Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Why is there so much crap on TV?

Since being in the UK, I’ve had the opportunity to see how the TV commissioning game works. And it’s not a pretty sight. During this time I have come to understand (I think) why the standard of TV, in particular non-fiction programming, is so poor.

The way to get a new author’s novel past the front desk and into the hands of someone who might recognize it as a possible best-seller is the same as it is with TV shows. It is not an urban legend that Harry Potter author JK Rowling plied publisher after publisher to get seen, being handed rejection after rejection. It was because the system did not allow great ideas to filter up to top management because those on the front line were the lowly privates, not the officers. I imagine thousands of great works never published because of this inept system. Because new authors can now easily self-publish, it has changed the way publishers find new authors. They look for the best sellers, monitor trends, and then when the time is right, offer the biggest authors publishing contacts. They take the risk out of publishing new authors because their ‘new’ author is already selling. In some cases they make the authors world famous, and in others, kill their work by unfair contracts. But the authors who get no such offers, they can still publish their work and attract followers, and make a good living out of writing.

The TV commissioning system is very similar.

I have a new idea. It’s called The Vanishing Act. I think it’s the best TV idea I’ve ever had. With some research amongst my peers, it’s been met with universal excitement. Not expensive to produce, it has huge series potential, and will appeal to a wide, middle-class audience and has extraordinary visual appeal. It ticks all the important boxes, so a network should get excited too. Not likely. The trouble is, it doesn’t appeal to most twenty-something girls, And that is who has to approve the idea for it to be taken any further. Without getting past them, it’s a non-starter.

On the front line of most new program commissioning systems are twenty-something girls. What appeals to twenty-something girls? Not a trans-Africa expedition, or a trek across the Simpson Desert. And not The Vanishing Act. If by chance it does get a second look, then a team of slightly older, but not much more sensible young people get to give it the thumbs-up or down.

The result of this system are programs with gutter trash themes of domestic violence and illicit sex, incest, bank repossession teams, clearing out storage containers (which I should add, is scripted with actors), makeup, cool sweaty men driving cranes and shouting Yee-haa when they successfully move a log, teenage pregnancy and so on. Despite the claims made on the commissioning pages of networks like Sky and Ch4, the system fails to produce quality shows that fill the wide needs of a wide audience. Instead it fills the needs of the lowest common denominator of intelligence in the viewing public. Intelligent people have to hope for something they like on BBC-4, or go to bed and read a book.

The end is in sight for regular, terrestrial TV.

It’s again the Internet we have to thank. I’m cancelling my Sky subscription when the one-year contact ends, because everything I want to watch is free-to-air. I look out for BBC documentaries, which are of a very high standard. They rejected The Vanishing Act too, but for a reasonable reason. They liked the idea but felt it was too close to something they have in the pipeline. I must accept this at face value. But Channel-4’s response was typical of the system. They said it was too “Straight’ and that they wanted more ideas like “The Undateables”, a series dedicated to unfortunate people who are so ugly or deformed that nobody could ever possibly want to date them.

To get on the first ladder to a commission, the idea must firstly have a title that resembles a Hollywood movie, it must feature a TV or Hollywood Star and ideally needs to have some degenerative disease as a theme.

The solution.

Stop paying monthly bills for TV you don’t watch and instead back independent film producers making things you want to watch. Back crowd-funding projects like those that appear on Kickstarter. Subscribe to websites with shows you like such as 4xoverland.com.

Andrew


picture: scene from The Vanishing Act.


Monday, 26 May 2014

Arizona in the summer

The overland expo, run near Flagstaff, Arizona, was an eye-opener for me. It is not an expo, in the traditional sense. It is an event. Aviation enthusiasts, especially private flyers and those who have dabbled in home-built aircraft, will know of Oshkosh. The EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) yearly gathering at Oshkosh. Wisconsin has been described by some of the world’s best-loved aviation writers as, The greatest event in all of aviation. It is where lovers of airplanes, builders of airplanes and flyers come and meet and greet like-minded people. Mostly, they come and see what everyone else is doing with their airplanes. Overland Expo is the overlander’s Oshkosh.

