athena media weblog

Beyond Limits & The Road to Rio

November 18th, 2013 by Helen Shaw

Mark Pollock will present the documentary

One of the highlights of our TV and video work last year was Beyond Limits with Mark Pollock, a preview of the Irish athletes participating in the Paralympic Games at London 2012. We met some fantastic characters like Darragh McDonald, Mark Rohan, Michael McKillop and Jason Smyth who came home with gold medals.

In the months following the London games we were determined to follow not just the stories of the outstanding athletes who went to London but to track the emerging new generation of new Paralympic athletes emerging post the games and inspired by the medal winners of London. Since then we’ve been filming with a whole new bunch of potential stars including tandem cyclist Peter Ryan, discus thrower Niamh McCarthy, swimmer Ailbhe Kelly, wheelchair tennis player Garreth Greene and a young veteran of London, long jumper and sprinter Heather Jameson. Once again the wonderful Mark Pollock is our presenter.

Beyond Limits The Next Generation - Trailer from Athena Media on Vimeo.

“People coming through see me on TV, so they look at myself as someone who has been there and done it and somebody who has the experience that they want to learn from” - Jason Smyth

In this new documentary, Beyond Limits, the Next Generation you will get to meet not just the new generation but you’ll see the medal winners from London mentoring and guiding those inspired and motivated by London and the Irish achievement.

“I feel that I definitely have something to give back to people who are starting off, whether that would be in athletics or cycling or just paralympics sport in general” - Catherine Walsh

Beyond Limits, the Next Generation is currently in post-production and will air on Setanta Ireland. Expect a transmission date shortly. Made with the support of the BAI and the help of Paralympics Ireland.

Getting off the couch and running in the dark

October 22nd, 2013 by Helen Shaw

Run in the Dark takes place on the 13th November

Our new TV series ‘Get off the Couch!’ starts on Setanta Ireland for six weeks on October 24th at 10pm and I’m sure it will get a fair amount of repeats across the winter and spring. It has been a full year since we started this project and probably two years, at least, since we first bid for funding for it from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. Nothing very much, happens very quickly in documentaries but its the in depth nature of this project which makes it different. We recruited six people from across the country, three men and three women, aged from 23 to 50, and their only common purpose was to get active and change their lives. Three of them, the three men, were out of work but Joe (23), Damien (37) and Eamonn (46) came from different experiences, skills and backgrounds. What has been fascinating is that as the six began to work and achieve physical goals their mental attitude changed. In most cases by the end of the six months of filming, during which they took on extreme outdoor sports, ran, cycled, swam and climbed mountains, the six, both men and women were using the H word - happiness.

Our presenter in the series Teena Gates has learnt that lesson herself by changing her physical health and fitness, she’s changed every aspect of her lifestyle. For me as the producer/director of the series the driving question of the series is ‘what happens when you do something you have never done before, and that you are scared of doing?’. Things shift, change and your mind alters. There is no going back.

That sense of the brain, the mind and our mental attitude to the world as plastic is one of the things we are exploring in our current radio series ‘Science is Everywhere’ which is a new series for Newstalk. If the brain is plastic it challenges our sense that things are fixed. So if someone is blind, can they come to see again? If a man is paralysed can he learn to walk again?

Which brings me to our friend and presenter Mark Pollock who is working with us on a new documentary Beyond Limits: the Next Generation which follows up on our documentary on the paralympic athletes including the amazing Jason Smyth last year. Mark is both blind and paralysed yet every day challenges our sense or perception of what that level of disability means. He is walking over 3,000 steps a day now in his bionic legs and has experimented with cutting edge research on seeing via the taste buds too.

Mark Pollock inspires me personally and challenges the way I limit myself every day. Get off the Couch! is about letting us think big and knowing that if you try, and train, you may just do it. Beyond Limits - 1 and 2 - brings forth the stories of people who refuse to be boxed or defined and who achieve their goals and dreams by endurance, hard work and believing in the possibility of change and transformation.

