When John Steinbeck tried to describe his grubby Californian coastal town in the opening to Cannery Row he bumps into the limitation of his own words. ‘How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise – the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream – be set down alive?’ Steinbeck wrote.
He might equally have been trying to capture David Tiley – a man who defies labels.
David came to ScreenHub after writing his much-loved pioneering blog Barista: Heartstarters for the Hungry Mind. The blog gave him the perfect place for his great intellectual curiosity to thrive. His blog categories alone show off this curiosity as they ramble from ‘Austrapolitics’ to ‘New Orleans’ to ‘intellectual property’ to (by far the biggest category) ‘strangely compelling’. Here you’ll find Tiley headlines like As the world grows more boring (reflecting on a small publisher closing) and Die, swinish symbol of capitalism, die and spew money from your blasted guts. This turns out to roll together two stories looking at ATM robberies in Japan and South Africa, but David makes connections and forms stories where others don’t.
His blog categories alone show off this curiosity as they ramble from ‘Austrapolitics’ to ‘New Orleans’ to ‘intellectual property’ to (by far the biggest category) ‘strangely compelling’.
In 2005 David joined ScreenHub, a film and TV website run by John Paxinos and Alex Prior. In a farewell video to David, Alex Prior said that they got not just a great editor but a lifelong friend. ScreenHub was bought up by ArtsHub’s parent company Vertical Networks Group in 2012 and David moved to the Guildford Lane offices where he wrote many, many stories.
In 2009, I first met David as the great script Svengali of documentary film. I’d co-authored a book about self-proclaimed micronations, in a satirical guidebook. We were introduced to a quiet man with a gleam in his eye who spoke softly about how we could shape a TV series out of this book. It was that gleam that surveyed the whole book and again found those patterns which became a series outline to apply for funding. It is one of hundreds of film projects that David has pushed along stretching back to his job at the Australian Film Commission in 1996.
Of course the project never got up, so the next time I met David was in 2019 when he was the cornerstone of ScreenHub. His vision for ScreenHub was of a no-bullshit publication that spoke out when others in the screen industry wouldn’t. He digs a good story out of any rabbit-hole – evidenced by his recent Hail Draconis article.
David’s insatiable curiosity often pushed up against deadlines, or perhaps stretched them to breaking point. The only way to get ScreenHub’s newsletters out by 4pm is to start asking David about it in the morning and then come back at 2 to see how is going. And knowing that when you check in again at 3 David is likely to be deep down a rabbit-hole smuggling the bunnies gin and Marxist theory. He is courageous and his charging at windmills yields unexpected and wonderful quirky stories.
When David told us he was leaving he wanted to stress that this was only leaving his staff role not leaving ScreenHub altogether. In David’s words in his farewell article: ‘Nothing endures except principles. Everything else is ephemeral.’ But Einstein’s law of the conservation of energy states that energy never dies; it just changes forms. So we’re hoping to keep David’s curious energy with ScreenHub alive – ideally writing his weekly box office wraps that tease out those trends from the trash. There is also talk of a book project and a few other passions that David will pick up.
In trying to capture David, any writer knows they will fall short of that ‘quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream’ that he brings to what he does. I’m tempted to reach for Sergei Eisenstein who said, ‘Even in a less exaggerated description, any verbal account of a person is bound to find itself employing an assortment of waterfalls, lightning rods, landscapes, birds, etc.’ But David is more than a lightning rod for talent or a thundering waterfall of words. So I’m going to imagine him looking out of an editorial meeting at something we can’t see. Maybe focussing his keen eye, lowering his visor and training his journalistic lance on that distant target before digging in the stirrups.
Charge on, ScreenHub’s rascal-at-large.