Nonstarters: turning your dreams into movies

Worst kickstarter video of the week.

Dreams, even when remembered, fizz away like sweets dropped in lemonade when the brain switches on for the day. I think there’s probably a good reason for that.

Israeli entrepreneur Liran Goldberg doesn’t. His kickstarter pitch sought to raise $80,000 for the Sleep Project, a website designed to collect users’ dreams, subject their descriptions to a social vote, and turn the most popular candidates into a TV series.

Goldberg enthused: “How many times have you woken up from a crazy dream and thought Wow! That would make a great movie!!"

Many times, Liran. But then again, I often get that excited about starting a sandwich shop called “Baguette about it!”. It doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

A person’s dreams are never as interesting to anyone else as they are to the dreamer. That’s why we tell proper stories instead.   

Upon waking, I often grip my wife like the ancient mariner stopping the wedding guest, and insist on relating twenty minutes worth of mental adventure (“you don’t understand, love - I taught a giant crab to dance!”), before realising she is only sweetly feigning interest because I seem so involved in the telling.

I certainly can’t imagine television execs being much more generous. Can you really imagine any channel agreeing to air episodes with synopses like: “I was with you and these other guys, I can’t remember who. We were in this kind of greenhouse place with a pizza buffet, and we were looking for a special rock, but it turned out the rock was actually a bucket of ants. But it was still a rock, if you know what I mean? And then we were sort of in Japan, and David Hasselhoff was trying to get the bucket off me and then I woke up”?

Of course, Goldberg’s project had a voting system to ensure only the most popular dreams would be filmed, but this creates a worse problem.

By voting the most engaging stories to the top, people would be actively selecting against honestly transcribed blurts of brainguff, in favour of stories augmented and edited in order to make the “dreamers” look like really deep and meaningful people.

All in all, the Sleep Project seems like a lot of effort to go to for the sake of a few weak stories.

If only nature had equipped us all with a machine that could not only create our own movies, tailor-made to our particular interests, from nothing, but put us inside them, surrounded by special effects budgets that would bankrupt hollywood ten times over. Oh wait, it did.

“Inside every one of us is a brilliant screenwriter” Photograph: Kickstarter.com

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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Young people want big ideas – that's why I refuse to dumb down Radio 4

My week, from finding a way through the fog to getting the quarterly audience figures.

I walk to work through Regent’s Park, when possible accompanied by my dogs, which my husband then collects on his bike ride and takes home. If there is time we have coffee together in the small hut just before the inner circle. This is a good way to listen to the Today programme, I find, as I can keep one ear in, achieve a rational, critical detachment and still enjoy the birds, and then add the other ear if a strong interview demands immersion, or take both out altogether when despair creeps up. On the subject of Today, I hope to have some fun with Sarah Sands, whom we have just appointed as the programme’s new editor; it’s good to see an experienced woman brought in at a senior level to the BBC.

 

A winter’s tale

The park through the seasons has become something of an addiction, measured out by inspired planting of appropriate annuals, the names of which I note and discuss with the gardeners when I dare interrupt them.

Memorable events occur quite frequently during this walk: I once stumbled upon a proposal of marriage involving a beautiful young woman who once had worked for me; an elderly Chinese gentleman practises t’ai chi regularly at a certain spot and I imagine talking to him about the changes he has seen in his lifetime back home. I have seen a rare green woodpecker on the grass pecking boldly in plain sight, and hopeless ducks, silent, puffed up, marooned in the fountains, unable to find their way back to the ponds, so close by.

At the start of winter, while walking home one day, I got stuck in the park, with a group of other stragglers, as the gates locked with the onset of darkness. Rather than retreating the way I had come, I accepted the offer (from a rather good-looking stranger) of a lift down from the top of the gate. The atmosphere then was alive, exhilarating, with crowds heading for the Frieze Masters marquee. How different it all is now, in 2017. There’s a new mood, a new American president, a new era.

 

Musical interlude

Recently, Roger Vignoles – the glorious pianist and a close friend – was playing, as he often does, in a lunchtime concert recorded for Radio 3 around the corner from Broadcasting House at the Wigmore Hall, with the baritone Roddy Williams. French songs: Fauré, Poulenc, Honegger, with a handful from Caplet (the latter quite new to me). All thoughts of politics fled, giving way to “L’adieu en barque”, set late one summer’s day on the river, a moment to clear the fog, both within and enveloping us that day in London.

I left an hour later in clear sunshine, feeling smug because we have commissioned Roddy’s Choral ­History of Britain for Radio 4 later this year.

 

Power trip

Waiting for coffee to brew, I was discussing Book of the Week with Gill Carter, commissioning assistant on this slot, when my drama commissioner, Jeremy Howe, put his head round the door. “Clarke Peters (yes, the one from The Wire) is here reading The Underground Railroad for Book at Bedtime.” Assured, deep tones rang out from a tiny studio on the third floor. “I have to keep stopping,” he said, as I thanked him.

Who could not be overcome by this story of slavery and bravery at this moment in American history? I am so glad to bring it to listeners this month. “Can you help?” the producer pleaded as we left. “We’re about to be thrown out of the studio.” That’s real power, I thought, as ten minutes later Jeremy had conjured up the extra time.

Clarke Peters will be back in the autumn with a series about the real history of black music in the UK which, he says, is little understood.

 

Culture and anarchy

This is the time of year when we launch the commissioning round calling for big ideas for next year. It’s a humbling thing to stand in our beloved art-deco Radio Theatre in front of hundreds of programme-makers, hoping that they will be inspired to bring “the best which has been thought and said in the world” (my guiding principle from Matthew Arnold).

I try on these occasions to lay out a little of how I see the shape of the world in the commissioning period ahead. This year the Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner overcame me. Better perhaps simply to outline the way we commissioned the first week of 2017 to catch the mood. T S Eliot, more or less all New Year’s Day, read by the formidable Jeremy Irons, raised an echo of the Thirties, then a factual series of considerable documentaries across the week described The New World, followed by writers around the globe Imagining the New Truth.

Finally, inspired by Twelfth Night and the spirit of misrule, the comedy writer John Finnemore, one of our favourites, took over as the Lord of Misrule himself.

The imaginative world and writers have never been more needed. Whether it is truth or post-truth, I suspect that dramatic, imagined and creative truth when properly achieved is probably the nearest we can ever get to truth itself.

 

Tuning in

It’s the week of Rajar. These are quarterly audience figures for radio. In the past few months, they tell us, over 11 million people have listened each week to BBC Radio 4, setting new records. Just under half are below our average age of 56 and 1.5 million are under 35. At the moment we seem to have over two million weekly visitors to the website and roughly 20 million monthly global downloads.

Who says young people don’t want intelligent content? Who says that dumbing down is the only way to attract big audiences? We at Radio 4 try to be all about smartening up. We mark Rajar Day (whether the numbers are up or down) with cake, so I make my way to Paul for two tarts, pear and blueberry this time.

Gwyneth Williams is the controller of BBC Radio 4

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times