I was struck by the huge range of vehicles and the diversity of accessories on display. Gladly, for me anyway, the show did not showcase much off the vast array of tires, suspension lifts and gear aimed at what I regard as the red-neck approach to 4x4: who’s got the biggest adrenaline-inducing V8, the most axle articulation and who can shout Yee-Haa the loudest? It is mainly for the 4x4 enthusiast who’s primary aspiration is to go overland. Just like me.

Only a helicopter shot would be able to adequately provide an idea of the size of the event. There was an entire dry lake bed (Lake Mormon) on which to camp.  And there were thousands of roof-tents and trailers attached to every 4x4 type you can imagine. But one thing was missing – not a single Toyota Land Cruiser 70-series of any type. I always get a homely feeling when I see one, so I spent the week a little home-sick.

While there were most 4x4 makers on Earth represented in one way or another, amazingly, I saw three Steyr Puch Pinzgauers. The motorcycles section was vast, with a huge array of kit and accessories on display or for sale. The only manufacturer that made any effort at all was Land Rover. A local franchise was involved with a selection of new Range Rovers, Range Rover Sports, LR4s and Evoques giving rides over what looked like a typical, easy-going marketing track. And some North American Land Rovers groups were involved with teaching subjects such as winching, recovery, trailing and overland. It’s the love of their marquee that makes Land Rover in many ways unique in motoring. You can say what you like about Land Rovers, no one can touch them for the owners and their spirit of togetherness. It’s something to be admired.

As for me, my two seminars on Telling Great Stories with Video, and the presentation TV shows, Solo Across the Kalahari were so well received, that I am busy creating a on-line and face to face teaching product. And I have been asked to present the class at a more formal situation in North America and Canada. I must say, I did enjoy presenting and the great interaction with the students, and look forward to more of it.

But perhaps the biggest revelation of all was, that in parts of the US, overlanding is unbelievably free and accessible. Unlike most countries in Europe and Africa, wild camping is not only legal but encouraged, and safe. In parts of Arizona, and many other states, maps are available detailing rough tracks heading into the wilderness. They are marked with GPS points and keys indication were wild camping is permitted. I had never imagined I would want to return to the US for an overland expedition.

And to my new American friends; Kris, Cameron, Jeremy and Robert. (You know who you are) Thank you for your kindness.


Andrew






Friday, 7 March 2014

What’s England really like – to a hybrid South African? Part-1.

Hybrid South African? That’s me. Born in the UK, lived so much of my life in South Africa that by emotional osmosis I became a South African. But when the country of my children’s birth made their future too uncertain to bear, I moved back to the land of my nativity so that they hopefully can enjoy a more promising life.

My true citizenship has been further diluted by my parents. My mother is from Australia, born in Sydney of pure Australian farming stock. Her father was a cavalry office at Gallipoli in the Great War. She’s a true, blue Aussie if ever there was one. And my dear Dad is from Napier New Zealand, with origins that can be traced unbroken to the Burghers of Calais. My great (X27) grandfather was immortalized by Auguste Rodin on the banks of the Thames in 1889. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Burghers_of_Calais) So I’m a bit mixed up.

So, back to the subject at hand. How is England? I have to stand back to get perspective. I was very lucky. When I was 12 my Dad took be bush bashing through the Kalahari, and my love of the bush stayed so firmly in place, it directed the course of the rest of my life.

So apart from missing the nearness of the bush, how has England been treating me?

England works. Take the NHS. Erin (my daughter) had an appendicitis. To the hospital, ambulance, bed, operations, convalesce and back home in four days. Cost £nil.00.  The food in the shops. Excellent quality, better than I’m used to, about the same price. What do I miss most? The Checker’s bakery. Lovely crisp rolls. I have not found a good baker yet. Cheap petrol. I didn’t think I had it, but topping a tank is very expensive – about R23.00 a liter when converted. Regular use of trains are new to me. They are clean, fast and mostly on time. In SA, public transport was not a viable option for us, but now it is. But expensive. One-way from my home in Lincolnshire (Eastern middle bit of England) to the western middle bit near Birmingham costs £50.00 That’s R900 in play money. I can fly return Cape Town to Gauteng for close to that. Return to London costs £34 off-peak weekday. People here spend a high portion of their salaries getting to and from work. More than they do on their bonds or rent.

