Tuesday, October 30, 2007
To begin with the idea was that I'd do the trip, come home and then write a book about it. But when I talked about it with a few friends they suggested it would be a good subject for a film.
Initially I was reluctant... I didn't want to have a crew following me and I didn't want to end up hosting one of those travel shows where the presenter meets a sequence of pre-arranged eccentrics that a researcher has found. It seems to me that when it becomes one-of-those-shows you end up being robbed of the personal experience because you're just going through the motions of a story that someone has worked out in advance... whereas I wanted to actually try to do something and either succeed or fail on my own mettle.
So we ended up making the film in a nice low budget way by just finding a brave film-maker who was prepared to come along in the car with me and shoot whatever happened. No crew. No schedule. Just us, an idea and a car.
I'm still writing the book - which will be out in April/May (I think) but we've spliced the film together already. It'll be shown on More4 in February. I'm really pleased with the result... but it's always impossible to guess what other people will think of things... especially when it's really different to the kind of work I've done before.
The movie was submitted to the Austin Film Festival and I was really delighted when they came back saying they wanted to include it in the schedule. From my point of view it was the best way of getting some proper feedback on the film. The audience there wouldn't have any preconceived notions about what I do because they wouldn't have a clue who I was. They'd just view it as a film from a couple of unknown film-makers. Hopefully they'd enjoy it. Maybe they wouldn't.
It turns out they enjoyed it. I've been really pleased with the reaction. (You can see the audience reviews here.) That was pretty much all I hoped we'd achieve at the festival - just some good honest feedback - but yesterday the news got better still. I heard that we'd actually won the Audience Award for best Documentary Feature. A champagne cork has been popped. Hurrah for things like that.
If you've seen or read Googlewhack Adventure you'll know that Austin, Texas is the scene of one of the lowest points in my life. Right now it feels like I've pulled it back to a 1-1 draw.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Saturday, October 27, 2007
One of the things that makes these games fun is the eclectic mix of people you end up chatting to. This time round the line up was Hardeep Singh Kohli, Stephen Mangan, Howard Marks, Cleo Rocos, John Thomson and myself. In what other circumstances would I end up sitting round a table with that lot? Hardeep definitely has the most poker experience but Howard has the best poker face I've ever seen. Mind you, I'm not sure he's deliberately hiding his emotions... it's got more to do with a lifetime spent frying his nerve endings.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
There's something ridiculous about the excuses - sorry, explanation - being offered by Michael Grade for the large scale fraud that ITV have perpetuated.
Basically they've encouraged the public to call premium rate lines either to vote or enter competitions... even though they knew their votes wouldn't be counted or that hundreds of thousands of them were entering competitions they had no chance of winning. They made nearly £8 million out of it and they're now shamefaced and apologetic and offering refunds and so on.
No-one's going to lose their job and according to Mr. Grade that's partly because the motivation wasn't "venal"... it was "to get a better show" and "misguided but not corrupt."
Contestants for the "Jiggy Bank" on Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway (youtube) weren't selected at random for example. They were selected because of their geographical location and their likelihood to react well on screen. In other words, someone who lived within an hour of the game and who was likely to be the most excitable was selected.
Now I understand why the producers want the most excitable person for the show. It's not as much fun watching someone who's too cool for school winning a few grand... you want to see someone jump for joy. So yeah... that decision was made with the show in mind.
But the decision to ask everyone to call in and try to get on the show wasn't. The premium rate phone line doesn't make the show any more or less entertaining. But it does make the show more profitable.
If they made no money from the phone calls I'll bet they wouldn't have encouraged viewers to call half as much. In this multi-channel world, advertising revenue has been falling drastically and they've turned to these things as another way of raising the money.
Yes, selecting the contestant in the way they did was a decision made with the show in mind... but the decision to solicit for contestants via a premium rate phone line was venal. The norm these days... but venal nonetheless. There's no reason why they have to make money out of a viewer entering a competition or voting for a reality show contestant.
