Friday, November 14

A couple of short films for Avoca

I recently had the opportunity to help Avoca tell its food story through a couple of short films I made. They were shot by young photographer,  Ben Rice McCarthy and edited at Intercuts by Hugh Chaloner. We'd only a couple of days in total behind the scenes in Avoca's Rathcoole and Bray kitchens. So thanks to the chefs, bakers and everyone there who made life easy as we got in their way; and to Monique McQuaid & Simon Pratt for voicing them.

As Monique says of Avoca's traditional approach to baking - "We don't do short cuts, because if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right."

"What sets Avoca ready meals apart is that they are made by hand and they are made by chefs... just the way you'd make them at home." - Simon

Monday, September 8

Amy, Rob and "An" on why Education Matters

Sometimes a project gestates for so long, you think it might never happen as it sits "in development" in Hollywood-speak. We'd a long, but ultimately very worthwhile pregnancy* for this recently released web film I worked on for Focus Ireland from Javelin. Focus Ireland takes on such a challenge on our behalf, it's always great to have a chance to help. Its Education Matters initiative supported by Aviva looks to break the vicious cycle of homelessness and lack of education. So it's attacking a key cause as much as the despairing aftermath of becoming homeless.

Thanks to the generosity of everyone who got involved, starting with the "talent" of course, who were completely up for it from the get-go. And especially David who came back for a second day's shooting in Government Buildings where everyone was so helpful. Here he is on the hot line in the seat of power.

A big call-out also to Dara from Big FishIan Fitzgibbon and Jonny Speers who pitched in with that most precious of resources: their time*. And all at Screen Scene to get it over the line. It's not the first time Jonny and I have stepped out on a Focus Ireland spot together. Here's one we made earlier as they say, directed by Lenny Abrahamson and featuring Louise Lewis back in the day.

Oh and here we are with a gang of mates, smiling delusionally through the exhaustion on Lugnaquilla at the end of the exhilarating Four Peaks challenge a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, August 6

Written in stone

These words are literally writ large on New York's 8th Ave. Post Office:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat 

nor gloom of night 

stays these couriers from 

the swift completion 

of their appointed rounds.

Now that's what you call a mission statement... though apparently, it's not. Nor a slogan, a motto, a credo nor a creed; not even a brand truth.

It's actually largely an architectural detail added by William Mitchell Kendall when he was designing what's now the James A Farley Post Office Building in 1912. So the US Postal Service has this wonderful language and inspirational sentiment incised in its stone, but it seems, doesn't claim it as an institutional manifesto. Many a brand would savage you to own such a declaration. No matter, it's magnificently realised, chiselled into the architrave - and a powerful expression of intent.

Coming across it for the first time recently - and struggling to photograph it - one would have to admire the chutzpah to strike it out so proudly across the whole length of the facade. Though it must be acknowledged, Seinfeld's Newman was less taken by it.

Friday, August 1

Mythbusting Apple and what we might learn

There were a few interesting insights from one-time Apple designer, Mark Kawano in a recent article in Fast Company dispelling some of the mythology which surrounds Cupertino's design success. Apple just seems to have been able to tap into the humanity of technology better than most and certainly more often than most. User friendly is an unfriendly phrase, but cuts to a chase.

How Apple does it is still wrapped up (= clouded) in Steve Jobs' extraordinary aura which is never more manifest than in his messianic keynote addresses. I have to confess I was a sucker for them all and can still recall the audience reaction when he unveiled the iPhone in 2007 - "Today we're introducing three revolutionary products... An iPod. A phone. an internet communicator... are you getting it yet?". Well, we're all getting it now.

Of course we all also get it now from Walter Issacson's biog and others that Jobs was more than a bit of a bastard in the workplace. Kawano defends his old boss to some extent saying Jobs "had a low tolerance for people who didn't care about stuff." Indeed.

But a more revelatory observation is his view that it was Apple's culture that makes the real difference, not that it has the best designers. Rather he claims that the context within the organisation was to value and support design. "Everyone there is thinking about it." Not sex, but the interface, the engineering, the feel. He backs this up by suggesting this is why so many Applytes who are poached never seem to be able to conjure up the creative, design magic again. They've fallen out of the halo of positivity.

So a nurturing creative context, a supportive petrie dish of openness is central to its virtually pre-eminent design chops. Hmmm, whatever the Jobsian fear-factor, what a contrast with so many businesses here. Design is too often seen as cost, a sheen, superficial; tangental, not fundamental. Innovations can be dangerous and change, not to be trusted.

