London, Monday, 21:09. Where is this place? My eyes pirouette like a dysfunctional lighthouse. Then, out from nowhere in front of a black clad hoarded building, a familiar voice. “David, in here” “ Hey Malik how you doing?” I step into the foyer, something out of the 60s Man from U.N.C.L.E.
‘Up the lift, fourth floor’, a suited woman says, looking like a Merovingian side-kick from the Matrix. And there — the network is in full swing, a hundred plus defiant ones, mingling, mouth to ear to overcome the din, pressing flesh, trading stories and swapping cards.
The CEO of the UK’s indie channel Channel 4 Alex Mahon is here and for a 35 pounds (40 dollars), in the end wavered, you can dine with the movers and shakers of British Television. This is where it happens, where the next TV series as a whisper, gesture, off cuff remark finds its follow up in C4s board room.
All these people — all Black, Asian, Minority or Ethnic, businessing. Greets are tempered by who’s attention you’re procuring. The tilt of the head as faint acknowledgement, crushing bear hugs. Air kisses. Stop. Re cue: Ennio Morricone- Strength of the Righteous ( LOUD), below from The Defiant Ones.
Dr Dre, who would have thought is down on his luck with his label Aftermath. Jimmy Iovine has worked every sinus of the music business to find his meaning. An Italian kid, going nowhere at first, who finds his first break in a recording studio engineering John Lennon. Pure serendipity, but Iovine is the grafter, the defiant one who won’t take no and creates his own path. Each star he sessions is the CV for the next one.
A chance meeting with Dre is revealing to anyone thinking that success come neatly package. Iovine is walking along the beach. Dre, hacked off from another agency looking for an endorsement for sneakers catches some air on the balcony of his beach house. He spots Iovine . The two do that brief mutual respect thing, (having crossed paths many years back). Iovine pops up to Dre’s pad for a drink. Dre tells Iovine his endorsement issue. Iovine says you should be selling headphones. In a beat, Dre says … “and we should call it ‘beats’”. Waaaah! is that it!
The Defiant One becomes a talking point amongst friends at this London outing. There are docs you cherish, you love for their stories, and then there’s that one which tells a remarkable yarn — underdogs battling the system. Deconstruct and you have the bible for meeting life’s challenges and coming out good the other side.
Doff cap to the The Defiant Ones director Allen Hughes. This must have been a deeply pleasurable pain to make: the number of interviews, pinning down the stars, the archive, directing the visual narrative, and then a story full of candid moments that culminates in a riveting series.
I binged watched this, and just kept thinking, as if I didn’t know: ‘it’s about the network’. It’s about complementary personalities, spotting how to leverage what you each do, and then pursuing it relentlessly. It’s on Netflix. It couldn’t possibly be made by a visionary black director for British Television, could it? Netflix, the risk taker, smells a story that is all about risk.
Everyone of the people in this large cavernous room off Brixton is defiant and implicitly gets the ‘ complementary network’. But there’s a downside, right, being defiant. For an artist the spectre of being difficult is an arms length away.
My story? Almost a year ago I met the event’s host from the TV Collective, Simone Pennant, for the first time.
We both wanted to leverage what we (collective plural) do. We both had producing skills. Simone had the contacts. I had down the production and had some pocket change. Here’s three ideas. We settled on one then went about building it.
Over a five days, some of the UK’s best defiant ones filed into the University to lay down their thoughts of the industry, have their portrait taken and take a super selfie. Then through craft work, the output was shaped. A book launch. Exhibition. Video portraits. Acknowledgement from the minister of state. That event, the #LeadersList, that day, represented something special and different to the status quo. Moving on…
In Brixton, Michele D’Acosta featured in the book tells a story of risks and how we grew up defiant. We both, we discover worked on BBC Reportage — one of the true great defacto defiant programmes of its time on Brit TV. Reportage was the Vice.com of its day, thirty years ago. If you could dream it, you made it. Today’s media vetting that the networks do is a smoke screen. It’s little to do with form. Everyone one in this room has form. Back then Janet Street Porter and Terry Jervis gave you your break. F*** up and you’re out of the door faster than a Trump appointee.
This was Reportage.
After Reportage, Newsnight, ABC News, Channel One, WTN and Channel 4 News would follow. I formally left Television in the early 2000s, jumped into dotcoms and tech and became an academic. Some global awards followed into next gen content and then I absorbed myself into that thing — a PhD at UCD rewiring my passion — collapsing media history, social meaning making, filmmaking and political economy.
The Defiant One shows how Dre hits creative dark spots, how Iovine is plagued by failure, and how both of them ploughed back into an academy: Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy at USC. That, there finished me off.
The #Leaderslist was possible because of a new course, the disLAB I run with some pretty amazing colleagues. We’re defying the way we learn on an MA with the next generation of students who need future skills with high-end business marketing nous. Two weeks ago, we wrapped up a first in which our Masters students worked with some of the UK’s leading entrepreneurs.
Then we had it filmed to share with anyone interested in how we did it and what we did. There’s some nice twists. The mentees pay it forward based on an artisan 19th century practice.
Day before the Brixton gig, I’m in Brixton, giving some love back to another defiant one. Michelle Escoffrey-Ojo of the Escoffrey sisters fame has just dropped her latest album and I’ve been invited to a listening session.
Month before that I’m talking to a secondary school in Sutton. We talk emerging journalism. In a straw poll out of 270 few get traditional journalism. They get this other. One snap chats the following:
Next week, we’re meeting up with friends from IBM looking to build the next generation of television sets that let you the consumer do some weird stuff. I first mooted the idea more than a decade ago when The Economist reported on it. Then with an old BBC colleague, and the leverage of one of the world’s leading image making companies, we’re looking to hack the zeitgeist.
The Defiant One’s parting message is a sobering one. Apple, the scion of tech that wasn’t ready for streaming sees the next step in the product line. Less barriers in distribution or otherwise ownership of the door to door. That’s it: the means of distribution. but it’s something else too.
The closing three mins of the doc is a blueprint for success and failure. It’s not enveloped in some pithy ad meme or saying, but a cacophony of views. Here’s but a few.
If you Wanna accomplish something that hasn’t been accomplished, you have to be relentlessly and unapologetically determined. You don’t have to conform. You can be as was raw as you need to be. You can’t please everyone. Deliver quality. Do more. Do more. You’re the underdog. Stay in the f***ing saddle. Treat everything like it’s your first opportunity.
If you’re reading this and feeling it, track Simone down. If this post gives you food for thought share, retweet, hit me up and let’s talk or collaborate. Simone and I aren’t finished with the #Leaderslist just yet. What happens next? Defiance of course.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah’s specialises in Cinema Journalism. He’s a coder/designer, cinema journalist and filmmaker and top writer on @medium. He publishes his award-winning online mag Viewmagazine.tv. below. You can contact him at David [at] viewmagazine.tv
David’s film on cinema journalism