athena media weblog

It has been a good week (or two) for Athena Media

May 23rd, 2014 by Helen Shaw

We’ve settled into our new home in The Digital Hub at Townhouse Twenty2 Thomas St despite the jack hammers working outside. We love this old library building with its high ceilings and big windows and it’s blend of history and digital futures. The only downside is the on-going roadworks which dominate Thomas St at present. But beyond that temporary challenge we’re definitely celebrating in Athena Media. This month marks ten years since we set up as a start-up in The Digital Depot, the Hub’s incubation zone, and we’re marking our tenth birthday with not just a return to one of the most beautiful of the old buildings under the restoration keep of the project but we’ve expanded into the UK with our new office and presence in MediaCityUK Manchester. We’ve come full circle, from an owner-director start-up to a flourishing and growing company employing talented people in the heart of two cities. But buildings and jobs are not just what we’re celebrating in May. We’ve just heard a few more magic numbers to add to that perfect ten. Just days ago we got the news that four of our radio programmes are finalists in the international radio awards at The New York Radio Festival.

We’re no stranger to the New York Radio Awards. In 2012 we won Gold for our history series Death of an Empire, on the collapse of the Soviet Union with presenter Seamus Martin and just last year we were finalists with our series Grassroots on positive community profiles. Because of our wins I’ve been invited to be part of the international jury for the last two years (but of course we’re barred from voting on our own programmes!). But it was still a complete surprise to get four finalists in this year’s competition. The four are Herosongs (RTÉ Radio1), Citizens: Lockout 1913 (RTÉ Radio1), and Science is Everywhere (Newstalk) all of which were funded by the The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, and the Barry McGovern narration of Joyce’s “The Dead” was funded by UCD and broadcast by RTÉ lyric fm. We’ve made history as an independent company in that we’re certainly the first Irish independent to have four different programmes voted as finalists and we may even be a rarity globally as the four programmes are four three different broadcasters and represent two different forms of funding. Its been quite a coup so far and the Gold, Silver and Bronze decisions will come on June 23rd. Win or not on that day we’re over the moon to box above our (very small) weight in the international arena. We think it reflects well not just on our creative team, and in particular our audio editor Amy Millar who was the audio designer behind all these projects, but on all indie radio and shows the potential, if supported, for creative talent from Ireland to shine and lead. In these categories we’re up against the best and most funded radio programming in the world from BBC Radio 4, ABC in Australia, CBC in Canada and NPR in the United States. We’re particularly appreciative to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland fund Sound & Vision which has supported the making of three of these projects. Without this fund we’d be doing very little broadcasting. It is the beating heart of independent production and creativity in Ireland.

On the heels of the news of four finalist programmes in the NY Radio Awards came the news that we had got three projects; two radio and 1 television, approved for funding support by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland in its Sound & Vision Round 20. Much like the New York Radio round this was a 100% success rate and gives us a diverse range of projects from sport (EXTREME for Setanta Sports Ireland) to arts/music (Vocal Chords for RTE Lyric fm) and science (Bright Sparks for RTE Radio 1). It was to say the least a major relief and joy for us as tons of hard work went into this round given we had suffered total rejection (four projects…!) in the last funding round in December. Robert Hope who is now based between Berlin and Dublin spear-headed our BAI submissions and he has to take a very big bow for the quality of the submissions that went through this time around. The competition for funding in our sector is extremely tough and each round gets tighter and tighter so while we’ve got 3 submissions funded in this round we actually haven’t had a new funded submission in nearly a year and a half as our previous batch of projects were all approved in 2012. So in our business we know make hay while the sun shines as this burst of heat of award nominations and funding comes after a very dry season! In reality we have not had a new broadcast project since December and all our work so far in 2014 has been outside broadcasting – predominately for the wonderful It’s Your Right children’s project for the Children’s Ombudsman which we won by public tender in late February.

