Interviews

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VIDEO Interview with Lizo Mzimba

Best known to a generation as one of the longest-serving presenters of CBBC’s Newsround, Lizo Mzimba, now Entertainment Correspondent for the BBC, spared a few minutes to chat to The OxStu about children’s TV, his current job, and ways into journalism.

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Interview: Jack Dorsey

Jack Dorsey doesn’t speak unless he has something important to say. This advice rings loudly in my ears as I apprehensively climb the Union staircase to meet the technology entrepreneur dubbed the “two-hit wonder”. For a man who turned 38 this week, Jack Dorsey already boasts – although I get the feeling boasting is not something that interests him – a breathtakingly impressive resume. Best known for co-founding Twitter and winning the Wall Street Journal’s prestigious Innovator of the Year award for technology, last night at the ‘Financial Times The 125’ flagship event he announced plans to take his second company, Square, global.

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Interview: music critic Mark Beech

 

For a man whose job is to stay one step ahead of the music industry, has celebrity anecdotes galore, and still attends the best gigs around, Mark Beech hasn’t let it go to his head. “I am a dinosaur” he assures me, as I run over a few pre-interview plans. This is a critic who is now one of the most read in the world, has just released his third book, and still dreams of that elusive interview with Bowie. If that’s what Beech calls being a dinosaur, then count me in. (more…)

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Buzzers, bonuses and backstage Paxo

Having been running now for 52 years, spanning 43 series and upwards of 1000 teams, it seems fair to say that University Challenge is almost as much of a national institution as the Tower of London. However, while we addicts of the series can end up spending a total of almost 14 hours watching it each year- what goes on behind the scenes remains, aside from a recent documentary detailing the selection process, somewhat mysterious. As the latest cohort of hopefuls begin to trickle onto our screens in pursuit of the much-coveted title, the OxStu has tracked down University Challenge competitors past and present to give you the lowdown on the backstage drama.

The first question likely to arise in relation to the show is inevitably to do with the infamous quizmaster himself, Jeremy Paxman. Having taken over from the original host Bamber Gascoigne at the show’s re-launch with the BBC in 1994, to become the UK’s longest serving quizmaster, he is famed for his snappy and often cutting responses to some answers given, making it somewhat surprising that he acknowledges never having been “good enough to get onto it”. The suggestion this entails that much of his onscreen behaviour is simply a factor that contributes to the entertainment value of the programme is supported by the experience of a current member of the St Peter’s college team, who went so far as to describe his relaxed, off-screen demeanour as “a bit underwhelming”. While contact between him and the contestants backstage is minimal, it is tempting to feel that a true fan of the programme couldn’t help but be somewhat disappointed by anything other than an outright dismissal from the man described by The Guardian’s Johnny Dee as “famous for intimidating inquisitions, pricking pomposity [and] withering world-weariness”.

Paxman isn’t the only celebrity Somerville’s team have won over

Yet this sentiment was not shared with all of our interviewees. Sam Walker, a member of the Somerville team who were runners up to Trinity College Cambridge in last year’s final, found that despite being slightly “warmer”, Jeremy Paxman off camera was “very similar to Jeremy Paxman on camera!”  This could, however, be more a reflection of the more relaxed side to Paxman witnessed by audiences in last year’s quarter-final. When captain Michael Davies breezed through questions on Economics, Paxman joked: “Some people find these questions quite difficult to answer, you know.” Paxman isn’t the only celebrity Somerville’s team, and specifically its captain, have won over: Stephen Fry, himself a former contestant on the programme, tweeted after the quarter-final: “Somerville’s captain Davies is delightful.”

This surprisingly mellow attitude is apparently matched by the interaction between competing teams. Where both The Young Ones, and later, St Trinian’s, have depicted the potential for rivalry in similar competitions to provoke dramatic courses of action both during the competition and beforehand, current contestants maintain that the interaction necessitated by the lengthy waits before and after filming rendered other teams “pretty friendly and happy to talk”. Indeed, the producers’ decision to host all the teams in the same hotel suggests a level of faith in the competitors’ behaviour towards one another. Sam compares the difference between this and the tension onscreen to a boxing match, where “the two guys who’ve been throwing punches at each other stop to talk, hug and shake hands”.