Power blackouts. Yes, we have them to. But there is a difference. We had one a few months back. Twenty minutes later the phone rang. It was the power company. A near-sighted farmer had backed his hay bailer onto a power line and cut off the village. The company promised we would have power within an hour. It took 20 minutes.  My power bill is less than a quarter of what it was in SA – and people here complain it’s expensive. They threatened a price hike and there was furor in the commons. Democracy works quite well here it seems.

Schooling is free. But is it any good? Free is good. When Erin was interviewed for school their reaction was a surprise. Having seen her body of film work they suggested that going back to high school would be a waste of time. They enrolled her into a college to do media and arts.  She will end up with better diplomas, faster and have contact with professionals in the media business by the time she would have completed matric. It amazed us on how the system works for the good of the children’s wellbeing. In South Africa, Erin was forced to repeat a year because, even though she got a 65% average, her Afrikaans was 38%. She was forced to waste a year and the Cape Province Ed department was totally to blame. What a breath of fresh air.

Life is comfortable. Maybe a bit too comfortable. There are no local political agendas that needs worrying over. Russia is far more worrying. But I still have a deep concern that Zuma gets to stay another five years to continue his rampage of destruction. And while I am far away and safe, I still feel for what is happening in the country that I still think of as home.

More next week.


The pretty town of Stamford on a frosty winter morning

The Burghers of Calais in London




Friday, 28 February 2014

A gloomy time in South Africa’s 4x4 accessory industry is coming to an end – so it seems.

2013 was a turbulent time for the 4x4 accessory industry. Lionel and Annalie Lewis lost the sole agency to import TJM products into SA. I imagine it was a shocker for LA Sport, but I am sure they will survive. The new agents for TJM and XJS suspension is called TJM-Africa, and their headquarters is the former LA Sport store in Menlyn.

4x4-MegaWorld hasn’t been in the news much– and that alone is probably good news. Their stores are broadening their appeal as they stock more and more camping equipment to supplement their well-known brands like ARB and OME. The drop in the rand value has no doubt put their foundation products, which are imported, under huge pressure as prices have been forced to rise.

Ezi-Awn have launched several new products including a range of roof-racks. And their roof tents and awnings are as popular as ever.

Alu-Cab is as busy as always. It must surely be one of the busiest workshops in the country. And while they turn out canopies and vehicles like a Pezz-dispenser, they still manage to create some new products – like their new awning. I have not seen it up close yet.

But probably the best news of all is that one of the foundation companies in this industry, 4x4 African Outback – Big Country, has reopened its doors. They closed shop after a strike that threatened the business, and everyone, including the owners, lost their jobs. This was no doubt thanks to the unions, who care much more about personal power than people. It was this kind of thinking that destroyed so many industries in the UK through the ‘70s and ‘80s. But they are back! Their ‘under-construction’ website has their details. http://www.bigcountry.co.za/

As for 2014, the industry is talking positive, and that it’s looking good. A welcome upturn is under way. And South African companies are getting better and better at getting their products overseas. For example, Front Runner, National Luna and Ezi-Awn are well represented at the Outdoor Expos in the UK.

There was a new SA 4x4 TV show, called That 4x4 Show. I heard little about it, and that’s good. Because if people really hate something, they generally talk about it. It sounds like it was a success.  And I've always believed, competition is good. I am back with a full TV series in 2014, broadcasts beginning in late October. It will be shot in South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, Scotland, UK and Arizona USA.

I'll be in the country from shooting most of April and part of May, and then again in June and July. If you have a 4x4 product that you would like to feature on my show - don't be shy. I'm interested!

Best as always


Andrew




Photos show my cruiser on display at TJM's new headquarters in Menlyn, Pretoria East.  I am seriously looking forward to a warm sun on my back - and hearing my Cruiser rumble again.