(james benedict brown) on the road

Globalisation: more virtual newsroom architecture

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 25 March, 2008

A few weeks ago I wrote about the relocation of the Canadian Global National newscast to a “virtual” studio in Ottawa. One interesting question being, what’s the point of moving your news anchor to the nation’s capital, when all that indicates that Kevin Newman is in Ottawa is a computer-controlled image of the Canadian Parliament behind him?

I’m very interested in the architecture of television news, because it crosses into all kinds of interesting fields of study to do with architecture and the projection of power, security and knowledge. It’s also one of the most readily accessible situations in which virtual architecture finds environment in which it is ready to demonstrate its potential.

The “virtual” treatment of the Ottawa studio has now been applied to the Global Television affiliate CKMI-TV in Montréal. Even when I lived in Montréal I didn’t watch CKMI much, mainly because TV didn’t play much part in my life, but also because the channel’s principal evening news bulletins were broadcast too early in the evening for me to watch. The concept of a 17h00, 17h30 or even 18h00 English language news bulletin in Montréal being to catch the captive audience of anglo housewives waiting for their partners to come home. From that any Montrealer or Montréalais(e) reader will know exactly what sort of political leaning Global Québec takes.


Here’s a shot of Global Québec anchor Jamie Orchard opening an edition of the evening news. See that bustling newsroom behind her? Yep. It’s a hive of activity down there at Global Québec. Or so you might imagine. The physical set isn’t the only thing that has been put out to pasture. A number of control-room and on-screen staff have been laid off as well, victims not only of a remotely controlled programme (the news studio is now controlled from Vancouver) but also of the cancellation of This Morning Live, CKMI’s breakfast programming. The creation of a virtual newsroom doesn’t just dispense with the need to have that buzzing newsroom behind the anchor, it also dispenses with the need to have people working in every regional news studio controlling the cameras and cue-ing up reports.


If there is one good point to note about the application of this virtual studio, it’s that so far the design has been better applied in Montréal than in Ottawa. This opening pan shot, looking down on the anchor and the desk (the only real things in the entire shot) works better than the acuter angle of the opening shot on Ottawa: the perspective is, at least, more believable. That said, I imagine there have been a few instances in which Jamie Orchard has or will be tempted out from behind her desk to stand in front of another hideously mis-proportioned long shot of the non-existent studio.

I can’t claim to be close to any informed sources in the Canadian media industry, but Global has no made no bones in announcing that Global Edmonton, Global Calgary and Global Toronto will be the next affiliates to welcome virtual newsrooms. And that means control-room staff there might do well to start refreshing their resumés.


The ontheroad podcast episode 06: Pimp My Shopping Mall, West Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 3 February, 2008



The Ontheroad Podcast returns for 2008 with episode six, the ‘lost episode’, thought to have been wiped by a grumpy iPod after being recorded last November in Edmonton, Alberta. James tries his best not to sound like Louis Theroux, and explores North America’s largest shopping mall…

Screenshot: pity the Albertans

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 29 January, 2008


Proof that I had every reason to laugh at my wimpish friends in Edmonton who thought it necessary to remote-start and pre-heat their car while I was there in November (when it was barely below freezing). This is from last night’s news bulletin in the city.

Snapshot: from the X5

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 3 January, 2008

Another day, another bus. 2008 commenced modestly, with good food and good wine, followed by American-style cupcakes (baked by a genuine American) that were sugary enough to justify major dental reconstruction work after consumption.

I left Oxford a day later in a cloud of wordlessness that belies my output as a blogger. In the silence that continued for the duration of the near-four-hour bus journey from Oxford to Cambridge (via just about everywhere and around just about every roundabout in between), I slumped into the spacious row of seats at the back of the bus and considered England. My homeland is not pretty at this time of the year. Everything is grey and brown, or a subtle shade in between the two.

As we bounced through Biscester, Milton Keynes and Bedford, I realised that the only colour seemed to come from garish commercial activity. The ease with which anyone can use a computer to design a shop frontage or the colour-scheme of a company’s vehicle has killed off the skillful art of sign writing. Horrible vinyl shop hoardings can be printed on vinyl or plastic with remarkable ease, and any small business owner can try their hand at using their favourite Microsoft fonts and graphic effects to create their own hideous signage. Am I alone in thinking that the average British high street is a mess of low quality commercial signs?

Those who know me sometimes warn me not to romanticise Canada and the lives I have lived and could live there. But at this grey time of year I’m sure many people will agree that it can be hard to romanticise about the place you live in. The grass is always greener, as they say, but are the shopfronts any better?

The cinemaphile’s best of 2007

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 28 December, 2007

It is that time of the year – the almost measureless drag between Christmas and the New Year – when British media outlets love to fill airtime with largely meaningless but cheap-to-produce programmes that offer us a low down of the “best” of the past year. Books, television, celebrities, technology, cars and, of course, film.

