The Last Alaskans

The Last Alaskans

The last Alaskans is a remarkable series. We all know the pain of getting quiet reserved people to talk on camera. This is where this series really succeeds for me. Seeing these people, particularly the men open up in such an emotional way is heartwarming. These are the last 8 or 9 families living in the Alaskan wilderness, once the last children of the current permit holders die, no more permits will be issued. Contrary to popular belief is is possible to fail capturing spectacular scenery, this series does not fail, it is beautifully shot. The drone shots are lovely and the IV and cabin interiors take you right into their lives.

For me though it’s the story telling that succeeds so well and that centres on relationships. The relationships within the families and the families relationship to nature. I am no supporter of hunting or trapping, this show does help square some of those issues. For these families it is about survival and actually their relationship with nature actually does help preserve it, probably much more than most non hunters. But don’t judge me take a look at this gem of a show.

Love Island UK v USA

Love Island

As love Island breaks ratings records in the uk it’s interesting to see the US version struggling. Is Love Island one of the many ideas that just doesn’t translate? And why is that? Certainly the US VO lacks the wit and charm of Ian’s fantastic effort here. Also the US version to me feels more like unscripted drama, or a game show with people really chasing fame at any cost. The UK version actually feels more authentic, yes I did say that! But the inmates actually seem to be searching for relationships while acknowledging the Love Island “experience.”

All this against series 2 of the rebooted Temptation Island producing solid ratings. I was at FOX for the first outing but had left by the time of the UK version. I am fascinated by cultural differences particularly between countries that share language and seemingly so many other touch points. Yet still there are major differences that polarise our cultures. It highlights the fact that cultural differences are random and often hidden. A common language helps us identify and understand. But it also shows just how much care is required when language is also a barrier.

One Life Two Narratives

Tennis

I’d like to share a recent observation and its relation to false news and modern reporting. In this world of instant narrative commentary being shared to the very palms of consumers, the need for accuracy has never been greater.

The illustration I use is a very simple one and is a result of the recent Wimbledon tennis match between Serena Williams and Alison Riske. Ms Riske was interviewed before the match, it was a really good interview and she came across as an open and engaging young woman. 

She explained how she hated being told to practice and train by her father but was now enjoying the game and her success.  She further explained that her father was ex-secret service on the Presidential detail and had been an FBI investigator. It painted a picture of a strict father, highly self disciplined, and during a discussion about her fiancées first meeting him, potentially quite a daunting man. It was also clear that she has a great relationship with him.

The key piece of information in the context of this piece was she mentioned that as a public servant her dad retired when she was as only five and he was looking for something to fill his time, she became that project.

All of which gave me an interesting and engaging back story to take to the impending match with Ms Williams. As with so many things any engagement with the participants adds to the viewers enjoyment, I know about Ms Williams and now i knew about her opponent.

It was a good match and after a great fight Ms Williams prevailed. I hope Mr Riske was not too hard on his daughters loss as it was excellent performance.

What really interested me was a comment made by the match commentator. He said, 

“of course her dad gave up everything to coach his daughter.” 

This would appear to be mis-interpreted piece of information. It may have come from another source and he was simply repeating what he believed. However, it came to be it gives Ms Riske’s backstory two entirely different angles. One the doting father enduring hardship to coach is daughter, the other a father who having retired early and possibly a bit board had decided, perhaps inspired by Serena’s own story of home schooling and parental coaching, to fashion his daughter into a star of the sport.

These are two entirely different stories, in the grand scheme of things probably only matter to Ms Riske and her immediate friends and family. But imagine if these two narratives were played out during the Bay of Pigs, the current Iran, UK and USA axis of tension, or at any time in the Brexit negotiations. Where a potentially benign situation is made toxic because of simple inaccurate representation of the facts.

As we all share and comment on everything from our best friends last meal, to the resignation of the UK’s ambassador to the USA we need to interrogate our reasoning, our arguments or our interpretation to ensure they represent reality, truth and have integrity. It is time consuming and requires thought in place of a mouse click on share. I fear that thought is being lost as the ease of commentary becomes ever simpler and ultimately thoughtless. 

Tips For Directors

I’ve been posting some of the things I say to director I mentor or train. The video is a collection of the tips so far. These are my own mantras that I use all the time. And they are not just about rules to be broken, they are built around being a better leader, more creative and most importantly reducing the stress that comes with the territory! So do follow me on instagram or facebook @jgtvdirector will find me. And please do let me know or ask me anything related to directing or TV in general. My youtube channel is a work in progress but i hope eventually it will become more useful.

Part 3 The Road to successful TV Format Development

Part 3 of Jonathan Glazier’s 12 week creative development plan

Revision

In true TV style programme construction, lets start with a recap. Start with a life changing personal vision that motivates you to execute.

Set 3 Goals, what do you want to achieve at the end of 12 weeks? Keep in mind you won’t get a commission in that time, so adding that as a goal will be setting yourself up to fail. The Goal given our frame of reference should be in the form of pitch ready ideas. If you have been at this a while one goal could be a new idea, a second to get the last 12 week idea pitched and commissioned, and a third goal could be to write your novel’s first chapter or to get the VAT done.

