Interview with Higlet Films

Where did the inspiration for the characters come from?

[M] We knew we wanted it to be based around a family. They are amalgams of people we know but not enough to say ‘– oh Jeremy is based on XX.’ Except for Private Peabody, who is based on a character we created for another webseries, Evil League of Evil Application Processing Office. Anyone who has seen that may recognize some of Peabody’s mannerisms.

[P] It’s a normal family set in an abnormal world. That’s the heart of any good sitcom – regular people trying to do their best in irregular circumstances. Take a look at this and see how many programs fit this description – almost all. A doofus dad, a smart and capable mum who is the nerve centre of operations, a couple of kids and a bumbling half senile elderly relative who gets into trouble.  We explore the world a bit in the series because everything changed because of the apocalypse – but people are still people. They still have to work, cook dinner and drink tea. The fact that some of their family members are zombies is just another facet of life.

We have to talk about the “bodyline” shooting style. Where did the idea come from? Why did you decide to shoot in this manner?

[M] Bodyline started with Evil League of Evil Application Processing Office. I had this idea for a webseries based around Dr Horrible’s application to the Evil League of Evil – what went on in Bad Horse’s offices? It was an interesting idea to me and the scripts closely follow what happen in Dr Horrible, but seeing another side to the story – that of the office drones of the ELE.

Evil office workers – it just made sense.

As soon as news of Dr Horrible broke I was hooked by the idea. I went online and discovered the Dr Horrible Fan Site and offered to help out. I was researching the cast and through that I discovered Felicia Day and The Guild. I started to write about The Guild on my blog and Felicia stopped by and made a couple of comments, which amazed me.

Felicia was the reason I dared to make a webseries in the first place. She invested heavily into the community and has been very generous with support and advice to people.

The problem I had was how to film myself and not appear on camera at the same time. I wasn’t (and I’m still not) that keen to be on camera. My laptop had broken and I’d switched to a Mac, so I had the Macbook webcam and a broken laptop to type on. Since I had to shoot at night when the kids were in bed the lighting wasn’t great, but I could angle the Macbook so that it only showed my hands on the keyboard and not me – which was ideal.

After some experimentation it all worked, and I managed to film the whole thing. Each episode is one take since I hadn’t really worked out how to edit, so there were lots of takes…but it was great learning experience.

[P] Everything we have done since has utilized this technique and we have been developing ways to extend it from static shots to the full range of conventional shots. It does add another layer of difficulty but, again, it’s all about trying to make something different, to push the boundaries of what’s gone before. We think Bodyline is an interesting technique and can be developed to be a very sophisticated story telling device. Plus, it’s unique and makes our films look different.

There are definite advantages, too – actors can play multiple parts, no need for hair/makeup traumas and so on.

Do you think that some of the very British humour might be lost on a Canadian or American audience?

[M] Since we moved to Canada I’ve been amazed at how many people love the British sitcoms. I love social networks and it still surprises me how many people from the US and Canada get the references and shares I make about newer series like The IT Crowd, old classics like Red Dwarf and Black Adder and vintage programs like Are You Being Served? – which was apparently a huge hit in the US.

[P] There haven’t been too many British/Irish webseries (though there have been some super awesome ones like Action Traction and Living With The Infidels that have tickled our funny bone, so Mind My Brains, Darling! will be different. The feedback we’ve had so far is that people do get the humour!

We’re making this series because it’s a great idea with wonderful characters and their story needs to be told. If other people find it funny and appreciate it too, then that’s a bonus. If we were to write something based solely on the premise of trying to predict what other people might laugh at, then it’d be rubbish.

This isn’t your first venture into online content, you also produced a short play earlier this year. Can you tell us about that?

[M] Goodnight, Princess was an idea we had one night after putting our youngest daughter to bed. It started off as a Royle Family -type comedy sketch series about a dysfunctional dad reading very inappropriate bedtime stories to his baby. But after we’d written some of it we thought of a twist that made it something very different and much deeper and more revealing than we could ever have imagined.

[P] Everyone deals with loss in different ways. Some people drink, some people talk and some people write plays and make stupid voices.

It was an experiment: a three part short form Internet based drama in less than 10 minutes. It was filmed like a play – one camera angle and each episode done in one take. There was nothing else like it that we could find, so maybe it was a world first. We really liked it, but didn’t know how it would go down with the public at large, who are more used to watching videos on the Internet for laughs.

The response was amazing. People understood it and thought it was very well done. It spoke to them. Heck, it even made some people cry at the end. We were very humbled by the praise.

What’s the most challenging thing about making a webseries?

[M] The most challenging thing is that everything – and I mean everything – has to come from you. If you don’t do a part of the work, or arrange for someone else to do it, it simply won’t get done.

[P] In one way making the series is the easy bit – it can be a pair of hands and a webcam all done in one take for example. The hard bit is putting it somewhere for people to see and then getting people to come and see it.  We decided to use to distribute because it is good model for getting your work out there. It is well established and there is an opportunity to make some money back on your work as well as maintaining control over it.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is thinking of making web content themselves?

[M] Write it down and then do it. If it’s your first time, actually finishing the writing and making something will teach you so much. Start small with an idea that you can achieve with the minimum of cost and time – the less you have to rely on effects, other people and expensive equipment/props the easier it will be for you to get a finished product. And finishing it, however much it might need polishing, is the key.

[P] Webseries is (are?) a new format and who knows where it’ll end up. Anyone making a webseries has the chance to help steer this new medium in the direction it’ll take for the next who-knows-how-long. Be a pioneer. When our grandkids are watching webtv in 20 or 30 years time on their retinal implants, we’ll be seen as history makers. Whole new ways of creating and delivering mass entertainment don’t come around very often. Get involved.

[M] Yes – talk to people, study other webseries and decide what excites you. We’ve been really fortunate to work with other people like Efehan, an amazing artist who is doing the opening sequence for us, Megan Lynch who is letting us use some of her brilliant album, Songs The Brothers Warner Taught Me and Miles Moss, a writer who has an ear for the ridiculous. Our online community has been an inspiration and the support we had for the Indiegogo campaign has helped to keep us going.

If a PopCultureMonster was eating your house what one thing would you save?

[M] We’ll assume the kids would be at school anyway, so it would be the iMac and Macbook. Now I’m thinking of the Dr Who episode Seeds of Doom

[P] Well, duh. The beer, obviously. The Kids are still at school, right? No? Don’t make me choose, dammit!

Interview with Jessica Mills