Nobody looks particularly intimidating

However, the lack of fireworks sparked by meetings with other competitors doesn’t mean they didn’t, at times, amuse. A fair few “bizarre pre show talks” were witnessed to have taken place- the content of which remains mysterious, yet watching some of the more unusual tactics employed by others may serve to instil a greater feeling of normality for teams with less elaborate plans, especially if, as one correspondent confessed “nobody looks particularly intimidating” in the competition.

A degree of attention has been paid to Manchester University’s preparation tactics, having won 4 times since 2006, they are often considered to be one of the shows greatest success stories. While many may be tempted to put this down to the institution’s status as the UK’s largest single-site university, thus allowing them a greater pool of potential competitors, it may rather be that their librarian, a former contestant, puts the team through a rigorous training process including buzzers and past questions.

Even the best preparation can’t cover all eventualities

Yet emulating the conditions of the competition requires a great deal of hard work and resources not available to all teams- in the case of this year’s St.Peter’s team, losing the occasional pub quiz had to suffice. However, the experience of Somerville last year, when one contestant became ineligible during the competition and had to be replaced, suggests that even the best preparation can’t cover all eventualities, something suggested by the various controversies that have surfaced relating to the show. Most notably, certain bodies feel uncomfortable with the fact that both Oxford and Cambridge colleges are permitted to enter separately, thus representing a far small number of students than other universities.

Fancy testing your dedication to the programme? Check out how Uni-C savvy you are with our quiz.

PHOTO/BBC

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Investigation: Oxford students speak out about porn habits

At the beginning of 2014, Pornhub, one of the world’s largest porn websites, released statistics that revealed the most popular search terms countries and cities within the United Kingdom.

These search terms reflect what users actively search for, giving the general population an insight into the porn habits of the country as a whole, as well as the habits of inhabitants of specific English cities.

Within England, the most popular search terms were “British”, “Lisa Ann” (an American pornstar particularly renowned for her role as Sarah Palin in the porn film ‘Who’s Nailin’ Palin?’), “lesbian”, “MILF” (informal, stands for ‘Mother I’d Like to F**k) and “Indian”.

As compared to the majority of cities in England, “MILF” was more popular than “lesbian”, while “British” and “Lisa Ann” remained among the top search terms. Interestingly, Oxford was the only place in England where “casting”, a type of porn depicting an audition for an adult film, was in the top searched-for terms.

The Preview Show decided to conduct a survey of Oxford students, in order to see how many students say that they watch porn, but more specifically to investigate the popularity of Oxford’s top five search terms amongst the student population.

In our survey of 248 Oxford students, conducted via ‘Survey Monkey’, 71.8% of all students said that they watched porn. Broken down, this amounted to 90.2% of male self-identifying students saying they did so, against 51.2% of female self-identifying students.

Rank Pornhub’s Oxford Stats Oxford Students (Overall) Male-identifying Female-identifying
1 British Lesbian (56.8%) Lesbian (59%) Lesbian (52%)
2 Lisa Ann MILF (32%) MILF (43%) MILF (9%)
3 MILF British (26.4%) British (36%) British (7%)
4 Lesbian Lisa Ann (13.6%) Lisa Ann (18%) Casting (7%)
5 Casting Casting (12.8%) Casting (16%) Lisa Ann (4%)

–        Note: the percentages refer to the amount of porn-watching students who said they had searched for each term specifically and individually

“Lesbian” was the most popular search term amongst both genders individually, in contrast with its 4th place position within the city. However, this term was overwhelmingly popular with females when compared to the other search terms – almost 6 times as many of our participants had searched for “lesbian” compared to “MILF”.

Similar percentages of students had searched for “lesbian” –a 7% difference – between genders, yet this was not the case for the rest of the search terms.

“MILF” was more frequently searched by the student population than by the city as a whole, with the city’s most popular term “British” coming third in student searches.

“Lisa Ann” was also less popular, but “casting” remained, with Oxford students, the least searched of the five most popular Pornhub terms.

Students also searched for other specific terms – 47.6% of females said that they search for topics outside the top five, as did 50.6% of males. Further investigation into these searches would, possibly, reveal the top five search terms for the University as a whole, as its apparent that terms such as “Lisa Ann” and “casting” are less popular with the student body than with the city.

