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A story I would like to share, on hearing that Patrick Moore passed away today (or perhaps yesterday). Already twitter is filled with a mix of sadness at his death and discussion of his positive legacy for science, but also reminders of his sexist comments and fairly extreme right wing views. I think it’s OK to talk about both these things, challenging the latter and celebrating the former.

When I was much younger I was a huge astronomy nerd and Moore was obviously an icon. When I was perhaps around 11 or 12 I was at an astronomy conference in London with my mother, who would escort me to astronomy weekends, observatory viewing sessions, and events like this. Yeah, I know, I was a weird kid. During a coffee break at the conference, Patrick Moore was there just sort of hanging out, and my mother encouraged me to go say hello.

I did, and Moore was charming and friendly. He was obviously pleased that I was so enthusiastic about the subject, apologised that he couldn’t talk for longer, and invited me and my mother to come visit him in Selsey. We arranged a time to do so via post (imagine, using the postal service to arrange a meeting!). I even kept his typewritten notes to me, see below, so I must have been a bit starstruck (pun intended).

A message from Patrick Moore

A message from Patrick Moore

We went to visit during a holiday nearby, and he was a great host. He showed us his telescope (no jokes please, seriously) and various bits of astronomical equipment and garden observatory. Finding out that I played music, he played his xylophone and recordings of some marches. We had tea and cake. He was clearly keen to encourage my interest in astronomy and science. We left after a couple of hours of visiting and that was the end of any correspondence, beyond a thank you letter from me of course, but the encounter left a huge impression on me.

Years later, I was immensely disappointed to discover his political views, and especially disappointed to hear his sexist comments about women ruining TV and so on. How to square this with the avuncular character I’d met who was so supportive of my enthusism for science? People contain multitudes, I guess. His views are clearly more complex than the impression you get from what is reported, but this isn’t a defence of them. It’s disappointing that he wasn’t challenged more on this in his lifetime.

We sometimes forget that people in the public eye are as nuanced, messy and complicated as any of the rest of us, and we shouldn’t expect them to be otherwise. We can be grateful for Patrick Moore’s kindness and great work in popularising astronomy and angry about his views at the same time.

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Posted in haste from my phone…

So far, SXSW has been eye opening. From the sessions I’ve been to and the people I’ve met, I’m discovering that there is a ton of work and thinking being done in the area of games for formal and informal learning across the US. At the same time, I’m finding that there is little awareness of what’s being done in this area in the UK.

Also, there has been a lot of discussion about how to make this innovative work more mainstream. It seems like pooling information, resources and learnings could be a good start, and that everyone working in this space could learn from each other. I know I could. So, this post is a plea for suggestions about how to do this, or for directions to places where this discussion might already be happening.

A google group? A wiki? both? Something else altogether? Suggestions in the comments or @ me on twitter and I’ll add them here. Thanks!

Updated after twitter discussions:

Museum games wiki as possible model: Museum games wiki

Q: are there not some serious games lists already out there?

Yes, lots of people working in this area in us but because it’s multidisciplinary it’s fragmented.
So q: is how to bring that all together.

any other thoughts from people?

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Today’s fuss about “fakery” on Frozen Planet has provoked an interesting response on twitter, a chorus of jokes and commentary which essentially said “well *duh*, of course not everything on TV is real! Which idiots thought it was?” And no, I don’t think the Frozen Planet example, of cutting zoo footage with footage from the wild in a way that implied the former was happening in the latter and then telling everyone they did so on the website, is really that bad. In fact, they should be commended for providing behind the scenes information, as they also do in their end “making of” sections in the show. However, it does give me an excuse to talk about documentary fakery, on even very small scales, which has been bothering me as a filmmaker for some time and which I’d dearly love to have a bit of a debate about.

Firstly, let’s not assume that everyone does in fact realize the degree to which television, even documentaries, is manipulated and manipulative. Not everyone has worked in TV, made their own films, is media savvy, or even that critical of what they see. Why should they be, watching TV is often something people do to switch off and get swept away at the end of a long working day. Also, it’s not like we got taught to analyse television in this way at school (unless kids do now?) So the fact that shots are staged, noddies are sometimes done in the absence of the interviewee, bears are filmed in a zoo rather than the wild and so on will indeed come as a surprise to many people who aren’t necessarily idiots. Because documentary includes shots of real life, people do mistake it for an accurate representation of real life.

Even those who think they are smart about the way TV is made, who can spot the ways in which Come Dine With Me features staged shots, who sees the strings being pulled in the X Factor or even news interviews, even they aren’t always aware of the power you can wield in the edit, which perhaps one never is until you’ve tried it yourself. When editing an interviewee, for example, it is sometimes trivially easy to cut them to sound like fools, or edit out their inconsistencies to make them into geniuses. I feel a huge responsibility to interviewees for this reason, and it can be a tricky balance.

But does it matter that probably a majority of people are indeed very definitely being mislead by things like added sounds in nature documentaries, Kevin McCloud pretending to have “just arrived” at the recently finished houses on Grand Designs, and so on? In those examples it can seem fairly harmless, but they are still a fraud and very rarely made clear as such, and so it bothers me on some really basic level.

It also bothers me partly because these techniques are also used in documentaries that are trying to make a point, maybe political, maybe about a social issue, and whilst all intentions may be good, they are still on some level defrauding people who aren’t aware that it’s happening. Perhaps in some really really tiny way, like staging a shot of someone arriving to work on their bike (as I have done), when they do always arrive to work on their bike. But even that is still a fraud, and can undermine the validity of the rest of what the programme is saying. For those who do realize something is staged, it provokes the question “hmmm, I wonder what else is faked that they aren’t being clear about?”.

Finally, it also bothers me because often it looks REALLY NAFF. The noddies, interviewing someone whilst walking towards the camera as if it isn’t there, pretending you’ve got two cameras by asking someone to do something again and shooting it the resulting stiff and forced action from another angle etc

Done well, of course, this is all about making the programme more watchable and more flowing. And of course there is no way to make any sort of programme without editing. I’m certainly not suggesting that everyone should always make all their footage available. But it is something I wrestle with every time I make a film and sometimes I wonder about coming up with a Dogme 95 style list of rules for documentary that would do away with a lot of this. What would the resulting documentary look like?

Mostly, I’m talking about a point of principle, a philosophy of filmmaking that I haven’t quite worked out for myself. And I’m talking about not making assumptions about how people watch TV. But if nothing else, what I want to say is that I do think a little more transparency would be a good thing, if only because I think it’s something that many people would genuinely find really really interesting.

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Hello world!

My website had been languishing without update for over two years so, rather than try and design a whole new site with my rubbish and outdated web design skillz (CSS what??), I’ve created a blog instead. Will mostly be used as a place to collect the stuff I work on as Multimedia Editor at the Wellcome Trust, so videos and interactive stuff about biomedical science and related art. I also reserve the right to post whatever other flotsam and jetsam float into my brain demanding internet space, which will probably include old projects I’ve worked on but potentially also pictures of cats with stupid captions which never gets old as far as I’m concerned.

Would love any feedback on the work I put up here.

If you’re so inclined, you can follow me on twitter, am @marthasadie.

Most of my videos end up here on the Wellcome Collection YouTube channel, but some also here on the Wellcome Trust one.

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