Tag: In Conversation

James Richardson: “As much as podcasts have grown I think we are still very much at the tip of the iceberg in terms of their potential”

James Richardson is a football broadcaster and journalist known for hosting the iconic Football Italia in the 90’s as well as the Champions League Goals Show more recently. To read an interview where he talks in length about these and football in general click here. When his face isn’t on your screen his voice is in your ears as the host of several podcasts, from The Totally Football Show to Truth and Movies.

Richardson began his journey into podcasting as the host of The Guardian’s The World Cup Show, covering all the highs and lows of the 2006 World Cup. Following its huge success the show evolved into The Guardian Football Weekly, a twice-weekly show featuring Richardson as host and a selection of journalists discussing the week’s football news.

It was during his 11 years there that he cemented his reputation as a broadcaster who can seamlessly integrate puns and humour into his work. This ability was a major factor in building the large following the show amassed, allowing the team to play several sellout venues across the UK. In 2017 he decided to call time on his time at The Guardian to start his own production company, Muddy Knees Media, with long time producer Ben Green and former guest Iain Macintosh. Their first podcast? Football, obviously, entitled The Totally Football Show.

“It was a little bit of a leap in the dark although we weren’t reinventing ourselves particularly. I guess we felt that people would still be listening but we have been really happy with the response and the number of listeners we get. The world cup made a big difference, we threw a lot at it and our listenership seems to have grown. I’m really happy with how things are going. Not just with listenership but also after a year of doing this we have met and been able to bring in lots of different kinds of people and some fresh ideas.”

There were few surprised when Richardson announced in December 2017 a Italian football podcast, Golazzo. “The thing about Golazzo is, because of Italian football in the 90’s on Channel 4, there is a sentiment for that period and Serie A in general. I’m aware of the wealth of stories there are to tell about Italian football.”

Would he expand his empire to cover the top 5 European leagues? Perhaps not. “I’m not sure you would have the same kind of built in audience for say a La Liga show or a Bundesliga show. We get about 60,000 an episode for Golazzo which is a very healthy listenership. As much as podcasts have grown I think we are still very much at the tip of the iceberg in terms of their potential and the way that people can use them as a forum and a way of covering different sports and leagues.”

“In the same way that we have shifted across from watching linear tv to basically sitting on things like Netflix, Apple tv, and streaming boxsets, I think increasingly people won’t be tied down to radio schedules but instead just pick up audio on demand. It is much easier if you are commuting or making a car journey rather than listening to whatever happens to be playing on the radio, so you can follow things that you are interested in. Or even things that you have no interest in at the start but in half an hour or an hour will give you an understanding of a subject you’ve never previously known about.”

“The potential of podcasts is huge. They’re so cheap to make and they tend to be free to download. The percentage of the population that is even aware of them or let alone used them is still relatively small. It isa huge area of growth that we are going to see.”

There is the crux of the problem. Podcasts have the potential to change the way people listen to audio shows, but how to advertise them in a way that would attract new listeners? “For our podcast we don’t particularly advertise it, it’s more of a word of mouth thing.”

golazzopodcast

“I think for podcasts in general it’s something that more and more people are becoming aware of like ‘what is that icon on my home screen saying podcasts?’. I guess it’s a generational thing as well as more young people are into them. Generally though people are becoming more and more aware of the potential that they have. The new ways of enjoying content.”

“In the same way that years ago nobody knew what an Apple tv was or downloadable tv content was and now it’s become completely normal. Even my mother will watch boxsets. It takes time. There was such a traditional way of consuming television and radio content that it takes time for people to switch across.”

“In terms of how we advertise that’s a tricky one. I don’t know how you do it. We don’t particularly have an advertising budget we rely as I say very much on word of mouth. At a guess I would think that you’ll start to see a lot more podcasts advertising on other podcasts. This happens already I know we have had adverts for another show on our podcast. I think there will be a lot more cross-pollination that way.”

“The thing about podcasts at the moment is that they are two different kinds: the ones attracted to the fact that podcasts are a very democratic kind of thing and they don’t need to be tied in with a production company or have a big budget, you can put something out with very little expense; then you do have increasingly companies such as Apple or Spotify who are getting involved and they will start, if they aren’t already, doing major pushes to get people aware of what they are doing.”

“Stuff like that, while advertising one podcast in particular, will be advertising the whole idea of podcasting in general. For example Serial’s huge success woke a huge section of the population up to what podcasts are, what their potential is, and the sort of stories you can tell. Maybe people thought it was just a sports thing or like a blog, but the fact that you can get drama which is almost unputdownable really pushed the whole field forward.”

