Branching out into more complex digital media – with some thoughts for how my main Cambridge-based project will evolve
Some of you will be aware that I started a 10 week digital film evening class recently. With good reason: I want to get much more out of the kit that I have. For several years I’ve felt that I’ve never really used the features on things like mobile phones or laptops to their full potential. At the start of the year I promised myself that 2014 would be different. As far as digital media is concerned, I’ve published my first podcast (have a listen here) and my first self-filmed and self-edited/processed digital video. I haven’t done any editing to enhance the audio or visuals, it’s more been a case of extracting media files from one place or one gadget and uploading them. How complicated can that be?
Filming at the Strawberry Fair 2014 in Cambridge
Louise of Flaming June is a local (to me) musician who I first saw performing at a demonstration in Cambridge, followed by a gig as part of Oxjam 2013 (see my review here). I went down to the Strawberry Fair to see her play as she has a new album coming out. I filmed several of her numbers. Here’s her final track – and one of my favourites, ‘Psycho’.
This was taken on an iPhone5 with me lying down on the grass trying to hold the gadget as still as I possibly could. I don’t have a steady hand when it comes to photography and filming so am pleased at how well the unedited footage came out. Make of it what you will. (Louise kindly gave me permission to film – thank you!)
Getting the footage is the hard bit
For someone like me that is. I said to my counsellor (yeah – things have been a bit tough mental-health-wise this year) I’m trying to break away from the inertia of perfectionism: from a mindset of getting everything right first time every time. Now if you’re making satellites to go into orbit, then you have to get things right first time and every time. A few years ago I watched a documentary about a firm in East Anglia that makes multi-million-pound satellites. One of the posters they had in their workplace was about there being no repair vans in space to fix mistakes. Hence a strict regime of regular testing and re-testing, checking and re-checking. When you’re making a film, much of the film footage is left on the virtual cutting room floor.
I found this out for the first time when I took part in a BBC film back in late 2006 as a ballroom dancing extra. It was for the Stephen Poliakoff film Joe’s Palace. This was just before I transferred to London in the civil service. We all had to be in Regent’s Park, London at 5am for filming. It was early December. It wasn’t warm. It wasn’t till just after midday that we were able to leave. The actual length of the scene in the film couldn’t have been more than a couple of minutes. But the time it took to film the scene took much much longer. The second part of the scene is below – see if you can spot me in the black velvet jacket and white trousers at the very very end!
Pressure driving innovation
As it turned out, Puffles’ election campaign was a massive driver for trying new things out. Although I wanted to try out a few new things, the sequencing, timing and impact of the pressure were things I had not anticipated. Yes, I wanted to make a couple of digital videos, no I didn’t make any. No, I didn’t expect to make any podcasts, but yes I made one. I didn’t expect the posters I made to get positive feedback but they did – even though I’ve never really seen myself as a creative type. I hadn’t expected to launch a website – especially one that is now going to become the basis of some joint post-election local work, but me and Ceri did.
The most important thing looking back was getting some momentum going. This included stating or doing things that implied a follow-up action. By the time I got halfway through the campaign I felt a sense of being on an ‘autopilot’. Why didn’t I just stop and go back to bed? That in part explains the past fortnight post-elections: I’ve been exhausted – especially emotionally. At the same time, I’ve also looked back and asked myself if I really did all of that stuff for the election.
This has been a good spur to get going because we have a nice small group of us and someone competent in short film making to tell us to do stuff. And sometimes you need that. For someone who is a bit of a ‘beta male’ that thinks too much, having someone else telling me what to do in order for me to learn something that I want to get good at. What was nice last week was seeing a couple of the younger people in our group experimenting with the kit they had, even though they were not at the stage of what a future short video might look like. For me, it was the other way around. I’ve got a clear but flexible vision of what I want to achieve for a series of short digital videos, but not the confidence and ease they have both with the kit and with experimenting. If anything, this shows why having diversity of backgrounds (including ages) in a creative team is a good thing.
Some of you may also know that since February 2014 I’ve been rediscovering my singing voice with the Dowsing Sound Collective, after a couple of decades of relative silence. The past couple of months have been a challenge musically too. There was the Basement Jaxx recording at the end of March (see here). We also did a recording for Cambridge’s ‘Cycle of Songs’ which is part of our Tour de France celebrations when the race comes to these streets. Finally, there is what will be my first sung concert since my school days and this side of the Millennium.
If you want to come and see us and are in the Cambridge area, we’re performing at The Apex in Bury St Edmunds on 13 July.
We get to sing in this! We’ve got two performances – one at 4:30pm and another for those of you that want to avoid the World Cup Final at 8:15pm. (See here for tickets). Given my utter contempt for FIFA and their executives (a contempt that’s spreading worldwide – see here in the NYT) I’m prepared to give the final a miss.
The tenor parts that our musical genius director Andrea Cockerton has arranged for us are challenging. Karaoke this isn’t. But that’s part of the fun. It’s here that the pattern emerges: people from ‘outside’ challenging me on things that I want to do and become good at. In the case of the music, there’s also been a tempo and intensity similar to the election campaign that has generated a self-sustaining momentum. It’s that self-sustaining momentum that is pushing me towards new digital media with a greater level of confidence and curiousity than in years gone by.
The need to, and the challenge of diversifying my own skills
It’s not that I find blogging and tweeting boring. Rather there’s an immediacy and an intensity with mainstream social media that isn’t good for my health – physical, mental and emotional. I’m also at a stage of being sufficiently far away from London and out of the public policy bubble that I’ve gone down my own road. When I turned around to see who else had come with me at the start of the election campaign, it turned out that hardly anyone had. Me and public policy world had diverged.
The challenge I face is that the problems the London-based public policy world is trying to solve are very different to the challenges Cambridge faces. The context is also different too. Learning the differences between those two contexts has taken a good few years of listening and learning. One example of this difference is the recent announcement by the executive director of Government Communications Alex Aiken: No digital skills? No promotions. Note I call for similar in my manifesto for Cambridge – but go further than communications, expanding the principle to anyone with management responsibilities. Much as London is full of interesting events, gatherings and workshops, I can’t afford to get to them. Following a hashtag is not the same as being there face-to-face. If you’re not there face-to-face, you’re easily forgotten – no matter how much you tweet.
Solving the problem that is there, not the problem you’d like to be there
That’s one of the learning points from my election campaign (the evaluation of which I need to do more analysis on – but note the initial findings here). If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. If the only tools you think you have are digital…exactly. As I found in the campaign, the digital only approach did not work in Cambridge. That’s why what I’m working on in these post-election months are just as much offline as they are online.
Going past ‘Peak Puffles’
In the grand scheme of things, the election result was ‘Peak Puffles’. It also marks the start of a transition period from Puffles towards something called Be the change Cambridge. Note that since the election results were announced, I’ve not taken Puffles anywhere – despite opportunities to do so such as The Strawberry Fair. This is deliberate. Basically I’m learning from Hootsuite’s rebrand – see here. Outside of Twitter it’ll mean more Antony and less Puffles. Because let’s face it: the problems Cambridge faces are ones even a dragon cannot solve. It requires people – all in this together.