Broadcasting and independent production is a highly precarious business. There’s no guarantees in our gig and we are always pitching and always bidding. Part of our decision-making behind the move to MediaCityUK is not just to expand our UK broadcasting business and work but equally to diversify. We know how fragile it is to depend on funding rounds as a business. It’s not secure and not a good basis for employing people and giving them careers and futures. Our mix has to be broadcasting and digital publishing – like our new business in audiobooks and our first book The Summit read by author Pat Falvey available now on Audible,Amazon and iTunes.

We love broadcasting ; we love documentaries but like any business keen to survive we have to adapt and find new sources of funding for our stories and ideas. We know what we do matters to us. We hope it matters to those who listen and watch and our aim is to make transformational stories, to tell stories that make a difference, about people shaping the world we live in and the ideas and passions that drive them.

Moving to Manchester & MediaCityUK

April 16th, 2014 by Helen Shaw

Media City UK

It has been a busy first quarter for Athena Media in that by January we took the decision to move North or more precisely to the North of England and divide our operation between Dublin and Manchester. By mid March we joined the prestigious MediaCityUK setup and opened shop in The Greenhouse which is just off the main piazza in Salford Quays and around the corner from the BBC where the Daleks beckon! We have established as a UK company and joined the UK independent sector and we’re busy opening doors, networking and connecting. Some of our neighbours in The Greenhouse include Steve Coogan’s company Baby Cow.

The Greenhouse

MediaCityUK is rapidly expanding and is currently home to BBC Five Live, BBC Sport, BBC’s Children’s output CBBC and BBC Breakfast. ITV has shifted its base there too and across one of the bridges you find ITV’s flagship soap Coronation Street in its brand new set. We’ve already found lots of common ground with companies and businesses in the cluster and delighted too to have connected with some Irish business leaders there like Elaine Mullan at Bright Future, an innovative mobile software company.

Media City

Click here to see what the Manchester Evening News has to say about all the new arrivals to The Greenhouse in MediaCityUK.

It’s all a new beginning for us and we’re currently getting very used to the Aer Lingus and Ryanair schedules to Manchester but it’s an exciting new phase for our ten year old company. Wish us luck!

The science of now is everywhere

February 24th, 2014 by Helen Shaw

Dr Lara Dungan

We’ve a new radio series starting shortly on Newstalk called Science is Everywhere which explores the everyday stories of our daily life and the science behind them. Its presented by Dr Lara Dungan a young scientist with a PhD from Trinity College in immunology who is now studying medicine at UCD. The series has had a long gestation. I think the idea started a couple of summers ago when my adorable niece Dara Shaw was in on work experience during her transition year. (She’s now in the midst of her Leaving Cert year so that says just how long this gestation period has been!) Dara loves science and hopes to take science at UCD in the future but when she was in with us on her work experience I asked her to come up with some ideas about science programming particularly aimed at getting people who don’t think they know much about science (and assume it’s boring!) but who may be surprised by the science stories about the things we take for granted in our everyday life. Science is Everywhere was born from that conversation and Dara worked on an outline which was initially for a children’s and young people series but later became the Newstalk/BAI series, which starts on air from March 15th. Dara’s ideas were aided and developed over coffee in the Science Gallery with her cousin John Howard who was then finishing his Masters degree in science at Trinity College Dublin. (John is now living in Bilbao living each day!) While the 8 part series which we finally created is a lot different to those humble notes in the Science Gallery it’s interesting how some of the themes and the core idea remained. What we set out to create was a series to surprise people and intrigue people by revealing the scientific principles behind everyday things like the water which flows from their tap or the honey they tip into their breakfast bowl. The topics range from climate change and weather chaos to the concept of the plastic brain which features a wonderful interview with the ever inspiring Mark Pollock, who features in the current Science Gallery exhibition ‘Fail Better’.

You can listen to a promo for the series on our audioboo channel and we shortly put up some of the specials in the Science is Everywhere series which we put out at Christmas including the full feature length documentary on the science of sound and music.
The series features some of the dynamic young scientists who are shaping research and innovation in Ireland; people like physicist Shane Bergin and stem cell engineer Danny Kelly from TCD, as well as UCD geneticists Emmeline Hill and Emma Teeling (my second cousin!) who’s work is leading globally. Probably, for me, the most fascinating material relates to the brain and in particular this idea that the brain is plastic and can be re-engineered throughout our lives. That’s a liberating thought; that we’re not fixed or settled but can continually reform, re-shape and adapt. Richard Roche, of the Brain Council, put it brilliantly and provocatively when he said we’ve learnt more about the brain in the last twenty years than in the thousands before it. The brain, as the undiscovered frontier of human endeavour and exploration, intrigues and motivates me.