2007 has, for me, been a fantastic year for new films. I’ve dotted about the place and watched many films in many cinemas in several different countries. Some cinemas, like the basement screen of L’Odyssée in Strasbourg were tatty, uncomfortable and poorly designed boxes in which to savour a good film. But as we all know, those are often the ideal specifications for a cinema; if you happen to fancy snuggling up with your companion during the film, you appreciate the fact that the arm rests have begun to fall off the chairs, many of which now recline further back than they were ever meant to. Other cinemas, like the Scotiabank Theatre in Edmonton, were just stupidly priced because they know that in a -30ºC snowstorm, once the customers are in the door they’re very unlikely to turn around and go somewhere else. Close to my heart is my long term love affair with the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield. This four and a half screen arts cinema is arguably one of the best independent cinemas outside London, perhaps made even better than those in the capital because the cumulative effect of the Showroom cinema, the Showroom café-bar, the Showroom restaurant and several excellent festivals and events throughout the year contribute a tangible year-round buzz to Sheffield’s arts scene. So proud am I of the Showroom, I’m also a student member, and I’m there at least two, if not three times a week when I’m in town.

The outspoken but rarely ‘off’ film critic Mark Kermode passed judgement on a number of films over the last few weeks on Simon Mayo’s BBC Radio 2 programme (and also on his own podcast), and tonight on BBC television the arrogant and unjustifiably expensive Jonathan Ross threw in his two pennies on the final Film 2007 of the year. Together, these programmes reminded me of some the entertaining, intriguing and stimulating films that I’ve enjoyed in cinemas this year.

The Lives Of Others was, with a cast unknown outside Germany, earth-shatteringly good and well within the realms of being classified good enough to buy on DVD. The Last King Of Scotland was brilliantly told and justifiably stolen by two incredible lead performances – Forest Whittaker had every reason to expect the BAFTA and Oscar he received. Control blasted into cinema screens across Britain and united audiences who were old enough to remember Joy Division and those who will now go out and buy the albums in chronological order. Not in a long time has a British film evoked such emotion or made me proud to recommend it to friends beyond these shores. Michael Clayton surprised me, as did George Clooney in the lead role. Established Holywood stars don’t have to work too hard to maintain an income once they’re successful, so for every Clooney who makes an effort to keep pushing the envelope, I am grateful. The first installment of Marjane Satrapi’s brilliant series of graphic novels Persepolis has been brought to the screen with both faith to the original and an inventiveness which builds on the book – I thoroughly enjoyed the original version in French (as will anyone who has read the book, regardless of their French) and look forward to the English version coming out in 2008. The love story (and unashamed publicity vehicle for Frames frontman Glen Hansard) Once was so sickly sweet it could cure a sore throat, but at least it was that most precious of things – a deftly constructed but beautifully simple love story that didn’t need anger or sex scenes to justify its purpose. Children Of Men was one of the first films that I saw this year, and it was also one of the last: it is that good that I have broken my normal standards and seen it twice in a relatively short space of time. Technically unprecedented, it compensates for some unforgivable indulgences with ambition and remarkable vision.

One question remains for all these end of year television and radio specials. Simon Mayo asked it of Mark Kermode, and Jonathan Ross asked it of his two guests tonight. What is your film of 2007? Perhaps not the best film, but what is your film of 2007?

I would have been fourteen or fifteen years old when I saw my first Cohen Brothers film: Fargo. By dint of an indulgent pre-Christmas season of ‘snow’ themed films at the Showroom I recently got to see it again. The print that had been secured for the screening had obviously been projected onto cinema screens up and down the country many thousands of times. As each reel started and finished, the screen became touched a massive cloud of buzzing black specks, like insects that had suddenly swarmed on the strange snow covered towns of northern Minnesota in which the film is set. The opening sequence, in which Jerry Lundegaard towns a “burnt umber Sierra” through a completely snowed out landscape was transformed from the virginal winter purity of the film I know so well on digitally perfected DVD. The specks did not detract from the film so much as remind me of what was there beneath them.

But I digress. Even as a teenager I was sensitive to on screen violence, and Fargo sank deep inside me because of the brief moments of unjustifiable and remorseless violence. Only with time have I come to appreciate the bigger structure of the film, and the subtle character deliveries of William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi and Frances McDormand. How could have predicted that the gentle hero of a thriller could be a pregnant small town police officer who doesn’t even appear until the second half of the story?

With this in mind, my film of 2007, then, is probably going to be someone else’s film of 2008. That’s because it opens in the UK on 18 January; I just happened to catch it while killing time in Edmonton back in November. The Fargo Brothers are back, and they’re bringing with them a film that will win them some significant metalwork. If you don’t know Javier Bardem, you will very soon. He is about to appear on our screens as the most terrifying psychopath to ever stalk a film’s supposed ‘hero’. Showroom members (£16 / annum) can see it for £2 on the day it opens. I’ll be there, because a film as phenomenally constructed as No Country For Old Men deserves a second viewing.