Of course it's not just ITV who are mixed up in all of this. Thanks to a misnamed cat on Blue Peter the BBC is tying itself up in knots and we are left in the ridiculous situation where Match of the Day isn't allowed to run a Goal of the Month competition.
Meanwhile in unrelated news we emerge blinking from a postal dispute. The strikes were to do with changes to working conditions that the management were trying to force through... but deep down it's to do with the Royal Mail's struggle to modernise. They're having a hard time these days, partly because we're all sending less letters in this e-mail-friendly world.
Both of these problems can be solved in one fell swoop. Let's do things the way we used to do them. When I was a kid and you wanted to enter a TV competition it was always, "Answers on a postcard..."
Monday, October 15, 2007
As sporting weekends go I'd say we just had a bit of a classic. Brilliant for the English sports fan and pretty damn good for the Scots too.
England beating Estonia in the football provided only 45 minutes of entertainment but the Rugby World Cup semi-final delivered a match full of drama and tension. Not quite as exciting as last Saturday's Quarter Final victory over Australia which was so ridiculously against the odds it was Roy of the Rovers stuff. (That's in the little known spin off strip, where Roy leaves Melchester Rovers and decides to try his hand at rugby instead. Y'know, for a change.)
But isn't it faintly ridiculous when the BBC tries to pretend that ITV aren't covering the rugby? Am I the only one blushing in sympathy with John Motson when he has to say something like, "Of course there's the Rugby World Cup semi-final against France this evening... I should think that's unmissable on Radio 5 Live..."
I love Radio 5 Live. I often listen to their coverage of sport when I'm working. But not when watching it on the tellybox is an option. Given that everyone who heard John Motson say those words was in front of a telly at the time... don't you reckon that most of them are the kind of people who might want to watch sport on TV... rather than listening to someone else watch it via the wireless?
Friday, October 12, 2007
My life I've put some weight on. I have no idea how heavy I should be only that I'm far heavier than I once was. My view on this is skewed because I weigh myself so rarely. When I finished touring Googlewhack I was just under 11 and a half stones. But then I lost a lot of weight while touring that strangely physical show. After three years of pretty incessant touring my clothes were hanging off me and a lot of people were telling me I looked gaunt. Strangers as well as friends and family. I fainted twice which was another good clue that things weren't quite right.
By contrast writing is incredibly sedentary. It also involves biscuits. So I would have been hugely surprised if I wasn't heavier than I had been back then. But I wasn't expecting such a big increase. I weighed myself before taking part in the Premier League All Stars thing. I was nearly 14 stones. I don't know how much went on when but that's nearly 2 and a half stones in 2 and a half years. Oops.
I was horrified. And I've been trying to do something about it. I've been for a run each morning since. Sometimes just a kilometer, sometimes 2 and occasionally 3. I've cut out biscuits. Mostly. I've made sure my fruit bowl is more regularly replenished. I've had breakfast. In 2 weeks I've got down to 13 stones.
I know I never keep these things up and at some point the running will stop and a chocolate biscuit will look much more appealing than an apple so I will try not to obsess about it.
I have no idea if it's connected or not but I think my writing has improved too. I was getting worried about this book. It was feeling flabby and plodding in places and I couldn't see a way of picking up the pace while being true to the story.
But this last week I think I solved the problem. I've found a way of looking at the story through a different, less tortured, lens. It means I have to go back through a large part of what I've already written but because the idea excites me it's fun to do. Are my thoughts leaner because I am? I doubt it. I think I'd probably have arrived at the same place creatively regardless... but maybe not.
PS: I'm pretty good at updating my website myself... but I always need assistance with the big things. I think I need to do a bit of an overhaul on the site as it is so that it feels less focussed on old projects... but I don't seem to be able to get in touch with the chap who designed the current site to ask him about it. I just want to make a few changes to the layout of the front page so if anyone has the know-how, it would be good to hear from you.
PPS:Thanks for so many offers of help with the site. They've all been very gratefully received. I've got someone tinkering under the bonnet as I type.