On November 13th, the third Run in the Dark takes place organised by the Mark Pollock Trust. It grew from a desire of Pollock’s friends to support him post his accident when he broke his back. In a short few years, Mark Pollock has gone from being extremely ill and with low independence to now living a fully independent life, training in the TCD gym every other day and travelling the world through his work and campaigns. On the night Athena Media will be running, or walking, the 5 and 10km not just to get ourselves off the couch but to support and give witness to the concept of believing in change, in working to make a positive change and in the leadership of people like Mark Pollock to show us the way.

A Tale of Two Cities

August 6th, 2013 by Helen Shaw

Dublin in 1913 is very much a tale of two cities; one defined by wealth and opportunity, the other by poverty and inequality. Citizens: Lockout 1913-2013 is our new six part radio series and explores the roots, causes and consequences of the labour - capital conflict of 1913. It starts on RTE Radio 1 August 10th 6pm and our opening episode begins in 1900 with the visit of Queen Victoria to Dublin and the protest by Maud Gonne and James Connolly.

We trace the journey of the city and its people from the last year of the Victorian age to the birth of the mechanical one and the social trends which define 1913; 20,000 households living in one room tenements parallel with an emerging catholic middle class. Several key characters shape the period particularly Jim Larkin who comes to Belfast in 1907 and later Dublin where he founds the Transport and General Workers Union. His strategy of bringing unskilled workers into the union and seeking rights for general labourers is seen as a challenge by the employers. Corkman William Martin Murphy comes to personify the age - he is President of the Chamber of Commerce, leads the Dublin Employers Federation and Murphy’s view is that Larkin and Larkinism must be stopped in order to safeguard the business world.

A tram strike in August - on the opening day of the Horse Show - prompts the lockout. 400 employers lock out 20,000 workers. Its a conflict which goes on for six months and the workers are completely defeated - many leave Ireland by February 1914 and others, left without work, join the British Army when World War 1 breaks out. Our series explores the human stories behind the statistics and finds out what is the legacy of the Lockout today?

To listen to our promo clips click here or for more information on the series see here.

Herosongs, Lockout and a Summer of editing

June 20th, 2013 by Helen Shaw

Lisa Essuman and Thérese McIntyre

We’re in the midst of some intensive editing here at Athena Media Towers. Our new 8 part radio series for RTE Radio1 Herosongs: history meet song begins on Sunday July 14th at 7pm so we’re closing edits and getting everything in order for the broadcasts. Our presenter Thérèse McIntyre is a singer and music scholar and the series was her idea based on her own passionate interest in the stories behind ballads and the connection between song and history-telling. Thérèse was a fan of our 26 part music series for RTÉ lyric fm High Fidelity: the history of recorded song with Jack L and Julie Feeney and she came to us at the close of the series to see if we might continue our interest in history and music. You can find out more about Herosongs via our news story and audioboo channel and hopefully tell us what you think when it goes on air and share your own stories about songs you learnt from your grandparents or what herosongs mean to you.

Our second mammoth radio series is the 6 part history and contemporary politics series Citizens: Lockout 1913 which marks the 100th anniversary of the six month labour lockout in Dublin led by trade union activist Jim Larkin. We’ve been working on this for nearly a year now and its a huge edit to create six hours of story-telling. Several people have been profoundly helpful. Morning Ireland presenter Cathal Mac Coille gave us a loan of Padraig Yeates book Lockout as its out of print and Padraig himself has been extremely generous with his time and advice during the recordings.

Another project coming to an close and facing an edit is our six part TV adventure series Get Off the Couch! which finishes shooting at the end of June and we plan to have it on air by September. All three projects Herosongs, Lockout and Get off the Couch! are being made with the funding support of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and we are extremely grateful for the fund and its support of strong, public interest content.

