Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Shoot - lessons learnt

Back in Warsaw to sum up the past few days. On the most basic level - a sense of pride in Poland. Poland works. We flew into Wrocław, hired a car, drove to Wałbrzych along good roads, drove back to Warsaw via Łódź along motorways, the hotels were excellent, the food exemplary. Poland has come a long way from being a drab ex-communist country that I felt obliged to make excuses for in front of foreigners. The whole Polska w ruinie narrative just doesn't play - not even in the towns and villages of Lower Silesia. Wałbrzych's special economic zone, factories strung out along ul. Uczniowska. Below: Uczniowska, July 2007. Today, it's a 4km-long strip of activity. The last ten years has seen improvements in Poland's quality of life that cannot be denied.

The Gold Train story is good for business. In three days' filming in Poland, the production company bought 11 hotel-room nights, eight three-course dinners, 11 two-course lunches, hired a large car, topped up a tank of fuel, spent cash on coffees, mineral waters and snacks. I'd guess that in total, some 20,000 złotys were left in Poland's economy - as a direct result of the Gold Train story. And then there's the multiplier effect. The programme will air on Discovery Science in December; it will be seen globally and repeated regularly just as people are making their holiday plans. Thousands of tourists will be thinking - "if we're doing Europe this summer, let's pop by Wałbrzych and catch some of that Gold Train fever." We'd be looking at tens of millions of złotys being brought into the region this way.

What should Poland do about the legend? Tadeusz Słowikowski's last words to me as we left his house were "Try to persuade the Polish government to spend more resources to find the train." Should it though? Surely, individual hunters, armed with satellite images and old maps, poring over hundreds of documents and interviews online, can come up with hundreds of plausible ideas as to where the train(s) could be. I have one - it has yet to be disproved. It can be disproved easily - and a process of elimination is what's needed. Let a hundred gold train hunters present a hundred well-researched, cogent, logical suggestions - open them up to peer review - and then, with the full blessing of the Polish state, conduct a thorough search of the most promising ones. It may take decades, but in the meanwhile, the legend will linger. "This is the West, Sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Film-making. As I wrote earlier, the impact of technology on the process of recording images over the past thirty years or so is incredible. Film crews are smaller, nimbler, more efficient, able to get stunning shots far cheaper. Instead of canisters of unexposed film, the results of all the work is now digital. At the end of every shooting day, the producer disappears to do [data] wrangling - transferring the raw files from the data cards on the numerous cameras to a hard drive that can be sent back by courier. There is nothing more disastrous that can befall recorded footage than lost or corrupted files.

The upshot of all this technological change is the plethora of TV channels that can be set up on a shoestring. Competition that the founding fathers of CBS, ABC, NBC, ITV etc could not begin to imagine. So to attract the viewers in such numbers as to make advertising to them worthwhile, the content must be strong.

This time three years ago:
Digbeth, Birmingham 5

This time four years ago:
Still months away from the opening of the S2/S79

This time five years ago:
Looking at progress along the S79 (how little has been achieved!)

This time six years ago:
Snow on 3 May

This time seven years ago:
Two Polands

This time eight years ago:
A delightful weekend in the country

This time nine years ago:
The dismantling of the Rampa

This time ten years ago:
Flag day

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