(No) Lights, Camera, Action!

Having read more articles about DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, premium compacts, the new iPhone 7 Plus bokeh (“portrait” or depth-of-field) feature – take a look here, I have decided that I’d go for a camera that I am already familiar with. The Sony RX100 mk IV – the next iteration from 2014’s mk III (and the one I had sold).

I’d have like to have gone for one of the Canon EOS systems – but the thought of buying more lenses and maintaining them, as well as carrying them with me, was offputting.  And then there’s the upkeep of both lens and body.  And I’m really not that great a photographer yet to fully comprehend f stops, apertures and shutter speeds.  So DSLR is wasted on me – for now.

What I have decided to do this time around is to buy a couple of books that will guide me through all the features of the RX100 mk IV, and teach me the basics of digital photography. I said last time that I wanted to get into photography, but for whatever reason (mainly procrastination, I suppose) it never happened.  But this forthcoming cruise is awakening the desire to really get to know my kit.  As I do with computers and technology.

I also plan a holiday back to the Scottish highlands sometime in the first or second quarter of next year – the perfect opportunity to really get to grips with the camera and any gubbins

One camera I was looking at was the Nikon Coolpix P900 – an absolute beast of a camera that offers 83x zoom that’s capable of close-ups of the moon.  THE MOON.  Take a look:

But ultimately I was looking a for a good balance of portability and image quality against cost.  I did look at some of the higher-end Sony cameras (although definitely not the £3k compact camera which spits out 43-megapixel images), alongside Fujifilm and Nikon.  But the RX100 series is just a great combination of everything.

Once I’m up and running, I’ll post some examples of my work regardless of however good or (more likely) bad it is.

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.

And on that bombshell: Inside the madness & genius of Top Gear

Until my employers Memset Ltd. moved to Dunsfold Aerodrome a few years ago, I had no interest in Top Gear whatsoever.  I still hadn’t learnt to drive, and the antics of Clarkson, Hammond and May were of no interest to me.

But then we moved into our big brick office, we were directly next to the Top Gear hangar-cum-studio and the Top Gear production offices and garages.  We were also overlooking the start of the Top Gear test track, with glorious views of Gambon corner.

Then they started filming.  VT pieces, then Star In A Reasonably Priced Car. Then I started watching the show because I was now very curious about the whole thing.  And you know what, it may be about cars, but as overall entertainment goes, it was very entertaining.  But I did, maybe, learn a few things about cars too.  If only I could learn to drive.

Watching the team film some of the crazier segments – including the “improved” ambulances (one of which was a Nuclear disposal vehicle) up close was fascinating.  It made you wonder what the actual hell are were doing for this week’s show (or one of the other weeks to allow for editing). They were clearly enjoying themselves but were completely professional at the same time.  Watching the BTS of Top Gear was a joy to behold, even if it was behind bars of a gated property.

As the shows continued to film, I continued to watch the shows as they went out.  All was well until one day Jeremy Clarkson decided to something completely stupid and caused the entire Top Gear format to go TITSUP (Total Inability To Support Usual Performance) and bring on the death of the much loved/hated show.

Which is why I bought Richard Porter’s marvellous book, And on that bombshell: Inside the madness and genius of Top Gear.  Richard was the script editor (amongst other things from time to time) during Clarkson et al. years, having also spent a little bit of time during the Pebble Mill era too.

The book is an amusing history of Top Gear throughout the ages – and I found myself chuckling a few times in public on my way to work as I read through the chaos of the specials, the mad antics of the trio during The Bollocks Hour (which is their downtime period before they start shooting VT links, etc. at the hangar-cum-studio at Dunsfold), and what they were doing with the number 14 Routemaster bus  (currently parked in the TG hangar – I see it every day) as a potential item, and as a party bus for the team after a particularly good season end.

Interestingly, Porter has quite a few good things to say about Matt LeBlanc, who has become one of the six presenters of the new, new, new Chris Evans fronted Top Gear.  All signs indicate that the new, new, new Chris Evans Top Gear will still be filmed at Dunsfold from what I’ve seen (after all, why change that if you’re going to change everything else).  Hopefully they will keep the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car – but then again, maybe they won’t.

Now I’ve finished the book, I’ve moved onto Perry McCarthy’s autobiography, Flat Out Broke: The Original Stig. Perry was the very first Stig (dressed all in black), and way before my time of watching Top Gear. I’ve not far in, but already enjoying McCarthy’s good humour and ability to tell a good story.

In other news – third driving lesson went well.  Didn’t get too horrendously confused with lane changing and signalling during roundabouts.  Managed with the three lane madness of Guildford’s one way system too.  So things are moving forwards quite nicely…

My verdict on the BBC’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

15th July: Now that the series has finished in the UK, I’ll be providing a comprehensive review that incorporates a look at the iTunes/Google Play and Blu-Ray releases.  Stay tuned for more information (or look at my JS&MN or Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell categories).