Athena wins awards

May 13th, 2013 by Helen Shaw

Celtic Media Award

It’s awards season or the Spring/Summer season of award competitions and our radio work is earning its tag as award-winning with a Celtic Media Torc award for our series Winning Women on Irish women competing at London 2012 and we’ve just had the good news that our second series with Newstalk in 2012 ‘Grassroots‘ is a finalist in the prestigious New York Radio Festival. Last year we won Gold in New York for our RTE Radio 1 history series ‘Death of an Empire’ and this year ‘Grassroots’ a BAI Sound & Vision funded series for Newstalk is a finalist in the social issues category. Grassroots is a short form documentary series where reporters Robert Hope and Lisa Essuman travelled the country looking for stories at community level of change and positive engagement. We found some beautiful stories and three of them were entered into the festival from the overall series and these were stories of young people in Limerick, Dublin and Galway finding their voice, confidence and path through fantastic community action projects like Sing Out with Strings in Limerick or Headstrong in Galway.

We’re very honoured to have had the opportunity to have connected with these people and stories and proud that we’ve been able to bring them to an international stage at the global radio festival in New York where we are competing with the best radio in the world from BBC, ABC in Australia and CBS in Canada.

At the Celtic Media Festival Lisa Essuman represented Athena Media and picked up the very heavy and very beautiful Torc award for Winning Women which was a short form series on Newstalk across the Olympics Games London 2012 and the winning entry was our final documentary, a one hour piece, which told the story of the competitors - like Katie Taylor and Aileen Morrison along with their inspiring chef de mission Sonia O Sullivan.

Both our winning series in these two international competitions were funded and supported by the BAI Sound & Vision Scheme and without it we would not have been able to tell their stories or bring Irish voices and talent to this international stage. The Sound & Vision Fund takes 7% of the TV license fee and runs a content fund which both public and commercial broadcasters can use. Effectively much of our documentary-making for people like Newstalk and Setanta Ireland as well as RTE itself is funded, and made possible, by the Sound & Vision Fund. We’re currently producing The Media Show for RTE Radio 1 (which is directly funded by RTE as an independent production) and the Minister Pat Rabbitte recently told the programme that he sees the fund as a vehicle which could increase in funding given its impact in getting public service genre content into the public space.

In our current projects for both radio and television we’re lucky enough to have both radio and television funding for key works including Get Off the Couch - our six part TV series for Setanta Ireland and Citizens: Lockout 1913 for RTE Radio 1. Its extremely tough to make a living as an independent documentary-maker in a small country like Ireland and getting recognition at international awards like the Celtics and New York enables us to continue to work in this field and to tell the stories of change, transformation and positive engagement which inspires us and which we hope inspires you.

Spring changes

March 3rd, 2013 by Helen Shaw

Teena Gates and Participants

Our TV series Get Off the Couch! is in full swing. We’re three weeks in full production and our six participants are busy walking, jogging, running, swimming and cycling getting ready for the challenges and tasks ahead - like climbing Ireland’s highest mountain in May!

It has been an amazing experience - to bring together six strangers who all share a desire to change; to get fit, to become a healthier more active person and then to see what happens. Our group has bonded and tend to help get each other through the day to day chores of changing their habits, eating better foods and dropping the negatives like fizzy drinks, fried foods, takeaways, alcohol and cigarettes. Yet its not all hard work and pain. Its been fun with lots of shared laughs - particularly on the super-treadmills in Sasta Fitness in Carrick on Shannon with Fiona Egan. Its tough to change. Its hard for everyone. To challenge myself and share their experience I’ve stopped drinking alcohol since early February and thus cut our own weakness for a crisp, glass of white wine in the evenings. I’m trying to share the physical challenges so that I’m not asking someone to do something I would not - or could not do myself. I’m not a smoker but I know its a very difficult road to finally getting free of the fags and our two smokers are working with a wonderful cessation counsellor Norma who has spent a lifetime helping smokers to quit. Our team is motivated and lead by Teena Gates who is taking up all the challenges herself and working with the group every day via our closed facebook group sharing tips, stories and experiences. It is early days yet but for us Get Off the Couch! is about change at its most positive sense. Changing every day towards a lifestyle and habit which is not just about getting fit or losing weight but about feeling good about yourself and enjoying each day and life itself to the maximum. That’s what GOTC really means. Live life fully every day.