These basic goals are the corner stone of the idea, the VAT is a serious notion, you simply cannot create with the boring and mundane hanging over you, the system is designed to get things done and dusted and keep a clear mind.

Each goal will have tasks attached more on that later, but let’s deal with the biggest challenge first…

Ideas

I believe there are two types of idea, a professional idea and a non professional idea, let me clarify. We all have ideas and flashes of inspiration about all kinds of stuff, the ideas generated by these are non professional. I don’t mean they are not good ideas, on the contrary, perhaps my description of professional ideas will get the concept over. In a creative environment where people are paid for ideas they are locked in a room and given a task, to come upon with something creative. This is a professional idea. So when I say to my development team at the BBC we need a new stripped game show on BBC2, and the team gets to work to fulfil that brief, that’s professional creativity. When two people are at a dinner party and get talking, and one thing leads to another and they chat and come up with a great title for a game show, they wonder about how hard can it be? They spend the next 12 weeks refining the idea and send it to the BBC, it sits in a pile of other 3rd party (non BBC) ideas for a few months. Someone notices it because the title is good, the team get behind it and a deal is done and Fintan and Cathy become millionaires because they have devised “The Weakest Link.” That’s a non professional idea!

Having a non professional idea is Day one of the 12 week plan, sitting around to come up with an idea is day one of the professional 12 week plan.

good ideas

Clearly you want good ideas but what is a good idea? In the hard world of tv or most any other sector a good idea is one that sells. Yes I know I’d like to live in a world where a good idea is just that and we all celebrate a good idea with an improved life that costs nothing and makes the creator feel warm and fuzzy, doesn’t pay the mortgage though does it?

So we have to sign up to the fact that a good idea is worth money and also some times a good idea is just a good idea and nothing more, it won’t make a great TV show or any money. The other thing professional idea smiths do is research what ideas will have the best chance of being good, aka “selling”.

So development teams will look at the opportunity, competition and reward. Identifying a slot worth developing for. This can be depressing, what are the opportunities on Saturday night? We have Got Talent, X factor that’s almost 6 months of slots that will be very hard to get into, and actually it’s a waste of time to develop for any similar slot. The non professional ideas are not researched, but given these are “hobby” projects the need for reward is not so pressing and therefore these ideas may seem impracticable but they can at least sit in a file for years waiting for the right moment. Professionals have these ideas too but the only keep them as sparks of ideas and don’t waste valuable time developing until the opportunity becomes more likely.

where do ideas come from?

It’s not rocket science we all know ideas happen all the time and at any time, these are non professional ideas. The trick is capturing them and then executing or actioning those flashes of inspiration, most of us just instantly forget the idea or simply jump to the too hard, no time or not my thing frame of mind. If your vision means you are looking for ideas there’s also another down side, the moment you start looking your mind blanks! All of this is normal, just relax, people used to say carry a note book and pen, have one next to your bed etc. As it happens I actually do, I find pen and paper, with scribbles and crossing out, very creative, but you also have a phone, and if you are normal it’s never more than arms length away. Use that to record a spoken note or get a note app and writing it down, Evernote is great for this and I also use a OS/iOS app called things 3 for my todo note tracking.

Professional ideas come from brainstorming, or in plain English throwing a few ideas around. There are many techniques and academics dispute there effectiveness. My view is that blue-sky brainstorming lacks focus, I prefer set parameters and goals. I also believe that brainstorms are full of individual ideas that have been simmering in the minds of the participants,all generated when they were having non professional ideas. So brainstorming tends to really be about, “what do you think of this?” sessions. Many say no idea is a bad idea, so create a non critical session where no one is worried about speaking up. Well guess what, there are bad ideas and if you are so sensitive that being told so sends you over the edge, TV may not be your thing! (I think that’s an HR issue but hey that’s entertainment.)

But here’s the thing, you need to feed creativity you need to read, to watch, and to just move around. Do stuff counter to your actual task, go to art galleries, museums, to the pub, have a bath, this is where creatives get there eccentric status or even their time waster label. But all these things feed creativity and increase the chances of that flash of inspiration. And here’s an example of the issues creatives face. I was asked to mediate a session at IPC who publish many of the lifestyle magazines we read. I asked them to come up with an idea for a new magazine for 18 to 24 year olds, the room fell silent, I then asked them to do the same but for a new TV show, the room became alive with chat, arguments and what ifs. Ideas are the biggest challenge, feed creativity to maximise the chance of having and idea, and we are still only on day one of our 12 weeks!

There is nothing wrong with your idea being similar to an existing show too. Commissioners will always say they want new they want fresh. What they commission is the next iteration of a show or one in the same area, look at hole in the wall, total wipe out, ninja warrior and cannon ball. Each bettering the previous is somenway (cannon ball being the exception to that observation.

So part of the ideas process is to watch TV and know you slots and schedules. Follow trends and yes go for a drink, like me now, next….

Next comes development the start of the 12 weeks

Jonathan Glazier Cambridge UK

Creative Consultant

Lecturer

TV Format Developer

Executive Producer

TV Director