What Happened? Sandip Mahal on stereotypes in British TV


For me television (and the 90’s) really started with Buddha of Suburbia, which had fully developed Indian characters that weren’t stereotypes to cringe at. Yes shopkeepers and arranged marriages were in there but it was done in a funny demented way that wasn’t patronising. I know there was My Beautiful Laundrette before it (from the same writer no less) but this was better. Add My Son the Fanatic which was years ahead of it’s time in terms of it’s subject matter, East is East (not my favourite but popular nonetheless) and then the ground breaking Goodness Gracious Me and after that…. Er that’s it.

We seem to have gone backwards again with Curry urchins on Eastenders, corner shop owners on Corrie (aka Currie?) and an ITV Call Centre comedy that seems to evoke Mind Your Language seeing as the latter had an LWT weekend slot. All this slow progress and progressive work has suddenly gone into reverse. Granted, we have Gurinder Chadha flying the flag but she is all alone out there and not much is being done to pan out the television schedules to reflect the diversity of the United Kingdom and when they do it’s with a resounding commercial and critical thump. I would estimate that we are 20 years behind American television we need to close the gap.

We need characters like the ones written for the screen by Hanif Kureishi rather than the caricatures in Eastenders and Coronation street. This can only be done by true talent spotting rather than diversity nights that the channels seem to be doing to ‘feel clean’.

Actors of colour like Dev Patel and Adrian Lester have already disappeared to America where characters are stronger, can we afford to lose more like them?


Musings on the media: Ban adverts and introduce a distributed license fee for content

It is no exageration to say this has been perhaps the toughest year I can remember. I lost my sister to cancer in April and a dear friend to depression a few weeks ago. In some ways it seems peverse to continue a normal my life of writing, social media updates and so on - indeed galivanting off to New York for conferences next week - but in some ways my only way to keep going personally is to focus on my work and my long area of passion, media reform.

Sitting with my sister in front of the TV which was normally on 24 hours a day, I was reminded how the majority of the content that people consume each day involves one of two messages: that you are inadequate, and that by buying certain products you can become less inadequate. Come Dine With Me is a great example (and a fun programme to watch) - the presenter laughs at the clumsy pretensions of someone trying to throw a good dinner party, while the ad breaks tell you all the things you can buy - good wine, butter, magazines, etc - so you can be better than them.

Worse still, the depiction of people with mental health problems is typically wrapped with fear. Despite a third of our population being affected in some way, the mentally unwell are at best ignored and at worst demonised as dangerous and violent, despite there being no greater percentage of violence amongst the mentally ill than the rest of the population. The five hours a day of TV watched on average (or whatever the number) could provide comfort and advice for the pursuit of happiness and support for those unwell or in need. Instead it seems to best serve the advertisers who fund most of it, by creating fairy tale fantasies that encourage the buying of more stuff. If you could only have this car, razer, lip gloss, shampoo or gadget you too could be as happy as the hero of your TV show, with the beautiful partner and (typically) wealthy lifestyle.

This was why when @DanneeRoy told me last night about a radically simple proposal to cut carbon emissions that my jaw hit my lap and I started exclaiming wildly.


Indie filmmaking, the Minimum Wage, BECTU, Co-Ops and all that

tompagenetAbout eight years ago I sat in a cosy Islington pub with BECTU acting general secretary Martin Spence to discus his problems with Shooting People's posting of non-union (and non-NMW) jobs.

It was the first time I'd found myself conflicted with the pro-uinion leanings I'd been brought up with. My parents met in the Salford communist branch and as a teen I cut my teeth in graphic design making the monthly newsletter for my mum's college union, NATFHE. I can't dispute the wonders of unions in protecting workers the world-over from unscrupulous employers, saving lots of lives in the process.

But sometimes passions cloud judgement and indie film is a strange fish*. No-one would suggest a musician who gets out her guitar at a house party should earn Musician's Union rates, yet because a film require a group of workers working with an employment-like relationship, there is room for confusion.

I'm not talking about broadcast TV on cost cutting cable networks, or commercials and pop promos shot on the cheap. But the shorts, micro-budget features and documentaries made by crews often with little experience, frequently helmed by a director shooting their first or second, that may never make it to any screen beyond the local pub or Vimeo. There's very rarely funding and a huge number of people keen to help out on them. Many are terrible but a few are masterpieces. And it's so rare that any of these films recoup their costs, let alone make a profit, that no-one worries about cash other than getting their expenses covered.

Martin Spence's point when we met was, as it is now, that people working for free should be collaborators, and therefore co-investors. He saw the co-op model as a suitable structure, and having explored the co-op principles myself in recent years I agree that they are great structures. But there is still an admin overhead - a co-op requires a legal framework, eg. a limited company - to be formed. So for one short film there would need to be a company created, annual accounts and returns made, as well as a co-op members agreement drawn up, which all parties should sign up to. Annual accounts would then need to be distributed before the company was eventually wound up. 


Does being Final Cut Pro Certified mean anything?

When Avid and Lightworks systems came out in the dawn of the digital editing age there were specialist outlets that provided specific training courses to make the transition seamless. Equipment like that was expensive and you really had to be lucky to work for a company that invested in one (I was).

Obviously the courses were aimed at those in the industry (with the tab usually picked up by the facility houses) and very few people outside the system invested in the courses with Film Schools taking up the slack, as the prices were pretty steep...


Who's Idea is it anyway aka pardon me if I didn’t read the smallprint?

You have a camera, some editing equipment and a great idea and you want to get it out there, you can put it on youtube.com and tell everyone where it is but do you read the smallprint before uploading? You are, in fact, giving up the rights of your magic idea to them if they decide to sell it on for a profit of which you will not be in on. They don't actively try to steal your work and the upside though is you have an open platform to show your talent to the world, it can be a small price to pay and the quickest way to get recognized considering the success stories you hear.