Fabulous February

February 1st, 2013 by Helen Shaw

I’m generally a positive person but January has been (factually) one of the darkest months. Met Office in Ireland say Jan 2013 has been the dullest month since 1964 and it felt like it. Wet, cloudy and grey. And for me it was full of flu bugs and viral infection so I am extremely happy to say goodbye to January and welcome fabulous February. We’ve already had a celebration. Our rock n’roll production coordinator Rob Hope (lead singer with the band Senakah in his other life) is marking a birthday on February 2nd so chocolate cake had to happen today. He shares a birthday with that other famous Irishman James Joyce although he (Rob) plays better guitar.
So what’s the story? Well we’ve been Getting Off the Couch or do all our pre-production on the GOTC series which we’re shooting and producing for broadcast on Setanta Sports and which we’re funding supported by the BAI. Its been a frantically busy month for Rob who has been casting the six participants who will take up the challenge to literally get out and engage with new activities and sports. We’ve just cut a new trail and you can find it on
vimeo here. Our presenter Teena Gates is one active woman taking up new sports every time we meet her but we’re planning to get fully into production by Feb 9th and really start to make pictures.
In the meantime we’re making radio and I’m recording our big history project Citizens: Lockout 1913 which is simply fascinating. I had the chance to meet and interview some great writers and speakers including Ruth Dudley Edwards and Diarmaid Ferriter. And Im also recording for a new science series called Science is Everywhere and popped in to meet composer Daniel Figgis this week at the City Hall project where people make music by literally walking through the City Hall and being read by digital cameras and sound waves.
So from sport to history and science it is a diverse and interesting place and time despite the weather; but already February promises to be both brighter and healthier than its predecessor.

Welcome 2013 and a host of new opportunities

January 3rd, 2013 by Helen Shaw

2013. Its not so long ago we made such a fuss over 2000 and here we are 13 years later. What does the year hold for you? We’ve started back into the swing of programme-making and we’re busy with several radio and television projects as well as a new venue and new schedule of workshops under Athena Media Training. We’ve a major history series to mark one hundred years since Lockout 1913 - it goes out on RTE Radio 1 from September and we’ve been recording since last August so quite a big project to trace the roots and impact of the six month labour lockout in Dublin dominated by big personalities like Jim Larkin, James Connolly and William Martin Murphy. In TV we’ve two new projects - Get Off the Couch! with Teena Gates and a new Beyond Limits project - the follow up to our paralympics documentary with Mark Pollock called Beyond Limits - the Next Generation. Both are for Setanta and made with the support of the BAI (thank you BAI and broadcasters involved!).
Our training modules move to a new venue from Jan 21 - the historic Gresham Hotel on O Connell St, Dublin’s main street. All the workshops are morning half days and priced at a modest 100 euro a head and we start with a new offering Linkedin on Jan 21 as we’re increasingly getting more and more inquiries about Linkedin these days. We’ve half day twitter, facebook and online strategy workshops so whatever your digital and social media needs are for 2013 we can help.
Check out the website www.athenamedia.ie for more or our facebook page .
We’re also looking at a range of new radio projects including - hopefully - a return of the RTE Radio 1 Media Show.
One of the things I like about the Get off the Couch! series is that everyone on the team is going to have to get fit themselves to make it - so we’ve a really incentive to get active and outdoors ourselves in 2013. One of the joys (for me) in 2012 was meeting some amazing people - particularly in the Beyond Limits Paralympics project - and working with presenters like Mark Pollock. 2013 promises more of that lightness of spirit through all the broadcast projects on the table but in particular Get off the Couch! and Beyond Limits - the Next Generation.
We’ll keep you up to date - and we’d love to hear your news and stories too. Join us on facebook or twitter.