Even within the creative services industries, where the idea should champion all, there can linger a sterile pragmatism that's inhospitable to fresh thinking. It's like the conditions described by HI in Raising Arizona when he confesses that his wife, Edwina's "insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase." There's many a rocky place in our boardrooms. (Note to self: Must not pursue metaphor.) Instead we need more businesses where there's a genuine receptivity to design and where creative proposals can find purchase. Steven Johnson talks of hunches needing to connect with other hunches. Perhaps the culture is as important as the people. It's the sort of environment that served Apple well: we should all learn from it.

Tuesday, July 1

Like the car. Only better.

It's May 2014. We have Hollywood action helmer, Louth's own John Moore. A rain-swept Mondello Racetrack. A pair of Alexas. Flames. Mirrors. Strobes. Smoke machines. No flock of birds. And one of Expressway's shiny new coaches, crisply-fresh from the paint shop. What could possibly go wrong?

Expressway for Strategem iLabs, produced by Russ Russell, directed by the unhelmable J. Moore, picture & audio post in Screen Scene. CD by TK.

Friday, June 20

The Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games

Been trying not to be mesmerised by the flashing feet and frantic pace of one M. Flatley for the last couple of months as creative director for a new identity, graphics, print and promo TV for the global launch of his reimagined show, Dangerous Games with Simon Farrell and Ned O'Hanlon. Jonathan Parson, lately of Rathravane generated the 3D animation; with Hugh Chaloner shooting stills and steering the editing machine. Shoots were completed with the LOTD crew in Dublin, Brixton Academy and ITV's London Studios. The extravaganza kicks off in London in the Palladium in September 2014 before embarking on a worldwide tour.

Tuesday, January 14

Karibu Kenya

Karibu Kenya

Jambo! The all purpose greeting rings round Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport, the hub of East Africa. As ever, it’s a chaotic, bustling mass of transiting humanity, but our driver, Fred’s warm welcome and quick hands as he loads the bags into his high suspension, long wheelbase Toyota Landcruiser offer an instant touchstone of certainty: this is going to be great.

Dodging the Kenyan capital’s infamous rush hour logjam courtesy of a nexus of off-road shortcuts, we’re soon arcing northwest away from the city, sometimes shepherded by plantations of tall Tasmanian Blue Gum trees. Each town and village we pass through is a hive of rickety matatu action, the sometimes decorated but perpetually packed private minibuses that keep the population moving. There’s a certain freestyle frisson to the driving, with the occasional vertiginous pothole competing with random wandering wildlife to keep everyone on their toes.

Our destination on day one is Kiboko LuxuryCamp on the shores of Lake Naivasha where the animal life is said to be magnificent. However the journey has already taken on an exotic quality. Herds of cattle and zebra intermingle and graze nonchalantly along the roadside, like sheep in Connemara. And with the same apparent disregard for their own safety or that of oncoming vehicles. One or two unfortunate hyena haven’t crossed safely, but vultures will lead the clean-up crew.

We’ve been climbing steadily and as we round another bend, suddenly the land falls way sharply, cleaving a vast escarpment to the west. This is the Great Rift Valley, which cuts some 6,000 kilometres (3,700m) from Syria in the north to Mozambique to the south of this enormous continent. The panorama is truly stupendous. This is our planet’s dynamic, shifting geology played out on the grandest stage, as Africa is pulled asunder. The so-called Nubian and Somali tectonic plates are drifting apart by a couple of centimetres a year – if that isn’t too inconsequential a verb to describe a monumental, continent-breaking action.

 One result of this geological divorce will eventually be a new sea. Or rather a new stretch of an ancient one. Shifting plates also mean sleeping volcanoes and active hot springs. From a human perspective, even more seismic events have been recorded here: this is where archaeological remains of some of our earliest ancestors have been discovered. We’re all children of Africa, born of the Great Rift Valley.

The tents of Kiboko Camp perch on stilts over Lake Naivasha’s shores, connected by a web of elevated wooden boardwalks. There’s a sound practicality to the rather romantic architectural expression: the freshwaters rise and subside year on year. Some 400 species of birds are said to live here and it looks like they’re all out to play when we arrive. From impassive Great Cormorants to circling Fish Eagles, brilliant Pied Kingfishers to the aloof Black Heron. It’s a squawking, honking, flapping, whistling, hooting ornithological paradise.

Our accommodation is made with canvas, zipper doors and taut tie lines, but that’s where the resemblance to my previous camping experiences ends. These are luxurious, tall-ceilinged and spacious, with bathrooms, running water and electricity. There are mesh windows on three sides with fabulous views, and the whole front “wall” is really a series of three huge doors with canvas outers and mosquito mesh inners. I zip closed the flap and start unpacking, only to find I’ve an early visitor. Simian fellow, hairy, sitting on a side table, cool as a cucumber. The vervet monkeys here are smart and cheeky. I go for my camera and he skedaddles. Only later do I discover he has methodically stolen four apples from my tent.

