicates what other commercial products do, which is to report what songs have been played after they have aired.
But think about this. Station X plays sequences of three songs between ad breaks. They’re a hit music station, so they have a relatively small playlist. So in one break, they play songs A, B and C in that order. Station Y, owned by a rival group, in another part of the country, is also a hit music station. It too plays those same three songs in the same order. Does Station X own the copyright? Can it sue station Y? Is three songs too little? Maybe it should be four? Even then it’d still be possible to run into cases where one station replicates another’s playlist order.
And let’s return to Spotify for a moment. What if Ministry of Sound inadvertently copied a Spotify user’s playlist? I mean there are a lot of users of Spotify, and it’s entirely conceivable that a fan of “Dubstep Classics” has already created a playlist with some of the same tracks in order.
Indeed, a really malicious user might seek to circumvent Ministry of Sound by selecting a series of likely tracks that could appear on a future album, and then creating every possible combination of those tracks. While 10! (ten factorial) for ten tracks is a large number – 3,628,000 – computers do let us get through these things quite quickly. Would the copyright of every combination of those tracks be owned by our smart user, thus preventing a record company playing those tracks in any of those orders? If so, then this would prevent anyone else using those particular tracks in any order at all!
I would argue that while the skill of the mixer (or the engineer who’s using the software that actually does the mixing in many cases) is perhaps copyrightable, the order of the songs in an unmixed Spotify playlist is neither here nor there. And perhaps a user should be prevented from using copyrightable album titles for their playlsits. But if a sequence of songs is copyrightable, then how long does that sequence need to be? Is just playing Blurred Lines followed by We Can’t Stop It copyrightable?
I’d argue that the case needs to be thrown out. But then I’m not a copyright lawyer…


Earlier this evening, while the House of Commons debated the Get Britain Cycling report, the LCC organised a massive cycle ride around the Houses of Parliament. The demonstration of something like 5000 cyclists was to make the case for road planning and traffic infrastructure to properly take cyclists into account. This certainly hasn’t happened to date.
Here’s a video I shot of the evening, including some lovely views of thousands of cyclists crossing Westminster Bridge into the bright sunlight.

Space For Cycling from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

(And yes – it does seem like someone “abandoned” their Bentley in the middle of the street towards the end of the ride)
And here are a few more photos from the evening.
Some more here.

Space, The World, Fashion and Portraits

I spent Saturday catching up on a number of exhibitions that I’ve been meaning to see, but which for various reasons, I’d not gotten around to. And there’s the small matter that some of them are closing quite soon.
Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis is the result of a massive multi-year undertaking of the Brazilian photographer most famous for his pictures of gold mining. He shoots in black and white, and the majesty of his photos is remarkable – from Antarctic icebergs to the Sahara and all points in between and beyond.
In truth it can actually be quite overwhelming – even the simplest portrait will often have an amazing vista in the background. Nonetheless, a remarkable set of photos. And perhaps you just need lots of time to drink them in.
The exhibition is only open until 8 September.
Over at the National Portrait Gallery, they have an exhibition of paintings by Laura Knight – more specifically her portraits. I was woefully ignorant of her, so this exhibition served to get me up to speed with her work to some extent. I loved some of her war paintings, with her picture of the Nuremberg trial being especially powerful. But some of her earlier pictures – and indeed her later ones are much lighter in tone. Well worth a visit.
The exhibition continues until 13th Ocober.
Miles Aldridge is a photographer who primarily does fashion work – working in particular for Italian Vogue. I think I was probably drawn to this exhibition by the publicity shot featuring a model who appear almost as a mannequin in an outfit with a very sixties vibe, on the floor of a primary coloured kitchen floor with a spilt meal. Not being a big fashion magazine reader, I was unlikely to ever come across his work in the wild!
That piece is an accurate reflection of much of Aldridge’s work on display in this exhibition to coincide with the release of a new book of his work. The imagery is bold, highly saturated, and informed by films. The notes mention David Lynch and Hitchcock. But also The Stepford Wives in his First Impression series. The pictures are simply, but smartly laid out.
The exhibition continues until 29th September.
Finally, the Royal Maritime Museum in Greenwich has its Visions of the Universe exhibition, which collects together some remarkable photographs taken either from earth, telescopes in orbit, or elsewhere in space. Although many of these photos are familiar if you’ve ever looked at a book or website of pictures from the Hubble space telescope, they still look magnificent when properly presented. And in amidst these photos are a smattering of perhaps less familiar images that have won photographic competitions.
It’s not solely video. For example, there’s a beautiful projection of the “Black Marble” – an animation based on the light given off from towns and cities at night (I’ve turned it into a moving wallpaper on my Android tablet). And there’s a large scale series of panoramic shots of the surface of Mars. You can’t help but leave impressed with the beauty of the universe.
The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Sir Patrick Moore, and it continues until 15th September.
A little side note now on exhibition catalogues. Now I can be a bit of a sucker for some of these. If I’ve enjoyed an exhibition, I’m far likelier to buy the catalogue than postcards. But I need the price to be vaguely reasonable for me to do it. And it’s one thing if the cost in the gift shop is a couple of quid more than on Amazon, but when there’s a £10-20 price difference, it becomes a bit problematic even for a catalogue-sucker like me.
At Genesis, the end of the exhibition advertised a limited edition of Sebastião Salgado’s new book costs £2,500 (It is very big in fairness). So perhaps the more widely available edition at £45 seems reasonable. Yes it’s in hardback, and yes the pictures are wonderful. But that’s still pricey. And on Amazon the same book costs a little under £28.
At Somerset House, the exhibition is, in truth, to promote the sale of Miles Aldridge’s new book. And the Somerset House price is only a modest £7 more than the Amazon price (although in their Marketplace, you can get it another few pounds cheaper again). But there’s also a limited edition that costs £6,500 + VAT. I think I’d want him to come round and take my portrait for that price!
Some museums and galleries seem to have a sort of solution to the Amazon issue, and either don’t release their catalogues to the retailer until after the exhibition has concluded, or make them quite hard to get. So the Laura Knight catalogue is theoretically undercut by nearly £10 at Amazon, but there’s no guarantee of stock. I did buy a catalogue at the National Portrait Gallery itself.
But sometimes, you just think museums are missing a trick. There wasn’t a catalogue that I could see either in the shop or online for the Visions of the Universe exhibition. There were plenty of things to buy ranging from prints and postcards to related books. Indeed you could even buy a travel pillow or bowl decorated with space imagery. But there wasn’t a specific book of the photos from the exhibition. A shame.
However given how many of the photos came from things like Hubble, a large number of the photos are available online, and in very high resolution. And I noted down a lot of the details of pictures I particularly liked while I walked around so that I could find them afterwards. Perhaps I’ll print my own favourite photos.