Goodbye Twelve Hello Thirteen

December 20th, 2012 by Helen Shaw

It’s endgame for 2012. How has it been for you? In this the final days of December 2012 we’ve been taking a look and listen to some of the things we got up to in this year. Our life here at Athena Media is marked by content - radio, television and online audio and video and despite its ups and downs 2012 has been a stunning year for story-telling. This time last year we were in the midst of finishing our modern history and politics series ‘Death of an Empire‘ for RTE Radio 1. This five part series ran across the early part of the year and told the story of the fall of the Soviet Union, over twenty years ago, and brought the story from Stalin to modern-day Russia and Putin. The series weaves archives, interviews, locational recordings done by presenter Seamus Martin and some wonderful music to create an audio journey through time. The series went on to win Gold at the international radio festival the New York Radio Awards, beating off competition from some of the best resourced history radio units in the world, including the BBC. Death of an Empire later went on to win silver at the PPI Radio Awards in Ireland and our radio trophy cabinet also had to make room for an Irish national award for our series Made in Ireland with Ella McSweeney, which went out on RTE Radio 1 over Christmas and New Year last year. Made in Ireland’s episode on craft butchers won Agricultural Journalist of the Year for Ella and the series has been running across the year in Australia in its Top of the Pods series.

RTE: The Media Show with Brenda Power

We were extremely lucky that one of our ex Athena Media staffers, Paula Cunniffe came back to us in Spring 2012 following her sojourn in the US doing a journalism Masters in Florida. Paula became the reporter and assistant producer on The Media Show - the 8 part series on media matters presented by Brenda Power - which went out on RTE Radio 1 from April and covered the Primetime Investigates crisis for RTE and the subsequent BAI report. (We’re hoping The Media Show comes back in the Spring so watch this space for a news alert …..)
Paula went on to be the Assistant Producer on our ground-breaking TV documentary Beyond Limits which followed the lives of seven elite athletes heading to the Paralympic Games in London. The documentary dominated our lives from May to August and was the outstanding highlight for all of us in that we got to work with the incredible Mark Pollock and a cast of amazing athletes including Mark Rohan, Jason Smyth, Michael McKillop, Darragh McDonald, Catherine Walsh, Helen Kearney - who all went on to win medals under the Irish flag. The documentary was broadcast on Setanta and made with the support of the BAI Sound & Vision Scheme and we’ve just been told, this week, that we’ve been fortunate enough to win a second grant award from the fund to do a follow-up documentary called Beyond Limits - The Next Generation where we work with the winning athletes mentoring the next generation of new talent coming forth inspired by the achievements of London 2012. We can’t wait to start this and get into production with Mark Pollock who is himself making headlines by his plans to take on his first adventure expedition to Siberia. Mark - who is blind since his twenties - was a champion adventurer and author before a tragic accident two years ago left him paralysed. He is now training using bionic technology - bionic legs - and has taken up hand-cycling as an exercise since meeting double gold Irish paralympian Mark Rohan.

Mark Pollock

Paula left us to work with the Taoiseach’s Department from September and she’s been working on the EU Presidency which begins in Jan 2013 and supporting the website and online life of the project but she came back for a weekend to help us make a launch promo for other new Tv series Get Off the Couch! with Teena Gates. This is a series (again supported by the BAI and broadcaster Setanta) which aims to get people active and participating in outdoor sports like walking, hiking, cycling and swimming.

Get Off the Couch! from Athena Media on Vimeo.

A significant portion of our broadcast work is supported by the BAI Sound & Vision Fund and we’re extremely grateful that it has allowed us to help some important stories this year including the Winning Women series on Irish women Olympians for Newstalk which ran across the Summer and culminated in a one hour documentary featuring Sonia O’Sullivan. We’re just finishing a second series with Newstalk called Grassroots featuring short form documentaries on positive action from communities across the country. Grassroots producers are Rob Hope and Lisa Essuman and the final one hour documentary goes out on New Year’s Day on Newstalk at 8am.