“I think that people like Apple as they get involved in this will want to expand the market as fast as possible which will hopefully bring many people with them.”

In Conversation with Kevin Everson

Kevin Jerome Everson, fresh from a mid-career retrospective at London’s TATE Modern, travelled up to HOME to screen a selection of his short films with producer Madeleine Molyneaux. Viewers were treated to multiple UK premieres as well as a Q&A, hosted by HOME’s Artistic Director Sarah Perks.

Born in Ohio and based at the University of Virginia, Everson is an award-winning artist and filmmaker and is regarded as one of the most important and creative filmmakers currently working in the USA. Despite this though he remains humble, ‘I’m just from a small town, I just make things and I’m fascinated by people who want to see what I do.’

Art as an opportunity only caught his attention at college. There he studied photography, printmaking and sculptures, before that he was ‘just a big dumb jock’. Since then his films have screened at festivals such as Sundance and Toronto International Film Festival and are praised for their unique style, combining scripted and documentary elements with an obvious formalistic approach. The focus is almost entirely on the African-American experience within the working class whilst abstaining from any generic socio-politcal commentaries.

The 1996 Guggenheim Fellowship winner exhibits a strong sense of labour in his work, ‘I’m very privileged to be an artist, so I try to find artistry in the everyday lives of workers.’ One film in particular, Company Line (2009), centres around a group of city employees battling the snowy conditions to grit the streets.

‘I make films for the subject matter not the viewer, so I’m conscious about how they look and what they say. I find the people who are the best at what they do, and capture them doing it.’ A large section of Company Line is riding along with a particular snowplough driver, watching him at work. There are deeper remarks about 20th century African-American migration to the northern US present here too, depicting a class seldom mentioned let alone seen on film.

The town shown, Mansfield, Ohio, is Everson’s home town and the film was used as part of a trilogy about the first three black neighbourhoods in America. In the early 1970’s the land they lived on was purchased and all the residents in that neighbourhood were scattered all around.

There are more unusual films in his catalogue too. For example Rough and Unequal is a 16mm project where he used a telescope to capture the moon and stars. Commissioned specifically for an exhibition at the Franklin Museum of Art, it was designed to have an effect on the art space as a whole, changing the audiences perceptions of all the pieces on display throughout its runtime.

More recently his 2017 work Brown and Clear that was shown at TIFF divided audiences. It takes place in a bar and shows a man filling up empty bottles with alcohol for the whole 7 minutes and 40 second runtime. Naturally this would immediately turn off a subset of viewers but the variety of techniques utilised make this an intriguing watch.

The story behind the film is similarly intriguing. Everson was visiting a relative and came to the pub he ran. Instantly he was looking at his surroundings for potential subjects. He noted that ‘it was all of questionable legality’. After going back home he decided to drive the eight hours back to film the relative at work.

Medium to close shots are intentional to mask the location and identity to avoid any police trouble. There are numerous interpretations to the underlying meaning of Brown and Clear, one member of the audience suggested that it ‘was a comment on alcoholism’. Everson himself agreed with this adding ‘where I’m from you didn’t get all the fancy alcohol choices you guys have, it was either brown, like bourbon or brandy, or white, like vodka or moonshine.’

Working with a colleague at the University of Virginia, he also makes period films about the history of African-Americans. ‘When we show them in front of the school where there are people of European descent they get upset but they’re not in it. Whether it’s positive or negative they want to be at the centre of it’

Although his art is focussed on the African-American experience, it is unavoidable that it would be primarily shown to white audiences, whether that be at a film festival or a gallery. The main objective though is to spark discussion about the social, political and economic condition present. ‘I never know what people will think when they watch my films but I just try to be consistent. If not then fuck it, i’ll just film more tomorrow.’

In Conversation with Kumail Nanjiani

It’s late on Thursday July 7th. Manchester is midway through a tight schedule of preview screenings and interviews, but Kumail and Emily show no signs of fatigue from their string of late nights and early starts. Nor have they lost any of their appetite, emerging from the lobby with the same enthusiasm as day one.

Just yesterday they were in London, at an event much larger than the one today. The host was Richard Curtis, CBE, veteran of the Rom-Com genre and personal inspiration of Kumail. From ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ to ‘Notting Hill’ Curtis has perfected a craft very few can replicate, creating ensemble cast films with well-rounded characters.