Across the lake is Crescent Island, the curved lip of a part-submerged, long-dormant volcano, still scattered with black shiny shards of obsidian. The abundant game here exists without the threat of big cat predators. So herds of waterbuck, zebra and giraffe wander the 8 sq. km unworried. Not quite tame, you can walk among them, getting oh-so-close. A baby giraffe skitters about after its mother, looking like it’s running in slow motion. Gazelle munch away unconcerned by the gaping interlopers.

On-board again, we float among a serene squadron (yes) of pelicans, their beaks a glorious Van Gogh yellow. A couple of flamingos stop over en route to nearby Lake Nakuru whose alkaline waters famously play host to a million of them each year to feed on the algae. We nudge through a wide bed of floating hyacinth as if travelling across land, like a sedate version of James Bond’s motorboat chase in Live and Let Die. Hippos wallow close to the jetty as we come in and later that night after we’ve enjoyed a great dinner, they come on shore to trundle beneath our tented platforms. It’s hard to imagine these rather benign looking creatures are among the most aggressive and dangerous animals in Africa.

Striking out for Samburu National Reserve the following day, there’s a brief detour to visit an inspiring community project close to Nakuru. Post-election violence in 2007 had displaced hundreds of thousands. Now families are being repatriated and given new homes with plots to farm. Supported by a local resort, it’s a way for visitors to get another view of Kenya in what Gillie Kipchuma, our excellent guide calls Community Tourism. It’s moving and uplifting.

Later we pass a number of small establishments which promote themselves as offering “Hotel & Butchery.” It doesn’t seem like a compelling selling point, but Gillie assures me the area is famous for its meat. Next stop is on the Equator. We actually cross it a couple of times as our road sashays along 0º latitude. We’re shown what purports to be a demonstration of the Coriolis effect (where the rotation of the earth affects the direction water spins.) SPOILER ALERT: a reasonably convincing show at the time, a doubting Thomas Google reveals it to be hokum, though I hang on to my “certificate” of having seen it. And straddle the equatorial line for photographs.

What a landscape Samburu National Reserve defines, with the low scrubland marshalled all around by distant mountains, receding in misty layers. Elephant Bedroom Camp is dotted along the sandy banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River, the brown water. Again our tents are on stilts and the charming owners, Nagib Popat and his wife Nima relate how they’d recently to move and rebuild the whole camp after a tidal surge had swept up the river and swamped everything.

The name isn’t just a whimsy of evocative branding either: elephants roam all round the encampment and we’re under strict instruction not to leave our luxurious tents after dusk without an escort. Nagib’s men patrol the river all night. And given we find a crocodile lounging on the opposite bank the next day, we’re in no hurry to ignore the advice. Everything here is perfectly realised and feels in harmony with the environment. It’s wild, yet comfortable, our hosts are generous and there are stories to be exchanged late into the night.

Too late, as it’s another 6am start and we’re off on safari with Samburu guide, Julius, who frankly looks like he’s stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine, with a colourful wrap, combat sweater and ornate necklace. There’s a low buzz and he whips a smartphone out of the folds. He has the eyes of a hawk and we are soon gently bumping our way round herds of elephant. A dry river bed reveals a pair of snoozing lions – like teenagers, they sleep up to 22 hours a day. We come across a Gerenuk, sometimes called the giraffe-necked antelope with good reason. But even evolution hasn’t quite got it to where it likes to graze and they balance on tippy-toes to reach the higher branches.

On our way to a bush airstrip where a small plane will fly us the next leg, we strike safari gold not once, but twice. Firstly, finding a cheetah preciously guarding his recently killed gazelle (less than 20 minutes old Julius estimates) and then with a leopard up a tree, apparently indolently resting his foreleg on the branch. Closer inspection reveals though that it’s actually the remains of an impala he’d dragged up there. His gaze is unforgettable.

Still buzzing from this amazing natural theatre, arriving in Diani opens another gateway to Kenya. South of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean, white sandy beaches link up for hundreds of miles and the thermometer goes up a notch. The Pinewood Beach Resort offers a welcome respite from the heat, with a cooling courtyard pond where Koi carp shimmer below, whilst above, weaver birds endlessly renovate their grass-ball nests. We’re soon snorkelling from a glass-bottomed boat among Diani’s shallow reefs of coral. The balmy sea is blazes with bursts of colour – fearsome-looking devil firefish, vivid star fish, pufferfish, black-needled sea urchins – it’s hard to know where to look.

Perhaps you could say that of Kenya as a whole. I’ve only skimmed through a couple of destinations and still seen so much. If Africa seduces, Kenya may be her temptress-in-chief. Every journey here is an adventure; every vista, a scene from David Attenborough. Does it grip us so powerfully because secreted away deep within our DNA is some strand of our far distant African memory? All it takes is a visit to spark it and wonder at it.