Hope you enjoy the series and our thanks as always to the crew behind it including Lisa Essuman who recorded most of the series on location, Amy Millar our talented audio editor who recorded our studio interviews and did a beautiful mix on the programmes and of course Kate Ní Chléirigh who managed the series administration, recorded interviews and assisted with all aspects of final productions. Robert Hope, as always, showed he is the master of vox pops and produced some great pieces from the streets while the series features the music of both Robert and Michael Gallen, our in house composers whose music compositions lift all our productions.

Working with the bionic man

January 17th, 2014 by Helen Shaw

Mark Pollock

Our latest TV documentary Beyond Limits - the Next Generation is on screen from Jan 23rd, 10pm with Setanta Sports. Its a follow up to a one hour documentary we did in late August 2012 just before the start of the Paralympic Games in London. Then we got to meet a host of hopeful athletes Jason Smyth, Michael McKillop, Mark Rohan, Catherine Walsh, Darragh Mc Donald, Helen Kearney and Padraic Moran. In London Paralympics Ireland went beyond their own dreams and people like Michael, Jason and Mark came home with double gold and Darragh brought home a swimming gold medal. Both Catherine and Helen won medals too but more importantly those games were a watershed in disability sports in Ireland and brought everyone’s attention to the startling achievements of our paralympians.

We loved making that documentary as these are truly extraordinary people who inspire us all to do more, dream bigger and never give up. But more importantly we got to work with one of our favourite people - blind and now paralysed athlete and explorer Mark Pollock. Mark has been a friend since 2008 when I got to meet him shortly after his race to the South Pole. We worked together on developing projects and we were just about to start making a new radio series when he had his tragic fall in 2010 which broke his back. Since then we’ve supported Mark in any way we can - even if its just running the Run in the Dark and raising funds every year (last November was year three!). But getting to work with him, as had been the original plan, was the endgame. The success of Beyond Limits and London 2012 made us want to stick with the stories of our outstanding athletes. I wanted to find out what happens next but also to see what impact such results had. Would it inspire someone watching it to take up sport and perhaps see themselves as a future medallist?

It was that thinking which led us to begin developing and pitching our second documentary Beyond Limits - the Next Generation. In it we follow the fortunes of many of those London 2012 winners, people like Jason, Michael, Darragh, Catherine and Helen but we also meet many of the new-comers coming up with an eye and ambition on Rio 2016. We meet a young woman who wasn’t even watching the games but got spotted at a Paralympics Ireland talent day and is now being fast tracked for Rio. Find out more in the documentary and see a trailer here. But once again its been a delight to work with Mark and Mark’s own story is transformational. He has gone from the horrors and darkness of the time post his accident to now walking daily in a robotic ’suit’ and is spending some time now in the US at the cutting edge of technological and scientific research on spinal injuries. Mark has been clear from the beginning that he wants to walk again but his determination to walk again has been matching by endurance training, commitment and a positive belief in the power of never being defined by limitations. Always question those lines and limits. And in the end that’s the message of Beyond Limits - the Next Generation. No one can limit you only yourself.

Athena Media’s production Beyond Limits - The Next Generation will be free to air on Setanta Ireland on Thursday 23rd of January at 10 pm. There are two repeats scheduled for Sunday 26th at 10 pm and Wednesday 29th at 8 pm.

An Epiphany in Dublin

January 6th, 2014 by Helen Shaw

Just four years ago we launched Joyce’s Dublin for our client UCD and created a microsite and podcast series around Joyce’s celebrated short story The Dead. Now in January 2014 one hundred years after the publication of Dubliners we’re delighted to have got the chance to work again with UCD in completing that project with a wonderful audio reading of the story by Barry McGovern. The reading went out in full on RTE lyric fm on January 5th but the reading, and our previous content from the Joyces Dublin website, has formed the basis for a new digital application James Joyce: The Dead which is now a free iPad application.