1st episode begins on Sunday 17th May, 9pm – BBC One
American viewers can watch from June 13th via BBC America

BFI Q&A video

BFI has finally re-instated their video featuring the April 13th Q&A session with Marc Warren, Bertie Carvel, Peter Harness, Nick Hirschkorn and Toby Haynes.

Exclusive YouTube clip from episode 1

Launch trailer

24th Aprilin lieu of BFI’s decision to make the Q&A video private, I strongly recommend people head over to this article by vickster51 who sums on the Q&A session beautifully (including audience questions) as well as their own view on the preview.  (UPDATE: the video’s back – see above)


I’ve been waiting ten years to see this happen, following the adaptation from its origins at New Line (optioned twice), then at Amber Entertainment (formed by former New Line execs that originally optioned JS&MN), then back to Cuba Pictures – the film/TV division of Curtis Brown, Susanna’s literary agents.

The business cards for the site I used to run: FoEM - the Friends of English Magic.
The business cards for the site I used to run: FoEM – the Friends of English Magic.

During the time JS&MN was briefly a film (at least in principal), it  went through two Oscar winning screenwriters (and countless many drafts) before Peter Harness finally came on board and cracked the code that had defeated everyone else.

So now I’ve seen the first two episodes at the recent BFI screening, well, I can honestly say – hand on heart – that this is one of the finest television dramas I’ve ever had the privilege of watching.  It sits right up there amongst Breaking Bad and Fargo – two of the very best television series I’ve clapped my peepers on (I’m excluding Game of Thrones because, quite frankly, it’s getting far too complacent and far too effects heavy – I absolutely see it heading towards virtual sets & general silliness which, as an ex-VFX person, drives me nuts – a story can be visual and gorgeous, yes, but is nothing without substance – whereas something like JS&MN strikes exactly the right balance, and the folks behind it know this).

So Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, to me at least, is significantly more than just “good”.

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While we only got to see the first two episodes of the forthcoming BBC adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, it was enough to tell me that what I saw is a faithful adaptation of the book.   But one must always remember with these things is that this isn’t the book.  You can’t put a book through a television shaped hole.

This is a television series based on the book.  So bits do get left out (footnotes mainly), turned around, new bits added and so on.

For people that claim the book is slow, you’re going to find this adaptation kicks things into gear.  Trust me, Peter has managed to put things in order to get the story pootling along a fair old pace.

You’ll still need 7 episodes to get everything (that’s important) across, but even so, better 7 episodes than 32 (which is how long Simon Prebble takes, in hours, to read the novel).

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Multi-episodic television was always going to be the best medium to present this epic 800 page turner of a book visually.  Peter Harness has achieved the impossible – a magical transformation in itself – in conveying everything that we (should) love about the story into seven one-hour long episodes.

I won’t go into any detail of the episodes themselves.  I’ll just say that the performances are some of the best I’ve ever seen.  Eddie Marsan and Bertie Carvel, in the leads, work wonderfully well.   Special mention goes to Charlotte Riley as Arabella Strange – she and Bertie work so well together.  It’s so natural and fantastic.  Paul Kaye as Vinculus is a stand out performance – manic, frightening, menacing.  Enzo Cilenti as Childermass is commanding.   Ariyon Bakare’s Stephen Black is enchanting.  Samuel West as Sir Walter Pole is cast perfectly, as is Alice Englert, Pole’s poorly wife who is brought back from the brink of death by a malingering faerie.

The said malingerer, Marc Warren as The Gentleman With The Thistledown Hair, is absolutely spot on in my eyes. He brings a considerable amount of menace (bloody hell – that STARE), plotting and mischievous to the character that few else could do.  I’m sure it was just the cinema’s air conditioning, but felt blasts of cold air whenever The Gentleman was on screen.

There are so many other supporting characters and actors I could mention, but I end up waffling.   Just know that everyone that appears in this TV series is nothing short of fantastic and it is a credit to them and the rest of the crew (including Toby Haynes the director, and Nick Hirschkorn the producer), that their love and care of the story has come through in the finalised episodes.

Peter (Harness) tells me that there is something that I’ll appreciate in episode seven.  He won’t tell me what, so I’ll just have to wait and see.  As for when the episodes will air – that’s still unconfirmed other than it’ll be May.

In summary: it is as close to perfect as you’re going to get.

BTW, I’m not sure whether this was deliberate or not – but my mind started racing when Honeyfoot & Segundus’ coach went through the hole in the wall surrounding Norrell’s Hurtfew Abbey.  In Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, there is a wall in which, once crossed, leads to a magical realm full of magic and mysterious creatures.  And Susanna Clarke DID write a story set in Wall that featured the Duke of Wellington..

BONUS FEATURES!

Bloomsbury Publishing was very kindly giving away free copies of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell at the screening.  This special TV tie-in features a new preface by Susanna Clarke, written late last year which details some of her experiences of watching characters she created come to get life in front of her eyes.

Thanks Bloomsbury!

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