But that’s not all our radio work this year. Audio engineer graduate Brendan Rehill joined us in mid year to work on Winning Women and has stayed with us full-time since then working on all our radio projects including our major arts/music production for RTE lyric fm on Wide Open Operas’s first production of Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde. We produced a short form series for daytime called Re-Imagining Opera and a full one hour documentary called Taking on Tristan which went out in late November just before the full broadcast of the opera itself. Our recordist and narrator on that opera project is Michael Gallen, a young composer who is working with us on a freelance basis. Michael heads up the band Ana Gog and we’re lucky to have several musicians around the company at present including Rob Hope himself who is the lead singer and song-writer with Senakah. We’ve used Rob’s music in Beyond Limits and Michael’s music featured in the Get Off the Couch! promo and in our documentary on Fighting Words which went out in late 2011 on RTE Lyric fm.

Michael is also helping me on our new big history radio project called Citizens: Lockout 1913 which tells the story of the Dublin Lockout one hundred years after the events which shaped modern Dublin and Dubliners. The series has been in production since August 2012 but wont go out until September 2013 on RTE Radio 1 so there’s a lot of work to be done yet and Michael will also be working on the music soundtrack of the project.

Other radio projects already started and running into 2013 include a new science series called Science is Everywhere for Newstalk - and Louise Denvir, freelancer, is helping us on that series while Lisa Essuman (who as everyone knows holds the company together) is working on Herosongs with musicologist Therese McIntyre in Galway. Herosongs is a wonderful music series which in many ways grew out of our big music history series High Fidelity as Therese was a listener and series fan who got in touch with the idea of telling the stories behind folk songs which have in themselves become history stories. Herosongs is again for RTE Radio 1 - and once again thanks to the BAI for supporting it.

So some amazing stories which have come our way - told by inspiring people - and we’re lucky to have had a great crew across the year including Lisa, Paula, Rob, Michael, Brendan and freelancers Stephen, Louise and our cameraman and editor Barry MacNeill. We’ve had several great interns across the year - Joseph Pelan was with us for the first six months under an Erasmus Scheme and helped enormously while we’ve been gifted to have recent graduate Leon O’Neill working with us supporting Social Media Training and our productions. We’ve expanded our output under Athena Media Training with the support of Sinead Kennedy and under the ever careful leadership of Lisa Essuman. We’ve been back in full swing running our half day social media workshops this Autumn and Winter and in Jan 2013 we move to The Gresham Hotel as our new venue for the workshops and we’re starting on Jan 21 with a new offering - the half day workshop on Linkedin. We’ve currently got four half days in the offering; twitter,facebook, linkedin and social media strategy & online content and we’re back working with the Dublin City Enterprise Board from the Spring with Twitter for Business. We spent the first part of the year working with the Irish Times training its entire newsroom and journalist staff on Twitter for Journalism and we’re keen to continue our research and work on the future of journalism, news and digital media. Some interesting things on the cards on that front and again we hope to have some details here soon.

So a busy year - a tough year in terms of ever reducing budgets and a declining advertisement market for many of our broadcast clients. A busy but challenging one and 2013 promises even more challenges for the media landscape as digital and online continues to disrupt every assumption the media business model sits on. For us 2013 already has so many deadlines and projects but our big ambition remains to tell true stories well and hope you enjoy them.

Happy Christmas and a very warm New Year wish to everyone - Let’s hope 13 is a turning point for the better (we know a few black cats who can cross the path just in case…..:)

Get off the Couch

November 21st, 2012 by Helen Shaw

Our latest project is a new TV series with Teena Gates called Get Off the Couch! Teena is quite an extraordinary person. Just a couple of years ago she was 23 stones and rapidly running out of time. After major health problems she decided it was think to get living ….and started walking, then hiking, then running, kayaking and literally climbing up walls. She is now 11 stone and a fit, strong champion for working yourself back to health by getting off the couch, getting out and enjoying the world around us. The series is for Setanta Sports Ireland and is supported by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. We’re starting to plan and research it now and hope to begin shooting in early 2013. If you are interested in taking part (we’re looking for six unfit and passive people who are willing to give it a go and take up Teena’s challenge). Check out our facebook page and the promo video.