What is wonderful about the project is the way it allows us to explore the potential for digital to augment literary texts like Dubliners. The iPad app brings together photographs of the time from collections in the National Library, the text of the story itself, the audio podcast series we produced and now a new reading by Barry McGovern which was sound illustrated by our audio editor Amy Millar and with original music by composer Michael Gallen. The iPad application is designed by Vermillion and the commission comes via Professor Gerardine Meaney of UCD Humanities Institute who has been the digital champion on these digital humanities projects.

We’d love to see our institutions seizing the opportunity to re-imagine our cultural and literary heritage in a digital multimedia sphere and projects like James Joyce: The Dead show what can be achieved. The fact its a free app makes it all the more special and UCD deserves praise and support for taking the initiative and putting resources into free educational digital humanities. Some 90 secondary schools are now using iPads to replace their books so we know schools can access and use this beautiful tool and the original website itself remains both popular and valuable.

Science, love, music and Joyce. An Athena Media Christmas and New Year!

December 16th, 2013 by Helen Shaw

Julie Feeney, Camille O'Sullivan, Jack Lukeman, Aofie Scott, Michael Gallen

We’ve been hectic in the run up to Christmas 2013 and New Year 2014 with a range of radio and TV programmes hitting the broadcast schedules over the holidays.
Our Christmas Eve special with singer Jack Lukeman and guests goes out 8-9pm on RTÉ Radio 1 and recording it was some of the best fun we’ve had recently - with two babies in the control room. Singers Julie Feeney and Camille O Sullivan, who guest feature on the show, have both recently had baby girls so we had the joy of seeing them while we rehearsed duets for the show itself. Its a lovely, heart-warming mix of music and stories which we think will add a touch of magic to the night regardless of how you feel about Christmas. You can listen to the promo here.

On quite a separate track we’ve a science documentary series with presenter Dr Lara Dungan hitting Newstalk over the New Year. This is a BAI supported series called Science is Everywhere and the first three episode in this series go out on New Year’s Eve and then New Year’s Day at 6pm. Episode 1 is a full length documentary feature on the science of sound and music, with two half hours on New Year’s Day, the science of love and then the science of water. Great voices and stories from this series including the amazing fact that of all the water we purify for human consumption in Dublin City only 1% is actually consumed by humans - the rest we simply wash or flush away. Listen to the promo here.

Barry McGovern reading

So besides music and science our next holiday production is Joycean with a touch perhaps of both music and love. Its a reading of The Dead, James Joyce’s short story, which goes out on Jan 5th on RTE Lyric fm in full, read by actor Barry McGovern. This is a UCD Humanities Institute production which forms part of Joyce’s Dublin - the multimedia online project we made some years ago. UCD is creating an iPad application around the story but we’re particularly delighted that RTE Lyric fm has agreed to broadcast the story in full on the 5th - reflecting the anniversary of the story itself. Listen to the promo here.

Besides our three holiday radio productions for RTE Radio 1, Newstalk and RTE lyric fm we’re also delighted to see Setanta Sports Ireland is repeating our recent six part TV series Get Off the Couch! in full from Jan 7th with two episodes every night across the 7th, 8 and 9th running from 8pm every night. Its a great way to start the New Year with the inspiring stories of our participants who just twelve months ago took up the challenge to change their lives and get active, fit and positive.

Hope you get a chance to see some of our hard work on air and of course many of these shows will also be available online and we’ll keep you updated here on future transmission dates. Our next big production is the transmission of the TV documentary Beyond Limits: The Next Generation our follow up with presenter Mark Pollock to the amazing outcomes of the Paralympic Games, London 2012. That documentary is now with the broadcaster, Setanta Sports ireland, and we expect it to air in the New Year with a lot of airtime across 2014.

What’s next? who knows? But you’ll be the first to hear!

Have a wonderful Christmas full of peace, joy and friendship. We hope to connect with you again in 2014 and thanks for all your feedback.
Nollaig Shona…

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.