The Making of The Jungle Book

While I’ve yet to see the film, I am still nonetheless incredibly proud of my former employers MPC who, along with New Zealand’s Weta Digital, are responsible for the wholly virtual environment and talking creatures in the live action adaptation of The Jungle Book.

Here’s a little look behind the scenes.  Sometimes I think it’d have been easier to film in a real jungle with real talking animals, but there you go (although I hear that talking bears’ agents are unbearably difficult to work with).

Speaking of MPC, apparently there are still grumblings about unionisation and working conditions.  I’d say to MPC that they should embrace it with open arms rather than trying to fight it.

As for the Sky Bar – my favourite story concerns a certain very, very famous lady singer of a certain age being completed and totally ignored by all when she visited the Sky Bar. Whether that was through fear, or being told not to address her at all, I don’t know.  But it makes me chuckle.  Otherwise the Sky Bar was never off limits.  You could get a cup of a tea, and when you were working the late shift, that’s where you collected your food.

Game of Tax Credits

I think that if we’re discussing making US corporations pay all their taxes, we (and Canada and Australia) need to rethink how we support our respective film and TV industries. The following has been taken from the end credits of Game of Thrones season six.

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This article from Empire Magazine probably best explains WHY tax credits exist.  But I don’t believe it’s sustainable.  The film & TV industries – especially in the States – have become far too reliant on these schemes – it’s like a crutch: they’re being propped up by taxpayer money to offset risk.  When you’re a government trying to reduce a substantial deficit in the annual budget – this sort of thing just ain’t going to help anybody but corporate fatcats and NOT up and coming independent filmmakers.  When another country comes up with better terms (think of a pound shop, then think of another one offering all items for 99p), all those jobs are now suddenly at risk unless that offer can be matched or improved.  Wonderful!

Plus we can’t be seen to say to one industry, “oh – you owe us more corporation tax: pay up”, then give away something like $240 million in tax revenue to a US multinational in another (industry).  I don’t think that’s fair.  And what’s even more unfair is when Hollywood constantly moans at us Brits about not giving them enough tax credits.  We can’t let them them threaten our economy and our industries.  Which is why this article that quotes BECTU wanting previous, looser UK tax credit terms to stay in full force rather surprised me.

The deplacement factor in tax credits is yet another concern.  If I were still working in the film industry today, I could quite easily move to Canada to work (and come back to the UK if things don’t ultimately work out).  This is a lot harder if I were still married, and even more difficult if I had kids.  And what happens if the finance minister of the relevant Canadian province decided that they can no longer afford to absorb Hollywood’s tax bill (which is roughly some $500 million a year) and everybody shuts up shop – what happens then?

We definitely need to encourage new and upcoming filmmakers, and tax credits seem, initially, to be a good way of doing this.  But then again, the UK government shouldn’t be taking all the risk for US (or even UK) corporations.. As Matthew Vaughn, the highly successful film producer and director (who has financed many of his films himself) has suggested, how about providing the money as a bond/loan that’s ultimately repayable?

As for HBO, one hopes they enjoy the free money from the UK taxpayer – many of those taxpayers that probably don’t subscribe to Sky Atlantic.  Perhaps HBO could offer the taxpayer some White Walker toenail clippings by way of thanks?

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell pick up a couple of BAFTAs

I thought to myself, after I attended the BFI screening of the BBC adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, that this show should pick up a good few BAFTAs – even Emmys – for the hard work that’s gone into it.  This was a really well made show.

The critics and viewers clearly agree with me!

Popular with critics and viewers alike, JS&MN is now officially an award winner.
Popular with critics and viewers alike, JS&MN is now officially an award winner.

Well, JS&MN picked up Best Production Design and Best Visual Effects as last night’s BAFTA TV Crafts ceremony.  Well done to David Roger, the production designer, and to Milk VFX for their magical visual effects (who were also nominated in the same VFX category for their work on Doctor Who).  Speaking of VFX, JS&MN is still up for a VES (Visual Effects Society) award – so fingers crossed there.

It’d have been nice if Peter Harness, who had put some seriously hard work into adapting what is a very complex book (not just the story, but having to deal with the substantial number of footnotes that expand on the story’s characters, places and situations) had picked up a BAFTA too.  And Toby Haynes should have picked up best director – again, because this isn’t an easy story to tell – or even to show.

On a separate note, it’s been nearly a year since JS&MN first came to our screens, taking over 10 years to get made ever since the rights were first bought by New Line Cinema.  It was well worth the wait – I’ve bought the Blu-Ray, the YouTube/Google Play edition, the iTunes edition AND the BBC Store edition so that if one service dies a horrible death, I’ll still have something to watch.

Sky Q Boo Hoo: The Glitches

Switched on my Sky Q Silver box after getting back home from work.  “No Satellite Signal”.  Reboot fixed it.  The Sky Q mini keeps losing its TV guide every few days.  A reboot fixes that too.  Additionally the Sky Q Silver box has warned me about my broadband.  It’s absolutely fine (Sky Fibre Broadband Pro).

And last night every single channel was showing “Mrs. Brown’s Boys” on the Sky Q mini.  This is the strangest plot Brendan O’Carroll has written yet:

This is a good episode of Mrs. Brown's Boys - they remove her brain and she becomes a zombie, with an appetite for eating other people's brains.
This is a good episode of Mrs. Brown’s Boys – they remove her brain and she becomes a zombie, with an appetite for eating other people’s brains.

Methinks the developers at Sky need to do a bit more work to get those bugs out the system..

 

The Hub by Premier Inn: The future of the hotel

Update (14th January 2017): Have booked to stay again in Edinburgh at The Hub in a few months time. Surprisingly far, far cheaper than staying at any of the IHG owned hotels, of which I avidly collect points for.  Stay tuned for an update!

As a frequent(ish) traveller, I like my technology, and having had my fair share of staying in Travelodges and Holiday Inn Expresses and whatnot, it’s frustrating seeing the same old stuff every time one stays at these places: all too small TVs (at least they’re flatscreen, right?), inconveniently located light switches and wall sockets, and having to remember to stick your keycard into the wall to make sure that the lights and AC remain on. And then you have a thermostat that’s probably older than you and that it never gets the right temperature that you want, so you’re fiddling with it constantly.

Then you have to wait 600 years in reception checking and checking out.

Yawn, yawn, yawn.  But at least you get a decent bed, and a good night’s sleep, yes?  Maybe.

There’s a new kid in town, and it’s aiming to make staying a budget conscious (usually – subject to supply and demand and seasons, etc.) a tech lover’s dream.

Edinburgh Waverly station - the Hub by Premier Inn is a mere 4-5 minute walk away.
Edinburgh Waverly station – the Hub by Premier Inn is a mere 4-5 minute walk away.

For my trip to Edinburgh, I booked The Hub by Preimer Inn.  As the name implies, it’s a sister hotel to the regular Premier Inn, but with more emphasis on technology and efficiency.  But not at the expense of either (nor comfort for that matter).  From check in through to turning the lights on and off, you’ll be exposed to the future of proper hotel comfort using a contactless keycard and a mobile app to control your room’s temperature and lighting.

But that’s not all.

You get a huge comfortable bed, a desk and chair (sometimes the desk is hidden away, sometimes you’ll get a slightly bigger room with the desk in a permanent position), a 40″ smart TV with a dedicated panel for HDMI, RGB connectors and USB in, a control panel that controls all the lights, temperature, and the “Do not make up room” and “Do not disturb” electronic signs that light up outside your room.

Check-in was simplicity itself.  There’s a QR code with your booking that you scan in the check-in machine (don’t worry – there’s staff on hand to guide you through the whole process) and you then confirm a few details on the touchscreen.  You then take a blank, contactless room card and then put it into the reader/writer.  You’re then checked in.  Two minutes!  No queues!

But you can control all that through The Hub’s own iOS (or Android) app if you wish.  It’s a tiny bit buggy, but works more or less most of the time.  It’s perfectly possible, when connected to the hotel’s superfast (and I do mean it) Wi-Fi and sitting downstairs in the deli seating area to set the temperature ready for when you get back to your room.

When you do leave the room, lights and AC are turned off/or set to a low level.  On your return, everything comes back on without you having to stick your contactless room card in a slot or do anything else.  It Just Works(tm).  No more thumbling around for that light switch.

The Hub by Premier Inn's superfast Wi-Fi is superfast. Good enough for streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime content.
The Hub by Premier Inn’s superfast Wi-Fi is superfast. Good enough for streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime content.

Speaking of food, I ordered breakfast for all 4 days that I was staying at the hotel.  Breakfast consists one of four choices and comes with a sandwich, bagel or muffin, a hot drink (from Costa – so I could enjoy my favourite mochas every day), and a cold drink (typically orange juice).  I tended to combine this with a pain au chocolate (£2 extra).  The Great British breakfast was delicious – bacon in a toasted sandwich.

The Great British breakfast "box". Pain au chocolate extra £2.
The Great British breakfast “box”. Pain au chocolat extra £2.

I also tried other items on the menu (a tuna/cheese toasted sandwich and a decent, hearty soup containing chickpeas) and I can attest that the quality of the ingredients is excellent, The in house restaurant/deli is effectively a branch of The Proven Dough.  It’s not a brand I had heard of before, but would certainly be happy to use again.

The rooms, by the way, don’t have any kettles (they do have hairdryers, however).  But that’s okay.  You have 24/7 access to unlimited coffee and tea downstairs in the deli/reception area.  I tested this by heading down at 1am and there were still members of staff milling around.  I went back to the room and promptly tripped, emptying the entire contents of the tea onto the floor.  Sigh.

As The Hub’s deli is that – a deli – if you want something a bit more substantial, the location of the hotel in Edinburgh puts you right at the Royal Mile.  Literally a two minute walk.  But you can also use the regular Premier Inn restaurant – which is 30 seconds away, but I would recommend booking in advance wherever possible.

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If you’re waiting for somebody, or need to look something up, or are holding an impromptu meeting – there are Android tablets in reception for you to play with. I struggled with the browser (which oddly told me it was a trial version).

The only downside was that I couldn’t get AirPlay to work with the Smart TV.  I suspect that the implementation by Samsung/Premier Inn isn’t quite compatible with iOS 9.3.  I still had that superfast Wi-Fi, and the 12.9″ inches of my iPad Pro to watch Netflix and Amazon.  So it was no big deal.  A nice idea from Premier Inn, however.

As you can see, The Hub by Premier Inn offers people like me a hotel that makes sense. The Hub by Premier Inn is perfect for the business traveller (the deli/seating area has built in chargers for phones, and electrical sockets for laptops).

Travelodge and Holiday Inn (Express) ought to take note.  The Hub by Premier Inn is the future of the modern mass market hotel.  While still only available in limited locations for now, I hope that Premier Inn will roll out more Hubs to other cities and towns.

I absolutely loved my stay at The Hub by Premier Inn (Edinburgh Royal Mile) and I’m already planning on going back later this year.  What was even better was the price.  For the four nights I was away, it cost me only £218.  Had I stayed at a local hotel, it’d have cost me £320, and given the experience of my manager who popped up to go to the same conference as me (I combined a working day with a holiday) had, I definitely made the right choice.