Monday, November 30, 2009

The Phoenix, Leicester's new Digital Media Centre

Rising (metaphorically) from the ashes of the Phoenix, Leicester’s old art-house cinema, comes a brand spanking new digital media centre. What shall we call it? Ah yes, I know. The Phoenix.

I started watching the building of the new Phoenix from the time they put metal hoardings around the site and started digging a big hole for its foundations. Over the months it grew from the mud, took on an angular, modern form and was finally painted an interesting mustard colour.

Last Thursday the process came to its fruition with the grand opening. I turned up at the stroke of 2pm when the doors opened and found myself in a throng of exited Leicester folk, all eager to explore. I don’t think many of them could have been disappointed.

The building contains three theatres, the largest seating 250, the smallest a cosy 30. There is also a television/film studio, sound recording and editing suites, educational facilities, display areas and the obligatory cafe.

Curiously, the building also contains living accommodation and office space for rent. I have yet to figure out whether this was for economic reasons, or perhaps in response to some planning requirement. Time will tell how this aspect of the place works out.

Leicester's cultural quarter is now host to the architecturally impressive Curve theatre, the LCB Depot - home to exhibition space and many creative businesses, and the new Phoenix. Has anything been missed?

A home for Leicester's writers perhaps?

Dear Virgin Media

I am writing to complain about breaks in our Virgin Media broadband service, which have been frequent since the summer. You will have access to records of these disruptions so there is no need for me to lay out the entire list. I will mention only the three most recent incidents:

During the first of these, having been informed that there was no prospect of reconnection until the following week, I told your helpline worker that I would like to make a complaint. That would be fine, he said. Someone would call me back. I waited. The call never came.

When, a couple of weeks later, the service cut once more, I was informed that there was no chance of help getting to us for 4 days because: “Our engineers don’t work weekends.” Again, I said that I would like to make a complaint. I wanted to speak to someone more senior than a call centre worker. Again I was told to expect a call back. I waited. The call never came.

You will perhaps see it as a triumph of hope over experience when I tell you that today, on being told that our broadband would remain cut until some time next week, I once again asked to be allowed to make a complaint.

This time I was told that no one could call me back. Instead I was given a telephone number. You will understand that since the summer I have become something of an expert in navigating your help lines. I have listened to literally hours of music through the telephone. On the occasion when one of your engineers took a pair of pliers to our telephone cable, this had to be on a mobile phone at my own expense.

It was therefore with little joy that I set about calling to make my complaint. After enduring another half hour of music, I finally got to speak to someone who listened to my story and responded by telling me how very, very good Virgin Media’s broadband service is. He felt proud of it. He would love to have a service like mine. The area he lives in, he said, has no broadband at all. Clearly I should be grateful. At last he admitted that the only thing he could do for me other than praising the service was to give me the postal address of the complaints department.

So here we are.

I would like to believe that corporate sleep is being lost over Virgin Media’s record of shoddy service. I would like to believe that extra effort is being exerted to make sure there are no further disruptions. Unfortunately I see no evidence of this.

I am therefore registering this complaint with you and look forward to your early response.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Writing in a digital future

As a dyslexic author, I have a somewhat conflicted relationship with the written word. Most authors and publishers are quick to say that people will never give up books and reading. And whilst I do believe that is true, I am convinced that other modes of creative expression and information transfer will grow in significance.

In our pre-literate past dyslexics were not disabled. And in a future where recorded image and sound are given more weight, our present sense of disability will recede. Indeed, I believe this is already happening.

Imagine that I wanted to find out what it would take to install solar panels on the roof of my house. Twenty years ago, I’d probably have headed off to the library to find a book on the subject. Ten years ago, I might well have searched the Internet for an article to read. Today, I’d go to straight to YouTube or Vimeo and find a video tutorial.

We live, as they say, in interesting times. None of us know how writing and digital media will develop in the coming decades. But change is happening. Change is accelerating.

Hang on to your hats.

(Irony warning – yes, I have noticed that this article comes to you via the very medium that I appear to be dissing. No need to point it out.)

Zombie Undead Preview Photos

Some images from yesterday's sell-out preview screening of the movie Zombie Undead at the Phoenix, Leicester's brand new digital media centre.

Anxiously waiting in a packed out audience in screen 1. Would I be cringing all the way through my performance? Would the film be any good?

I need not have worried. Even in this form - before colour grading and final tweaks, the film looked great. Even my bit wasn't too terrible!

Fun was had by all.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Zombie Undead

It's tonight! It's happening tonight! After over a year of filming and months of post production, the movie Zombie Undead will be previewed in a few hours at the new Phoenix in Leicester.

I didn't write it. I did, however, act in it. It is therefore with much excitement and some trepidation that I approach the performance.

Should a writer be acting? To me, the two processes feel very similar. More of that in another post.

This posting is necessarily brief. I am sitting in the lobby of a hotel, using their wi-fi whilst my tea goes cold. I don't mind cold tea from time to time. But my battery will run out in a few minutes, so I have to go.

Hopefully Virgin Media will be kind enough to re-connect me sometime next week. Yes - they have cut us off AGAIN. They are without doubt the most unreliable major company that I have ever had the displeasure to deal with.

A plague of zombies on them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The End of a Story

A good story is a powerful thing. It lulls you in. It insinuates its way into the back of the mind and abides there, even when you are not thinking about it.

When you get to the end, there is a sense of completion. A journey has been finished. Parts that were separate have been brought together. The back brain can put it to one side and rest.

All the above is true of reading a book or watching a movie or listening to a story over a camp fire. It also describes my experience of creating a story. The narrative exists in a nebulous, illusive form only crystallizing into something solid when it is written down.

At the beginning of the writing process, I stride forwards into the fog, not knowing what is going to emerge after the next few paces. In the middle, I start to get a sense of the potential destination. And at the end - in the dash to the finish line - I have it all in my head simultaneously and am frantically trying to get it fixed on the page.

This last stage is the reason for my silence over the last couple of weeks. I have been pressing on towards the end of the screenplay 'Interviews With A Serial Killer' (formerly known as White Angel 2).

It is an all-consuming process. Frantic with writing. Even when not writing, I am thinking about it. The characters, the twists, the imagery and dialogue allow the writer little rest. It is a self-centred phase. I don't think it makes me a particularly nice person. There is just me and the story and I resent anyone who wants to take me away from it.

Last night at 9pm I finished writing and e-mailed the screenplay to Chris Jones - presently attending a film festival in Spain. I'm sure there will be further drafts, but for now I feel the weight lifted. My back brain is no longer having to juggle all the variables of a story.

Exciting things are happening in the next few days, so more blog entries will follow.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Back online - thank you Virgin Media (not)

As the title says, Virgin Media have sent an engineer round and we are connected once more. I mentioned to him that this was not the first time and added the information that each time I've complained I've been told that someone would call me back, but that no one ever has. He pondered this and then said: "A bit bad, that."

So there we have it.

But my time offline has not been wasted. I now have a printout of Interviews With A Serial Killer sitting on my desk. It will be sent soon. And Memorabilia has also progressed to the point that I feel it is safe to say we will have a completed screenplay by the end of the year.

More on both of those later.

Whilst writing a couple of days ago I spotted the shadow of a pair of wires on the side of a cabinet. It was so arresting that I couldn't resist taking a photograph: