Aldo Palumbo is a respected TV editor and was both a director and producer for the TV show Bits (read our feature here) – a late night video game show on Channel 4. He has made his name editing numerous documentaries and short films. Aldo is also a classically trained musician and a graduate of English & Theatre Studies.
We were delighted to have the opportunity to ask Aldo numerous questions about his career and focus mainly on his time working on Bits and his thoughts on the gaming industry:
You directed Bits, the cutting edge video game show for Channel 4. How exactly did this opportunity arise?
Channel 4 were launching 4Later as an all night TV experiment with a really bold commissioner Steve Keane whose background was outside of TV’s mainstream. We began developing the show Vids to deal with movie subculture, so it seemed natural to come up with a companion show for video games.
What is your fondest memory of working on Bits?
Ideas meetings with director Louise Lockwood. I produced all 76 episodes, but only directed the first 30. I think Louise did 26. She’s a very talented director and a very special person. She began with us as the runner on series 1 and became one of the show’s directors.
The series 3 wrap party was pretty good too (I bet it was! – Ed).
Bits was shown late on Channel 4 on 4Later and came across with a much more adult-themed and edgy feel to any other video game show previously shown in the UK. How exactly did the original idea come about?
Creative Director Hamish Barbour had seen the movie Clerks and loved its video rental heroes. He sent me on a mission around the country to see if those guys existed in Britain and to come up with an editorial remit for what they would watch. That was Vids. He also liked playing Gran Turismo a lot, so he sent me back on the road to cast and create Bits. Hamish is never short of good ideas.
Would you class yourself as a gamer and if so did this help open the door to directing and producing Bits?
The presenters took care of reviewing the gameplay, I was responsible for everything else. I liked coin ops as a teenager, but that’s about it. I still think Asteroids is very elegant. Emulators don’t do it justice. Like a Keith Haring stick man, the proportions of the lines have to be just right. I had never owned a games console before we started working on Bits and I don’t have one now. I got to develop, produce and direct Bits because I take work extremely seriously regardless of the subject matter or channel, and I’m very good getting immersed in the world of the audience. Ultimately it’s the audience’s show, so it has to be right. You cannot disappoint an audience.
Bits was famously hosted by three feisty and smart females. What was it like working in this environment?
It was fun. Although the presenters were exhausted by the workload, the weekly travel and the hours and hours it takes to get to know a game, they were also a lot of fun. They brought an extra buzz to the office. Gender balance is clearly important in all aspects of life, and I think we had a good chemistry on set. It got even better when Louise took over directing from me. We had a good run of strong directors, but with Louise the presenters really found their gang leader and probably had the best chance of translating their spirit to the screen.
You come across as a very creative and imaginative person – do you feel TV shows today take enough risks regarding creativity and imagination?
I think there’s lots of great TV out there, but I’m not sure it’s very risky. Market forces preclude risk, so TV seeks out returning series formats that might be quite similar to existing formats. We’re now a long way from 4Later and we’re even farther from Channel 4’s very early days when programmes were made by ex-punks.
Bits and Vids fans might enjoy Limmy’s Show from BBC Scotland, if they haven’t seen it already.
On C4, I like Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series. I also like Adam Curtis documentaries. Even when BBC Four has a series, it doesn’t have to follow a strict format. Form follows function, which is always good. Here’s one of Louise many excellent documentaries — this one has no music on it and so feels very intimate and authentic…
The web offers huge possibilities. This Adam Curtis film is actually an iPlayer only transmission…
You obviously like flowers – do you have a particular favourite?
Well, I did Tweet to you that I’d rather draw flowers than play video games. I like poppies. Elizabeth Blackadder has drawn some nice ones. I also like William Morris’s designs, whose influence is very clear on this video game:
What is your favourite video game of all time?
Defender. I love its sound design. I loved shooting the purple Pods and seeing and hearing them blossom into orange Swarmers. It’s very floral. It’s worth holding on to your bombs for a nicely theatrical sequence in which you burst open a Pod with a photon blast, then vaporise all the excitable Swarmers with a single bomb. There’s beauty in destruction provided it’s fantastical enough. Like fireworks. Defender would make a nice ballet. If we were reviewing Defender for Bits this week, I’d suggest we did it with ballerinas.
Which video games / consoles do you play today?
The closest thing I’ve ever had to a video game since Bits is the Duolingo language learning app currently on my phone.
Aleks, Emily and Bouff took care of playing the games. It was rare for Aleks and Emily to be talking about anything else. They had a lot of industry contacts and knew everything that was going on before anyone else did. When journalists and games developers came to visit, it would turn into a mutual admiration society. Aleks now has a PhD in video games (Aleks caught up with us on twitter to say it’s actually Psychology, although a PhD in video games could be worth looking into… – Ed) and Emily is a games producer with Electronic Arts.
Bouff’s industry expertise was and still is horror (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3276090). I had met her by chance whilst making Vids. She was accurately cast in Bits as the casual gamer, which was an aspect of the wider shift from geek and kids gaming to cool gaming pioneered by the PlayStation. Of course, Emily Newton Dunn already had that world of gaming in clubland very well covered, but there was nothing casual about the role of games in Emily’s life. Bouff’s life was more representative of normal people. She had consoles, but she wasn’t glued to them until she started working on Bits. Aleks’ world was yet more different: she ate code for breakfast. It was a good mix. Like The Beatles. Or maybe The Rutles. The Bittles.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
Sometime after Bits, I quit producing to become an editor, which I love. Ideas move fast in the cutting room. Lately, I’ve been cutting a series of documentaries for BBC Science. I’m also planning on directing a short dance based film later in the year, which comes off the back of these 10 second experiments…