Oh look who dropped in

That evening, after the screening, Kumail was invited to dinner with Curtis. “I was trying so hard to keep it cool but I’m sure he saw right through me” Suddenly there was a knock at the door. I say suddenly, but Kumail said only he was surprised. Curtis just smiled, sauntered over the door, and revealed Hugh Grant — A little exposition is needed here. In his formative years, growing up in Pakistan, Kumail was fond of Hugh Grant. Mimicking his hairstyle and lack of smiling because Grant said in an interview that “smiling made him look fat” — For the remainder of the dinner he tried his best to play it cool and not embarrass himself in front of his idols, secretly taking pictures, posting them to Twitter the moment their backs were turned.

Beyond human inspirations, Kumail too found his fondness of film critical in shaping the comic he is today. Of course, elements from some will have seeped into his film, The Big Sick. In particular he mentions 1987’s Broadcast News and 82’s Tootsie. “I wanted to make a Rom-Com with real emotion and real laughs. Most just half-ass both”. The commentaries of both proved invaluable in making this film, based upon his story with his, then girlfriend, now wife. Rom-Com’s often suffer from clear-cut edges separating comedy and drama, but Kumail is weary of this. “I learned that at the peak of an emotional scene. That that moment is the perfect time for a joke. The drama and humour feed into each other”

That’s the movie you’re going to make

5 years ago, 5 years after the events of the film, Kumail and Emily decided the time was right to make their story into a screenplay. No longer raw enough to cause tears, their memory of the events was still fresh. Early on in the process they met with producer Judd Apatow (40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad). After hearing the story his vision was clear, telling the pair “your story is so unique no one could ever think of it”.

Apatow acted as a mentor during writing. They began building a skeleton of facts, each moment a bone in what would eventually become a living, breathing being. Not everything seen on the screen is true to life. A scene here, a character there, but for the most part, this is their story. With each draft they submitted, Apatow gave thousands of notes. “Each detail was important to him, every character needed depth, struggles and dreams”

Although an autobiographical film, Emily did not want to play the role and auditions took place after the three year writing process concluded. She decided against attending, not wanting the actresses to “feel weird look at who they would have to become”. The tapes were initially discouraging. Although there were many fantastic actresses, none encapsulated Emily, her sarcasm, her presence, her charm. That was, until Zoe Kazan. “She did something more than the others, she took the words on the paper and really made them her own”

He just shouted it out before I even finished asking the question

Before any financing was secured, the pair decided to keep the project a secret, especially from their families. “We didn’t want to have any awkward conversations before they were necessary, and we didn’t want to disappoint them if it didn’t come to fruition” When harvesting season came though, the fruits of a fully financed deal with FilmNation were ripe for the plucking. The Apatow name surely sweetening the deal, his name synonymous with box office success.

Shortly after Kumail approached his family to walk them through the script, pointing out the real moments from the artificial. “I remember approaching my dad to ask who he would like to play him. I’ve never seen him so sure of anything in his life. He was set on Anupam Kher. So we sent him the script and the very same day he said yes. I didn’t even expect a response. He told us it would be his 500th film. 500! I haven’t even seen 500 films”

With the cast and crew ready, leads Kumail and Zoe ready, there was just one problem niggling in the back of Kumail’s mind, the kissing scenes. “I told her (Emily) to not be on set for them as I didn’t feel comfortable making out with another girl while saying her name but they were both amazingly normal about it. Turning it on me saying it was weirder if she left. – I think most of the cut scenes were making out scenes though, so I guess in the end i must have just been real bad at it”

She told me she was gunna beat my ass

In the film, there is a scene where Kumail crashes and burns terribly in an show, his pent up feelings about a hospitalised Emily erupting, one of several heartbreaking moments. But this was not his worst experience on stage. “I got a call to do Lettermen so I quickly arranged some practice shows the next town over (Atlanta) a week before. During the set a drunk women started aggressively heckling me. Now, on stage you feel like a superhero, a confidence unlike anything you’d have normally, so I started aggressively heckling back. I thought I got the upper hand and it was over, but then she flicked her lit cigarette at me and tried to start a fight”

Fortunately the show did not descend into violence, with Kumail shining during his Letterman performance a week later. From Silicon Valley to Adventure Time, all his successes can be traced back to this, his big break. Back in present day his greatest success of all, The Big Sick, received wide acclaim during its premiere at Sundance. Shortly after, a bidding war for distribution rights took place, with Amazon Studios paying $12 million, the second largest deal of the entire festival. It will receive its full release on July 14th and I would eagerly recommend you do. It is a fantastic film and a great achievement for them both.