The Preview Show decided to do a documentary on these findings. Here is the link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LqfJA8AQ6Q

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Producing the most popular series of all time

Frank Doelger, executive producer of Game of Thrones begins by explaining that “I am always asked the same questions: who is John Snow’s mother? And why did you kill Ned Stark? So I will save time and answer those questions. I don’t know who John Snow’s mother is because George Martin hasn’t told us yet. I think he knows but I’m not certain. And we killed Ned Stark because George did.”

Basics over, Doelger tries to explain what his job actually entails. “For Game of Thrones we have 10 episodes per season for which we hire four to six directors.” This makes television production almost the opposite to film production. In the latter the directors are the one with the creative vision, in the former it is the producers that have all the control: “They [the directors] come in and direct using the actors we chose ad the places we’ve chosen to shoot. Months before the series airs their job is done.” “You don’t want to give them control of a programme like Game of Thrones. Last series we had a director who wanted to film an entire episode by hand – we shot like that for two days and then fired him.”

It is the producers of a show like Game of Thrones then that are responsible for exactly how it comes across. Two of the most challenging aspects of this brief is how to get the “question of fantasy versus reality” right and “in a show that went from world to world and could be incredibly confusing how [to] come up with something visual that immediately indicated to our audience where they were”. When the original script was written and the first pilot shot they felt that it was a 60/40 balance between fantasy and reality. “We realized we couldn’t sustain the fantasy.” They went back and re-shot the episode and now “the characters are real and the fantasy is an overlay”. The second issue was also solved quite successfully. “In each season there would be four or five worlds.” The solution to this was “to imagine that everything the characters wear, eat, build with comes from a 50 mile square radius from where they live”. Once this happens, “you should be able to put a character against a blank backdrop and be able to tell what world they’re from – from what their hair looks like, what they eat with, what the fabrics they use and wear are like.”

All this costs a lot of money; how much exactly? “I can’t actually tell you because it’s confidential but it is the most expensive show ever produced for television […] but it’s also the most popular, airing in 163 countries.” Did they realize this was going to be the case when they begun? “We didn’t have a clue; we thought it might be one season with a small audience. I’d never read anything in the genre, never even heard of George Martin when I started producing the show.” What is it about it that makes it just so popular then? “Visually its so spectacular and surprising. It stands out for that.”

But when people think of Game of Thrones, there are other things that stand out quite obviously. A marked presence of incest, for instance. Danielle Henderson, writing for the Guardian recently expressed how ‘the misogyny of Game of Thrones has always seemed so gratuitous as to pull me out of the story. For every woman with authority, there are five more being disparaged, and most women come to their power through physical and emotional humiliation (Daenerys) or a cool detachment from reality (Cersei)’. How do the producers deal with the social taboos that are brought up in the show? “Well we actually just embrace them. There’s nothing we’ve done that isn’t historically accurate. We lose audience because of that – there’s certainly some people who think we go too far. But we never think it’s gratuitous. We just try and be as true to the story as possible.”

So the television series vision remains close to the writers’ vision? “The vision of the show as articulated in the beginning was very much shaped with the writers: they keep building on that, we keep refining it season by season but I think the world we’ve created is very true to what the writers wanted.”

One thing we have noticed change slightly in the later episodes is the plot being made very explicit; Game of Thrones can be a very confusing show, is your primary concern to be clear? “ It’s really tough for people to follow and there has been a little tendency to over-explain…what to spell out and what not to is a question we ask each other every episode and it’s a thing you can kind of never quite get right.”

Part of the confusion in Game of Thrones might arise from the fact that often when plot is being explained, we see prostitutes having sex in the background; what is the point of all the sex? “It is an instinct of the writers…they wanted this to be a sexually charged world.” That, it certainly is…

How many writers does Game of Thrones have? “For most series we’ll have four or five writers. Good writers will always be on the set, the script is never really signed off, it’s a very dynamic environment.” And how much control does George R. Martin have on the script and/or anything else to do with the production? “He has approval of nothing. He isn’t involved in that sense. However because of his talent, because of his position in the industry we do everything we can to do what he would approve of. He’s very smart, he realizes that you can’t go directly from the books to the screen. But then again whatever we change we do so very cautiously. We want his approval, we don’t want him to think that we’re not doing good things with his work.” And in its current status as the most popular TV series of all time, it would seem that they are!

The Oxford Student

One Step Ahead Since 1991